Living with cancer is a process.
I no longer need a magnifying glass to see the peach fuzz on my head. The downy frizz is like the silky on a baby’s blanket and rubbing it reassures me. Now that its return is imminent, I can tolerate the short-term loss of my once curly hair.
Other aspects of living the life trouble me. My oral drug therapy prior to the transplant, for example, warned of side effects that I didn’t fully understand. The lingering results of that treatment are peripheral neuropathy in my feet (numbness) and eyes that feel as if they’re full of sand. It’s too early to tell if these will be permanent fixtures in my life.
Irony shadows my convalescence. I walk among the orchards each day, regaining strength and stamina. But my tingling feet remind me that I am recovering from treatment not cancer.
The transplant was a pre-emptive attack upon the multiple myeloma. One year ago, my doctor identified the MM when my only symptom was anemia. The disease’s more serious complications had yet to present themselves. With the transplant we’ve attempted to reset my immune system by first destroying my marrow and then planting it anew with stem cells. That destruction is what I am currently recuperating from. The cancer, technically speaking, has not begun to mess with me. When and if it does, it will appear as bone lesions, kidney problems, and repeated infections due to a dysfunctional immune system. Boy, I can hardly wait.
On the other hand: In about four weeks, the chemo that preceded the transplant will have completed its dirty work. Then, a sophisticated blood test will measure the transplant’s success. My oncologist ordered an interim test last week. It showed I’ve attained a near complete response. (For my friends with myeloma, my M-spike is 0.1 g/dL.)
A complete response means there’s no detectable evidence of the malignant plasma cells. Typically, such post-transplant remissions last from three months to three years, during which time the patient may be drug free. Even under the best of circumstances, a transplant buys time, not a cure. But, given such a scenario, my quality of life could be close to normal.
If December’s lab test confirms the remission, I’ll get a break from treatment until the disease progresses. That’s been the goal. Scouting out the myeloma is easy. Periodic blood tests watch for its return. And, return it will. Fortunately, options exist for when the malignancy advances.
I have reasons to be optimistic. Thus far, my disease shows no aggressive tendencies. I also feel lucky. My provisional near complete response cheers me up. It validates this summer’s effort. The physical hardship and financial commitment to the stem cell transplant was a shot in the dark, but maybe we’ve hit the target.
Still, I’m trying not to get too excited. It’s not that I fear jinxing my good fortune. It’s just that keeping one’s composure is therapeutic. The future is full of surprises. I understand cancer is a crapshoot and the odds are with the house. Each roll of the dice is unpredictable. Getting comfortable with that is part of the process.