On Valentine’s Day, my wife and I adopted a neutered adult male cat. I named him Spanky. He’s a brawny Bengal looking tabby. He weighs 16 pounds and is oblivious to his size, believing he is a lap cat when, in reality, he is a two lap cat. We estimate his age at three to five years old, a teenager in cat years with all the antics characteristic of that age group including a reckless disdain for curfews. He wanders well away from our rural property in search of who knows what. Once, he returned with two large puncture wounds on his chest. He’s already on a first name basis with our veterinarian.
February pulled a rabbit of sunshine out of its normally frigid hat, fooling us all with a false spring. One weekend, Spanky and I took an unprecedented nap outdoors under a warm, clear, and windless sky. In the distance we could hear the clatter of orchard ladders. Farm workers were pruning fruit trees several weeks ahead of schedule.
“Real” spring does not arrive until the west wind stirs. Then, the Columbia River Gorge earns its reputation as the largest air transfer route through the Cascade Mountain Range. Once awakened, the westerly flow prevails for several months. From March through September, a steady current careens between the Columbia’s basalt cliffs. Last Monday night; the same night Spanky chose to get lost, it delivered a shiver of snow to the valley.
I stood in our driveway, forlorn as the parent of a wayward son, calling for him long after dark. Finally, I gave up. I went to bed worried he’d wandered onto the dinner table of our resident coyotes. Like most teenagers, he doesn’t understand danger. Accordingly, I’m torn between allowing him to develop rural savvy and the fear that his innocence will lead to a bad end.
The soft winter comes with consequences. The pest population grows in direct proportion to the mildness of the weather. Under such circumstances, orchardists must intervene. They prescribe their own version of chemotherapy, doses of herbicides and pesticides, in order to restore stability conducive to a healthy crop.
Balance is essential, as well, to our internal biology. In particular, for those of us with multiple myeloma, the individual cell types in our blood must complement one another. If the percentages are off, then things go awry. Survival depends upon reestablishing equilibrium.
My illness was originally detected in a routine physical, which included a CBC, complete blood count. This diagnostic test gives your doctor an overall picture of the composition of our wondrous blood’s makeup.
The marker that alerted my doctor was a high reading of protein in my blood. He coyly suggested the lab might have made a mistake. Then, he had more blood drawn. Back home, and within minutes of an Internet search on elevated protein levels, I knew the lab had not made a mistake.
The most annoying element of all the literature I could find, then and now, was the repeated adjective that multiple myeloma is an incurable cancer of the blood. What, exactly, did that mean? As recently as last month, Kathy Giusti of the MMRF, stated, “…multiple myeloma is still uniformly fatal.”
Regular blood tests reveal most of what a doctor needs to know in order to recommend treatment or not. I go every two to three months. Anticipating these periodic visits feels a bit like meeting with a probation officer. The doctor reviews my blood’s behavior. Thus far, I’ve been lucky. I served my time with the stem cell transplant. Now, I’m free, as long as my blood stays out of trouble.
Essentially, Spanky and I enjoy similar fates. We reside on the wild side of life, sharing territory with a predator that will kill us unless we are very, very careful and‑‑‑very, very lucky.
On the night Spanky disappeared, I awoke at 3:30 AM. I turned on the porch light. Faint tracks spotted the crusty snow on the deck. I dressed. Outside, I whistled and called Spanky’s name. Within a few moments, he appeared. His sleepy eyes seemed to wonder why I had awakened him at this ungodly hour. Evidently, upon returning from his wanderlust, he’d curled up under the deck. Soon, he re-remembered he was a domesticated cat and scuttled indoors out of the frosty air.
Most likely, Spanky’s daredevil personality will continue to vex me. If my stem cell transplant represents the rebirth of my immune system, then his February adoption by us symbolizes the opportunity for rescue from his madcap wanderings. His curiosity, however, is as incurable as my multiple myeloma. If he can find a balance between his tough guy instincts and lover-boy personality, then he just might live a long life. For the time being though, like me, he’ll need lots of supervision.