I’ve been traveling.
Recently, my wife and I attended the graduation of our niece from Whitman College in Washington. Tillie, the daughter of my wife’s sister, received a degree in Theatre with a minor in Spanish. She landed a much sought after two-year position at the college admission office, which will provide her income and experience as she considers grad school. Her parents work for the State Department. Their children were raised for the most part overseas. Tillie and her brother, also a Whitman student, are exceptionally bright cosmopolitan kids.
Following graduation, our two families vacationed in Central Oregon. The Cascade Mountains divide the state into yin-yang topography. To the west are brooding fir forests, the fertile Willamette River valley, and damp coastal areas. To the east, pine forests, high desert, and dry wide-open spaces prevail.
When I was Tillie’s age, I spent several years in Yosemite National Park. More than the grandeur of its granite cliffs, it is its pine forests that resonate in my soul. The trees of the eastern Cascades resemble those of the Sierras in California. The species of pine are different but the smells of the needle strewn forest floor and the airiness of the pine canopy invoke memories of my youth.
Our families are compatible. We have vacationed together for 15 years or more. Normally, we rendezvous in August at the same Central Oregon resort. Due to graduation, this year we chose the week before Memorial Day when we were already gathered together on the west coast. The weather was not conducive to swimming or other summer activities. Instead, we bundled up for long walks, read books, and played parlor games in the evening. All in all, we found the time equally relaxing without the sunburn.
Back home, the lushness of spring, enhanced by late showers, gave our property a hint of abandonment. Weeds advanced on my perennials. Knee-deep grass on the lawn begged to be mowed. I eagerly set about catching up on outside chores.
Once I minimized the look of neglect in my gardens, I sat on the porch with my cat, Spanky. We basked in the sun’s warmth, sheltered from the breezes. Together, we watched as the wind wove tapestries amongst the burgeoning trees, entwining the branches on the rise of a gust, and then untangling the mass as the current lapsed. I had enjoyed our time on the road but it felt good to be home.
In addition to these domestic comforts, my mood is buoyed by recent events from the world of multiple myeloma. I have dealt with this blood cancer for 3 1/2 years. The sense of its passive/aggressive nature is palpable. In some patients, treatments struggle to hold back the progression of the disease. In others, for reasons not clearly understood, the cancer dawdles; it shows little enthusiasm to proceed as long as care is provided. In the last ten years, vigorous research into remedies made significant improvements in the lives of those patients in the 2nd group.
The first event that gave me hope came from the International Myeloma Workshop held in Paris. Long-term studies indicate that revlimid maintenance treatment following a stem cell transplant extends remissions. Furthermore, the data confirms that patients undergoing this protocol live longer.
The second promising news about myeloma came from a speech given by Kathy Giusti, the CEO of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. She delivered the commencement address to the graduating class of the Harvard Business School, her alma mater. What I appreciate about her remarks is the affirmation that sound business practices can speed up the FDA’s regulatory process. Treatments move from the bench to the bedside in years, not decades. Research for solutions to MM thrives under her excellent leadership.
My cancer is stable. During the last two cycles of treatment with revlimid, I did not experience any physical letdown. I sleep well. My energy is good. I work full time and pursue my favorite activities. I feel confident about my health, optimistic for my future, all the while wary of the staying power of multiple myeloma. If I can keep the disease out of my bones and kidneys, then I should be around for the graduation of Tillie’s younger brother, my nephew Joey. He’s got three years to go. That’s a realistic goal; one I expect to make.