Star Gazing

Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky

Lately, the morning sky has drawn me outdoors before first light. There, under the comfort of a blanket, I recline in a deck chair on the front porch. The planets Venus and Jupiter are prominent out east this month. And, due to the absence of streetlights in our remote part of the Hood River Valley, an unfathomable array of stars glitter on these moonless nights.

Without fail, my cat Spanky joins me, propping himself like a sentinel on my lap. Together, we watch the day awaken. His hearing alerts me to activity before I can see it. As the darkness recedes, the drone of night crickets is joined by a melody of bird song: Mozart on a branch. Then the stars, one by one, wink and vanish into the cloak of bluing sky.

Spanky resting in the shade

Star gazing at 4 am is a luxury of retirement. My pension is modest but I am wealthy with the time to enjoy the wonders of life. Some days feel downright decadent. I read and nap without a concern for the time. Occasionally, I wear my pajamas until the middle of the afternoon. Guilt teases me. Like a mosquito, it buzzes my conscience so accustomed to years of working the 9 to 5. Still, I’m comfortable doing what I do best: nothing.

Perhaps this attitude constitutes what might be termed the “retirement honeymoon.” Maybe. I can’t say if this state of mind will last another five months, five years, or longer. However, if living with an incurable cancer has any redeeming features, then the understanding of the relative importance of things is high atop the list. Accordingly, the self indulgent activities: mystery novels or long catnaps with Spanky, to name just a couple, come with a sense of value that borders on entitlement.

More wonders of the universe

August 28th marks four years since my stem cell transplant to suppress the blood cancer, multiple myeloma. I am healthy. I manage the side effects of oral chemo much better now that I am not working. Most people would have no idea that cancer is a part of my otherwise idyllic life. Still, I know that the malignancy, which comprises a portion of the innumerable blood cells in my body, continues to percolate in my marrow. It’s like those stars that disappear with the sunrise. You can’t see them any longer, but they are still there.

Recently, I read, “A characteristic feature of multiple myeloma is that the disease enters a stable, or ‘plateau’ phase – during which time the patient is well, requires no treatment, and measurable disease indicators are stable. This phase typically lasts 12 to 40 months but it can be 10 to 15 years or more.” 

Flowers in my yard

That is quite a spread of optimistic supposition. My latest monthly visit with Dr. M confirmed that my disease fits into the above description. Technically, I am not in remission because I need a maintenance dose of oral chemo to slow the cancer’s growth. My quality of life, however, is high. I’ve pursued conventional therapies. I’ve responded well. Additional options, if necessary, wait.

Like it or not, my retirement honeymoon and disease plateau phase seem to be dancing together. It’s a clumsy pairing. They step on each other’s toes. They don’t always get the sequences just right. Both rely more on luck than design in anticipating the other’s movements. But there’s no letting go.

The north face of Mt. Hood seen from Cloud Cap

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the night sky. The celestial bodies, though vast in number, are nonetheless more predictable than biology. I know exactly where to find Jupiter and Venus as they perform their own heavenly dance across the eastern sky. On the other hand, the volatility of disease behavior, lends itself to broad generalizations, a fair amount of guesswork, and lots of hope.

11 thoughts on “Star Gazing

  1. Your writing is both poetic and magnetic; I think I’d have read on if this post were 400 times its length. One line in particular stuck with me:

    My pension is modest but I am wealthy with the time to enjoy the wonders of life.

    I’m not apt to forget this, nor anything about this gorgeous post.

    Thank you.


  2. I totally agree with Deborah above! That same line, and honestly that entire paragraph hit home with me. I love:

    Some days feel downright decadent. I read and nap without a concern for the time. Occasionally, I wear my pajamas until the middle of the afternoon. Guilt teases me.

    EZ and I are guilty of that (I use the excuse that I’m keeping him company!). The generalizations for MM are pretty broad, and we have chosen to enjoy the best of where we are. We will have to star gaze sometime in the wee hours and think of you miles away doing the same. Keep blessing us with your posts!


  3. Beautifully poetic as always, John.
    Like you, I too enjoy the early hours of the morning: they are empty and peaceful, allowing me to bask in the serene silence that lingers before the start of another day.
    I’m happy to read about the ongoing tranquility in your life: may future years be filled with such simple joys as those you enjoy now.


  4. Thank you for this enlightening post. I noticed you had posted this last night, but decided not to open and read it until the first thing this morning. I savoured every word, every photo, with my morning coffee. I closed my eyes and pictured myself sitting quietly beside you and Spanky enjoying the moment. I retird 3 years ago, and still love reading my novels until noon sometimes, with only the squirrels as my audience. Thanks again. hannaO


  5. Sounds like a nice way to start the day! And Spanky serves as lookout. What a great cat! Reminds me of mom saying when she first retired that she was just going to sit for a while. Seems like a rite of passage when you retire.

    Sent from my iPad


  6. The MM household has two cats, a little girl and now twins: a boy and a girl. I offered, and was accepted, to be the unpaid mother’s helper to my family. For the past month I have watched many sunrises, listened to the cats prowling the hallways and stairs, and enjoyed knowing that because I’m retired I have the time to be this essential support for awhile. When I first retired, I ate up the hours of quiet time like jelly beans at Halloween. This past month has been anything but quiet except for brief moments, but I am grateful beyond measure that, for now, the MM is quieter than the twins, and there is the possibility it will be that way for some time… we can only hope.


  7. A most eloquent posting, as usual, John.

    Made me think how MM retired me, put me on hospice for awhile. Seven years later I’m enjoying life immensely.

    Yet guilt prickles me too. Mentally recounting my accomplishments and successes doesn’t banish the lurking sense that unless I produce something or serve someone, I’m not pulling my weight.

    Still, the struggle to outwit MM has also crystallized my appreciation for the “bonus” time that I have won – along with the idea that it’s perfectly okay to savor the time, even if I use it only to think about stuff or become bedazzled once again, once again.

    Your well-weighed and nicely woven thoughts help my perspective a lot. Thank you so much.

    I look forward to the next posting. And the one after that …



  8. Hello John, it’s been a l-o-n-g time since I read your blog, anyone else’s blog, or did much in my own! No reason in particular for my neglect, at least no reason(s) worth getting into here. 😉

    I agree with the lovely comments from all your friends here. Your writing is poetic, soothing, & so visual. As I was reading your post I thought of what “good medicine” your musings are for many people.

    Knowing you, you probably remember me…but I’m the one whose MM caused spinal cord damage & now I’m nearly crippled. Of course, my symptoms go beyond not being able to walk without assistance.

    I’m glad you’re doing so well. You mentioned you take oral chemotherapy which I assume is considered maintenance (?). My MM is in what is considered “a very good partial remission.” My m-spike is, I believe around 0.70. I don’t even recall the term for that other thing they monitor…but I run around 1100. This has been going on since 10/07 when I stopped taking Revlimid/Dex….& I take NOTHING for my MM. I changed doctors, returning to my original oncologist, at a time when I was not taking any ‘maintenance’ therapy. He told me that they usually want people in my status to take a low dose of therapy to keep me in remission. He said they’d assume that the treatment (most likely Revlimid for me I think) would be the cause of keeping me in remission. I’m glad I’m not taking anything…but thought I’d add this aspect…well…for informational reasons.

    One more item–through my blog I met a wonderful lady who we keep in touch periodically. She mentioned your blog & loves your writing and attitude. Isn’t that typical of the people whose lives crosses yours? 🙂

    Stay well….thanks for all you are. If I’m smart, I’ll become a faithful reader of your blog.


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