Baseball, hot dogs, and the American Flag symbolize our country’s national holiday. My sons will be together in California attending a game between the Giants and their arch rival, the Dodgers. My wife plans to do Hood River’s annual Fourth of July run/walk, a 7.2 mile event from mid-valley to downtown. Years ago, when I was a runner, I raced this hilly route. But I will not participate this year.

As it is, my cancer, multiple myeloma, keeps throwing curves at my determination to be physically active. I feel like a baseball player who can’t get off the disabled list. Currently, I’m nursing a foot injury. I strained a tendon on the bottom of my left foot while swimming, of all things. The irony is that I started swimming to assist in healing an injured back. I’d hoped to stretch and tone those hard to reach mid-thoracic muscles weakened by my drug cocktail. Alas, I hurt my foot in the process.

Then, not long ago, I tripped and fell in a parking lot. Clumsiness comes with the peripheral neuropathy in my feet. This condition is directly related to toxic drugs I’ve taken to combat the cancer. The soles of my feet feel as if they are half asleep, though the half that is awake usually guides me along just fine.

In this instance, I was hustling back to my truck for something I’d forgotten. Down I went. Had I been skiing, it would have qualified as a “yard sale.” The things I carried went in all directions. Somehow, I managed to slow the fall with my hands and knees. Otherwise, it would have been a “yard sale” with a “face plant,” and probably a hospital visit.

I lay on the ground for a moment, distraught as Humpty Dumpty. The obvious injury, aside from my pride, was a nasty scrape on my left knee. Within a few hours I returned home, slathered on some Neosporin and a 4×4 bandage. Five days later, glowing inflammation lit up the knee. Fortunately, healing proceeded, albeit slowly.

(Double click on any photo to view carousel of Flags gallery)

Another incident, indicative of my eggshell fragility, occurred when my wife and I went shopping for an 8 x 10 rug. The carpets laid flat, 20 deep on a large platform. As we rolled them back to see the various patterns of each rug, I brushed my shin along the tightly woven edge of one. I was wearing shorts. No big deal, yet an annoying side effect of the steroids I take is thinning of the skin. This, coupled with the tendency of other oral chemo to lower the count of the clotting factors in my blood, leads to easy bleeding.

Sure enough, what seemed like an insignificant touch immediately became an unsightly trickle of blood hurrying toward the absorbent home of my white socks. I stepped aside and used tissues to stop the flow without grossing out any store personnel. Once again, though, my well being took a hit, adding to the litany of reasons to persist in beady-eyed scrutiny of my body.

MM is the equivalent of biological sequestration. It thrives in the absence of the armed guards normally patrolling our blood and lymph systems. The disease causes cutbacks in defense that lead primarily to physical consequences.

Secondary consequences are worries I’m becoming ultra sensitive, lamenting tiny boo boos, or, perhaps worse, the fear that I trend toward hypochondria. Neither is true. This is just what living the life with myeloma is like. The disease keeps waving its own little flags, attempting to get my attention. And the remedies can be as problematic as the cause.

I am happy. I am not sick, per se. But unpredictable mishaps keep denting the fenders of my confidence. I hammer them out, laughing at how delicate I’ve become. There are moments, though, when the unceasing interruptions try my good humor.

It’s a tantalizing dynamic for cancer patients: grin or grieve. So far, I’m still leaning toward the laughter.

6 thoughts on “Flags

  1. Many wonderful turns of phrases here, John. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten and entertain your readers as you navigate MM.


  2. John, your article hit home with me. I am on Rev maintenance & just this week was having routine eye doc apt, went to sit in the chair, my leg hit the corner of the extended leg portion, the next thing I look down and blood is running down my leg and totally bruised around it–for just a bump. It does make us extra sensitive to doing things and not getting hurt–but is a small side effect if it keeps the mm away! Happy 4th! Carol


  3. Hey, John —

    You mentioned the Giants, which made me think of the 1962 team with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal. We were both juniors at South San Francisco High School when the team played the dreaded Dodgers for first place for the league. The Giants went on to play New York in the World Series, but lost in the seventh game. I remember going out to the airport with a bunch of South City kids to welcome them back.

    Knowing those facts and names, by the way, helped get me a job at The Oregonian. You never know what experiences are going to help you make your way through life. Happy Fourth of July to all.

    Take care.


  4. Hi John – although our cancers are different (I’m 5 years out of treatment for sinus cancer), doesn’t mean I understand any less. I’m right there with you on maintaining your perspective, a sense of humor, and some decent prose. But there are those times when I’ve locked up in frustration, shook my first, and said to myself “you will NOT get to me!” A lesson I learned while going thru treatment, and one I’ve passed on to other patients and survivors, is stay flexible and adapt. We certainly do get tested enough on those two strategies… – Jeff


  5. A little advice: don’t use petroleum based antibiotic creams on your injuries. It seals the bacteria/infection in and can lead to cellulitis. It happened to Tim and an emergency room doctor told us not to use them. Betadine, peroxide, etc. are much better choices. That old wive’s tale, “let the air get at it” is actually good advice.


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