Leaf Litter, the ER, and Wobbling

My wife and I just returned from 10 days in New England. We entered Acadia National Park, in Maine, the afternoon prior to the government shutdown. There, we hiked to the summit of Cadillac Mountain and walked along the shores of Sand Beach and Jordan Pond. On the second day we followed the Great Meadow Loop Trail that wanders in and out of the Park boundaries. 

The next morning we drove to New Hampshire. While cruising on the turnpike, I mused on the elastic language of my blood cancer, multiple myeloma. Silly thoughts, mostly. Am I relapsed or trending? Was I ever in remission? No, I don’t think it’s the correct word if you are taking meds. So, technically, stable under treatment, responding as opposed to being refractory.

Then, I recalled Dr. L, my oncologist, saying the increased dosages she prescribed might “squish down” the rising myeloma markers. Conversely, Siddartha Mukherjee, in his essay, The Cancer Sleeper Cell, found that, “The word “relapse” comes from the Latin for “slipping backward,” or “slipping again.” Hmm, remission and relapse or squishing and slipping? I prefer the more casual terms. Neither has scientific clout but both are to the point. And, obviously, it’s all about context.

Upon arriving at our destination in New Hampshire, we checked into a traditional country inn. A few hours of daylight remained. The owner directed us to a trail up Black Cap Mountain. The steep invigorating climb led to a granite summit with views of the surrounding hills and their thick hardwood forests. Along the way, my stamina faltered and a sharp pain skewered the left side of my chest. 

The following day we took two hikes in the State Park. One, The Flume Gorge, climbs a well-constructed boardwalk through a deep cleft of granite carved by the Pemigawasset River. The trail loops back under a canopy of multi-colored leaves; the dappled light filtered by birch, maple, and beech trees.

That evening, I succumbed to the nasty virus festering in my lungs. My throat burned and a leaky nose disturbed my sleep. 

In the morning we drove to our final stop, a motel in Woodstock, VT. We continued our serendipitous day-hiking even though I felt puny. Shortness of breath dogged me due to the virus tromping through my respiratory tract. By 7:30 that evening, I was in the Emergency Room of the county hospital.

Four hours later, after an EKG, X-rays, a CT scan, oxygen therapy, and blood tests we found …, nothing.  I definitely had a bad cold but there was no reason I could not fly across country on the following day. 

So, a bit of an embarrassment to bother the nurses and PA in the ER. But the shortness of breath spooked me. And, that’s the thing; isn’t it? Cancer unhinges a person. Sometimes, the discipline necessary to manage one’s disease collides with irrational fears.

Therefore, what is my status in the context of cancer’s lexicon? I am not relapsed. Nor am I in remission. And my stability? Well, it wobbles. Wobbly, now that’s a word Dr. L and even Mukherjee might like.


5 thoughts on “Leaf Litter, the ER, and Wobbling

  1. Hi John: What eloquent words and these are the same leafs Mom wants to go and see. We are a bit late for this year so opting for a first time visit to Disneyland (go figure… :0) Will have to pick your brain on the foliage there on the east coast for next year though. Take care and thinking of you. Tel Mar hello. Nancy T.


  2. We do was a bit prosaic when it comes to cancer. I guess that’s our way of managing it – although, ironically, we aren’t yet at that stage of managing cancer the way we manage heart disease and diabetes. As you say – it’s there or it’s not. There’s no gray area to our language of cancer. Squishing down numbers, eh? I give that doctor points for metaphor, though…
    Headed upstate NY myself this weekend – the color is coming on fast with some trees starting to go bare. More color in Vermont than in the Albany area, more color there than in the suburbs of NYC. The season relapses to winter – but then again, can spring be far behind? 🙂


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