As usual, up at 4 AM on Mondays. I like to take my weekly steroids early. The plan is to avoid the first night’s insomnia. I re-supplied the wood stove, then napped on the couch. I awoke an hour later from an exquisite dreamless sleep and felt hot flashes from the drug. So it goes this winter: steroids, an oral chemo, and infusions of bone strengtheners.
I’d spent Christmas in San Francisco with my wife. We visited our son, Noah, and my brother and his wife, whom I have written about previously here and here. We flew into Oakland and used the BART, to navigate between the airport and the city and the East Bay, where our son lives. We rented a suite at a hotel in the SoMa, the south of Market Street neighborhood, on the corner of 2nd and Folsom.
The hotel room was within a block of Noah’s office in SF. He is an attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Southwest Region. He works on a team that reviews permits under the auspices of the Clean Air Act.
This neighborhood has it all: glorious steel and glass high rises, expensive hotels, theaters, tourist restaurants, and everywhere, everywhere the homeless, scratching out a daily existence like wild animals, only sometimes crazy, jabbering nonesense, begging for food or money, bathrooms, creating residences out of shopping carts and blankets, doorways and alleys. The hubbub of business murmurs around them but Christmas provides a reprieve from the traffic and noise, for much of the SoMa was closed.
My wife and I walked the streets, noticing that our son negotiates the ironies of the haves and have nots each and every day. He is successful. He is also paralyzed and schleps from the BART at the Montgomery Street station to and from his office, rain or shine in a manual wheelchair, dodging the dog shit and spit on the sidewalks, and the swill of the gutters at the curb cuts. Everyday, from his unique perspective, he witnesses the baffling inequalities of American life that have taken hold during the last three decades.
Life is hard in a wheelchair, but it’s not lost on me that many of the homeless also have disabilities, both physical and mental. In a perfect world some might find the support and strength of will to overcome life’s obstacles. Family, however, seems to be the only social program that is not under funded. It is flush with love, not money. Without family, opportunities to escape the street life of homelessness are lacking.
I arrived in SF recovering from a head cold. It worsened upon leaving the city. Flying never helps but it’s not the outright cause. That would be my weakened immune system, a result of the blood cancer, multiple myeloma, that I’ve lived with for eight years.
When I get sick, I seem to wander farther from shore into the swamp of my disease, tainted by eight years of drugs spoiling what once was the healthy wetland of my bone marrow.
My cancer markers may be stable, even leaning toward improvement, but I’m sick with survivorship: numbed feet, fatigue, yadda yadda yadda … the worst is shortness of breath because it is accompanied by the sensible and terrifying paroxysm of panic. When sick, I occasionally awaken at night feeling as if I’m being buried alive.
With drug administration, the patient wants to take the highest dose he/she can tolerate. I am at the max amount and feeling it, stubbornly bumping along a deteriorating road full of chemical potholes. These little viruses often feel like setbacks. Yet, if I can process through them, the medications seem manageable and the road smooths out. I’m ok; I’m better and writing again.
I’ve updated The Drill with the latest cancer marker numbers.