“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”
Morning: I wash dishes. In front of me, through a window opening to the east, I watch a nuthatch spiral up the trunk of our lilac bush. Rays of sunlight pierce the trembling leaves, and the bird’s eyes wink like sequins.
Later, I’d plant flowers: snapdragons and cosmos out back and new perennials in the front yard. I pulled weary, overgrown plants from year’s past, then replaced them with tomatoes and clumps of fescue. Finally, I weeded the ubiquitous dandelions from the lawn. I plunged my knife deep into the earth, in search of their elusive roots.
This gardening seemed impossible six weeks ago. At that time, I struggled to cleanse my lungs of recurring upper respiratory infections. Chemotherapy for my cancer, multiple myeloma, weakened an already compromised immune system. Each week, there was the roller coaster ride of steroids to manage. Treatment proved effective against the disease. But my overall health and spirit suffered. So, I stopped taking the medicine.
Monthly labs provide evidence of the imbalance in my blood counts. I tire easily and my immune system under performs. A clot of malignant myeloma takes up space in my bone marrow normally reserved for productive cells.
For the last seven years, a continuous stream of pharmaceuticals kept the disease stable. But the drugs cause as many problems as the cancer they suppress. Yes, the myeloma will advance without treating it. Stability, however, comes with a unique set of questions.
Instinctively, cancer patients glue themselves to the desire for survival. We hop onto the merry-go-round of hope. Mortal fears lead to passivity and resignation is necessary in order to endure the discomforts. Why else would I tolerate chemo regimens that render me miserable?
These drugs, though, are not intended to make me feel better. They are serial killers set loose to create havoc in the disease environment. Over time, the carnage bled into the recesses of my psyche.
This past winter, I worried, “Is it worth it? What is the true value of the time I am buying? Do I really want to keep alive this version of myself?”
Well … yes. I’ve learned that a drug holiday treats both body and soul. It has risks. Yet, now that the veil of chemotherapy has lifted, I have a renewed clarity of thought. I can garden again. Local hiking trails beckon. I sleep better. By choosing to stop, I found strength and peace.
The pragmatist in me knows that more chemo awaits. From within my survivor’s purgatory of wishful thinking, I imagine a balanced treatment that suppresses the cancer without unduly transforming my lifestyle. It’s an idea that contributes to my objective fascination with the disease for, unlike many cancers, multiple myeloma lends itself to the possibility of long term management.
Dr. B and I have a plan in place. We are trying to solve the puzzle. Later this month, if I meet all the criteria, we will initiate a new program. Until then, I’ll try to enjoy the simple, unfiltered treasure of each moment.