Buying Time

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”

Omar Khayyam

White Breasted Nuthatch

White Breasted Nuthatch

Morning: I wash dishes, my aching wrists soothed by the warm water. 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.

I injured my wrists in the garden. Recently, I’d planted snapdragons and cosmos, tomatoes and clumps of fescue in the backyard. Out front, next to the south wall of our house, I pulled weary, overgrown plants and replaced them with new perennials. I weeded by hand the ubiquitous dandelions from the lawn. I plunged my knife deep into the earth, in search of their elusive roots.

This gardening work seemed impossible six weeks ago. 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 temporarily quit taking the drugs.

Hiking at Rowena Crest in the Columbia River Gorge.

Hiking at Rowena Crest in the Columbia River Gorge.

Cancer patients, after diagnosis, glue themselves to the instinctive desire for survival. Fear leads to passivity. I tolerate chemo regimens that make me drunk with side effects. I resign myself to the internal fight. Externally, however, life deteriorates. I desperately needed a break.

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 cells in my bone marrow takes up space normally reserved for productive cells.

For the last seven years, a continuous stream of chemical treatments kept the disease stable. But, the drugs cause as many problems as the cancer they suppress. Yes, the myeloma will advance without treating it, but stability comes with a unique set of questions.

Crossing a bridge, now that I've come to it. From a hike in Mt. Rainier National Park a few years ago.

Crossing a bridge, now that I’ve come to it. From a hike in Mt. Rainier National Park a few years ago.

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 the body and soul. It has risks. Yet, I can garden again and not collapse with fatigue. I sleep better. I have a renewed clarity of thought. And, now that the gauze of chemotherapy has lifted, I can see and feel the rhythms of the natural world.

The realist in me knows that more chemo awaits. But perhaps I can find a balance where the treatment suppresses the cancer without unduly transforming my personality and lifestyle. It’s an idea that contributes to my objective fascination with the disease. 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.

Tagged: cancer, chemotherapy, Columbia River Gorge, dexamethasone, gardening, Hood River, Hood River Valley, multiple myeloma, nature, Rowena Crest, steroids