“It’s just … it’s like it’s always right now, you know?”
Mason from Boyhood
An inversion layer spreads over the Hood River Valley. Temperatures drop to the high 20s at night and creep into the mid-30s during the day. At elevation, upon the slopes of Mt. Hood, sunny skies prevail. But here, in the foothills, no wind, no snow, and no sunshine. Instead, a thick blanket of overcast spreads gloom. Enthusiasm for activity wanes. Last weekend, I stayed home and wore pajamas all day. Nonetheless, my mood is bright. This December marks ten years since my diagnosis with the blood cancer, multiple myeloma.
An irony of cancer rests in a biological enigma: it destroys the host that sustains it. As it strives to survive it also brings about its death. My disease results from an error in DNA programming, a mutation gone awry. That, being so, and given its prevalence, can we not view it as a metaphor for humanity’s abuse of the environment? Are we destroying our host? Are we, too, a mistake?
While mulling over this puzzle, I venture outside to scatter seed for the birds. I keep their water station thawed. They congregate on the boughs of the ornamental cherry. They alight to drink a drop or two, wash themselves, and then gather with others in the barren branches of our shrubs. There are juncos, chickadees, sparrows, a few finches, towhees, jays, and mourning doves.
Occasionally, an opportunistic hawk visits. He perches on the cross of the power pole. We all entertain one another. I provide food and water. The yard birds sing and chatter. They navigate, with aplomb, the maze of thickets in the yard. The raptor waits.
In spite of my lazy weekend, I make the effort to exercise. Quiet walks on the waterfront immerse me in the rhythms of the natural world. Fewer and fewer people go outdoors. Locals, walking their dogs, populate the paths. The animals, paragons of pure joy, walk in the company of a human they adore. To them, the world is alive with scent, and each happy breath produces a visible cloud as the heat of their body greets the frigid air.
On the river, mud hens float together. Ducks splash as they land. They squabble. A lone heron, the vicar of the waterfront, hunches his shoulders in ecclesiastical contemplation. Above me gulls glide and squeal. Gaggles of geese pass, honking as they proceed somewhere far from here. Physically, I am present, my senses absorbing the sights and sounds. My mind, however, wanders.
The sky is opaque. I feel gratitude. Ten years far exceeds my prognosis. Looking back, I experienced challenges and emotions. I’ve pursued a workmanlike blue collar treatment program. I follow the research, the trial developments. I moved through the protocols that existed at diagnosis. I add those that emerged during my decade of care.
My medical records weave between progression and stasis. The Drill reads like my monthly photos of the waterfront: repetitive views that are at once the same and different. I don’t dwell on the incurable nature of my condition. I don’t get overly excited by promising developments in the regulatory pipeline. Perhaps, they will evolve to assist me, perhaps not. What fate has put in motion makes me thankful for each and every right now.