I learned something about myself recently. I learned that I’m usually more stressed and anxious over the details and the process than over the outcome of the situation. Let me explain what I mean. First, I’ve gotta say that this hasn’t been a “blinding flash of light revelation”, but more of a gradual realization that has clarified over time. But the recent experience of being Jean’s caregiver during the first few weeks after her fall/broken ankle/surgery really clarified some things for me. One of the tasks that fell to me during her immobilization is emptying the dishwasher.
The automatic dishwasher has always intimidated me. I understand it’s only a machine – a kitchen appliance. And I understand that it uses hot water under pressure to blast the dishes clean and then uses hot air to dry them. It’s not the mechanics of the thing I find intimidating. The intimidating part is the emptying of the beast. I open the dishwasher door and slide the top rack out and there’s all this stuff that I have no idea where it belongs! I know generally that it belongs in drawers and cupboards around the kitchen, but it just feels overwhelming when I look at all the glasses and cups and plates and stuff. I just want to slide the rack back in, close the door, and walk away.
Most of you who read “Notes From My Journey” know that in late March of 2021 I was diagnosed with a blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma. Multiple Myeloma is caused by a mutation of a type of blood plasma cell that causes these mutated and defective cells to begin to multiply in an uncontrolled manner in an attempt to take over the world (my world, anyhow!). They crowd the bone marrow, where blood cells are produced, and begin to interfere with the growth of other, healthy cells. Left untreated, they eventually take over and cause bones to deteriorate and cause death through failure of the kidneys or lungs or other organs. Multiple Myeloma is not curable medically, but it’s treatable.
Since mid-April I’ve been undergoing a targeted therapy of three drugs to combat my cancer; two taken orally and one given as a weekly injection. It’s working pretty well and I have fewer MM cells in my body than I had and they’re multiplying more slowly. If I continue this form of treatment, it is likely to achieve temporary remission for a season. There’s another treatment that is even more effective and it’s usually given after a few cycles of the treatment I’m currently doing, when the MM cell count is fairly low. I’m getting there, so we’re moving forward with this other treatment called a Stem Cell Transplant. A variation of this treatment is called a Bone Marrow Transplant (You’ve probably heard of that one). This treatment can produce a complete remission that can last a year or two or even more, along with providing a greatly improved “quality of life”.
I’m preparing for a Stem Cell Transplant. It’s a complex and somewhat drawn out process in which healthy Stem Cells (which are kind of magic in that they can grow into several kinds of cells as the body needs them) are harvested from my blood, frozen, and then reintroduced into my body. I know! Sounds like science, doesn’t it?! After the Stem Cells are harvested and frozen, I’m given a massive dose of chemotherapy over a couple of days that kills off most of the bad cells remaining in my blood and bone marrow (along with a bunch of the good cells). Then the Stem Cells are thawed out and put back into my blood and they get right to work making plasma cells that begin to rebuild my blood and my immune system in a much improved environment where nearly all the MM cells are gone. Actually, a few years ago that would have sounded like science fiction. But it really works! And it’s an exacting and complicated process.
Actually the preparation and follow-up treatment is more complicated than the transplant itself. The Transplant Center at OHSU sent me books and procedural documents and preparation and follow-up instructions, and cautions and warnings, and lists of potential side effects and links to instructional videos. There is so much stuff to learn and to keep track of and to think about that my brain just about freezes (Not like when you drink a Slurpee too fast! Worse!).
I’ve found that in preparing for the Stem Cell Transplant, it’s the details of the process that stress me more than the risks related to the outcome. Each time I read through all the details, instructions, and warnings, I just get overwhelmed. Kind of depressed. It’s given me opportunity to look inward and to work toward better understanding myself and how I respond or react to things. Processing all the details of the procedures, thinking about all the appointments I have for tests and procedures, thinking about all the things I have to stop doing, start doing, be careful to avoid, be diligent to perform just overwhelms me! I just want it to stop and go back to how things were before the diagnosis in March!
But if I just stop, if I don’t keep moving forward as the treatment of the disease requires, things will not go back to how they were. The result will be that the disease takes over and has its way in a relatively short time. So stopping is not an option. Avoidance is not an option. I simply must move forward and overcome the “overwhelmingness” of it and do what is required.
Here’s what I learned from emptying the dishwasher: When I open the dishwasher door and pull out the top rack and feel overwhelmed like “I can’t possibly figure out where all these things go!” I can’t just stop there, push the rack back in, and close the door.
I look at the drinking glasses. I actually know which cupboard they belong in. So I put them away. Then I address the coffee cups. I know where they belong. So I put them away. Then the small bowls we eat cereal or soup from. I know where they go. So I put them away. By the time I work my way through the top rack, I’ve only got a couple of things I can’t figure out where to put. So I turn my attention to the bottom rack. Plates. I know where to put them. Pots and large bowls. Pots go over there, large bowls over there! Silver ware (knives, forks, spoons): Hey there’s a drawer with compartments for these! This is going to be easy!
By the time I’ve taken it a step at a time and put away the things I can actually figure out a place for, there’s not much left. Now it’s a challenge I can manage. And I can take the two or three things that remain and ask Jean where they go and before I know it, the job is done! No longer a dark mystery. No longer overwhelming. No longer a fearful, complicated, impossible task! It’s done!
This probably seems kind of silly to you, but Emptying the Dishwasher has taught me a lot about myself, about what makes me feel overwhelmed, what gets me stuck. And it’s taught me that if I’ll just start; if I’ll just find one thing that I know how to do and do it, I get unstuck. Take the first step, then the next step, then keep going, eventually what was looming darkly over me and discouraging me is done.
I remember my friend Lance Powers saying, “Just do the next right thing!” This is like that. Just do the next thing that needs to be done, then do the next thing after that, and keep going until you’ve done all the things that have to be done. Let God take care of the outcome! The outcome of my Multiple Myeloma is out of my control, it’s above my pay grade, it’s not in my hands. But there are plenty of steps of action, of “next things” to do to keep me busy for a while. So I’ll do that.
Today I was at the dentist’s office. The Transplant Team at OHSU sent me a form to take to the dentist to get a complete set of x-rays and a complete exam to make sure I had no cavities and no gum disease or infection prior to the transplant. Well, it turns out I do have some infection and a small cavity. So I’m scheduled to spend a good part of tomorrow in the dentist’s chair! Not what I wanted to be doing. But I took it in stride, made the appointment, I’ll show up on time, and eventually it’ll be done and I’ll move on to the next step in the process. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but I’m not going to worry or stress over it tonight. I’m just going to get up in the morning and go do it! And that’s progress for me!
Friends, I hope you can find something helpful in my Emptying the Dishwasher experience! Grace to you today!
As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.