Reflections From The Other Side

I’m writing to you from “The Other Side”! On January 20, I had my final appointment with my local oncologist, Dr. Todd Clover prior to the transplant. After conversation and questions, as I prepared to leave the consult room, we shook hands and he said, “I’ll see you on the other side.” When he said it, it really struck a chord with me. The Other Side!

The stem cell transplant was done on Wednesday, February 2, 2022 and I’m writing this on the afternoon of Monday, February 21. Today is day +19 since the transplant and a lot has happened since then.

I was released from Hospital on February 14 to stay at Stephanie and Philip’s home in Gresham, OR. This keeps me within 20 miles of OHSU Hospital for access to on-going outpatient treatment for another couple of weeks or so, or for emergency treatment should the need arise. I go to the cancer clinic for labs to check on my new blood progress, to consult with the doctor, and to have the dressing on my central line changed.

I’m eagerly longing to be released to go home to Bend, but I know I’m not ready yet. I did manage a half-mile walk each of the past three days, but I’m well aware of my new limitations and that it will take some time to rebuild. So we’ll trust the numbers and the medical team that does this all the time and we’ll be grateful to go home when the time is right. I’ll send you a very joyous update when we get there!

There are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about and processing during the past few weeks that I’d like to share with you. I won’t take long with this, because I’m still working on it myself.

The Dark Valley

Psalm 23:4 “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” There’s definitely been some dark valley places between here and where we’ve come from since starting the SCT process in 2021. My shepherd knows the way through those dark places and is not merely sending me through them, but will walk with me all the way through to the other side!

My treatment plan had been working so well, and with reasonably light side effects and I had actually reached a point of remission. I stopped all my regular treatment drugs a couple of weeks before the transplant and as the effects wore off, I felt better than I had since I started treatment last April. I was tempted to think, “What if I just don’t do the SCT and see how long this remission will last?”

And then I had the transplant and as the chemo did its dirty work, within the next few days, I felt worse than I had since I can remember. But in the Dark Valley days I was so thankful!

I was so thankful for the Doctors and nurses who said, “Don’t be discouraged. Here’s what’s happening in your bone marrow and blood, you’re right on track. In the next few days, as these numbers come up, you’ll start feeling better and stronger.”

And I was so thankful for friends who emailed and texted me that God was with me in the Dark Valley, that God’s unfailing love surrounded me, and that I would be out of the Dark Valley and into the sunny green pastures soon.

I was thankful for the many friends and GraceNotes and Blog readers who didn’t send a note to me, but sent a prayer to God

And I’ve been most thankful for Jean, who sat by my bed every day in 14K. Jean is my caregiver through this process. OHSU only does the transplant if the patient has a dedicated 24/7 caregiver. Jean has been by my side during the darkest part of my dark valley, managing my meds, helping me dress, helping me in and out of bed (You know, just like always!)

Life Lesson: The Good Shepherd will be with you through the Dark Valley, and the Good Shepherd has some helpers that will speak life, truth, and encouragement to you. Listen to them and let them help.

The Other Side

I remember an old kids’ song, “The Bear went over the Mountain.” Apparently, the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see. When he got over the mountain, this is what he saw “The other side of the mountain is all that he could see.” I know, humor me, okay?

I’m on the other side! The transplant is working! That’s great, its fears have been overcome, its objective is being achieved, it’s a plan that so far is working well. But it’s not really a destination or a stopping place. My immune system still isn’t as strong as it was before the transplant. Even with all the months of immune destroying cancer treatment, I still had more defenses then than I have right now.

The thing I have now that I didn’t have then is cancer-free bone marrow and some intrepid little stem cells that are working day and night to multiply the cells I need in my bone marrow and blood to rebuild immunity. They’ll learn to recognize the bad stuff that comes along. They’ll be strong enough in a few months that I can begin to get the vaccinations against shingles, pneumonia, measles, COVID, all these enemies.

There are times when God gives us a powerful breakthrough, but the breakthrough isn’t a destination. It’s not a stopping place, it’s a platform from which to move further forward in our faith journey. And there will be obstacles to overcome, battles to be fought, disciplines to put in place.

I’m physically more at risk of illness and infection right now than I was 3 weeks ago, before the transplant. But I’m positioned to get better and healthier than I’ve been since the cancer diagnosis last March. I’ve got some new anti-infection restrictions to learn about and heed, and some strength restoring exercise to do, and some patience to develop (I thought I already had that!).

I’ve got my little intrepid Stem Cells working away down there in my bone marrow. I’ve got the medical team monitoring my progress and setting some boundaries and restrictions. I’ve got my friends and family praying, caring, and helping in so many ways. And I’m surrounded by the unfailing steadfast love of my Father.

• Dark Valley? You’re not alone!
• The Other Side? No magic, just a new platform from which to live your faith.

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.