Okay, It’s A Process!

It’s been a month since I posted an update on my health, cancer treatment, and Stem Cell Transplant! So here’s some of what’s happened since the last post on 03-14-22:

Today is Day +70 since the SCT. My most recent appointment with my local oncologist was on Thursday, April 7 and the lab results from that visit are encouraging. I’ve begun to feel better and a little stronger. I wish I could say I’m feeling better and stronger every day, but it’s not like that. There are still good days and not so good days, but the good days are more so and the not so good days less so in terms of frequency and intensity.

Since returning home to Bend in early March, we’ve been doing frequent walks in the desert with Jake the Desert Bone Dog and I’m able to add a little distance to the walk most every time. I’m still not quite up to the standard we had before, but I’m going to get there. And beyond!

We knew the Stem Cell Transplant wasn’t a “quick fix”, but knowing that and keeping that foremost in mind aren’t the same thing. Even with the positive indicators, it’s hard to feel very excited when progress seems so slow. It’s hard to know what to tell and how to answer when people ask how I’m doing.  “A little better” is not big news. Except when it is.

Before the SCT, I had to semi-isolate and wear a mask everywhere I went to avoid getting infected with COVID and losing out on the transplant. Now I have to semi-isolate and wear an N95 mask everywhere I go to avoid infections from colds, flu, leaf mold, dust particles, you name it. I can’t eat bleu cheese dressing (mold), vacuum the carpet (microorganisms in the dust), share dishes and utensils (general germs), or eat rare-cooked steak (whatever!)!

Before the SCT, my immune system was compromised, but I still had the benefit of all the work my system had done through the years and all the vaccinations I’d had and the disease resistance I’d built up through a lifetime. Now I have none of that. My COVID vaccinations are gone, along with flu shots, shingles vaccine, measles, mumps, and all the other childhood disease inoculations. After a few months, I’ll begin getting vaccinations again as my immune system gets strong enough to manage them. In the meantime, it’s frustrating to be even more restricted than I was before the SCT.

Are there lessons for me in all this? You bet there are! One of the things I’m realizing is that I’m not as mature as I thought I was. I’m definitely as old as I thought I was, but not as mature as I thought. (You see, aging is mandatory, but maturity is optional!)

So some days I feel like I’ve taken steps backward instead of forward. In those moments, it’s easy to be frustrated that I can’t go where I want to go and do what I want to do. And it’s harder to keep focused on the fact that if I successfully navigate the first three months, then the first six months, then the first year post-transplant, I’ve very likely added the potential of five or six years or more to my lifespan.

I’m in full remission from the Multiple Myeloma cancer right now. The mutation that caused the cancer cells to develop is still there in my DNA, but the cells are wiped out now by the chemo I had just prior to the transplant. In another 30 days or so, at around day +90 to day +100, I’ll have another bone marrow biopsy, another scan, and another complete set of lab tests. This will establish a new sort of benchmark that can help guide us in what sort of maintenance treatment I’ll have going forward.

So, “How am I doing?” There’s a short answer (I’m doing better) and a long answer (but it’s kind of complicated).

The whole “cancer process” so far has been good for my faith.

    • It’s helped me clarify my thoughts about life and death and longevity.
    • It’s helped me wrestle with some important theological issues and questions.
    • It’s strengthening in me a deep gratitude and thankfulness to God for the life I’ve been given and the people and experiences and blessings that have come my way.
    • It’s pointed out very clearly that I’ve got a lot to learn, a lot of growing and maturing to do, and that I have a stewardship privilege with every day I wake up.

Some of you will relate when I say, “I want to be mature and I want it RIGHT NOW!” A big part of the lesson for me as I realize this process is going to take a while longer than I expected, is to relax a little, slow down a little, and celebrate little steps of progress in my health and my soul. And when I’m really tired, it’s okay to take a little nap!

So it’s a process! How long does the process last? As long as it takes! Here’s a couple of questions that help me appreciate and respect the process more when I can remember to think about and process them:

    • This thing that I’m going through, is it an event or a process? Is it reasonable to expect it to be all done and wrapped up in a nice little package or do I need to accept that it’s going to take a while?
    • What is the desired outcome of this process? What are the short-term sacrifices that lead to the long-term benefits? How can I better focus on the desired outcome?
    • How can I develop and maintain a deep awareness and gratitude that God has filled my life with blessings beyond counting?
    • How can I better understand what others are going through and how they feel, and help and encourage them as a result of my “process”?
    • Are we there yet?!?

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, please leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, I’d love for you to click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.