Friday, March 8, 2013

Why me? Why not me?


Cancer is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t discriminate against age, gender, race, or socioeconomic strata (unless you're a conspiracy theorist and then we can go to town!). We can certainly reduce our risks by behavioral things, but when I think about how I ended up on the business end of a leukemia diagnosis, I’m a bit flummoxed.  Here are a few statistics I’ve found from the National Cancer Institute, white guys like myself contract this fun-ness about 4.5 times in every 100,000 people, and of those of my age group (45-54), we’re about 11.8 of the whole. If I were to generalize, I’d say I’m a bit young, but obviously it’s not unusual. Looking at the details from there on are kinda sketchy because so many people who contract AML are typically much older and the body has a much more difficult time healing. The old ‘cure is worse than the disease’ applies here. The details from then on seem to be open to interpretation and I’m going to go with what my doctors are saying rather than interpolate what I think the statistics imply.
My daughter’s father in-law is an AML-survivor and from what I hear, is doing well. How nice to be on the downside of this! When I chatted with her on the phone today, she was still a little freaked out about the familial similarity, but of course, undaunted. I’m looking forward to seeing her soon. Who knows really what causes this thing? Is it a cosmic crap shoot?  Is it because of my aviation career where I absorbed an unhealthy amount and type of radiation? Who knows? And more to the point, does it matter?
I had a busy day of procedures and visitors and I’m now in the middle of an unwanted all-nighter with transfusions that require intensive, periodic interruptions from the nursing staff to make sure I’m not crashing. And yes, it would have made more sense to just do this tomorrow when nothing is happening here. The speed of medicine is often excruciating and precisely inconvenient, but my social plans have taken an unwitting back seat to the world of phosphate binders, antibiotics, and the rather specific unpleasant details of my latest bowel movement. So, I’m awake and with you tonight and I’m unpacking that, ‘Why me?’ question.
People who know me from any length of time know that I’m one of the first to throw a couple of ‘frog skins’ to someone for those fund-raiser events.  I’ve been a little more generous than I should at time, but I always thought karma would favor me in my own efforts, so when the AIDS walks, Multiple Sclerosis rides, diabetes races, and the Susan Komen (and other) cancer relays were out there, I just routinely contribute. I even have supported a high school classmate who has run marathons for the Team-in-Training to support the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society. (That one hit a little close to home as I thought back about all of this!)  He lost his father to a blood cancer years ago and through these events, met his partner in life. I, myself, have done some endurance events to raise funds for HIV/AIDS in both Minnesota and Southern California. Each time I participated, I got far more out of the experience than I put into it. I’m a staunch supporter of these kinds of events because they continue to keep the dialogue moving in areas we don’t like to talk about except around the water cooler. If you don’t say, “cancer,” it won’t happen, right? Except that it does. Believe it.
I’m also the same guy who donated blood over forty times, making me one of those “five-gallon” club members the Red Cross loves so much. Tonight I’m getting some of that interest transfused back into me, so I guess between the money, energy, and flesh I’ve invested over the years, the ‘what goes around comes around’ is coming back on me. I’m in decent physical shape, able to negotiate the black diamond slopes, physically adept on a bicycle, and working toward chiseling that middle-aged paunch away from my mid-section. I eat reasonably well, my alcohol intake is modest, and I don’t smoke.
So, again, why me? I'm not the guy that fits this demographic. You'd have thought I thoroughly dodged that bullet and we could by-pass the "why bad things happen to good people discussion."
And as much as I don’t want to be the one drinking this rather bitter cup, I have to say, “Why not me?” Because I have so much going for me aside from some rogue marrow, I have a better chance to beat the dire survivability that others may not have. The other thing I have going for me has nothing at all to do with my physiology and everything to do with you, dear readers. 
I had a very good friend drive all the way up from Southern California to be with me today and while I was getting a CT scan, visited another vet who didn’t have the luxury of someone to visit him. I don't have to question that I have people rooting for me. I have had the great good fortune to *know* without question that I am loved, that I am supported, that I have a crowd of supporters literally around the world.  The power of social media is surprising in its scope, but it also is another stark reminder that the same kind of thing I invested in these charity fund-raisers, I apparently invested in relationships to where I’m not just a “click” to someone on facebook. The flood of texts, emails, phone calls, gifts, well wishes, and on and on has been genuinely humbling and I can guarantee that while I couldn’t possibly return the sentiment individually in any reasonable time, I see every one of them and there will come a time when this is all said and done where I will have quite a long project ahead of me to repay the manifold kindnesses you have extended. This is going to be a long-haul, I know, so I appreciate the endurance in which many of you have already intimated.
I got the word late yesterday that one of the tests that indicated that the cancer would return and suggested I would need a bone marrow transplant came back positive.  I don’t have a time frame, but that means I’ll be flown to Seattle for the transplant.  I’m told Seattle is lovely in the summer and that I’ll not be stuck in a hospital room and actually get to see a bit of it as I’m feeling able.
Silver linings may not be the things I expect, but I’m watching for them at every turn…and I do see a lot of them. Any of you who spend any time in the social media wasteland will have come across this gem.  My high school classmate sent it to me and I remember seeing it back when it came out and crying then.  Now, I watch it every day and still cry because the resilience of the human spirit cannot be vanquished by cancer, but is rather often defined by how coming through it. My hope is that I'm able, with your help, to maintain a positive outlook and strength to keep fighting the good fight to put this all in the rear view mirror and to be able to pull someone else through the struggle.
Be well, stay strong, much love to you all.