Friday, April 26, 2013


True to form, after my posting yesterday, I was introduced to someone today who put everything in perspective for me. A med tech that I hadn’t yet met was assigned to me yesterday whom I found out was a two-time cancer survivor.  She was also assigned to me today, and as I had finished my shower, she was changing the linens on my bed.  We chatted a while when she had finished and with the challenges she had and her positive attitude, I felt buoyed at the possibilities for the future. In trying to articulate how I felt, how I’m hurting, how I’m grasping for hope, I didn’t have to explain anything. As a survivor, she just knew - instant empathy. Now, that doesn’t mean that only those who have walked through the valley of the shadow of cancer can understand, but it’s just easier to get to the heart of things. Just before lunch, I wandered down to physical therapy and rode the stationary bicycle for about 20 minutes. After being accustomed to riding long distance, 20 minutes seems so paltry. Yet it’s what I can do right now. On the way back to my room, my new med tech introduced me to another vet, ostensibly because we’re the two youngest guys on the ward – but it’s the someone who unwittingly put things right for me and actually said that the best thing that could have happened to him is having his legs blown off.

If that doesn’t get your attention, not much will. He was situated in the same bed I started out in my first night in the VA hospital. The other bed in the room was gone and there were no chairs, so he had me sit in his wheel chair – a much more comfortable rig than the one I had been ferried around in during my bad days of induction chemotherapy. When you spend as much time in the thing as he does, it better be the most comfortable thing around! We shared some small talk, but in the same way I needed to talk to someone who was a cancer survivor, I found someone who, as a veteran, didn’t have the biases that are so common to both Utah as well as the officer corps.  We just connected and the small talk progressed to what I would have considered a rather tough thing to talk about – how he lost his legs.  For him, he jumped right into it, telling me the harrowing day that as a combat corpsman, he saved his two compadres, was slammed into a wall where he sustained unspeakable injuries, was stabbed by an Iraqi soldier, and still lived to tell the tale.

And yet, he was able to smile through the telling and actually say to me that he would rather be in his shoes (figuratively, of course) than mine.

No, it doesn’t take any time at all to find someone else in the hospital who is in worse shape than you, but I guess I didn’t take myself as being considered in worse shape than someone else. That’s perspective. The reason the perspective is there is not simply because we’re all different or because our experiences – even the same sorts of experiences – vary nor is it because we’ve had different cultural or socio-economic upbringings. It’s because we’re moving from one point in life to another.

In my posting last night, I quoted Nick Vuijicic as saying that we may not control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. So, whether it’s an illness, injury, or personal crisis of some other sort, it’s all the same. We can choose to be defined by an event or we can be transformed into something new and better from our experience. Sure, we should expect some good days and bad days in the process, but we should also expect something genuinely good at the other end of the process. I’ve seen it in myself, I’ve seen it in others, and I saw it again today with my newfound friend. I can’t say that I would be able to be as truly upbeat as he is today after going through what he has, but it simply reinforced the point I’ve been espousing from the day I got my diagnosis and have been trying to project each day – healing is as much in our own power as it is within the medical arts. They have to work together. One without the other probably won’t get the desired result.

I’ve had to reinvent myself after a personal crisis or two and it’s fair to say that there will be some amount of reinvention at the end of this adventure in cancer. There will no doubt be some constancy in my life and in relationships, but there will also be new experiences and new people that will pave the way for heightened understanding and empathy as well as a new perspective in my life and that of others. I’m seeing though that it doesn’t always take the extreme of a crisis to do that, but we simply have to be open to new ways of thinking and seeing what is going on around us.

One of the hem/onc doctors described the bone marrow transplant as a super-duper long-term consolidation chemotherapy that totally kills the leukemia cells, which on the one hand didn’t thrill me since from my viewpoint, I’m shooting for "the cure." On the other, that’s what chemo does on the short term, so the description pretty much works. And in the same way, we all have small doses of chemo to help us kill off the bad things in our lives. And just like leukemia, if you don’t have the right circumstances (or in my case ,the transplant), the bad stuff comes back and it can take you out of the game. So, the important take-away here is to embrace the change, the new perspective, and be open to reinventing yourself to the improved person you know you want to be...and it's OK to have a bad day from time to time. Change isn't a cake walk. Perspective is not something that has to remain etched in stone from years of habit, but rather something that should develop and be engrained with the nuances of experience – yours and that of others. Enjoy the journey!

My music selection today is from Simon Webbe in anticipation of better days ahead – Comin’ Around Again

I've been sittin' in the darkness
But the sunlight’s creeping in
Now the ice is slowly melting
In my soul and in my skin
All the good times, my friend
Are coming around again
I've been thinkin' reminiscing
Of better nights and better days
Hidin' in the refuge of
Memories I've made
I gotta feeling within  
It's comin' around again

It's comin' around again
We've been so long waiting for the all-time high
We got a damn good reason
To put your troubles aside
And all your winter sorrows
Hang them out to dry
Throw it away, gotta throw it away
All the colourful days my friend
Are coming around again