Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A 1 AN A 2

A friend of mine – incidentally, my daughter’s father in-law – is on the tail end of his dance with acute leukemia. He sees, that despite leukemia being a really bad actor, that the experience with it was a dance of sorts. Make no mistake, the dance with leukemia is still the very much a dance with death, but like so many other dances on life’s card, there are some numbers you just don’t get to sit out. It took some time for me to warm up to that metaphor being in the middle of my own battle, but I get it. So, as for me right now? Well, I’m the guy you feel sorry for out on the dance floor, unable to quite figure out which foot goes where, but I will make the most of that performance and try to smile through it, nonetheless. After a while, I might even figure it out and occasionally, I actually look like I belong. The key is getting out and dancing, even when it feels awkward, tiresome, or downright silly. 

After many stumbles, I’m catching on to this little number called cancer, but if it’s all the same to the viewers of American Bandstand (yeah, I'm really dating myself there, huh?), I’d really like to try something else…something with a beat and easy to dance to!

The night the Titanic hit the iceberg, people were dancing. Some were dressed in their finery and others in their workaday clothing; some danced a waltz and others a folk dance. Style didn’t matter. Everyone came together to celebrate life in their way. They were told that this huge ‘unsinkable’ ship couldn’t be taken down. It’s fair to say that even though the ship had struck the iceberg, a good number of people continued to dance, oblivious to the fact that the compartmentalized design of the ship wouldn’t be enough to save it. As the ship listed and its crew started abandon ship procedures, things became real and the music stopped. Some of the people would obviously never dance again and the survivors would find their steps tragically altered.
Yet, they would have to find a way to keep dancing.

In a very real way, a cancer diagnosis is hitting that iceberg. It doesn’t just crunch in the bow of the ship, it rips open the side and unless some serious damage control takes place, the ship is going down mighty fast. For me, every day has been an exercise in damage control and thankfully, most of those days are pretty manageable. I have been so grateful for a wide network of friends and family, that I haven't really experienced a lot of pain or felt sick. Most of the side effects from the meds I do take are either offset by other meds or I can chalk it up to being relatively young, in decent physical shape, and genetics. Even the inconvenience of having to spend quite a bit of time around hospitals and doctors is bearable, albeit rather tedious after a while. I can pretty easily compartmentalize these things.

After a few chemo cycles, I know how my body reacts to the drugs and on what days in that cycle where I need to take extra precautions. I’ve learned to ‘listen’ to my body so I can be productive or when I need to back off. Sometimes that means that I’m up in the middle of the night working through problems and sleeping in the middle of the afternoon. Cancer doesn’t work on a time table and quite clearly, neither do I for a while. That can be pretty inconvenient for a social life or scheduling meetings, but it is reality. And it’s a good exercise for the ‘new normal,’ because up to this point, I played by the rules the Navy taught me: compartmentalize! Before cancer, I just pushed through pain or ignored the discomfort. I always got through it, whatever it was. Suffice it to say, leukemia is not something I can just put in a box and push through.

The difficult part is when a number of these small things happen in tandem or at the same time. It is then that inconveniences, procedures, or pains that would normally only register a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 start to add up and then these otherwise inconsequential things grow from a manageable hole in the bulkhead into a gash that floods several compartments and the dance starts to look more like a seizure or fit as my figurative ship starts to go down. Having people to help right the ship and get me back to my feet has been crucial and of course, while that doesn’t translate into me sinking, boy can my stern drag!

During my first hospitalization, I felt that way a number of times, but as this adventure has progressed, I don’t find myself in extremis very often. That bulkhead keeping out the big ol’, bad ol’ icy cancerous waters seems to have been reinforced, boosting my threshold of pain a bit,. It doesn’t equate to meltdown moments being a thing of the past, just fewer and farther between. The dancing may look a bit better, but there’s still a lot of activity below decks to keep the ship afloat.


Lawrence Welk and one of the first
vanity plates from way back when!
Sure, I ponder whether this ship that I’m driving is going to make it to port some days, but this isn’t the movie, it’s life. That port is the cure and there’s another iceberg field between here and there called a bone marrow transplant that I have to navigate. I’m counting on successfully avoiding any more holes or gashes in the side of the ship, but the harsh reality is that it’s going to be a tough, if not outright perilous, journey between here and the cure and it’s going to take some time. In the end, learning to dance on a rolling ship that takes on water from time to time, will put me in a position to help someone else gather up their courage to step out on the floor, and with more grace than me, dance among the stars.
Cue the music, Mr. Welk … a one an’ a two … or maybe Vega4 and Life is Beautiful instead.

Be well, stay strong, and much love to you all!

Life is beautiful
We love until we die

When you run into my arms
We steal a perfect moment
Let the monsters see you smile
Let them see you smiling

Do I hold you too tightly?
When will the hurt kick in?
Life is beautiful
But it's complicated, we barely make it
We don't need to understand
There are miracles, miracles
Yeah, life is beautiful
Our hearts, they beat and break
When you run away from harm
Will you run back into my arms
Like you did when you were young?
Will you come back to me?

I will hold you tightly
When the hurting kicks in

Life is beautiful
But it's complicated, we barely make it
We don't need to understand
There are miracles, miracles
Stand where you are
We let all these moments pass us by
It's amazing where I'm standing
There's a lot that we can give
It's just ours just for a moment
There's a lot that we can give

It's amazing where I'm standing
There's a lot that we can give
It's just ours just for a moment
There's a lot that we can give