I am on a 35-day treatment cycle for my Multiple Myeloma. This past Monday I was scheduled to go to the cancer center at our hospital for a blood draw. If my blood numbers were within an acceptable range, I would get an injection of medicine and the treatment cycle would stay the same.
As I was brushing my teeth that morning, I looked in the mirror and asked myself “what is this all about?” Occasionally a huge uncertainty crosses my mind as to the reality of living with cancer.
I took a shower, got cleaned-up, put on a recently ironed shirt and pants, and then hiked to the hospital so that they could put chemo into my body that hopefully helps extend my life.
I take these treatments without complaint. In fact, I wanted to get my treatments. I wanted to get poked with a needle several times. I wanted to get my port flushed. I wanted the blood-draw because I am always interested in the blood numbers that come back. They are the evaluative piece of my routine. They provide me with an idea as to how I am “surviving cancer.” The blood numbers set the route that I take moving forward. As an example, my neutrophil level has to be high enough for me to receive the Darzalex injection that helps me stay alive.
I hope you get the picture. It is a rather involved process filled with what ifs, maybes and other such messaging in an effort at managing the Multiple Myeloma that arrived 7 plus years go.
While I was sitting in a treatment room at the cancer center waiting for the Darzalex injection (my neutrophil level was acceptable for treatment), it occurred to me that I was very definitely participating in this process because I want to stay alive.
Waiting for the injection, I got to visit with a nurse that works there and so I asked her this multiple-choice question. “What motivates people to come to the cancer center for treatment?” I provided her with the following choices. Choice A was “because they want to live”; Choice B was “because they do not want to die”; Choice C was “because they want treatment in the hope that it makes their life better even though they understand that they are going to die”; Choice D was “none of the above.”
Very quickly she answered that “A” was the most obvious and most often reason people visit the cancer center. She answered the question so quickly that I almost did not have the chance to give her all the choices. Her answer she explained was that “people want to live, yes, people want to live – it is that simple.” And then as soon as she verbalized this, she hesitated. Uncertainty crept into her mind and she said "B." “B was the better choice - people do not want to die.” She said, “that’s why they come and get treatment. Most people do not want to die. The fear of dying is powerful. Yes, maybe B was the reason most people choose to have cancer treatments. People do not want to die.” Then she left. About 10 minutes later she came back into the treatment room and laughed and said "C." "OK, the more I thought about your question I guess maybe C is the best answer. C is the only choice that clearly states that the cancer patient has a new understanding that treatment, while helping with cancer, does not prevent death. There is a pretty good awareness of dying in a cancer treatment center.” Then she waited for about five seconds and smiled. In summary, I guess for her, she felt that the answer could be either A, B, or C.
Before she left the room, I asked her if she had ever had cancer. She said no, however, her husband died from cancer about two years ago. She described their ordeal, and it was clear that there was a lot of tough sledding. It was a wonderful visit and very revealing. The conversation allowed us both to reflect on the multiple-choice questions and answers that present themselves when living with or dealing with cancer.
Living with Multiple Myeloma has been a steady climb for me. I have learned that life is not so much about answering the questions that come up as it is about accepting the questions that present themselves during treatments, hospitalizations or any other aspects that are routine to living with cancer. I have said on many occasions to my wife that I have come to understand that life is not a solve-able condition.
So, another 35 days before my next treatment. And I am quite certain that questions about death versus living, treatments and pain versus serenity and comfort, certainty versus uncertainty, quality of life verses life itself will enter my conscious thought.
And from my perspective, it is comforting to know that there is no “one right answer” to these questions. The beauty of this life experience is that it is not solve-able.