• Mark Pajak

That Picture.



There is a picture on the wall in my home office of my Mom and Dad on their wedding day. It’s a formal pose quite common as wedding photos go. What catches my eye in the photo is that both of them looked happy and content. The photo was taken in 1951.

My father grew up as one of 12 children in a once owned Company-house in rural Pennsylvania. At age 21 while in the Navy he was involved with the WWII D-Day operation in 1944. My mother was raised on the west side Cleveland Ohio near mammoth steel mills that poured out product. English was a second language in both of their households. Both my father and mother lived/grew up through The Great Depression of the 1930’s. I hope this gives you a glimpse of what their lives were like.

Suffice to say that my mom and dad both knew hardship and struggle before they posed for that picture. Yet, there they are, smiling, looking happy, in love. Wow.

Having cancer almost gives someone a blank check to be unhappy. It certainly can be a great excuse for being nasty, mean and just plain sad. Mentioning cancer at a get-together is a sure-fire way to be a buzz-kill. I cannot imagine anyone ever welcoming cancer into their world. When I was first diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma (MM), I was uncertain if I would ever again be happy. Cancer has a way of really bringing down a person.

And then I’d look at that picture.

I struggle with my cancer life.

I am never quite at ease when I go in for a blood draw. My attention contracts as the date of the draw nears. I withdraw and become a bit obsessed about what my numbers will show. It is best not to get in my way while I prepare for the blood draw. I guess I worry too much.

I have had a noticeable reduction in my ability to taste food from the chemo medicines that I have taken for 6.5 years. Often times if I do not salt a meal; I really cannot taste what I am eating. My appetite is not very voracious. Before I got MM, I used to love to eat. Now it is just not all that big of a deal. I miss those great tasting meals.

I am somewhat concerned about not knowing when/if the side-effects of the chemo medicines are going to kick in. I mean some of those terrible side effects that they read to me when I order my medicine could become very real. I live with cancer trying to survive – today, tomorrow’s side-effects be damned. It is not perfect.

At times I lament the constant 24/7/365 presence of the disease. It never goes away. It is easy to get tired, impatient, and scared of “what comes next.” I try to limit my expectations or the expectations of loved ones and others regarding moving/not moving forward.

I have always had to work on exhibiting patience. Waiting for the blood numbers to come back really tests me.

There are many vague and non-committal answers to questions I pose about my disease from my professional caregivers. I should stop asking. I know that in most cases, the answers are not that important. Frustration is a very familiar companion.

And then I look at that picture.

Having Multiple Myeloma is not fun. It is not my preference. It is very real. I always tell people that cancer is not something that I can endorse for others. However, it is my life.

I am so grateful to have this miracle of life. I am so grateful that I can still love. I am so grateful that I can still have relationships with others. I am so grateful that I can be kind to others. I am so grateful that I can still laugh at a funny joke. I am so grateful that I can still play golf. I am so grateful that I can enjoy a good book or a cup of coffee with a friend. I am so grateful to be married to my wife/sweetheart. I am so grateful when I get a phone call from one of our sons. I am so grateful when I am hiking in the prairie just east of town or up in the mountains just west of town. I am so grateful…

Now, when I look at that picture, I smile.

For many, many years prior to my diagnosis when I looked at that picture on the wall I did not “see” very much. I did not give it much thought. It was not a big deal. It was just another picture.

But alas, my life took on a different perspective when I left the doctors office back in January 2015 knowing that I was going to try and live this Multiple Myeloma/cancer life.

You know what, mostly I am glad that I can still smile and especially so with that picture.

Have a great Holidays!

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