A family of Great Horned Owls nest near our property. In years past, their deep whoing call resonated through the forest after dark. This season, for the first time, the owls make regular appearances in the trees around my gardens.
The winter was mild. Spring came early and lingers. Persistent rain drenched Oregon in May. The first half of June continues the wet trend. The warm damp days promote the populations of both predator and prey, along with lush vegetation.
I love the rain. My trees, my flowers, and my shrubs also love the rain. As do weeds. For the most part, I let nature have its way. When it’s wet and I can loosen the roots, I’ll pluck unwanted growth along the edge of my flowerbeds. The humble dandelion is tough. They have a taproot that stubbornly resists pulling. If you don’t get the entire plant, expect them to return.
Essentially, treating cancer, specifically multiple myeloma, resembles this gardening ritual. However, instead of picking off the bad blood cells one by one, chemotherapy, equivalent to an herbicide, is used. Though current science does a good job of reducing the numbers of weed-like cells, we are not yet getting to the root of the problem.
Our bodies contain 100 trillion cells, give or take a few trillion. On a scale such as this, it’s easy to understand there’s room for something to go wrong. And, it does, all the time. What’s more remarkable than the predictability of pathology in this mega-matrix of cells is the fact that most of the time our organism takes care of itself.
Myeloma, however, is one weed our body cannot tolerate. The unwanted cells appear in the very immune system intended to protect us from invasive life forms. Given the scope of the problem, targeting malignant cells is a daunting task. It’s one thing for me to handpick weeds from a flowerbed’s border yet quite another to root out our entire four acres.
Figuratively, that’s close to what oncologists must do. Together with their patients they play a treatment guessing game, attempting to stave off the ominous tipping point. New therapies exist alongside old standbys. Patients respond positively to most everything yet overall survival has only marginally improved. In the short term, the cancer can be relatively harmless. Sometimes, the myeloma goes to sleep, smoldering unobtrusively of its own volition, no more troublesome than a dandelion. Other times, it withdraws after treatment. Remissions, such as mine, are common and can last months or years.
I accept that this disease is part of my life. I don’t expect cures to appear spontaneously. I clearly understand the research progress is extraordinary; the process, though, will take time.
This morning, before first light, I stepped outdoors. Two large silhouettes floated above my head and disappeared into the foliage of a maple tree. A third owl, landed on the porch railing atop my carport, emitting a short squeak. My cat Spanky dashed up the stairs, impulsively curious. The bird lifted itself and glided away in silence. Obviously, the owl family hunted together, searching the fertile fields near my home.
Quiet surrounded me. Hidden in the darkness, the owls watched. I marveled at their beauty, the single-minded ferocity. The world was in order and I returned to the house.