Soon after the New Year I resumed my six-mile walks. Wet weather interrupted some outings; others surprised me with unexpected mid-winter sunshine. I work fulltime but my job is not physically demanding. Accordingly, these walks provide the best barometer of my health. This is especially so now that I have restarted drug treatment for cancer.
Thus far, I seem to be managing the side effects of the oral chemo. The peripheral neuropathy in my feet has increased, pestering me with nerve pain. At times, it feels as if my feet are burning. I also experience muscle cramps in my lower legs. Both conditions, though, are transient; they come and they go.
If my support group is any proof, each presentation of multiple myeloma has its own temperament. Mine acts indifferently. Following my stem cell transplant, the disease remained stable for a long time. Dr. M and I watched over the last several months as the level of bad protein in my blood slouched along toward a relapse. We chose to begin treatment before the movement gathered momentum.
For oncologists, the bad protein, commonly called M-protein or the M-spike, constitutes the unique fingerprint for multiple myeloma. Remember, this is a cancer of the plasma cells in blood. Healthy plasma cells create antibodies to fight infection. Those antibodies reveal themselves in the blood as proteins.
Proteins are the workhorses of a cell; they carry out the bulk of cellular functions. With multiple myeloma, the plasma cell/antibody/protein is abnormal. It occurs in conjunction with healthy plasma cells but provides no benefit. Instead, the switch for cell division is stuck in the “on” position allowing it to replicate itself at a torrid pace. Furthermore, the myeloma overrides the process of programmed cell death. Consequently, it floods the marrow environment, spills out into the bloodstream, and, well… there goes the neighborhood.
The recent death of Geraldine Ferraro underscores the tenacity of this disease. Ms Ferraro lived 12 years after her diagnosis. She utilized the prominence of her political career to advocate on behalf of all patients with MM. Ultimately, efforts to control the cancer’s prolific growth profile failed. Everyone in the myeloma community mourns her passing.
My personal disease profile continues its lethargic behavior. As I mentioned, the M-spike measures the concentration of the bad protein in blood. When tested two weeks ago, my number had decreased slightly. It’s too early to know if the new drug I’m taking caused the reduction. But I’m optimistic.
It’s easy to get hung up on one’s numbers. This is particularly so during the winter months when much of one’s activities are internalized because of the weather. The daily pill taking leading to each month’s labs kept reminding me of a reality it would be nice to forget.
Still, life goes on outside the internal workings of my blood. Recently, I found distraction from the tension of waiting for the periodic results. Our kitchen, long neglected, underwent a renovation comparable in degree to my stem cell transplant. We demolished the old and rebuilt it anew from the ground up.
We bought our home in 1978. It started out as a 600 sq. ft. bungalow but grew with our family. Over the years, we added one room after another, including a second floor. The kitchen, however, was always “next in line” for improvement. We had many setbacks to our good intentions: car repairs, college tuition, medical bills; it was always something.
Now, at last, the work is completed. The mild weather in January and February helped make the upheaval of our living space tolerable. We waited 30 years for this and six weeks of frozen dinners during construction seemed a small price to pay. In fact, the delayed gratification due to previous sacrifices only sweetens our appreciation of the finished product.
The kitchen overhaul had helped me to focus on matters other than my health. From hereon, spring will take over where the renovation left off. Yesterday, between rain showers, I scratched with a hoe at the perennial beds in my garden. Afterwards, my youngest son joined me for a therapeutic walk. All the medicine I need, at least for my soul, can be found in the verdant pastures, the activity of wildlife, and good company.