Spring is putting on airs, choosing to arrive fashionably late. Each year our community celebrates its agricultural roots with Blossom Weekend. Normally, pear and apple trees, festooned with an array of white and pink blossoms, attract thousands of visitors. They arrive like bees, pollinating local merchants with disposable income. This year, nary a blossom presented itself. Instead, a cold windblown drizzle greeted the tourists. T. S. Eliot got it right when he said, “April is the cruelest month.”
It was two years ago in April, that I started back to work following a lengthy break to undergo a stem cell transplant for multiple myeloma. Other than periodic checkups, I have not missed a day. This January, I began a regimen of oral chemo with the wonder drug, revlimid. I take a daily maintenance dose of 10mg, three weeks on, one week off.
At the end of the last cycle, I experienced a significant drop in my energy level. For three days in a row, all I wanted to do was nap. At work, I felt as if I were walking uphill in sand. I attribute that slump to a low percentage of red blood cells. Soon, my energy picked up as my body replenished itself during the break.
The drug has slowed the progression of my disease. Dr. M and I would like to see a further drop in the cancerous cells, which hold steady after months of slow growth. Accordingly, we will continue with this treatment into the fall as long as the side effects do not create more problems than the drug solves. The goal is to achieve another sustained remission.
Doubt, hope, physical side effects, remissions that tease us, and relapses that punish us; these are factors that make up the complicated equation of living with this blood cancer. I meditate about these things on my blog and my ruminations help me to work through the stress associated with a life threatening illness. The only thing, however, that truly alleviates the alienation of a cancer diagnosis is interacting with others undergoing the same experience.
Each month I attend a multiple myeloma support group hosted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The value of these meetings extends well beyond their educational promise. I leave each get together not only wiser but also spiritually refreshed. It never fails that I glean something from the two-hour session that changes the way I think about others and myself. This past week was a general meeting. Rather than listen to a medical expert enlighten us about the disease, the moderators asked each of us to give a brief history of our diagnosis, treatments, and something we had learned along the way.
One gentleman’s moment stood out. He recounted how a counselor encouraged him to participate in art therapy as part of his recovery from a stem cell transplant. This opportunity enabled him to renew his values with a focus on creativity, purpose, wonder, discipline, and courage. Then, he proceeded to introduce us to the Jewish concept of Dayenu.
Dayenu is a song that is part of the Jewish holiday of Passover. The word “Dayenu” means approximately, “it would have been enough for us.” Essentially, the song is about being grateful to God for all of the gifts he gave the Jewish people, such as taking them out of slavery, giving them the Torah and Shabbat, and had God only given one of the gifts, it would have still been enough.
Attending a support group will not cure my cancer. Nevertheless, it does cure me of the dread that occasionally shadows my optimism. Catharsis often accompanies the sharing. We testify to our individual fears. We bear witness to what has been lost. In addition, we rejoice in what renews us. Together, we discover that no matter where we are with respect to the disease, diverse paths to affirming life exist. Sometimes we just need another to point the way.