Beyond Day Six
My sometimes-daily blog of a photograph or two with a few words, celebrating all the days of life that flow through creation into perspiration, inspiration, reflection, sabbath, and resurrection.
I've been thinking about resilience. I took this photo in January at Navarre Beach, Florida, because I noticed how this plant was not only growing in the sand, but blooming. Not just surviving. Blooming. My hero.
Resilience is toughness: being able to endure and recover from difficulty. Resilience is elastic: being able to bounce back from defeat. Resilience is strength: able to absorb adversity. Resilience is being embraced with grace.
Not just surviving. Blooming.
Yesterday my hair began to fall out. I told the pharmacist that it's not as much a shock for a man that's already bald. A friend asked, will you lose your eyebrows? They warned me that I could lose all body hair. I think that includes eyebrows. I wonder if it includes ear and nose hair, not that I have any noticeable, because of my good grooming habits! HA!
Next Monday I have my second chemotherapy treatment. And I have been going over the treatment plan to understand what I am receiving. I receive 10 medications with each cycle. The first 8 take about 6 hours, one after another, with constant monitoring by the care team.
1) Tylenol tablets
2) Benadryl, 50 mg, first time was liquid in my IV, during which I jumped all over the chair, not pleasant
3) Dexamethasone, a glucorticosteroid, treats nausea and lymphoma
4) Fosnetupitant, used with above medication to treat nausea and vomiting
5) Doxorubicin, the red liquid, that treats cancer by interfering with DNA of cancer cells
6) Vincristine, attacks normal and cancerous cells during cell division, hair loss, causes extensive tissue damage if it escapes the veins
7) Cyclophosphamide, works as above, but attacks normal and cancer cells during rest phase of cell division
8) Rituximab, monoclonal antibody, targeted antibody that attaches to the cancerous B cells and destroys them
9) Neulasta, attached to my waist and automatically dispenses 27 hours later, expensive ($6,231) stimulate WBC production in bone marrow
10 Prednisone, five daily doses, a steroid to decrease my immune systems response to the medications and to reduce reactions
Quite a regime, but far from the most difficult. Explains the fatigue. I'm counting all of this to kill my cancer!
If we could only get together for coffee this morning.
I enjoy the smell of coffee brewing.
Although I probably should refrain from the coffee because my stomach ulcer may not be healed yet.
If we could only get together. I'm vaccinated. You?
We could talk, share from our hearts.
A hug would be nice.
I've missed being with people, haven't you?
This image is my nurse injecting Doxorubicin into the IV attached to my chest port. As near as I can decipher, Doxorubicin interferes with the DNA of cancer cells through a process of preventing replication of the DNA and blocking the double helix from resealing. Far more sophisticated medical terminology that I can barely understand. It was the first chemotherapy medication of four different medications that complete the treatment.
Today is the second Sunday of Easter and the Gospel lesson (John 20:19-31) focuses on the apostle Thomas who is not present when the others encounter the Risen Christ. When Thomas is told by them that they have seen Jesus, he said he could not believe unless he sees and touches the wounds of Christ. I have preached on this text many times, but this week I am caught in a different way by Thomas's awareness of the wounds. He must have been present at the crucifixion. He either saw him die or viewed his dead body. I wonder if his grief wasn't affected by the reality of the wounds and prevents him from quickly believing the others' reports that they had seen him alive. Thomas isn't ready to move beyond the suffering. Maybe he wasn't with the others because he needed to grieve alone. I don't know. I may be stretching the scriptures. I'm not like Thomas. I was always one to speed past the crucifixion and the suffering to Easter joy. And I wonder if I didn't try to make suffering invisible because I'd just as soon it not happen. I prefer to avoid my suffering and not just this event, but the suffering of many others.
Some wounds are obvious. No one can miss that this person is injured. But most suffering is hidden, out of sight: sexual abuse, racism, broken hearts, dishonesty, mistreatment of all kinds. Or we choose not to see. And although there is no obvious wound, the injury may be even more devastating and dangerous to one's well-being. And these are the kinds of wounds that are easy to ignore or pretend that they are not serious or that they even exist.
I know I have failed to notice or care enough for people I know that were hurting. Forgive me for minimizing the suffering of others. I'm not asking for sympathy for me. I'm being taken care of. My cancer will be cured. But there are friends and loved ones whose pain we minimize in the hope that they too are not that wounded. Did we miss seeing how hurt they are?
The gospel account concludes with Thomas seeing the wounds of the risen Christ, and believing. The suffering is real, and so is the victory.
Aggressive is the word my urologist used last summer to describe my prostate cancer. Aggressive also is the description for Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma, a type of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, for which I am being treated now.
Cancer is a damn weed.
Cancer grows where it's unwanted. Cancer is like a weed threatening to push aside desired garden plants.
Cancer is like the weeds in my lawn, taking over and crowding out.
And it grew silently, without detection until a pathologist expertly detected it in a biopsy sample.
Cancer is a weed.
Yes, it's an ugly picture. Cancer is an ugly weed.
Today, another day of fatigue, I wondered how long this would last and what the recovery period was going to be like with each successive chemotherapy treatment.
I wonder if it's working.
Is my body generating sufficient white blood cells? Will I experience the same side effects or will there be new ones?
I am trying to remain positive about the outcome. But I have begun to imagine what life beyond lymphoma will be like. My third treatment will be May 10 with a possible fourth treatment on May 31. And radiation after. When? I have no idea. And how many of those?
I do have control issues. And all of this is beyond my control. And much seems to be dependent on the partnership between the chemo cocktail and the reaction of my body.
Spring is proceeding as well without my input or guidance and occurring in a beautiful display. Relax. Notice what is happening. Each day is a revelation.
So I am waiting, like this peony bud, for the right time, the full time, the color-burst time, the healing time.
When asked about how I am feeling during these past 10 days, my frequent response has been "Mostly good." I had few symptoms prior to beginning treatment. I have had a couple side effects to medication, but my daily companion has been fatigue. This is all the consequences of chemotherapy and the resulting drop in my white blood count.
The advice has been frequent: rest. Let your body take care of itself. I haven't always been very good at resting. I often failed at sabbath keeping. And truthfully, much of my resting during my working years was the pause caused by exhaustion. So I do not presume to be an expert on resting.
My body, however, has asserted itself. Rest is necessary for my recovery. And so I wait. I read. I nap. I take an occasional photo. I relax and let the healing ease my body and spirit.
And I have to confess: it ain't all bad!
These maple tree seeds, "whirlygigs", have me thinking about prayer. It's no surprise how they caught my eye in my backyard! And I am so appreciative of those who are praying for my healing and for their support and encouragement. How much those prayers are clustered like these red wings!
These seeds have a long lineage. The tree that bears these seeds were planted by the original home owner more than 20 years ago. This maturing tree produces countless seeds so the cycle can continue into abundant life, even far from this spot, with the possibility to multiply many times over.
Some prayers are immediate petitions that spring from this moment or this specific need, waiting for answers or resolution. How quickly they spring from our lips or those of friends and family.
But I realized that many, maybe even most, of my prayers were answered long ago when Dana Thompson entered medical school and decided to specialize in cancer treatment, even before the creation of the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center. He knows how to cure my lymphoma. He has done it before. Many of my prayers were answered by the training, compassion and experience of Dr. Thomas Lewis who first said "lymphoma" to my stunned ears. Many prayers were answered when a countless multitude of researchers and scientists began to develop treatments to cure cancer. Prayers were answered 20 years ago with the approval of a medication I will receive after each chemotherapy treatment to help my body make more white blood cells. Many of my prayers were answered when men and women decided they wanted to help care for cancer patients, and now carefully monitor my treatments and those of many more. They know how to do this. They want to help heal me and countless others. I am filled with gratitude for their skill and compassion.
As I contemplated all of this yesterday, I realized God had a head start. This all didn't spring into motion at the beginning of March, 2021. I'm just in a moment that has been prepared for healing. Some prayers are already answered.
This post was going to "fly" in a different direction as I noticed a yellow swallowtail butterfly and this black one on the day before Easter and I wanted to talk about the surprise before Easter. This is most likely an Eastern Black Swallowtail, as it has landed on one of our several beds of spring phlox. And I wanted to share how much excitement I felt seeing butterflies before Easter. That is still all true.
But I got an unexpected surprise when I got the results of my white blood count yesterday afternoon. The technician performed a quick finger stick and asked me to wait a few minutes and she would have the results. Soon she appeared with my folder, and said you need to go to the treatment room so the nurse can discuss your results with you. First detour to the exit. Soon, the nurse appeared and said we need to check your vitals, are you coughing, have you had fever. Second detour to the exit. Wait over there, she said, I need to talk with the doctor. Another escape prevented. And before too long, she appeared again. "Your white blood count is 1.3." Way below normal. Last Monday it was 5.6, and the chemotherapy drugs had decimated my immune system. That's probably not medically accurate. But I was stunned. I was prescribed another antibiotic to take daily for a week, and be extra cautious with any person or substance that could infect me. My system would have difficulty fighting infection.
The reality is that's why patients are checked a week after treatment. I'm not the first to have a precipitous drop in WBC, and the staff knows what to do about it.
But none of this is what I expected. I don't want more isolation. I don't want cancer. But I am surrounded by family and friends and medical experts who know what to do. So take a deep breath. I am held, watched over. This is not what I expected. But the doctor is not surprised. He's done this before. This clearly is not my solitary journey. So I can pay less attention to numbers and more to butterflies.
The temperatures dropped below 30 degrees this past Friday and Saturday morning, which is why Judy and Michael spent Thursday wrapping trees and covering plants. Some flowers were left to deal with the cold, like these tulips. Heads bowed, wearing a sparkling coat of frost, they assumed the position of the defeated.
But as the sun warmed the air and melted the frost, they resumed their proud stand. I too was bowed yesterday, not by frost, but just by physical discomfort. I did not feel well; I was not a jovial host for Easter dinner and didn't participate in the annual Easter egg hunt. I am still better than I anticipated a week after my first chemotherapy. And I do believe I will bounce back like the tulips.
Later today, my white blood count will be checked to assure that the treatment is not suppressing it to precarious levels. And I expect to resume the journey toward spring.