Bits and pieces of this and that.

November 15th, 2022

Starring blankly out over the front yard a couple of days ago at our driveway that stretches about sixty metres (two hundred feet) to the road an image suddenly came to me of a road covered in red, yellow, and orange leaves much like our driveway is this morning. Unlike our driveway, however, it was clearly a one-way road and a dead-end to boot. I daydreamed about walking along this road, but as I walked, it became obvious that the end of the road was not clearly defined. It seemed to recede into a fog away from me with every step I took. 

So, my brain is being metaphorical on me, sending me covert messages about my future. 

We (Carolyn and I) had a meeting with a palliative care doctor a few days ago. I’ve been feeling abandoned by the oncologists that have overseen my case for the last many months. I guess I needed some assurance that I would get effective care from the palliative care team at the hospital here. I don’t mind going down a one-way, dead-end road, but I’d rather not go it alone if I don’t have to. 

It may be that abandoning radiation treatments has hastened my ultimate demise, but it couldn’t be for long. I remember vividly the spiking fevers I got after my last radiation treatment and the ridiculous stay in hospital while the ER doctors chased an infection that I don’t think was ever there. That doesn’t mean that it would happen again, but I’m loathed to take that chance. Myeloma is an infection, a growth of unwelcome protein in the blood that takes up space in my bone marrow and doesn’t prevent ‘good’ protein from doing its job. That’s what it is, an infection, and it will cause all kinds of effects including fevers. I just don’t need the treatment for myeloma to be worse than the disease itself. Now if I get a fever, I’ll know it’s because of the myeloma itself and not one of its treatments. 

And now we wait.

I’m not sure what we’re waiting for either. It may be a turn for the worse, meaning the reoccurrence of a nasty fever, which this time, won’t go away. Or it may be an attenuation of symptoms and a reprieve of sorts from the worse of the nastiness brought on by chemotherapy. Whatever. All I know for certain is that I don’t know. Well, there are things I do know for certain: I’m seventy-five, soon to be seventy-six. My maternal grandfather, Georges Leguerrier, died in 1975 at the age of seventy-eight. His wife, Julianna, my grandmother, died in 1989 at the age of 91. My father died at 95 years of age in 2007. My mother was 94 when she died in 2018. So, generally, my family is quite long-lived. It may be that I take after my maternal grandfather, Georges Leguerrier, who died at 78. I can’t imagine I’ll live as long as my other grandparents or my parents, for that matter. 

November 19th, 2022

It’s Saturday, 7:38 AM, and very cold, (-2˚C) at least for here. (Yesterday was even colder) But it’s crispy and dry too. The air is perfectly still. The house is warm and cozy. 

I’m feeling okay despite the increase in opioids I’m taking.* The pain in my legs seems to be attenuating. I walked to the bathroom without my cane this morning and it was not a problem. Now, I’m sitting in my recliner, and I don’t have any pain to speak of. It feels good for a change. I’ll walk down to the studio in a bit to put on some heat. I can’t let it get too cold or the paint freezes and becomes useless. Who knows, I may be able to use it sometime. 

It’s strange, but in my half-sleep this morning just before getting up, I flashed on me working on a painting that’s half finished in my studio. Twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about going down to the studio to work on that painting and maybe a couple of others I have half finished. I may still be able to paint, maybe with watercolours for the most part, but only if I don’t have to stand at the easel. I think I can work that out. Still, I have to remember that what I was able to do without too much thinking involved ten years ago, I now have to seriously ponder. I may have the knowledge to do something, but I also need the stamina, and it’s the latter that is lacking in my life now. It’s simple really. For some time, I thought that knowledge was all that I needed. Then I realized through trial and error (much error) that no, I need to be able to sustain activity for some time if I want to get anything done. Getting older (and weaker), whether in good health or not will inevitably mean less energy and stamina. So, now, I don’t feel bad about napping in the afternoon, and maybe even in the morning if I’m feeling particularly sleepy. Napping is fine for people my age. Not all of us nap, but for those of us who do, we have to just accept it and relax about it. 

I could say the same thing about dying but dying and napping are obviously not the same. There is a certain finality in dying that is just not there in napping. 

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*Opioids contribute to pain relief, but they also can leave me sleepy, dizzy and cognitively dull. This morning I woke up without a lot of pain and fairly sharp (if I do say so myself). 

Waiting is Depressing

Well, it’s November 7th, 2022.

I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from the times I’ve spent in hospital over the past few months stewing in ERs with high fevers and infections all over the place. At least I’m home now and I can sleep as much as I need to without being plugged into an infusion pump. No more infusions for me!

Of course no more infusions means no more chemo means not even any remote hope of help with myeloma from chemo or radiation. Well, the chemo was killing me anyway so what was the point of that?

Last night at about 2 AM I stared out the window of my bedroom at the moon. If it wasn’t full it must have been very close to it. The bare tree branches in front of it produced a most pleasing atmospheric effect. Clouds at times partially covered it, but they moved surprisingly quickly too. If it isn’t overcast tonight I may try to take a photo or a video of it. [Ha! It was overcast this evening!]

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If I were to assess the current state of my mental health, and if I were honest about it, I’d have to confess that I’m somewhat depressed. I think it would be surprising if I weren’t depressed. Even bringing up the topic of depression is depressing. After all, how am I supposed to feel? I am facing death in the foreseeable future and the pain I experience every day as a result of myeloma is sometimes daunting. Lately, I’ve been provoked into taking more hydromorphone by a growing pain in my back brought on by chronic pain issues along with some new ones precipitated by a soft tissue growth in my back that will not go away, especially now that I’ve eschewed radiation treatments. I’m not ready for MAiD yet. I will know it when I am.

In an attempt to distract myself from my dire circumstances, I’ve been reading books about genetics, particularly Neanderthal genetics.

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It’s November 9th, 2022

It’s 8:30 AM. I’ve just had breakfast and I’ve taken my meds. I’ll probably fall asleep in short order, but that wouldn’t be the end of the world either. Carolyn will go out for a walk with her buddies this morning along with their dogs. Tilly loves her morning walks. It’s cold but sunny here right now. Later this trend will continue. It doesn’t matter to me a whole lot although it would be good to get out for a walk along the river sometime. Carolyn would walk. I would sit in the wheelchair and she would push me. I have no strength in my legs. At least the pain in my back is attenuating.

We saw my GP yesterday. It was a good discussion. We agreed that there was nothing left for me as far as treatments go. I will get all the pain relief I need and that’s important. I’m not one of those people who will suffer through pain. Oh, I was, but pain soon disabused me of that attitude. I will not face pain heroically. Piss on that.

I mentioned above that I’ve been reading books on Neanderthal genetics. The first one I read was by Svante Pääbo. He’s been doing research for decades not only on Neanderthals, but also on Denisovans and other kinds of ancient humans. Pääbo’s book is well-written and exhaustive of the process by which he and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Genetics in Leipzig, Germany came to unveil Neanderthal genetics. He won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work. His book is autobiography to some extent. In it, he ‘confesses’ to being gay or at least bisexual. He has two children with scientist Linda Vigilant. Frankly, I care not at all about Pääbo’s sex life. I’m only interested in his scientific work (and making sure I type his name properly). It’s funny, though, how many of the science based books I’ve read lately do include biographical notes. It may be that editors think that readers want to see the human side of scientists. That may be so. Readers may feel for a scientist who loses a spouse to cancer or a parent to dementia. That may endear them to some readers. Not to me. It may be that editors suggested Pääbo include some biographical notes in his book. That’s fine if somewhat disingenuous. I see Pääbo as genuine. I read his book as well as some of his articles and I watched many videos of him online. He’s okay in my book.

I just finished another book on ancient humans and hominins. It’s by Tom Higham and it’s called The World Before Us. This book is good as far as content is concerned. It follows Pääbo’s fairly closely and that’s fine. The problem with this book is that it needs some proofreading. That may be a function of it being made into an e-Book for us Kindle readers. Frankly, I don’t know why it needs proofreading, but it does. It’s not cool to have sentences with verbs missing. Reading a book like this is not supposed to be an exercise in guesswork. Now, I’ve just started yet another book on the same topic. It’s by David Reich and is called Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past. Reich worked with Pääbo on the Neanderthal project. He was part of the Neanderthal Genome Project Consortium. He was primarily involved in the computer applications related to the Neanderthal project. He’s an American, one of three who worked on the project peripherally. He was not directly involved in the Leipzig work. From what I’ve read so far, Reich has found a groove, an approach to the study of ancient humans that complements Pääbo’s book rather than trying to eclipse it.

It’s November 10th, 2022

It’s 8:35 in the morning. I’ve been working on this blog post for a few days now. That’s ridiculous. I usually write them in a day or even a morning if things are going well.

Part of my problem with writing at the moment may be the increase in opioids I’m taking which leave me less cognitively sharp than I like to be. It’s a toss-up. More opioids, less pain. Less opioids, more pain, but sharper brain-wise. Now, I’ve chosen more opioids, less pain.

Another reason for my writing lethargy may be that I’ve settled into a place where nothing much is happening: no hospital visits for treatments or lab work, no trips to Victoria, just days of sitting and sleeping. And waiting.

Waiting for signs of whatever, improvement or decline. It’s depressing.

Some (Moderately) Good News for a Change

Yesterday late afternoon we had a short meeting with Dr. Nicol Macpherson, an oncologist at the BC Cancer Agency. As I expected it was a watershed moment in my myeloma journey.

Macpherson started by asking us to get him up to date. So, I laid out the disastrous weekend I experienced after my last Carfilzomib infusion on September 15th and suggested I was done with chemotherapy because it was all too toxic for me. Macpherson agreed. We talked briefly about a drug called selinexor that is being used for patients who are ‘quad- or penta-refractory’ meaning that they have had four or five previous treatment protocols that are completely ineffective, so that patients are not responding at all to treatment or are responding poorly. That’s me. We agreed that it was unwise for me to even consider selinexor as an option given my history with chemo meds, and especially given the fact that the BCCA doesn’t have the resources to fully support a high-risk myeloma patient like me with a need for very individualized and attentive care. In fact, all along my myeloma journey I’ve been treated like a regular myeloma patient when in fact I was always high-risk and subject to very severe adverse reactions to chemotherapy.

Macpherson also acknowledged that I was likely experiencing myeloma several years prior to my diagnosis, something that contributed to the restricted treatment options I now faced. If I had been diagnosed earlier, for instance, I may have qualified for an autonomous stem cell transplant. Not now, I’m too old. So, where do we go from here? As the cliché goes, only time will tell.

Discombobulated

So, I’m still discombobulated. It goes with the territory. It’s difficult to keep things ‘together’ at a time when the universe is conspiring to tear it all apart.

I wondered aloud in the interview with Macpherson as to what kind of myeloma I had and how aggressive it could get. I speculated that I had lambda light chain myeloma* but he didn’t agree with that. He noted that the rise in my lambda free light chains was not a significant factor in the course of my disease and that I should not be concerned about falling over dead in the next few days. In fact, he assured us that my prognosis was for a very gradual decline in my condition, that I would most definitely live to see my 76th birthday on January 4th, and live for a significant time afterwards. That’s the justification for the title of this blog post wherein I note that we have ‘moderately’ good news: I’m not in imminent danger of dropping dead. It will take time. He even hinted at the possibility that I may regain some quality of life since I won’t have chemotherapy to completely mess with me. We’ll see. I guess taking longer to die is good news.

Now, I’m scheduled for some radiation treatments in Victoria. I have five days of treatments on my plasmacytoma, and one on my right femur where I have a large lesion. The plasmacytoma on my left side close to my vertebral column has grown a lot since February. Actually it didn’t exist until February, so they figure it’s time to shrink it. Hence, the radiation. I’ve had radiation before, on my jaw. This time it will be much more extensive but I hope it does what it’s supposed to do, and that’s reduce pain. It’s technically a palliative radiation.

On a last note, as I wrote in my last post, anticipatory grief is real and can be devastating, more so for survivors than for the person who is dying. In this CNN segment, Anderson Cooper discusses anticipatory grief in relationship to the decline and death of his nanny. Check it out. It’s worth it. The best way to view this clip is to go to YouTube.

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*There are several types of myeloma. Light chain myelomas are rare. I don’t really understand the chemistry of light and heavy chains, so I don’t expect you to, but it’s clear from what Macpherson told us that I have fairly stable bloodwork. My 589 mg/L of light chains is not an issue, because my myeloma proteins are normal. So there’s that.

MAID and Aggressive Myeloma

So, things are moving along. To recap: I went into the hospital for my infusion of the chemo med Carfilzomib on September 15th. On the 15/16th during the night I didn’t sleep at all because I was in an altered state and shivering uncontrollably. In the morning, we called the Cancer Care Centre at the hospital, and they told Carolyn to take me to Emerg right away. It was a good thing she did because my kidney was shutting down. They kept me in the hospital for three days on an IV (lactated ringers) and a catheter, but you already know that. Fun and games. 

Now, I’ve decided no more chemo for me. It’s been three weeks. It will be some time before I know what the result of that decision will be, but I will not recover from myeloma. Last week I had a chat with a palliative care doctor. She just called me a few minutes ago to see how I was making out with a new prescription for dexamethasone. We also discussed some more imaging for my leg and side (for a plasmacytoma) in preparation for some radiation therapy in Victoria sometime in the future, who knows when. Just don’t wait too long. The palliative care team at the hospital has been so kind and helpful. 

The hospice staff has been wonderful too. They’ve laid out all the care possibilities to help as I get nearer to ‘the end’ as they put it. This afternoon Carolyn and I had a chat with a doctor that provides MAID services. I’m all set up for that. I don’t have a date or anything like that, but I do have all the paperwork done for when and if I decide it’s time. He was great. He’ll call me in six months to see how things are going if we don’t call him before that. At that point (April 2023) if I haven’t called for MAID, we will need to redo the forms. 

An aside: the weather has been sunny and dry. Warmish too. We really need rain, but this is quite pleasant. I’m sitting in the living room but with the door to the deck open. Such an agreeable late afternoon.

Saturday, October 8th, 2022

Before I forget, I want to note that I learned a new term yesterday talking to the MAID doctor: anticipatory grief: Anticipatory grief refers to the sorrow and other feelings you experience as you await an impending loss. It has some benefits: It may help you find closure, settle differences, or prepare yourself for the pain of letting go. This kind of grief can come with lots of other emotions, including anxiety, guilt, fear, and irritability.* There is no doubt that I am feeling anticipatory grief, and so is my family. Of course, my grief is for the end of my life. For my family, the grief will extend after my death but in a different form.

It’s disconcerting to be so unsure of the future. We have no idea what the estimated time of death is. We’ll discuss that with the oncologist this Wednesday. He may have some insights by looking at my bloodwork. The most concerning number, although there are a few, is the rise in my lambda Free Light Chains. Now that marker and its number won’t mean anything to you, but what it describes is the amount of myeloma protein in my blood. The reference (normal) range for this indicator is 5.7 mg/L – 26.3 mg/L. My blood as of three days ago is 589 mg/L. On December 13, 2021, it was 11.7. Then it went up to 174.2 on June 27, 2022. Since, it has gradually made it up to 589 mg/L. It can’t go much higher without damaging my kidney. 

In fact, my kidney is already compromised to some extent but it’s still hanging in there. I would speculate on my survivability now, but I think I’ll wait until we have a chat with my oncologist on Wednesday. I know that my type of myeloma is particularly aggressive, so we’ll see. 

Strange as it may seem, if you came for a visit today, you’d probably say: “Hey, you look good!” I would respond: “Looks can be deceiving!” The disease I carry is all on the inside. There isn’t a lot of evidence of it on my body. My insides are scary though. Good thing you haven’t got x-ray vision like Superman, otherwise you’d see the mess in there. 

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*From: https://www.verywellhealth.com/understanding-anticipatory-grief-and-symptoms-2248855

One Day at a Time.

Who knows how much time I may have left to live. A week, a month, a year, two years, it’s all the same to me because after I’m dead, I won’t be around to regret or celebrate anything that happened to me while I was alive, including dying.

I had my last chemo treatment on September 15th. That’s it as far as chemo goes for me. On the 16th I had to go to the ER to reverse the damage to my body brought on by the chemo meds I took on the 15th. I wrote about my weekend from hell on my last blog post. I don’t need to go over it again. Now, I’m hoping that the damage caused by the chemo meds can be reversed sufficiently so that I can have a modicum of a life back. Frankly, I don’t hold out a lot of hope, but who knows? There are some hopeful signs.

Today is September 30th, 2022.

So, I’m only two weeks without chemo meds, but it seems that I already have more energy than I had while I was on chemo. I’ve had to bump up my dose of hydromorphone, but I’m not sure if that will have to continue into the future. The hydromorphone is essential for dealing with the pain I feel in my thoracic region. That pain originates partly from the surgery I had in 2002 to remove my left kidney, but the soft tissue mass that’s invading my back and left side may very well be contributing as well. I don’t know. All I know is that I experience a low level throbbing pain all the time emanating from there and every once in a while I get a pain spike that is intense to say the least. I’m no masochist, so I take pain meds.

Because I’m not on chemo anymore, it’s unlikely the BC Cancer Agency will be concerned with my blood work. But, I’m concerned with it! It’s true that my symptoms should tell us how I’m doing and possibly give us some indication of how much time I have left to live, but blood tests are much more definitive and might give us a heads-up on how my kidney is doing, and how much crap I have in my blood. My GP doesn’t seem too keen on blood work either. Oh well, we’ll see about that.

I guess my biggest concern now is the uncertainty around how long I might live. In a sense it’s not a big concern because I should know when I’m on my last legs, but I may not. At the end I may decline quickly, especially if my kidney packs it in, but I may find that my last few days stretch into weeks or months. Whatever happens, because of the uncertainty, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to plan ahead, except in a general sense, for MAID for example. So, I live one day at a time. I get up in the morning and expect that I’ll still be alive in the evening when it’s time to go to bed. I watch news programs on YouTube, but I’m not invested in them at all. It seems as though the world is coming apart at the seams, but all the seeming chaos is moot as I face my own dying.

I can’t believe it’s the end of September. We’re moving into the Fall. The big maple in the front of the house is just starting to turn. The leaves change from green to a pale pink on the underside and bright red on the top. They fall almost in unison and cover the ground with a carpet of pink and red. There is dying in this process, but not death, not yet. The tree is preparing for its winter sleep, and will grow a fresh crop of bright green leaves come March and April. Death is in its future but it’s not for now.

The sword ferns are a different story. They have spores that are spring mounted on the undersides of the ‘leaves’ and that are flung out in a desperate search for a bit of fertile ground to sprout and grow. Chances are that none of the millions of spores will find a propitious bit of ground to grow into a new fern. Not to worry though because the fern itself will sprout new growth come Spring and just carry on. The ‘old’ leaves will turn brown and be displaced by the new leaves. They will create nutrients for the plant as it carries on. There is dying here, but not death, not yet. Death will come much later when the plant itself has no means of recreating itself, when it is exhausted and when the ground that is its home is no longer capable of sustaining it.

We have what’s left of a cascara tree in our yard, about six metres from the south corner of the house. It was a beautiful tree with a sculptural quality and a large canopy when we moved here in 2002. The tree itself was probably ten metres tall. We figured it had been growing on the property for forty years. Then one day it just up and died. The leaves all fell and the bark peeled off in strips. Its skeleton still stands. We hang Christmas decorations on it now. It lost its leaves every year like all the other deciduous trees on the property only to come back strong and vibrant every Spring, until that sad day a few years ago when it died.

Plants aren’t afraid of death and dying. They don’t feel fear. Yes, some people have anthropomorphized plants and have attributed to them human like feelings and motivations. That’s just plain silly in my mind.

Truth is, no matter who or what we are, we die. Simple. But like most animals we fear dying. Trees and plants in general have a different relationship with dying and death than animals do. They cannot flee from threats to their lives. They die every Fall only to be revived in the Spring, but even they ultimately meet their end when they reach the limits to growth. It could be argued that we follow the same trajectory except that we can successfully flee from threats to our lives, at least to some extent.

To me, cancer in old age is natural, and part of the deterioration that many organisms experience in the final stages of life. I love my life, but it must end. My body has decided that its exit from life will be via cancer. How can I argue with that? I tried to argue with it by using chemotherapy, but unsuccessfully. Now, it will countenance no significant opposition. Such is life.

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Not Dead (Just) Yet.

From the many comments I received after my last post A Time To Die I obviously left the impression that I was on my way to an imminent death. I guess the concept of ‘imminent’ is what the issue is. Without intervention I have no idea when I will die although I can set up a situation through Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) whereby I can determine the time and place of my death. I’ve filled out the papers so that I now have the MAID option. The papers don’t obligate me in any way, and I don’t have to go through MAID if I choose not to. I don’t see any downside to being prepared by filling out the necessary paperwork well before I decide to use MAID or not.

This past weekend was a momentous one for me. I almost died for real, fulfilling the implied (somewhat exaggerated, certainly) conclusion of my last post.

After my infusion of Carfilzomib last Thursday, the first of my third cycle, I got some familiar symptoms: spiking fever, the shakes, insomnia, and pain, lots of pain everywhere in my body. By Friday morning I was in serious trouble. In spite of drinking copious amounts of water during the night, I could not pee, and didn’t even feel the urge to pee. It was obvious something was very wrong. At that point Carolyn called the Cancer Care Centre at the hospital. They advised her to get me to the ER as soon as possible. So, off we went. The Emerg staff got to work on me without delay, wheeling me into a room close to the nursing station, a room I had been in before on a previous occasion for the same reason.

They ran numerous blood and urine tests. They concluded that my kidney was functioning at less than fifty percent capacity. They installed a catheter and hooked me up for an infusion of liquids (lactated ringers). The ER doctor minced no words (strange turn of phrase) in telling us how close I was to dying. I filled bag after bag of concentrated dark and thick tea-coloured pee. I was formally admitted later in the evening and transported to the third floor, again to a familiar room across from the nursing station. Once there, my kidney quickly rebounded and resumed its more or less normal operation. By Sunday evening, after the staff was ensured that I had no infection and that my ordeal had been brought on strictly by an adverse reaction to Carfilzomib, I was discharged. The intent was to keep me in the hospital until Monday, but that was unnecessary at that point. I called Carolyn and she picked me up. I was one happy guy.

As I write this it’s Tuesday morning, September 20th around 9:20 AM. I feel that I’m slowly recovering from the weekend’s trauma, as much as an old man with myeloma can.

One thing I vividly recall from my three days in the hospital is that the many clocks all run on time, marking the seconds by the slightest but silent advance of the second hand. For long periods of time I was fixated on the clock and its inexorable movement forward. Sunday evening all I could think about was going home. The clock couldn’t move fast enough.

Another thing I recall is the change in my body odor. I was quite surprised by this. I shouldn’t have been because my entire body chemistry was under assault. I tried to wash frequently but being attached to my ‘med pole’ I called Ted made it very difficult to move around and get to the washroom. Of course, with my catheter I didn’t have to worry about going to the washroom to pee. That was kind of nice, actually.

Anyway, I should get to the crux of the matter here. I’ve decided that I can no longer continue receiving chemotherapy. Clearly it was killing me. In 2019 chemotherapy was offered to me as a way of mitigating the effects of myeloma. Instead, it exacerbated them for me. That’s not true of everyone receiving chemotherapy for myeloma or for other forms of cancer. Chemotherapy works for many people. I’m just one of the unlucky ones who has adverse reactions to chemo drugs, and I mean all chemo drugs. So now, I am palliative. I may still receive some treatment for my myeloma but it won’t be chemotherapy. It may be radiation or surgery, but even those options will have their limits.

I’m so fortunate in having very supportive family and friends. Our daughters came over from Vancouver on Friday to be with their mom and to come visit me. Coming from Vancouver with no ferry reservations is daunting, but I’m sure happy that they managed to get over here. It was definitely touch and go for me. I needed the support, so did Carolyn. My sister Hélène and her husband Roger came for a visit on Saturday. That was very pleasant and a welcome diversion from the hospital routine.

In conclusion, I must say that I received most excellent treatment at the Hospital this time around. That hasn’t always been the case, but this time we were very impressed by the care I received. Thank you so much CVH staff!

Myeloma: a Killer by Degree

[I wrote this post in May 2022, not that long ago. I reread it and I think it bears reposting. I keep getting bad news on the myeloma front. I had an MRI last Sunday and it showed a growth, a tumour if you like, growing on my lumbar spine and extending upwards to the left side of my thoracic area half way up my back. It’s a fairly new thing, and is ten centimetres long, five wide, and seven thick. So far I haven’t felt any ill effects from it except that my legs are beginning to feel slightly numb. That’s not good, and just adds to the peripheral neuropathy that already leaves my feet in a constant state of pain, pins and needles, and spasms. At least it looks like I’ll be continuing on my carfilzomib protocol into September.]

Yeah, well, myeloma. As I noted in my January post, the symptoms of myeloma and pernicious anemia overlap considerably. So, I have no idea what’s driving me nuts with peripheral neuropathy, numbness and tingling in my hands and feet, fuzzy brain, poor balance, weakness, especially in my legs, and bone pain, to name just a few of the symptoms I’m experiencing. It could be both the B12 issues and the myeloma that are teaming up to keep me in my place, and the chemotherapy is also no doubt contributing to my now radically re-assessed quality of life. 

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So, that’s it. I’m old, I have a severe B12 deficiency that could be the result of pernicious anemia, and I have multiple myeloma, with its attendant chemotherapy. 

As I lay in bed last night [again] I harkened back to times in my life when I was still able to do things easily and effortlessly, things like canoeing, woodworking, building decks, garden structures, and a number of other physical things. I can still paint and draw, but with some difficulty. Writing is even getting to be an issue because I can barely feel the tips of my fingers on my left hand, my dominant hand. 

It’s been difficult at times, not because of my physical abilities, but because of my attitude towards them. I’ve had challenges keeping the dark side away, the feeling that I can’t do things anymore like I used to, making me a lesser human being, somehow. 

Carolyn and I both read the news and despair at the state of the world, but Carolyn seems to have a greater capacity than I do for keeping the dark side away and for maintaining a sense of perspective about the world. It’s true that the world is in a mess, but it’s always been in a mess if the press is to be believed. I have to keep reminding myself that the press, all of it, has a vested interest in propagating the dark side. That’s where the money is. Outrage and fear sells the goods. The bright side doesn’t. 

That said, I don’t want to be captured by the dark side or the bright side. The world is a complex place. Life is finite and changes all the time. Mommy doesn’t have to change my diapers like she did seventy-three years ago, even if she were still alive. I don’t have to put a uniform on and go to elementary school. I never have to write a final exam or go on a job hunt ever again. Of course, I won’t experience the joy of the early days of fatherhood ever again either, of falling in love, nor of the thrill of discovering a wonderful, new camping spot. 

I guess my point with all this rambling is that life is full of variety, both at the individual as well as at the socio-political level. Some things we call bad, some good. Those are judgment calls, which for us are adjudicated with reference to capitalist morality which itself is expressed in possessive individualism based on wealth and health. We look down on the poor and the unhealthy. 

These judgments are not easy to counteract both at the individual and the political levels because they are so deeply rooted in our culture. They are so familiar to us that we consider them normal and reasonable. It’s easy to feel self-loathing for being poor or in ill-health. It’s almost expected of us. And those individual feelings are reinforced every day in a thousand ways by the vast majority of us as we compare ourselves to others, those with money or excellent health (mental and physical).

If I let myself I can easily be dragged onto the psychologically dark and barren landscape of blame and feelings of unworthiness. Enough of that now. I have a limited number of days, months, and years left to live. I cannot, I will not live them in fear and self-loathing. 

Death is like a destination, one we have no choice in travelling towards. But, you know, some of the best trips I’ve taken have been at their finest and most exciting just before reaching our intended destination. Maybe that’s a good metaphor for the last bit of my life.

Memory Works With A Little Effort

I’m not sure if you’ll be able to access this Atlantic article or not, so I’ll just summarize it a bit for you. It’s about memory or remembering and whether you remember events in the past from the first or third person perspective. I would expand the argument to include imagined events in the future.

When you remember a past event, say one that was particularly notable, do you remember it as you initially experienced it, or do you see yourself in it as a character, almost as an actor, in a play?

I’ll die soon. Soon is an indeterminate word, mind you. I’ve already commented in previous posts about the fact that I’ve not done all that well with chemotherapy. It seems that I’m probably a high-risk cancer patient in any case. I’ve been subjected to a number of different chemotherapy protocols. Now, according to the oncologist at the BC Cancer Centre in Victoria in charge of my case, I’m running out of options. At the moment I’m on a two-month trial with a drug called carfilzomib (trade name Kyprolis). So far, I’m entirely underwhelmed by its effectiveness. The next month will tell the tale. I’m not very hopeful given my recent bloodwork and my reactions to the chemo drugs. But, I haven’t completely abandoned hope. I may still get to live a few more months.

Recently I had a bit of a discussion with the family about MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying). It’s not something I need to consider immediately but eventually it will become an option, particularly when the levels of pain and immobility outweigh quality of life issues for me. I see no need to lie in bed in pain awaiting more or less imminent and sure death when there is the option of assisted suicide. I’ve tried to imagine my dying moments. I can do that from the third person perspective, but definitely not from the first person perspective although I know what it feels like to go under general anaesthetic. I imagine MAID as like going under general anaesthesia but never waking up again. I see myself lying on a gurney with a doctor setting up the meds and then injecting me first with morphine or something like that before administering the killer drug. I can imagine that. I can remember in the first person going into the Hospital to have my kidney removed in 2002. Now that I try, I can also see those events in the third person. Strange.

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It’s amazing how many incidents and events I can recall if I put a little effort into it. I have seventy-five years of them to capture. Lots of fodder for remembering. I could write a book, although there is a lot that I would not share with you or anybody, private things.

This post is about me as I age from 1949 or so until now. My life isn’t over yet, but I’m getting close to a complete lifetime. I can track my parents’ lives, at least as far as major events go. My father was born in New Brunswick (1911), my mother in Alberta in 1924. They both died at the Dufferin Lodge in Coquitlam, my father in April, 2007 and my mother in January, 2018. Noting their dates of birth and death means nothing, of course. They are merely life’s parentheses. It’s what transpired between those dates that makes a life. The same goes for me, and you. Photographs tell a bit of the story, but in a static kind of way.

In the first picture, I’m standing there with my sister Denise. She was born in 1943, four years before me, to a mother who subsequently died in 1945 giving birth to what would have been her first son. Denise died on December 13th, 2004 of cancer. I’m not sure where this picture was taken. It looks like it could be in Sapperton, not far from the Royal Columbian Hospital. I would welcome correction on this from anyone in the family. By the time this picture was taken the family lived at 634 Alderson Avenue in Maillardille (Coquitlam).

In this picture I look to be maybe two years old. Denise would have been six. I am endowed with a natural Mohawk hair do. I still have it. I don’t remember anything of what was happening when this picture was taken. I was way too young. The photograph does nothing to jog my memory.

Denise and I always had an interesting relationship. She was pretty tough and I was mouthy. She threw a knife at me at the dinner table when I was probably a pre-teen. She missed, but it was close. That was memorable and I see it in the third person. But during my late, listless, teenage years, after returning from College St-Jean and not knowing up from down, I lived with her and her then husband, Roy, for six months or so, and often looked after the kids (which they had adopted). They had a fairly large home in Vancouver, off of 41st. The basement was made out to look like a TiKi lounge. Strange now, but not so for the times.

I worked with my father at a couple of re-manufacturing plants in Surrey and Langley. But I also worked at a planer mill in Fort Langley. I got drunk on occasion with some of the guys from work. It’s amazing we didn’t kill ourselves on the way home from work. One of the guys drove a convertible and that’s what we came home in most of the time. Mom and Dad had to know but they never said anything.

From the time I left College St-Jean until I enrolled in courses at Douglas College in New Westminster in 1970 or so, I worked at a number of odd jobs, mostly in the lumber or related industries. For a few months I worked at a plywood plant on Braid Street in New Westminster. I remember the smells and sounds of that place the most, but I also remember (in the first person) the work I did, piling pieces of veneer in bins in preparation for pressing them into plywood. The last job I had before going to Douglas College was at a sawmill in Marpole. I worked there for maybe six hours total. I recall being required to ‘clean up the chain’ of massive timbers. I did that for a bit but then I slipped and had one of the timbers fall on me as I fell off the platform. I could barely walk after that so I dragged myself to the first aid shack. Nobody there. So I struggled to my car (an Austin Healey Sprite) and drove myself to the hospital. I had back surgery then. Dr. Hill (I recall his name to this day) removed a disc in my lower back. Worker’s Compensation (now Worksafe BC) paid for everything including my first year of studies at Douglas College. There was never an inquiry as to what happened at the mill and as to why there was nobody in the first aid shack when I went there for help. Workers Compensation just paid for everything, no questions asked.

I find the series of photographs here helpful in some way in jogging my memory. The early ones don’t help at all but the later ones do. The one I posted of me doing my Knowledge Network tele course is still available to me as a video so I can go back and see myself over and over again if I so choose. I have many more photos too, but I’m not going to post all of them here.

All I wanted to do here is give the flavour of my life as I grew up, then grew down. We all have individual experiences of life. I often think of the many thousands of people who have died in conflict over the centuries, their lives often cut short by machetes, as in Rwanda in 1994. I suppose if a long life is a good thing, then I’ve had a good life.

Look at the forehead on that kid!
Me, maybe two years old
Me, five or six

Me in 1959 setting off for College St. Jean
Me at sixteen or so
Me doing television – late 1980s, early 90s.
Me not long ago

Cancer and self-absorption.

Well, it looks like spring has finally sprung. The temperatures are rising and we now look forward to sending less of our pension funds to BC Hydro than we have all winter.

The wisteria is now showing signs of life. We wondered lately whether or not it was still alive. Apparently it is alive, just taking its time waking up after a very challenging winter sleep. It’s warming up with temperatures consistently in double digits, but the clouds seem reluctant to part. This past weekend was gorgeous with a lot of sun. This coming week promises to be cloudy and dreary. Wednesday, tomorrow, is Carolyn’s 70th birthday and I have an appointment with my GP/oncologist at the hospital. At least it’s at 9:30 in the morning so early enough to allow us to get on with things for the rest of the day. Carolyn does not want to miss her usual daily ten (or longer) kilometre hike in the hills just up the road.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the reality implied in the title of today’s post, particularly the self-absorption part. Truth be told, I might be rightfully accused of being self-absorbed for most of my life. In some ways, I think, it comes with the territory. Writing is an activity that requires a lot of concerted attention and effort. As a college instructor I had to do a lot of reading and writing and for one stage of my career I produced over two hundred and fifty tele courses on the Knowledge Network for North Island College. In order to be able to produce the expected results I had to spend a lot of time in my head and in my office either preparing lecture notes, getting props or websites together, or marking assignments.

It may be an excuse to suggest that self-absorption is a consequence of work requirements, but I think that there is definitely a need to be alone to do much of the work I was expected to do. That may be interpreted as being distant, or uncommunicative, or selfish, depending on one’s perspective.

It’s a truism to suggest that living with others in a family requires at least a modicum of communication and interaction between members. Family implies intimacy and intimacy implies connection. Connection requires time together for the parents and for children. Some families are more closely connected than others, but some families are quite content with very little time together.

I can’t speak for my family and I surely won’t put words in their mouths here. However, I know that at times there were expectations that I spend more time with the family. I’ve been (rightfully) accused of being in my head too much and not being available to the family for conversation or whatnot. Some people would interpret my behaviour as self-absorption. Fair enough.

That said, as I work through my life with cancer, I find myself increasingly absorbed with what’s happening inside me and just how long I have left to live. I know a number of people who have died recently of cancer. Some have died soon after diagnosis. I don’t know of anyone who has died of myeloma, my flavour of cancer, the one that is now considered, like diabetes, to be more of a chronic illness than an ambush killer of sorts. I know a few people who are sick with myeloma, but none who have died from it.

As far as the people who have died of cancer are concerned I wonder how many of them turned inward as death got closer and closer? I have no idea, but if you do, I’d like to hear about it. Our caregivers may be the best people to address the veracity of my observation that dying forces us inward.

Caregivers have a thankless job. They may love the people they care for, but as people get closer and closer to death, they may withdraw more and more become increasingly unable to provide any kind of recognition or thanks for the care they receive. It may be that dying is a process of increasing self-absorption. I don’t know. I haven’t done the research.

Some people have done some thinking about this. I’m not the only one. It may not be research in the technical sense of the term. Actually, it might best be termed thoughtful investigation. I tend to be strictly scientific in my views on the dying process but I have come across very little in the way of a psychology of dying. There are some sources out there, but not many. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (1969) gets a lot of attention for her work on the stages of grief, et cetera, but I find that her work is less scientific than grief and hospice counselling. It would not be impossible to do scientific work on my hypothesis that we tend to withdraw from society the nearer we get to death, but it wouldn’t be easy. It sure isn’t in my future.

So far, it may be just a feeling I’m having, or a conclusion I’ve come to with limited experience, but it makes sense to me that we would tend to withdraw as we get closer to death. Death, or course, is the ultimate withdrawal, so leading up to it must produce some stages of withdrawal or increased self-absorption. At least that’s what I’m thinking, and I’m sticking to it.

Our Vagarious Lives

Our Vagarious Lives

Ah, the weather is still out to lunch. We are at least a month behind in the garden. The wisteria is not showing any signs of blooming. Just sticks up there. Last year at this time it was in full bloom with a small complement of leaves coming forth. Some plants, notably some ferns and, thankfully, the garlic seem to be quite happy. 

Garlic Bed

So is the Japanese Butterbur. Within a month it went from three or four buttons at the bottom of the garden to what looks like giant rhubarb. The leaves are so heavy they fall back on themselves.

Spring time has always been considered a time of joy, growth, and possibility. And so it is. Like a baby born with all the potential of a lifetime ahead, the garden is looking to the future of the rest of the spring and the full delight and warmth of summer. Fall and Winter come inevitably. They tease us with beautiful garden colours and the bare branches of winter which then carries on for what some of us think is way too long. Spring does finally come around again and soothes us with hope. We commonly call what I’m talking about here as the cycle of the seasons. Of course, it’s not a cycle. It appears to be, but last spring is not this spring. It might be more accurate to talk about the spiral of seasons.

Like one year in the vast scheme of things, a human life is that time between our birth and our death. It’s finite. This is not a fact we find comfortable because, gee, we live through many springs, summers, falls, and winters. We are not just one-year wonders. That’s true, but the illusion of the cycle of seasons should not fool us into believing that this thing goes on forever.

To carry on with the analogy of the garden and human life, for me, winter is not coming, it’s here, even during the month of May. My leaves are falling, my bark is dry and cracking. There is no moving forward to a new spring for me. If that were to happen, it would defy all evolutionary logic. No, I have to be satisfied with my life as it is, and I am, even if I am in my ‘sunset’ years. I have an intelligent, talented, and beautiful wife and my daughters have taken after their mother. I have a loving family, and I live on a gorgeous garden thanks to Carolyn’s magical touch and hard work.

There’s one thing I agree with Sadhguru* about and that’s the idea that we had better enjoy life while we can, because we’ll be dead for a long time. Of course, many people are unhappy with the coming of winter, period, and they deny it by vacationing in Mexico or somewhere else near the equator or on the other side of the planet where summer coincides with our winter.

For a time as I read Sadhguru I had the sense that he really understood Evolution and Life, Science even. For example, when he argued that we don’t die, I thought maybe he referred to the (scientific) notion that every atom that makes up our body has always existed and always will. In that sense, ‘we’ are immortal. From my perspective, our consciousness is toast, but the little things that together constitute our bodies carry on. There is some disagreement about this, but the cells that make up our bodies get replaced at various rates for a very rough average of every seven years or so in total. Another strange factoid: we very likely breathe the same air molecules that Caesar exhaled during his last breath. Cool. But Sadhguru didn’t go there. He still insists on the survival of consciousness.

So, we exist at many ‘levels’: atomic, molecular, cellular, and organic. All of these together make it possible for us to have consciousness. Once our physical platform is gone our consciousness follows. I’d be glad to change my mind about this given scientific evidence to the contrary, but that is very unlikely.

So, what’s vagarious about our lives? Well, the dictionary defines vagarious as: “erratic and unpredictable in behaviour or direction.” Boy, is it ever. One day I’m able to walk long distances with Carolyn. The next day I can barely walk at all. I would not have predicted that. Cancer and old age gang up on me and don’t back off, ever. That’s life. There’s a slew of things I used to do effortlessly. Now, every once in a while I still think I can do things but after trying for a bit, I realize that I can’t go back in time. The trick for me is accepting my new age-appropriate capabilities. I’m living the life of a seventy-five year old, not a fifty-five year old. I must accept that and not sweat it. I’m getting it. It’s a process. It’s a good thing I have Carolyn and my family to remind me from time to time of my limitations. I need reminding.

I’m quite fond of metaphor and analogy as you are probably aware by now. Well, let’s pull out another one. Cancer is like cats as they play with us mice. There are many flavours of cat, some hunt mice and kill them quickly. Some play with their mice prey for some time before losing interest and finally killing them.

I have multiple myeloma. My cat analogue is one that likes to play with its prey. Little shit. It bats me around and chases me under the dresser where I get a bit of a respite knowing full well, Mr. Cat Myeloma is just out there, waiting for me to lose patience and make a run for it. I have absolutely no chance of escape. So be it. That damn cat will get me, no doubt, but not yet.

I love the garden. Carolyn has done an amazing job cultivating it, encouraging it, and never losing faith in it.

You never know, though. I may get it into my head that I can do things again that I used to do effortlessly. I may try. I can still handle a chainsaw. I got mine started a few days ago. I need to sharpen the blade. I think I can do that. Time to find out, but I do need to be cautious, now don’t I?

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*I wrote about Sadhguru on my May 4th post: https://rogerjgalbert.com/2022/05/04/aw-come-on-lets-talk-about-death-some-more/