May 20, 2015
“What the fuck?” seems to be most people’s reaction when I tell them I have cancer. Fair enough: that continues to be my over-riding response, too. To add injury to insult, I’ve got myeloma, typically the preserve of people in their seventh decade of life, and with no convincing environmental risk factors. Myeloma is considered treatable, but not curable. It’s a blood cancer, or more accurately an immune system cancer, affecting cells that by their very nature proliferate and then lie dormant, so it doesn’t respond well to the cell-division-smashing sledgehammer of typical cancer treatment.
That’s the bad news. The good news (in the circumstances) is that people don’t typically die of the myeloma itself, but rather from its complications. It causes anaemia, calcium mobilisation from bones, immune dysfunction, renal failure. I’ve got none of those; in short, I’m not the median patient, and thanks to an eagle-eyed GP I’ve been caught very early (albeit, as it turns out, still with around 75% of my bone marrow affected).
Treatment for myeloma is no walk in the park. I’m currently in the fourth week of low-dose chemotherapy that will continue for for a couple more months. Then I get the big guns of modern medicine. My bone-marrow stem cells harvested to keep them safe, then intensive chemotherapy that will make my hair fall out and my immune system disappear. The stem cells go back in after that, and everyone treats me with kid gloves while they grow back and reboot my immune system and a number of other physiological processed that I’ve grown to be fond of. Hopefully, along the way, most of the cancer cells go pop. Statistically, the chance that ALL of them will vanish is practically nil. Clinical data for myeloma is heavily biased towards people in the aforementioned seventh decade of life. Less than ten percent of patients are even close to my age (indeed, I’m apparently the youngest person ever treated for it at Waikato hospital), so judging exactly what all this means for me personally is quite difficult. I incline towards accepting the balance of risk and benefit for various treatments, but taking survival rates and specific prognostications with a pinch of salt.
I’ll probably never know what antigen first made this particular line of cells proliferate, or what combination of environmental factors, bad luck and thermodynamics caused them to lose the instruction sheet on when they should stop, nor will I ever know why my immune system didn’t head them off at the pass. I’ve crawled under houses in the dirty old Dickensian part of Sydney, breathed plenty of filthy unregulated traffic fumes in Auckland, and been variously up to my elbows in epoxy resin, filthy combinations of oil and grease, and a wide variety of solvents, over the years. None of which makes me at all unusual for a Kiwi male. I don’t think I’ve had any blood tests that would have picked this up since I was about 19, so maybe it’s been bubbling away for years. Or maybe my exhaustion during several bits of 2013 was a symptom of this roaring into life, rather than long hours of work and a young baby as I put it down to at the time. I’ll probably never know, there’s nothing I can do about it, and it wouldn’t make any difference if I had known at the time.
I’m determined to give this the awesome respect due to a cancer that’s considered incurable, but I refuse to be scared of it. I’ve alway been a pragmatic existentialist: one day I’m going to die. Given my family history, I might have quietly expected to live into my eighties or even beyond, but I couldn’t rely on that. Nobody can. I feel like I’m on the right side of enough clinical factors to push me out beyond the median ten-year median survival that the most recent reviews are quoting for this disease, and that puts me into the realm where treatments that aren’t even in clinical trials at the moment will be becoming mainstream. I’m playing a numbers game, and while I may not get to collect my Kiwisaver money, I do hope to see my son grow up.
I’m profoundly grateful to be living in a country where nobody is going to ask if I can pay for this, where nobody’s ego or quarterly return is reliant on me getting a particular treatment, rather than the most appropriate one. I’m also profoundly grateful for the support and love that’s come my way from friends and family all over the world, as they’ve gotten hear the news. Some of you may feel like you’re a long way away, but hearing that you’re concerned for me and thinking of me really does make a difference. Thank-you.
March 15, 2015
For the last two days a tiny but metronome-steady groundswell has been breaking across the mudflats of the lower Firth. Last night, a bank of cloud over Waiheke island glowed purple and orange long after the sun had set. This morning, the lower clouds came tearing across from the east while the high cloud raced across from the northwest. We don’t get easterly winds it our house tucked in against the hills of the Coromandel ranges, but every so often a southeast gust will sneak around to blow early leaves out of our poplar trees and scatter them across the rest of Tararu.
Out in the Firth, you can see the gusts touching down on the otherwise still-calm sea. The offshore breeze is making the tiny but continuous groundswell stand up and break in feathers of white water on the point. Since the sun rose, the low cloud has spread into a continuous layer of battleship grey and the sea is gradually darkening with wind out towards the open ocean. Our barometer has finally noticed what’s going on and is dropping by the hour. Tiny drops of rain fall and then vanish, and the air is humid. Pam is on her way.
December 19, 2014
I have a confession to make, and it’s something that not everyone in the community would be comfortable talking about.
I quite like droughts. Actually, let me rephrase that: I quite like New Zealand droughts. Because let’s face it, New Zealand droughts are fairly non-threatening. Three months of no rain? In some places, they call that summer. In New Zealand, for those of us not dependent on tank water for our daily needs or intensive agriculture for our livelihood, it still just seems like an unusually extended spell of pleasant weather. Subject to all speculation about shifts in El Nino frequencies, Southern Ocean oscillations and the vagaries of long-term climate patterns under the increasing incidence of radiative forcing in a anthropogenic world, the thought of the coming summer being long and dry makes me, if anything, quietly anticipatory.
I felt no such sense of celebration about the drought that Australia experienced while we were living there. A drought that lasts for years, that kills drought-adapted trees decades or even hundreds of years old, that’s not much a meteorological pattern as (indeed, I called it at the time) a slow-motion natural disaster. It is, frankly, a bit frightening, a reminder that “the weather” is monstrously large and utterly, callously, unregarding of any tiny lives it might squish as it grinds out its latest whim.
But the prospect of a few months of warm sun, albeit purely spectulative at this point, and based solely on the resemblance of the last six weeks to the end of 2012 in this part of the country… That prospect, as I sit on our deck watching a northwesterly that finally looks like a proper seabreeze turning the Firth of Thames green and brown, surrounded by deep-rooted trees that will cope just fine and a selection of weeds that will be easier to kill if they’re stressed by a water shortage… That prospect I can easily live with.
September 9, 2014
My Spanish doesn’t give me much of a hint as to the article’s content, but the photos speak volumes:
Apparenlty it’s from one of many villages flooded for a “hydrographic scheme”. I guess we’d have similar momentos in New Zealand, if Cromwell had taller buildings.
June 14, 2014
There were four in the bed and in was 5 in the morning. The little one had just come into bed for an early feed and was very lightly asleep between us. The furry one was snuggled against my other side, safe in the knowledge that it was dark and no-one would see him cuddling. At this point I realised that the alarm was still set for 6:30am, not a time I had planned to wake up this morning. Thanks to the contingencies of moving into our new house, the alarm lies just out of arm’s reach on my side of the bed. Very, very, quietly, I squirmed far enough to turn off the alarm without waking the baby. There was nothing I could do about the cat, however, who decided that activity early in the morning was synonymous with it being his breakfast time. The better to expound this point of view, he came and sat on my head. I am not fond of having a cat on my head at any stage of the day, and particularly not at 5am. I have explained this feeling to the cat before, and attempted to remonstrate with him now. Very quietly. Finally failing in these efforts, I resorted to the same langauge that I’ve used in previous discussions of this nature: throwing the cat as far off my head as I can. Being a considerate pet owner, I prefer not to throw him off the side of the bed, where he might land amongst sundry spiky items of furniture and hurt himself (or worse, wake the baby). Instead, my technique is generally to hurl him towards my feet, where he may attempt a controlled, nay cat-like landing. On this particular occasion, irked by the thought that I might otherwise be getting a sleep-in today, I hurled him perhaps a bit too hard. All the way onto the floor at the foot of the bed, in fact. This was particularly unfortunate given that he had his claws sunk into both of my pillows at the time, and took them both with him to the floor. At the foot of the bed. Where I couldn’t reach them without waking the baby. Who was asleep.
Our mattress is rather on the firm side, and being rather bony about the neck and shoulders I really can’t sleep on it without a pillow. I expressed the horns of this dilemma very quietly to my beloved, who graciously gave me her spare pillow. Which is possibly the thinnest pilllow in our entire house. I couldn’t tell you at what point in this entire proceedings the baby stirred and started complaining, but I do know that I hadn’t managed to fall back to sleep by then, and nor did I fall back to sleep afterwards, until the inevitable proper waking-up and the enthusiastic squirming, climbing on Dad and attempting to grab the (still head-orbiting) cat that accompanies it. I love being a father, but sometimes I do miss sleeping in!
April 8, 2014
December 6, 2013
October 4, 2013
Courtesy of the ever-informative but terribly hard to keep up with BLDGBLOG. Some books to read.
Actually that list is too long for all but the most dedicated bibliophile’s summer, so if anyone would like to split it up and compare notes, say the word in the comments. I bags Beyond the Blue Horizon for start.
July 9, 2013
Coming down of the shoulder of a drought, into a winter that just isn’t taking itself seriously.