I have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and, on this site, I will provide updates as I have them. I will also treasure messages of encouragement and promises of prayer. I am trusting the words of Juliana of Norwich:
God did not say: You will not be troubled, you will not be belabored, you will not be disquieted; but he said: You will not be overcome. God wants us to pay attention to those words and always be strong in faithful trust, in well-being and in woe, for he loves us and delights in us, so he wishes us to love him and delight in him and trust greatly in him, and all will be well.. . . [The Lord says most comfortingly]: I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well; and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well.
I had a Zometa infusion last Monday, and, as I anticipated, had flu-like symptoms for a few days. They lifted enough for me to enjoy my time this past weekend with the good folks of the First Baptist Church of Raleigh, where I preached on Sunday. But, the rash I have had--the one I assumed was caused by Revlimid--intensified last night and today. After a good meeting this morning at Mars Hill University, I had to make an unplanned visit to the cancer clinic. The rash had become quite diffuse; my skin was swelling, and the itching was nearly unbearable. I have had a cluster of other symptoms lately that were quite concerning: dramatic dips in an already-low blood pressure, dizziness (even while sitting), enervating fatigue, confusion, and sharp, nearly electrical pain at weak points in my back. Based on some research I had done, I asked the wonderful caregivers at the clinic to consider that we had blamed the wrong drug (Revlimid) for this long-standing and worsening rash. Turns out that Zometa causes all of the side-effects I cite in 10% or more of users.
I had I-V steroids and now have a round of oral steroids to take. I need to double-up on some other medications until the worst passes. One problem is that Zometa has a long "half-life." So, even though I won't have the mid-April infusion, it will remain active in my system for a good while. It is actually good news if Zometa is the culprit, rather than Revlimid. Revlimid is a nearly-essential drug for MM patients. Zometa is helpful for those who can tolerate it, but not as crucial, and there are alternatives to it. This issue will be one of the items I will discuss with my oncologist next week.
I keep learning how little control I have. It's mostly an illusion. I have known that truth intellectually for a long time. I am now learning it viscerally and existentially. Whereas I could, for a time, summon the will to push through or toward most anything, there are plenty of days now in which I have more than one moment when merely remaining conscious and on my feet is an achievement. These moments pass, of course, and I am able to resume the work I am doing or the walk I am taking or the racquetball game I am playing, but until the feelings pass, all I can do is make myself breathe deeply and hope.
When I pulled into the clinic parking lot today, I thought how often I had been there in the last 12 months, plus day-after-day, for a few weeks, at Duke this summer for the stem cell transplant. I wondered how many times I have had blood drawn, infusions done, injections given, and oral medications prescribed. I have lost count of how many times I have given a health-professional my birth-date to confirm my identity, how often I have cringed at the fiction--a useful one, I guess--of reporting my subjective experience of pain in an ostensibly objective way by converting it to an imaginary LIkert scale (1-10, 10 being most severe), and how regularly I have reached new lows of energy. I can't always manage nausea, or prevent fainting, or hold-back tears. I have lived at the mercy of Frank (MM) but by the mercy of God and of God's instruments--the caring people on medical staffs and in communities of faith and friendship of which I am privileged to be a part.
My good friends tease me (rightly so) about how impossibly stubborn I am about recognizing limits of time and energy, about slowing down, and about surrendering the illusion of control. In fact, they teased my about those things before I was diagnosed with cancer! I can feel in my bones, though, that my body is teaching me what I have been reluctant to learn from my mind and emotions.
It is an act of faith--a risk of trust--to acknowledge that control is not a human possibility, and, therefore, not a human responsibility. In fact, my body and Frank are challenging a subtle idolatry I never meant to maintain, the idolatry of thinking I could be god over anything or anyone, including myself.
Paul knew that "self-control" is a fruit of the Spirit, not a human achievement. Self-control comes from yielding control, even more deeply, to the Spirit. In every way, God is God and I am not. It's a confession, both of idolatry and faith, I made again in the clinic parking lot again today.