I was diagnosed three years ago this week with Stage 3 multiple myeloma, an incurable but treatable cancer. The bad news came April Fool’s Day. Some prank. Yet three years later, I’m still above ground.
Yes, it sucks. I often deal with some kind of cancer-related pain from my rib and spinal fractures, bones and muscles. I could barely get out of bed this week because of recurring muscle strain in my upper legs. And my battered immune system makes me vulnerable to colds and infections, and such illnesses take a long time to leave my body.
The daily chemo-drug pills I take as part of a national clinical study sometimes affect my gastrointestinal tract, and I’m starting to feel tingly in the mouth.
But my ordeal mostly has been a blessing. I’ve come to know many great people and survivors along this journey. I never wanted to become a member of this club, but now there is a sense of spunky pride in belonging. Until a few weeks ago, I mostly have had long stretches of feeling good enough to play hoops and racquetball regularly with minimal pain.
Human angels abound.
I need to thank Dr. Mark Wilkowske, the head of the Frauenshah Cancer Center in St. Louis Park. I called him Marcus Welby in a 2011 column because of his calm demeanor and sincere bedside manner and his expertise at prescribing aggressive chemotherapy to counter the cancer.
The staff at the University of Minnesota Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic has been phenomenal in following through on my more than half-dozen hipbone biopsies (you should check out the length of the needle they use) and two stem-cell transplants, which seem to be keeping the cancer in check right now.
THANKS TO A UNIVERSE OF WELL-WISHERS
My wife has been a godsend, as she always was, in a caretaker role that I strongly believe has been more stressful than the hurdles I’ve gone through. I’m just the patient. This has emotionally affected my two kids, but they are both troupers.
I want to publicly thank all those who prayed for me and supported us in small and big ways throughout the past three years, including arranging a fundraiser that first year to defray out-of-pocket medical costs. The folks at the Pioneer Press, from management to the newsroom grunts to Christie Iverson, the lobby customer service clerk who is dealing with her own cancer journey, have been very supportive.
I have a cabinet drawer full of cards and emails from hundreds of readers and strangers — many of them cancer survivors or relatives and friends of those who have passed away.
I also appreciate those well-wishers who hail from the “I don’t often agree with you but” crowd. One reader sent me an email inquiring about my health since he did not see my columns on my regular days last week and did not know I was on vacation.
I don’t know when this gig will end. I’ve had a good run. I know every day that kids are born who don’t make it through the hour or the night.
But I’ve told my kids to stock up on Depends and pick up those Shady Oaks, Peaceful Village and other such heavenly-sounding rest home brochures just in case I beat the odds.
— Ruben R.