Thursday, June 16, 2016

Getting Stronger

It has now been 137 days since I went into the emergency room at St Luke's Hospital (with excruciating lower back pain) and discovered I had an advanced case of multiple myeloma and was close to renal failure.

Placing everything else on hold, my life since then has been focused on putting myself in the best possible position to contain the cancer and regain as much life function as possible. On the one hand, I'm 66 years old and have already had a full life. Maybe my allotment has run out and everything I've been doing the last four-plus months will distill down to looking for a graceful exit. 

As it happens, I've been able to devote a substantial portion of the last few months to connecting with friends and loved ones. If this is indeed my swan song, then I'm pleased with how it's unfolded. I've seen and been able to have heartfelt connections with almost everyone I'd like to, and the outpouring of support and well wishes directed my way has extended well beyond what I imagined it might be. It has been a very touching winter and spring.

However, I don't feel done. It feels much more like a new chapter to me than the end of the book. 

Though my prospects for living well with multiple myeloma are still difficult to assess, I am working closely with my oncologist in Duluth to try to push the cancer into remission and to regain what I can of my vitality and stamina. I have a lot to live for and am fully behind the joint efforts of my doctors, my friends, my partner (Susan), my kids (Jo & Ceilee), and myself to bolster my prospects.

Since the initial diagnosis and the onset of chemotherapy I have been making slow but steady progress in regaining durability, focus, and flexibility. My kidneys are recovering and I have suffered no falls or broken bones despite how much the cancer has weakened my skeletal structure through calcium leaching.

While it's pretty certain that I'll need to cross sky diving and alligator wrestling off my bucket list without accomplishing either, I'm fine with that.

I want to devote more time to writing and teaching; to laughter and the enjoyment of good food, to leisurely travel and the general enjoyment of sucking on the marrow of life's bones. To the extent possible I'd like to manage doing this with Susan as my fellow traveler and life enthusiast. I figure we could do that for the next 10-20 years and be a very happy couple. While it remains to be seen if my psyche is sufficiently strong to manifest this vision of Laird's future, it is a compelling image and will be more than enough to keep my eyes on the prize as I undergo a stem-cell transplant at Mayo Clinic July 12.

Thus, I have 25 days to go before surrendering myself to the rigors of Rochester, where we'll reboot my blood producing capacity and see how the cancer likes that.

I am freshly back (yesterday) from a trip to Portland, where I field tested the range of my recovering strength to hop back in the consulting/teaching saddle long enough to conduct Weekend III of a facilitation training program I launched there in December. I worked with long-time partner Ma'ikwe Ludwig and the teaching went fine.

Though I came in for a landing each evening on fumes (and was glad that the training did not extend to a fourth day), each night's rest restored me for the day that followed and I missed no sessions. While Ma'ikwe prepped the various two-person teams that facilitated meetings for our host group each day, I would work with the remainder of the class (say seven students) to simultaneously offer a deeper exploration of choice cuts of the facilitator's craft. With two interchangeable teachers on the flight deck, we were able to keep everyone engaged and working with fresh material throughout the three days. 

While this is the last piece of on-site professional work that I'll attempt before the July transplant, it was highly gratifying to see how well it went and that there are excellent prospects for my being able to return to effective pedagogy after the summer. This is valuable both to me economically (it's how I earn my bread) and psychically (I can still follow my career path as a social change agent).

In the three-plus weeks remaining before Rochester, Susan and I will attend the 45th reunion of our college class (marking the first time I've attended—it should be quite the time, and an unparalleled opportunity for yet more conversations with people I haven't seen in many moons), and a wedding reception for the daughter of a long-time friend. Who knows, maybe we'll even see a baseball game (if you could label what the woeful Twins are up to these days "baseball").

Life is full of surprises.

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