The Big C and Me - Part Two

Albert Vetere Lannon

© Copyright 2020 by Albert Vetere Lannon

National cancer survivor day sign.
 Itís six months since I stopped treatment for multiple myeloma, an incurable bone plasma cancer that sucks the calcium out of my bones. It was diagnosed in June, 2017, when I sneezed and broke two ribs! I am now in Julian, California, while my amazing mate Kaitlin finishes getting our rural Arizona house ready for sale Ė if there is any market in this time of pandemic and panic. I last saw the oncologist in January, and my lambda light chain marker numbers had skyrocketed from a low of 29 to over 1300! One case I read about, however, had a reading of over 8000 at diagnosis, so maybe Iíve still got a ways to go. One day at a time.

People often wonder why and how they developed cancer, and there usually are not satisfactory explanations, just some educated guesswork Ė genetics, family history, Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, exposure to known carcinogens. I'm pretty sure I know where mine came from.

I was 18 years old, soon to marry, and working as an apprentice painter in the Parkchester Apartments, upscale high-risers in the Bronx. I worked for Hudson Painting and Decorating as part of a crew of 20 or so painters.
As the apprentice I got the crap jobs, like painting closets. Closets donít get very dirty so paint was thinned 50-50 with benzene, a known carcinogen since 1928 (although unknown to we who worked with it at the time) and I got to do the closets. I was drunk by the third closet, and not in any nice way.

All of us had burns on our butts from the benzene rag we stuffed in our back pockets to clean up little spatters. At the end of the day we half-filled a wash basin with hot water, poured in a dollop of benzene and scrubbed up. On slow days I cleaned paint pots in a vat of benzene, with a plastic shield to protect my eyes. Someone should do studies on that generation of painters to see how many ended up with some variation of what afflicts me. And the powers-that-be knewÖ.

Just as they know about many of the thousands of new chemical combinations released with little study into the worldís air and water each year. Thereís a long-term agricultural study being done in two states that is finding the farmers and their families generally healthier than average because of the time spent outdoors, but with worrisome numbers of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, possibly from exposure to glyphosate. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the most widely-used herbicide in the world, and has been banned in a number of countries and U.S. jurisdictions. The maker, Bayer-Monsanto, is in court regularly challenging the data.

At six months post-chemo, Iím doing okay, one day at a time. Okay means reasonably functional. I tire easily, more so lately, with aches and pains that may be the myeloma, or just arthritis and old age; I turned 82 in January. The rib and shoulder pain I had went away, and then returned, the myeloma getting aggressive and hitting my left side ribs now as well as the right. My left leg goes painfully numb from time to time. Nothing broken so far. I still find that my low energy level diminishes further as the day wears on. Itís technically spring here, but with snow in April, Iím inside most of the time, just as I was in Arizona. Iím being careful. Especially in this Covid-19 pandemic. Mask. Social distancing. Staying home.

The treatment-induced neuropathy in my feet isnít going to go away, and I feel like Iím walking barefoot on gravel, but itís manageable with the help of a cane. My appetite comes and goes, Iíve lost weight, but my bowels are back to normal. (Yeah, yeah, TMI.) Drinking lots of water keeps my at-risk kidneys afloat. (Thatís two-thirds of a pun: P.U.)

My new primary doctor thinks I should be seeing an oncologist, but I see no reason to do that. All they can do is run some expensive tests and tell me that the myeloma is advancing. Duh! Between Medicare and my Teachersí Union-negotiated medical insurance, Big Pharma and the Cancer Industry have taken in about a half-million dollars on me. Thatís more than enough, too much even, and to think of those without insurance who went bankrupt and/or died is to feed my anger over the U.S. model of sickness as fodder for private enterprise instead of health care being a basic human right.

An attitude of gratitude: it seems true that you get back what you put out, and an attitude of gratitude seems to bring out really good stuff from others. For which I am grateful. An example: While I was still in Arizona and Kaitlin was in California working to make our new home, which weíve named Rubyís Rest, ready. I went to a local hospital to try to obtain some records she had been unsuccessful in having sent to her doctor. I had tried through the hospitalís website and was referred to an out-of-state phone number where I was told I just had to fill out a form and take it to the hospital. So I did.

I had not been at that hospital for 3-1/2 years and things had changed and I ended up walking a long way to the entrance which turned out was no longer the entrance. I walked further to find Administration, and was exhausted by the time I got there. The most walking Iíve done in the last 2-1/2 years is 100 steps to our mailbox and 100 steps back, with a rest stop in-between, and I used to be an avid hiker.

The young woman at the front Admin desk, Jasmine, saw my plight, found a wheelchair and wheeled me to Records, which produced them in minutes, and then wheeled me the long, long way back to my car; with intelligent conversation along the way. She accepted a hug as an expression of gratitude, and I later wrote a note to her bosses telling them how lucky they were to have her.

Another real treat: I was shopping in our local super market just before the holidays when suddenly there was singing, a mother and her young daughter happily singing ďDo Re MiĒ from The Sound of Music.  I joined them and we all smiled with joy, as did other shoppers.  I wish Peace on Earth were that easy.

I have much to be grateful for as I come to the end of my days: my amazing and loving Kaitlin, my son Erik, who has taught me much about love and forgiveness, Allan and Arnie and Mark who helped Kait create Rubyís Rest here in Julian as a safe and joyful place to live, Greg and Susan in Picture Rocks helping Kait get Wild Heart Ranch sale-ready, Richard at Storyhouse for sharing our stories, our dog Gus who is the embodiment of unconditional love no matter what, strangers who hold doors for me or offer to help carry packages, supermarket clerks who load groceries into my car, friends and family who stay in touch, many good people Iíve known over the years, amazing places Iíve gone, those days when the sun actually burns through the Cuyamaca Mountains drizzle-mist*, good books to read, good music to listen to, writingÖI could go on and on, and I probably will in Part 3. (To Be ContinuedÖhopefully)

*Cuyamaca is a First Peopleís word meaning ďrain above.Ē

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