I continue making progress, at least in the way I feel. My specialist at the cancer center recommended that I try to stop a medication (Dapsone), which she had started to prevent pneumonia. This medication can cause anemia because one of its common side effects is to destroy red blood cells. I was supposed to stay on it until December. After stopping Dapsone two weeks ago, I have noticed a significant improvement in my exercise tolerance. My last hemoglobin was 11.2 (normal is above 14) and I bet when I get my labs next week, it will be at least 12. I even tried running about 50 yards and didn’t die. There is no way I could do that even 2 weeks ago.
I am continuing my chemo every other week with minimal side effects (just one or two days of diarrhea) so I’m thankful about that . . . uh not the diarrhea but the low incidence of side effects.
My major symptom these days are my neurological. I do have an appointment with a neurologist in two weeks. However, with my reading of the studies and talking with this and another neurologist friend, there is probably not much that can be done to help.
We measured my evil proteins (Lambda light chains), the proteins that my cancer produces, last week and it is continuing to drop. It should be below 26. When I was first diagnosed it was 3400. After the stem cell transplant (we were hoping for 0) it was 260. Then after 4 weeks of chemo it was 174 and now, after 4 more weeks of chemo, it is 141. So, we are still moving in the right direction, but not fast enough for me.
Anger and the Assumption of Intent
I keep running into people who have cancer, had cancer, or has a relative with cancer. They often talk about their response of anger with the diagnoses. They assume that I too, at least had a phase of anger. A month ago, I read the book, The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After. It was written by Julie Yip-Williams and it is autobiographical, about her fight with and eventual death from colon cancer. She is very graphic and open in her descriptions of her disease . . . and her anger. But I didn’t have a phase of anger. Anger has never crossed my mind. The reason that I have not been angry is not because I’m a good guy or have my shit together. I have been very disappointed. I have been frustrated. I have been depressed to the point, of at least twice, of seriously considering taking my own life. Glad I didn’t have a gun in the house or maybe I would have.
Yesterday, as I was on a hike with Greta (my girlfriend . . . and Saint Bernard) I meditated on the role of anger in these situations. Why did anger not interest or tempt me? As I carefully dissected that mood I soon realized that true anger (rather than just disappointment) requires an assumption that it was someone’s or something’s intent to do this harm.
I have had lots of anger in my life. I’ve been angry at people (two that I can recall) who did things to hurt me and hurt me badly. I was pissed at one for almost a decade. So, I am capable of anger. But with both, there was an intent to hurt me.
In the case of cancer, the pure atheist should not have anger because there is nothing out there in this empty universe that intended their harm. It just happened. I use the term “pure” here to separate these people form the atheist who cheats by injecting meaning into the universe, where there can be none. For example, they say they are an atheist but still say things like, “The universe is pulling for me.” Or “I do believe that all things work for the good.” Or I’ve even heard, “I’m praying for the universe to step in and help me.” At one point Julie Yip-Williams describes herself as an atheist, but of this later type. She pumps a lot of spiritual meaning in her godless universe. It is from this paradigm that her anger gains strength. The universe failed her and did so with intent.
Theists have an assortment of concepts of God. Those who see God as a micromanager, where every detail of their lives is orchestrated by God, I believe are most prone to develop anger in face of their cancer. Either spoken or implied, they see God as rewarding them for their good behavior and punishing them for bad. So, when they felt like they were a good person and then get this terrible disease anyway. That pisses them off. They get mad at this God who either intentionally did this to them, or at least, allowed it to happen.
But I have a different concept of God. I think he is bigger than the local micromanager of my life, who cares what color of shirt I wear and who clears the road of fallen tree branches as I drive into town. I do believe that the evil in the world is real. After suffering a great disappointment, years ago, in the midst of my anger I discovered one of the greatest theological concepts within Christendom…”Shit happens.” A more proper Christian theologian will call it something like the fall of Adam, or simply The Fall.
So, the Christian concept is that this world is full of shit. Little kids get terminal cancer, and they did nothing wrong to deserve that. It is not until we come to grips with this state of existence can we be set free from the sense of intent and the anger that the intent breeds. Mike