Several of you have e-mailed me since my hiatus from FaceBook, wondering if I am OK since I have not posted to my blog in a while. I am making it, me and this ruxolitinib, making it in spite of the August torpor, miasma, and malaise that strikes Mississippi every year. August is the most miserable month, hot and humid beyond measure….well, beyond measure is not quite accurate…it is measurable, but usually measurable by the 98°F/98% Relative Humidity measure. We sweat profusely when we move. We sweat profusely when we don’t. The sweat just hangs there, soaking us, not evaporating, offering nothing to cool us down, just making us sticky, sour, and surly.
But August does not last forever; it merely seems so. As I write this, September is just three days away, and while it will be hot enough in September, hotter than we wish, by the middle of the month the nights will start getting a bit cooler, the morning coolness will last a bit longer, and our temperaments will improve with the temperature, for August can make us cross, filling us with a belligerence and intolerance that longs to escape at the slightest provocation. One might see how this may be even worse in the middle of a nasty election season.
I got too hot last Thursday, working on the campus at Ole Miss. I was nearing heat exhaustion and had to get some Ole Miss guys from the power-line shop to help me do some thermal imaging on some malfunctioning equipment. I was pretty much exhausted when I called them for help. They came running to assist me. The transformers and high voltage switches I was testing were all in the direct sunlight, and the thermal camera indicated that the cabinets I was working in had an ambient temperature of 120°F. It nearly got the best of me. I’ve never had a heat stroke, but I have had heat exhaustion a couple of times. You become more susceptible to it if you have ever had it. Even now, three days later, I am nearly immobile with a stiffness in my joints that has nothing to do with age or CLL and everything to do with the heat exhaustion.
What did we do before we had air conditioning? The list of things that are not worth what you have to pay for them is arguable, debatable, and perhaps endless, but air conditioning in Mississippi is not on that list. Every time I look at my power bill in a Mississippi summer and see how much it is, I wince, then think to myself, sometimes out loud, “And worth every penny!”
Sometimes August brings more than malicious summer heat. It brings rain (think Baton Rouge), it brings hurricanes (think Katrina), and it brings release from a long struggle with cancer.
My friend Margaret McCay was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at nearly the same time I was diagnosed with CLL. Ovarian cancer is a particularly tough cancer, obstinate, tenacious, and constantly reinventing its malignancy in the most clever ways. Margaret was the executive secretary to one of my very best friends, Wayne Henson, the CEO of East Mississippi Electric Power Association in Meridian. I prayed with Margaret. She prayed with me. We prayed for each other. Sometimes I would see her in the chemo infusion unit at the cancer center in Meridian quite by accident, and occasionally, I would go and see her when I had heard she would be there for treatment on a particular day. In spite of rules and regulations, we cancer patients who have spent our share of time in the chemo infusion center are always welcome to stop in and see if there is anyone we know in there. There nearly always is. They are always glad to see you and talk to you, a fellow member of the club that no one wants to join, that does not solicit new members, but makes a welcome for those who find themselves there, those not quite believing that they have been qualified for admission. Margaret always seemed glad to see me; in fact, she was.
She was a lady of great beauty, class, and grace; it dripped from every pore and she left a trail of it in her wake. Now, she has passed on to the ages and her beauty, class, and grace are left behind her to be our constant reminder of her time here on this earth…always a smile, always a remarkable way of making you feel you were special, always treating you with the dignity and respect due every human being, which she had returned to her in multiple dividends.
Margaret and I shared Hemosapien as an oncologist. I do not envy him his job. Whatever amount they pay him, which may seem excessive to some, will hardly seem like enough to me, for I have seen him do his absolute best with a formidable enemy, and lose in the end. But it’s not that he really loses, since the end is the same for all of us whether we have cancer or not, but no doubt it feels that way when he buries one of his patients he has worked with for so long. Sometimes he can give us a cure. Other times, he can only give us some time. Yet other times, he can give neither. He can only do what he can do, and even then, the cancer has a will all its own.
Margaret had gone through series after series of chemo, each one early on furnishing her with some improvement, but her stubborn cancer returning and returning until each period between chemotherapies became shorter and shorter until her life devolved into one long period of uninterrupted chemotherapy. When the cancer patient gets like this, each bit of chemo become less effective as the cancer, like the malevolent fire ants in your yard, learns to resist the poison meant to kill it. Each ant that survives the poison becomes immune to it. Each cancer cell that survives the poison becomes equally immune. Stronger and stronger poisons are required until our bodies can no longer tolerate the poisons and we succumb to the cancer, or to some danger provoked by the drugs meant to kill it, or to some infection run rampant by our immune system weakened from the cancer or the cancer’s treatment. There is peril at every turn.
While that sounds terrible, there is something you must know: there is a whole life time between the initial diagnosis and the culmination. For at least eight years, Margaret has loved and been loved. She has touched the lives of everyone who came into contact with her as she smiled while so many thought she had nothing on earth whatsoever to smile about, having lost so much to her cancer. But she had her husband, her children, her grandchildren, her friends, her work (until she just couldn’t do it anymore), her church, her faith, and a whole life that did not end with her cancer diagnosis. It was only her earthy life that ended this past Friday, August 26, 2016, along with its trials and tribulations.
She had already begun her new life, which did not start last Friday, but many years earlier when she became a new creature, the old Margaret dying in the water of her baptism and the new Margaret, the new creature, the eternal creature with the spark of The Most High God inside her, emerging out of the water with that promise of eternity upon her. She never let go of that faith that she and I shared. I am confident that we will meet again in a place where there is no cancer, no mourning, and no darkness of night, only the bright light of an eternal sunrise greeted with the harmony of the voices of millions angels and saints. Margaret’s voice will be heard among them.
Rest in peace Margaret McCay.
Those of us left behind will rejoice at the passing of this August which has oppressed us so, and welcome the cool fall breezes soon enough, as they lightly fall upon our faces with a freshness that August will never know.
Margaret’s obituary is HERE.
Please notice her request to send donations to the Anderson Cancer Center Benevolence Fund, 1704 23rd Ave., Meridian, MS 39301. If you are of a mind, please send a donation. They help more people there than you can shake a stick at. I know what they do and how much they care.
Bye, for now, Margaret.
©2016 Mississippi Chris Sharp
PS…the ruxolitinib is remarkable…so far. I am thankful for the opportunity I have to participate in this clinical trial, and for the improvement it has made in my life….so far. We’ll take it a day at the time.