10/25/16 Pressing On

I have worked for eight straight days and am just about to be nothing more than a flash in the pan. Everything we start out to do that should be easy and quick turns into something akin to a quagmire of mud in which you bog down, making progress as if swimming in a pool of molasses. This may make you tired, but it also makes you strong. I am ready for a break, however.

Yesterday, a simple 700 foot three phase pull of 15kV cables, which should have been routine, turned into a major ordeal when the rigging broke right at the end of the pull, with us needing to get about fifteen more feet of the cable out of the conduits. It took creative minds to do some swift planning, and I can’t claim credit for being the only creative mind there….there were several. Together, we made us a plan to amend our earlier plan to complete the work, and got it done rather promptly. Now, I have a bucket truck and a line truck stuck in the only wet bog that exists on the Ole Miss campus after last Thursday’s brief but intense deluge interrupted an extremely dry spell; everywhere else the parched earth has completely and thankfully absorbed the water…but not the place where we had to put the trucks. They are at the base of a riser pole where the overhead lines transition to underground. We will retrieve them this morning. Getting them out will be easy enough. It was quitting time when we got the wire pulled in, and we were all just too tired to fool with it after quitting time. With backhoes, track-hoes, and big winches on big trucks, we will get those stuck trucks right out, even if Murphy’s Law means an alternative plan to our plan’s alternative, which Murphy can still thwart. That scheming Murphy is always lurking about.

I got a call yesterday morning from Nurse Sarah, the research nurse for BATCC’s clinical trial I am on. She asked about any improvements and side effects from the increased dosage of the Ruxolitinib. I was happy to report only mild, common, and abating side effects, and an improving effectiveness of the drug in its symptom relief. It is not quite as “wonderful” as before, which wonderfulness may have been enhanced by my former enthusiasm, now somewhat tarnished, but it is still much better. I don’t really think I would have had an adequate energy inventory to expend these last eight days were it not for the increased dosage I have been taking. There are limits, though, and I am approaching them.

She said she would report my comments to Dr. Gooday. She called me back a few minutes later.

Since you have had improvements with the increased dosage, Dr. Gooday wants you to continue. We can cancel the November appointments, the planned bone marrow aspiration and genetic workup, and do all that in youfireball-ruxor December visit. Be sure and take each dose with a half-pint of Fireball”

“That’s good news,” I replied, throwing in the part about the Fireball just to see who’s paying attention. She did not say that and would be horrified by the very thought of it. I will have fun with this in Houston on my next trip as everyone will anxiously await their turn to admonish me about it.

One less expensive trip to Houston,” I thought, with glee.

One fewer soft-shell crab platter,” I lamented.

I laughed at myself. Truth is, I can make a trip down to the beautiful Mississippi Riviera and eat soft-shell crabs any time I want, and do it for a lot less than its inclusion on a trip to BATCC. Sometimes I plan brilliantly. Sometimes I plan miserably. I suppose that overlooking the obvious is what we humans all do at times. I can make a trip to Biloxi, eat fresh soft shell crabs, and return home in less time and far less money than it takes to drive one-way to Houston. I wonder why I don’t do it more often?

So, I am continuing the Ruxolitinib at 15mg twice daily. I hope the Ruxolitinib continues to do its job. I have to continue to do mine. Why should it be exempt? Maybe when it exempts itself, I’ll be exempted, too. Then we’ll make a second plan, Dr. Gooday, Hemosapien, and me. Maybe our alternative plan will be as successful as the alternative plan we developed on the fly yesterday to get that wire pulled in when the rigging broke.

It is when there is no alternative plan that things go to hell in the hand-basket that contains the world. (See 8/6/14 The Durable Hand-Basket).

Alternative plans failed Mark Avedikian just two days ago. I never met Mark in person. I know his wife Kristan. Her father Tony has been my friend for forty years. Tony is not just a friend, but a close friend and a fine human being. Kristan is a lot like her father.

Mark lost his battle with stomach cancer. I knew that Mark was in desperate straights, since stomach cancer is a desperado on the prowl, a pistolero, a bruiser, a Lee Van Cleef mated with Jack Palance of cancers, seeking to do as much damage in as short a time as possible. I nearly met Mark face-to-face once, as he and Kristan were leaving BATCC on the same day Debbie and I were arriving just a month or so ago. They left in the morning. We arrived that same afternoon. I missed my only chance.

Through the magic of social media….and this, folks, is one of its magics…. I got to meet Mark and to know him, though only in the often illusory way of the medium of binary code traveling down an intricate, interconnected web of glass filaments, wires, and microwaves. It has its limitations in getting to know someone, but it also has its place, its charms.

I know that Mark loved tennis. I know that Mark loved his wife. I know that Mark encouraged me many times in dealing with my cancer and at every opportunity he had. He was positive. He was supportive. He was empathetic. He also simply cared. I appreciate the encouragement he offered me as we worked to encourage each other.

My cancer happens at the relative speed of a ship taking on water and beginning to sink. It will sink, though, eventually accelerating as it does so in its trip to join Davy Jones. The Titanic’s string quartet played on the deck to calm the passengers as she was going down. It took the Titanic a couple of hours before she sank after her abrupt encounter with the iceberg. I suspect there were a few who managed to finish enjoying their platter of soft-shell crabs before the reality of their awful predicament had time to take hold of their thinking, those once delightful crabs turning to wormwood in their stomach. Many more were perhaps enjoying the music on the deck, even as panic began to set it. We all know the Titanic went down, and the results of her sinking, but it took her a while to do so. The fortunate escaped in lifeboats, though they watched the horror unfold before them. The less fortunate drowned quickly. The least fortunate were cast adrift in life vests to die in a dark, forlorn hopelessness of a seemingly endless, cold sea as hypothermia set in. I doubt anyone ever felt so alone.

Mark’s cancer was one that happens at the speed of an airliner crashing shortly after takeoff. There is not much warning. There is no lingering death due to hypothermia, just a sudden burst of fear, gripping apprehension, then a final culmination that comes quickly. It came quickly for Mark. The lifeboat would no longer hold him. No ship came in the night to pluck him from the water.

Though I had no direct knowledge, I suspected that when Mark was transferred from the hospital he was in to a different care facility, it was a hospice he was being transferred to. Just a few days before that, I got a message from Mark, who took the time from his limited time to encourage me to keep strong, and to offer comfort and empathy. As his airliner was crashing, he was throwing a life vest to me, standing on the deck of the slowly sinking ship listening to music even as I searched for some Rolaids. This human paradox, as it unfolded, was as inescapably dark as it was mysteriously uplifting.

Mark passed on to the ages surrounded by those who loved him….his wife, his family, and a host of his admiring, tennis-loving friends. Mark’s plan failed, then his alternative plan failed. Eventually, all our plans and alternative plans fail; then, we have only those who love us to hold us and comfort us as our time first distorts, then stops.

I was lucky to have known Mark in the limited way I knew him. I can make you this promise, though…I am a better person for having known him, because his strength, courage, and compassion inspired me in a unique way. I am no longer the same person, since some part of the eternal essence that is Mark Avedikian touched me and forever changed me. I expect to thank him in person one day.

Many blessings for peace and comfort be on his wife, family, and friends.

My own alternative plan seems to be working AT THIS TIME. It could be that I am simply enjoying a nice Bach suite for string quartet while standing on the already listing deck of a ship taking on water.

They’ve got it under control,” I tell myself. “They’ll take care of it with an alternative plan just like the one we came up with to get that cable pulled in yesterday.”

“Treating cancer is a lot more difficult than pulling in high voltage cables,” might say Gooday.

“Well, you come and pull them in, then,” I might reply.

“Well, you try and treat your own cancer,” he might say back.

“Maybe I should just shut up,” I might likely say, but be unable to do.

“No. It’d be best if you just shut up, now,” Hemosapien might whisper to me, “and let us do our work.”

I think about plans and alternative plans for a minute. Maybe they will work. Maybe they won’t. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the music. I can’t think of anything else to do. It’s not hard, though. The string quartet is playing with an unbounded passion as if their lives depended on it, as if it were their final earthly performance. It is joyous to hear. It overwhelms.

Thank you, Mark Avedikian. Your reached much further than you ever thought you could. You touched someone from across the eternal meander of the ether. May we all be so fortunate as to have a reach that long.

Fair winds and following seas, friend!

©2016 Mississippi Chris Sharp

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