Thursday, January 31, 2013

When the Clock Runs Out - Play On!

Just because the clock seems to have stopped ticking, it doesn't necessarily mean the game is over.
Following is the text from my January Myeloma Beacon article:
 “So, how much time are they giving you?” an old friend from college asked me with great concern in his voice.

We had lost touch for several years, and he had only recently learned of my ongoing battle with multiple myeloma.

Ah, the classic ‘how much time?’ question.

I replied. “My doctors have assured me, with a great deal of certainty, that I will have no more than (dramatic pause)… no more than twenty-four hours a day to live my life. Only twenty-four hours a day! Why me?”

“Oh, man, I’m so sorry. Wait – very funny. You’re an idiot. Seriously, what’s your prognosis?” he shot back at me.

Okay. When someone is really interested in discussing such things, I tend not to break out the graphs, clinical study abstracts, or my PET scan images. I tread more lightly than that.

It’s not that I don’t find the survival stats interesting and valid. I just don’t let them rule my daily life.

If need be, I can cite the projected outcomes of my particular flavor of myeloma and my treatment protocols until the cows come home, but those statistics may not reflect the arch of my personal story.

Even with this difficult diagnosis, as a glass-half-full person, I fully expect to be kicking rocks around this good old Earth of ours for a good while yet. Does a positive, hopeful attitude make my prognosis any better? Maybe not, but it sure makes each day a bit easier to get through. A spoon full of sugar, as it were.

I take comfort in knowing that brilliant minds continue to work on the myeloma problem and that great strides have been made in approaches to treatment. Although a slam-dunk cure has been elusive, many patients are living longer today than they would have lived with a similar diagnosis delivered just ten or fifteen years ago. That’s something, anyway.

In short, I have no idea how long I will live. Do you honestly know how long you will live?

Remembering that my friend was a sports geek, and not being content to give him a brush-off answer, I grasped for a creatively simple analogy to help him understand how I approach the ‘time’ aspect of my battle with multiple myeloma.

His favorite sport is soccer – football to my non-American pals.  Soccer has a unique time structure. Each game is divided into two, 45-minute periods. The clock never stops in each period. When the second 45-minute period runs out, the game is over, right? Not necessarily!

You see, whenever a soccer game has to stop for an injury, a penalty, a fight breaks out, a hooligan runs on the field, or some other variety of interruption takes place, the clock keeps ticking away. But a very clever Mr. Referee keeps track of all of the bits of playing time lost to these wayward events (commonly known as ‘stoppage’ time), and then he adds the precious minutes and seconds to the end of the game.

The cool thing is that the coaches and players may have a rough idea about the amount of stoppage time that will be added, but they don’t exactly know how much. It’s the ref’s secret. The soccer players continue to feverishly battle on not knowing when the final whistle will blow. Aha!

As I have participated in the proverbial soccer game of my life, I have taken great joy in playing hard, taking some good shots, occasionally stopping the bad guys in their tracks, and sometimes even scoring some winning goals. Of course, I’ve also made some blunders, missed some easy shots, been called for some fouls, and let my teammates down a time or two. It goes with the territory of a hard-fought, no-holds-barred match. All in all, I have had great fun!

But then disaster came calling. I was diagnosed with what was boldly labeled as an incurable cancer. The second period clock ran out. The game was over. Or was it?

As shocking as it was to be told that I had myeloma, with time I understood that the referee’s clock was still ticking. He didn’t say that I was finished. My doctors didn’t say that this was the end of the match.

Even if my game is under that mysterious stoppage time, I will keep plugging away, keep trying to score goals, keep trying to lend a hand to my teammates. There is still hope, and there is still time to make a mark on the world. And as hard as life is, this isn’t the time to give up.

I pray that you will find strength, courage, and good news in 2013.   Have a good game, and Happy New Year!