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Sean’s Burgundy Thread: Myeloma And My Friend Jack

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Published: Dec 19, 2013 11:24 am

Sometimes multiple myeloma makes you do strange things.

With a yellow No. 2 pencil and a tablet of Big Chief paper in hand, I began sketching this December’s Myeloma Beacon column while sitting on my covered back porch overlooking a bit of the frosty Ozark woods.

Despite the 30 °F chill and a biting northerly breeze, I was nonetheless comfortable and quite content.

After all, I was within arm’s reach of a mug of steaming hot cocoa laced with cinnamon and a marshmallow. Okay, six marshmallows – but don’t tell my wife.

At my feet were two snoozing pups, one of them snoring to beat the band, the other twitching as she cavorted through Doggie Dreamland.

The pooches were oblivious to the slapstick antics of a dozen or so squirrels, chipmunks, sparrows, yet-to-migrate blue jays, and a cardinal or two that fought over the stale bread crumbs and bird seed, which I’d scattered over the ten inches of snow and ice that blanketed the ground below.

The impromptu backyard zoo paid no heed to the strange man and his companions on the porch. They were too busy hunting and gathering to survive the winter weather, which had arrived surprisingly early this year.

Now you might be wondering whether myeloma had rendered me mentally incapable of knowing when to come in from the cold.  Maybe.  My neighbors probably thought so.

But I had a very good reason to be camped out on that frigid porch.  You see, I was a man on a mission.

It all began five years earlier in December of 2008.

Newly diagnosed, I was just days away from heading out of state to begin aggressive treatment for stage III multiple myeloma.

I knew that I’d likely be gone for the better part of several months, and I just wanted to soak in the late fall sunshine and natural beauty that surrounded me. I did my best to imprint those images in my memory, so that I could conjure them up when I would, no doubt, be missing the closeness and calmness of home.

Although it was never said aloud, in the less confident reaches of my mind, I wondered if I would be coming back home at all.  I was hopeful, but I steeled myself for the worst. I was pretty sick.

As I sat on the porch that day in 2008, there wasn’t any snow or ice, the wind was gentle, the temperatures were up, but still, critters of various descriptions were bopping around like a three-ring circus gone mad. And I felt honored to be the only one invited to the performance.

The gray squirrels were hurriedly gathering acorns and nuts and seemed to outnumber the other species. The cardinals played it cool while the always territorial blue jays dive-bombed interlopers at will from the oak, hickory, elm, maple, and walnut trees.

I caught quick glimpses of speedy chipmunks darting helter-skelter between hollow fallen logs and their all-but-hidden tunnel homes.  Making a rare midday appearance was a curious doe at the edge of the thick stand of trees.

On that day, my dogs, gated up on the porch, were barking ‘Let us at ‘em! Let us at ‘em!’ to the mob below. Somehow the menagerie sensed that they were safe and went about their important business unfettered.

But what captivated my attention the most, was the oddest squirrel that I’d ever seen.

This squirrel was nearly a head or two taller than all of the other squirrels and twice as wide. And it was closer in color to a red squirrel than a gray one, but it really looked like neither.  Some tufts of its fur were longer in odd places, and it was nearly bald in other spots. But that’s not the weirdest part.

This poor squirrel had only one forelimb, and the top half of its tail had absolutely no fur upon it. It looked like a car antennae whipping in the wind.  I imagined it with a snazzy florescent yellow-green tennis ball affixed to the hairless end.

Its mannerisms weren’t spastic like its rodent brethren. It moved with a measured, but awkward sideways, John Wayne-like gait. It climbed trees slowly.

I was pretty sure that it only had one eye.  I named him Jack.

And then I had to laugh because Jack probably looked like I felt.

Mismatched. Out of sorts. Pained. Troubled.

The other animals and birds seemed to shy away from Jack. They gave him room, but yelled at him from a distance. In the squirrels’ squeaking and the birds’ chirping I could sense them saying, ‘Hit the road, Jack!’

He would have none of it. To his credit, Jack picked up an acorn, stuffed it into his cheek, and went back for more.  And he did it again and again.

I didn’t know if he was injured or sick or what. He didn’t give two hoots about his circumstances. He just got on with living the best that he could. His life wasn’t pretty, but it was his life.

I became a Jack fan.

I saw him one more time before leaving town that December. After my clinical trial was finished in November 2009, I came home to begin maintenance treatment and looked for Jack.

And darned if I didn’t see him!

He didn’t come by every day, but he’d saunter in every week or so through that winter, and then in the spring, and the next winter, the next, and so on.

I was always on pins and needles waiting for his appearance.  He looked more haggard through the years.

Some experts say that squirrels live a year or two. Others say that they live longer. I guess that Jack’s listening to the others, because I saw him again today.

Who would’ve ever thought that I could learn a lesson about perseverance and about living beyond your circumstances from a one-eyed squirrel?

Happy Holidays to you all and to my pal, Jack!

Sean Murray is a multiple myeloma patient and columnist at The Myeloma Beacon. You can view a list of his columns here.

If you are interested in writing a regular column to be published by The Myeloma Beacon, please contact the Beacon team at .

Photo of Sean Murray, monthly columnist at The Myeloma Beacon.
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  • joanne said:

    I am now a Jack fan and will also take a page from his book. Just keep on keepin on!
    Thank you for your threads, Sean. I always look forward to them

  • Joyce said:

    Thanks to you and Jack for the good object lesson. Myeloma has made me much more thankful for things that I would never have noticed pre-MM. I’m heading into my 3rd Christmas since diagnosis and am so grateful for the season and the time I have been given with my family.

  • Nancy Shamanna said:

    Thanks for the beautifully written column. Your backyard sounds very idyllic! I wouldn’t call a temp. of 30 deg. F cold either, just a bit chilly! We have squirrels here too, and we see them year round. Had never seen a cardinal bird until last spring though, in N.J. It was so striking in its bright red plumage! We have waxwings here in the winter though, large flocks of them. Hope the little squirrel does well. Happy holidays to you and your family!

  • Krysia said:

    Love this! Thank you for the well-written and descriptive column. I have a few “Jacks” of my own in my backyard in Toronto. Also getting a puppy today (perhaps taking on too much, but also looking to the future). Have a great Christmas & a healthy 2014.

  • April Nelson said:

    Like Krysia, love this! I echo everyone else in that myeloma has made me more acutely aware on the small things for which I am so grateful! (And enjoy those marshmallows, Sean!)

  • Nancy Stewart said:

    I felt like I was on the porch with you today except my 2 cats were there instead of the dogs. What a wonderful lesson you, and I, learned from Jack. We may look and/or feel ragged at times during our Myeloma journeys, but we keep going on.

    I know that I have become more aware of the rhythm of life around me since being diagnosed. It’s the little joys, cocoa with marshmallows, and the celebrations of life on a daily basis that are so important.

    Happy holidays to each of you with, or without MM.

  • LibbyC said:

    I love it Sean, its put a smile on my dial. Thank you so much for painting a wonderful picture you make it come to life. Go Jack! I’m a Jack fan as well. Never give up never surrender. All the best, Libby

  • johnw said:

    Great article Sean.Jack sounds like one tough dude.

  • Scott H said:

    Awesome story! I wander out into the woods almost daily right outside my door. Squirrels, turkeys, deer, birds and the occasional coyote yelping in the distance. I camp out there quite often and love the solitude. I will start looking for a “Jack” in my neck of the woods!

    Once again you wrote a superb article Sean. Way to go! Hope to see you put them all in a book someday.

    Glad you survived the weather down there! I was wondering how you were fairing as my daughter’s family got hammered with ice!


  • Ralph said:

    You’re slippin Sean, you left out the Bigfoots and your bearded neighbors, stars of the movie “Deliverance”…

  • Ron Harvot said:

    Great column. Your description brought back memories of when I lived in north western Pennsylvania. Now that I live in Texas, the squirrels are red and smaller than the grey ones up north. No chipmunks down here either – to hot I guess. But we have armadillos and road runners! :)

    Good writing brings descriptions to life. You can see it in your minds eye. You have that gift.


  • Sylvia B said:

    I just read your article. Thank you! Diagnosed this past Aug., I have been trying to adjust to my new “normal.” Jack is a special reminder of living with “what is.” Thanks for giving me a lift just before Christmas.

  • Hugh S said:

    I woke up this morning in my normal Monday Myeloma funk. Knowing it is off to work and soon…back in treatment. You made me smile and you gave me hope … Man I needed that. Thank you!

  • Diana said:

    Hello Sean, love your story of Jack and sitting on what sounds like a lovely porch and setting. Please keep us informed of how Jack is doing. I live in Canada,and was diagnosed in 2012.

  • Marla said:

    Just diagnosed – had a bone marrow aspiration yesterday – also a kidney stone pulverized – here two days before Christmas. I happened upon your article – means so much to me today. Trusting in God and planning to keep on keeping on.

  • Randy Strode said:

    I am a newly diagnosed myeloma patient since November. I found this site entirely by accident and can’t go a day without logging on. Being a Registered Pharmacist I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the information and the compassion in the articles. It’s quite nice to see articles from leading physicians and trials showing research they are working on.

    A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a tree stand for Illinois deer hunting season. I grew up in a rural farm community and hunting has always been a way of life and a family tradition for us. This particular day a huge blizzard snow storm erupted. Sitting there freezing, I noticed a small deer flash past me. Then back by me so fast it was like a whirlwind. Then back again with another one chasing it. I watched with fascination at them frolicking in the snow. I then realized that they were just chasing each other back and forth and enjoying the snow.

    I was so overcome with emotion, shooting a deer quickly disappeared from my agenda. I was then focusing on my recent diagnosis and uncertainty which I know could be coming. All I could do was raise my hands and thank God for giving me such a gift from His creation. Much like this little squirrel “Jack” … seeing nature in its splendor helped lift my spirits. I hope to keep having many more experiences like this for years to come, God willing. Thanks Sean!

  • Raymond Wilkins said:

    Thanks for a great article. Diagnosed with MM 3 Months ago and trying to learn and adjust to living with
    multiple myeloma.Trust in God and hope for the best!

  • Sean Murray (author) said:

    Thank you all for sharing your kind thoughts – all of which are greatly appreciated.

    The snow has melted here and the temps have recently climbed into the 50s F, but Jack hasn’t popped up since this article was published. Maybe he’s shunning the spotlight or he’s wintering down south with the birds. Wherever he is, no doubt he’s doing his best to keep going.

    The road ahead for many of us may be uneven and filled with speed bumps, potholes, and detours, but like Jack, let’s keep moving forward – even if it’s just an inch at a time.

    I pray that 2014 brings good news and great health to us all.