Sean’s Burgundy Thread: Myeloma And My Friend Jack
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!