Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2557

Seventh Milestone

Seven years ago today, right about the time I'm typing these words, lifesaving stem cells from my brother Kevin were introduced to my weary and worried person. Months of chemotherapy leading to several days of conditioning, left my bone marrow barren and my immune system in shambles. Two small bags of stem cells were hooked up to my port and I waited while they slowly dripped into my heart for distribution throughout my system.

No fanfare. No photos. It didn't take very long. I went back to our room at the transplant house and waited.

Did I mention that I smelled like creamed corn for two days? That was interesting.

I've treasured the fact that my miracle was such a low-key event. After all the hazmat gear of the chemotherapy sessions, the machinery of the testing and scanning, and the endless hours of solutions dripping into (and out of) me, the simplicity of the transplant was almost pleasant. It was, of course, an irrevocable step taken in desperation. My blood would no longer be MY blood -- it would be my brother's blood -- and that blood would take on a life all its own.

In various ways, the blood in my body would reject me and attack me in confused fury. It attacked my skin, my liver, my kidneys, my eyes, my mouth and GI tract, my teeth, and my lungs. At the same time, my new blood was generally unwilling to respond to foreign invaders, requring multiple hospitalizations and re-vaccination for childhood diseases. I required cataract surgery, removal of my gall bladder, and treatment for skin cancer. I still take 12 medications.

However, seven years later, I am still here -- alive and writing this depressing narrative! My new normal is unlike anything I could have predicted. That CML would change the course of my life never occurred to me as I was busy making retirement plans. I've learned that, although I need to plan for a future, I need to be flexible enough to absorb a sucker punch and resilient enough to come right back and make necessary course corrections. I also learned to live each day as though it might be my last. I try not to waste time on worry.

Guess what? I am happier now than I can remember, because I know I can take a punch. Like my old Timex watch, I can "take a licking and keep on ticking."

Thanks to everyone who helped us and sent so many (recently maligned) thoughts and prayers. It all helped.


Friday, February 2, 2018

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2538

Call Me Sunny ⛅, Sonny!

       Let me tell you about this morning's dream. Today was the latest I have risen since my days in hospital, where I was in bed most of every day. My dream was difficult to flee this time. I truly wanted to stay asleep and enjoy the sensations of peace and warmth.
       You see, I was a star 🌟, like our Sun, but in human form. Although it felt as though I had a nuclear fire 🔥 at my core, it didn't burn me to cause pain, but infused every cell of my being with warmth and light. Overwhelmed with joy, I would explode into a massive ball of brilliant fire, but not destroy anything, just become a momentary burst of sunlight. Gold and silver streams of joy would burst forth, and whenever someone was touched by them, they paused and smiled...just a little.
       As I walked about in the snow, I felt the snow melt away and luxurious green grass and feathery moss appeared to cushion my feet. My feet were perfect, unscarred, and felt everything because I wore no shoes. Having known only pressure and pain for all but 18 months of my life, the experience was overwhelming.

Exploration and Investigation

       Although it was snowing like gangbusters, the flakes evaporated as they touched me. I could feel their feathery, chilly caress, a gentle summer breeze on a warm afternoon. The sounds were exhilarating. The hushed whisper of the snow, the rattling of the pine boughs in the wind, and the enveloping fairy cries of life all about tickled my ears. The rushing, hissing, whining, and roaring of tinnitus was gone, as was the patient thrum of my beating heart, and the distinct grinding of bones as I moved about. I almost heard silence for the first time.
       Hunger and thirst were behind me, and yet I still breathed. I sensed that I no longer needed to take a breath, but found some comfort in being able to do so without the pain and distress, so much a part of my daily life. I felt no pain at all, though I could touch things. I soon learned not to touch people, as they apparently could not see me, and it caused them distress. For a time, I simply watched them go about their self-important tasks and selfless expressions of love, as they worked, worried, wished, worshipped, and wondered.
       Few of the folk I haunted were happy. Although most had everything necessary for comfort, sustenance, companionship, and safety, few were satisfied and even fewer were happy. There were moments when individuals and couples would suddenly shine brightly and these ephemeral sunrises were common enough, but they seldom lasted more than a moment as the burning lights within were once again hooded and shut away -- even from each other.


       There were shadows moving among other living folk.
       These individuals and groups of individuals seemed to drain light away from others around them. There were no shadow couples, as even within groups, they shared little and what light touched them was deflected or absorbed. They carried their own personal winter with them.
       Still others seemed broken, their light flashing and surging, and then suddenly dimming -- even plunging into shadow. I came to think of them as distress beacons flashing in the night. Often, shining folk would congregate about such a beacon and seek to share and stabilize. Sometimes, no one helped and the beacon spun off flashing desperately in the distance. 

Fireflies Everywhere.

       Small flashing points of light drifted about, usually in the orbit of an individual or group of folk. It didn't take long to sense these were pets and other animals. They seemed to have a symbiotic relationship with folk, their tiny sparks adding to the glow of their compatriots.
       Larger glowing orbs appeared and disappeared constantly with and among the folk around me. It took a moment to realize they were just like me. Gazing and watching, flaring and shining, occasionally touching living folk. Often, they concentrated on the shadows, but just as often had little or no effect on the path of the shadows or the darkness around them. Sometimes, occasionally in the immediate vicinity of a shadow, sudden flashes and explosions of light would erupt. Instantly, I knew it was others discovering their light.

Coming Home

       As I began to flit and flicker about, visiting and watching and learning, a warm light enveloped me, revealing two paths. One lead to light, warmth, and a pain-free existence. The other drew me with an irresistible force, back to daily trials and a chance to share what I saw. Here I am, so you can guess my choice.
       For a few minutes after waking, the joy and the warmth stayed with me, as I slowly cooled back into plain Ol’ Mick. However, for awhile I was energized, happy, and at peace. Was I once again dancing near death? I wonder why I might have chosen to come back to this cold and cruel world. I also understand why some folks simply die while sleeping.
       Dreams are strange, wonderful, and dangerous things.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2505

Looking Back

         One also looks back at the year gone by. 2017 was not one of my favorite years, despite being the most recent and one of the loudest by far. I was put in mind of a saying which may be the most miss-attributed I've ever used. I must have said hundreds of times that "May you live in interesting times!" is an ancient Chinese curse. However, there appear to be no records of anyone in China or anyone ancient uttering that phrase as a curse or a blessing. Some believe it was taken from something Joseph Chamberlain said in the late 19th century, but even that is uncertain. (See: ) One of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels is entitled: Interesting Times.

Recent History (and Politics, Sorry...)

         Well, I would label 2017 as Interesting Times, encompassing mass shootings, severe hurricanes, earthquakes, massive wildfires, a lunatic threatening use of nuclear weapons, and Kim Jung-Un. Our president has used tactics rarely touched since the 1930's when another self-proclaimed leader rose to power through intimidation, hatred, fear, and bigotry. There are differences of course, Trump is much more orange. Mine is not a partisan view: I remain independent. However, as a history buff, I get antsy when I see it repeating. #FakePresident
          2017 also was the year when bright entertainment stars were tarnished and dimmed, and dimly-lit political figures became dark shadows. It was a year when conspiracy theorists flourished and science was muzzled by politics. Enough of that...for more, see the Internet.

Personally Interesting

         My own situation had its share of issues. Mostly, I had to deal with blood pressure problems, not because my blood pressure climbed severely, but because acceptable BP was redefined much lower than before. Also, a funny looking keratosis on my neck turned sinister when we discovered it was cancer. An up close and personal contact with some liquid nitrogen burned that bridge and the resulting scar is the only evidence of my second bout with skin cancer. Apparently, the sun is not my friend.
         Overall, my health was fair this year. I was able to reduce my oxygen equipment from a full home base station (concentrator, bottles, pony bottles, etc.) to just two bottles, one with a regulator and one back up. I haven't used supplemental oxygen in over a year. This is a good thing.
         I am happy to see 2017 in the rear-view mirror and I'm ready to find out what 2018 has in store. Happy New Year!


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2444

All Hallows Snow

    Once again, it's a White Halloween! Most folks dream and sing about a White Christmas -- but not in the Keweenaw -- we envision little creatures traipsing through the snow and slush and sleet to earn a sweet treat. Home is one of the few places where the weather is scarier than the costumes.
    Marian and Amanda were assembling the distribution packets for doorway dispersal this evening as I came downstairs this morning. They were laughing at the size of the candies, and mulling over having to place four pieces per packet, because the pieces were so tiny. Apparently, they’ve shrunk as well as gone up in price. Nice to know profits are up, as consumers get nothing for something.
    Perhaps we need to rethink the holiday. We could give out little packets of broccoli and kale...yum! I remember getting free toothbrushes at the dentist's house and some folks handed out pennies. Note: Pennies had value in those days -- especially at the candy counter in the corner store. 🍬
    There were a few Halloweens I remember particularly well. I was the oldest of five, and eventually I graduated from part of the pack to responsibility for the other four. At a young age, I learned the true meaning of “herding cats.” Perhaps the clearest Halloween was 1955. I was five years old and had my tonsils removed the day before. I could not trick or treat and had to stay home and rest. However, I got to have all the ice cream I wanted. THAT I remember!
    My happiest Halloweens were the years I went trick-or-treating with my own kids. Some years, we walked, some years we drove (raining), some years I pulled a little red wagon, and a couple that I pulled an old runner sled. Our daughter, Heather, took the younger kids a couple of times -- it was like watching a drill instructor at work. Safety first!
    I hope some of the traditions survive. I want my kids and grandkids to have fond memories of the holiday. Happy Halloween!


Monday, September 25, 2017

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2408


Today, I suffer from an self-inflicted earworm.

I had to stop after spending a disproportionate amount of time sorting through Facebook "newsfeed" items and online news items. After trying desperately to sort out diatribes from passionate pleas, fiery four-letter words from salacious swag, spun stories from outright lies, and silly spam from heartfelt feelings, I was ready for my extended vacation to Catatonia with a stop-over at Stupor.

I sat back and tried to wrap my mind around the hue and cry. Not for the first time, I was truly stunned by a wall of noise battering both vision and hearing. An urge rose up within me to cry out with the voice of Vesuvius: "Shut up!" And to pray for a sudden, stunned silence into which I could whisper a question: "If you were the last human on Earth, would you still hate?" As my imagination directed the movie for my mind's eye, Harry Nilsson's song, "Everybody's Talkin'" faded in as the soundtrack.

In my daydream movie, I suddenly leapt into the sky, pierced a rainstorm as I arrowed upward, banked off the chill northern winds, and chased that summer breeze across the ocean into a brilliant sunrise. As I flew, I sang at the top of my lungs:

"Everybody's talking at me
I don't hear a word they're saying
Only the echoes of my mind

People stopping, staring
I can't see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes

I'm going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes

Banking off of the northeast winds
Sailing on a summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone"

Alas, it was only a dream, and I am not Vesuvius.

Peace, love, and blessings;


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2404

Man! That's Cold...

          My visit with Dr. Nguyen was a quick one. He looked at the now healed wound from removing the squamous cell growth from my neck, and explained why further work was necessary. Because this happened to me once before -- about 25 years ago -- I was aware of the need to take more tissue to assure that the cancer has all been removed. Some of the cancerous cells were right along the border of the tissue sample, so it seems likely that some cells remain.
           Rather than schedule a visit to an operating room for surgery, the simplest procedure is to spray the area with liquid nitrogen -- essentially burn it with cold. He simply aims a spray container at the spot and as the nitrogen becomes a gas, it draws heat from the tissue it touches, freezing it instantly. He shot me twice, just to be sure. A spot on my neck is now freezer burned.
          If you want to see the damage, check out this Ugly Photo. Honestly, it just looks like I leaned a little too close to a wood stove. It will blister and there will be a wound for awhile. I've had more severe burns. 
          Thank you for all the prayers and good thoughts -- I think we've got this one beat! Now I just have to figure out how to sleep when my neck hurts like the dickens...


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +2395

Call Me Job

The results are back on the tissue (i.e., supremely ugly lump of flesh) removed from my neck by Dr. Nguyen on August 24. Squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer) is the diagnosis. Despite hiding from the sun and wearing copious amounts of sunblock, the spectre has raised its ugly head upon my neck -- and once again given me pause to reflect upon the effectiveness of precautions.
One would think, with the dearth of sunlight in this area, my need to take 5,000 units of vitamin D3 every day because I live like a vampire, and my singular support of the sunblock industry, that I might be spared a recurrence of this form of the Big C. (Yeah, I had it before, about 30 years ago.) Nonetheless, it’s back.
Someone once told me that the purpose of my life was to be an object lesson for those sporting rose-colored glasses. Although I doubt the preceding wisdom, I do seem to have a close personal connection with an inordinate number of medical professionals...
On September 21, I will be examined with a view toward treating my healing incision with liquid nitrogen. The idea, I believe, is to give the cancer a cold from which it cannot recover, and prevent it from seeking refuge in my lymph nodes. One hopes the Squamish hooligans don't travel, as thanks to cutbacks in immune support, the local sheriff is short-handed. I will know more after the 21st.
As always prayers and good thoughts are welcome, even encouraged. God bless you all,