Monday, November 29, 2010

Night Sweats...Part One by Kim Zuba Morse

The clock strikes two in the morning and the bed sheets are soaked yet again. Four times in the last week and almost robotically I’ve found myself in a new routine: school, homework, dinner and soon after asleep on the couch. Unfortunately, the rest is short lived. Bed soaking, body shaking sweats awaken me within hours as the devil dances through my dreams shouting “put up a fight”. Even 17 years later the thought of those sweats turn my stomach and result in an immediate chill.

At fourteen years old, many teenagers think they know it all. Sorry to disappoint, but I was no exception. I wasn’t a cool kid by any means, but I had made some friends, proven myself academically, and was living the good life. I felt the knowledge I had about me was far superior to that of any doctor I had encountered in the preceding months.

Days of absence and early dismissal began tarnishing my near perfect academic record: I was sick again. Repetitive visits to the pediatrician continually resulted in the same diagnosis: Enough of the damn viral syndrome. Five visits later I begged, yes pleaded for confirmation via blood work. My reward? Epstein Bar Virus was detected. As quickly as the needle poked through my skin to get at my tarnished blood, the hand that did so wrote me a “free pass” to be eliminated from further humiliating myself in high school co-ed gym class. Friends were envious. No more ugly gym shorts and uncoordinated attempts at being athletic.

Fast forward three weeks. Friday April 19th; the date is permanently engraved in my brain. It’s two am, the sheets are soaked, I get up to change my clothes, and as I pull my wet shirt off, something is different. My fingers start to move around my neck, slowly at first, and then quickly my speed changes to fast forward. A new development in hours, how could that be? Yes, the mirror doesn’t lie. Inhale. Exhale. As my brain is telling me to look at myself more closely in the mirror, my heart is speaking louder “yes, finally, a visual clue”. A hard mass, the size of an egg, was embedded into the left side of my neck and I silently knew my fight was about to begin.

I’m pretty good at pretending things are okay, even when they aren’t. Such is the case that morning, as I carefully chose a turtleneck to wear and asked my grandmother if I could be excused from school, after of course, my parents had left for work. An hour later she kindly escorted me to the primary care doctor for the last visit of that kind. The words are still clear in my mind to this day: “call her parents out of work immediately”. As my grandmother excused herself to do as she was instructed, it was my turn to face him and vocalize the thoughts that lingered in my mind and heart all along: “I have cancer”. As his eyes filled with tears, he looked defeated. In his Russian accent he managed to confirm my prediction and validate my fear. “It is highly likely that you do”. Even at fourteen, I was able to get the last words in: “That is between you and I until we know it is a sure thing. Don’t worry; I’ve got a good fight in me”.

And so the story begins.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Everyday I wake up and list off five things in my life I am thankful for. They can be personal. They can be small and frivolous. Still, when I feel my life heading south, so to speak, I start reeling them off. Call it a personal rosary of sorts. As we approach the holidays, before the hype and hysteria hit, stop yourself for a moment and fire off five things to be thankful for. Here are some of mine...
I am thankful for...
Friends who don't always understand me but still care
An old truck that still runs
My son's voice as he belts out AC/DCs Longway To The Top....
I can run
Although it is what I do and not who I am - my job
A roof and a yard
Parents who are in decent health
Cold mornings
The first cardinal of spring
The smell of dinner
Good doctors
That my brothers aren't perfect
Vivid Memories
Strong coffee
Roger Williams Zoo
Beaches just a short ride away
I can still play hockey
The color green
My wife's garden
Matteo's friends
Now knowing how to swim
A cluttered garage
Other writers
Good conversation
That I can walk from one point to another
Red Wine
Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cancer Hates Oxygen: Angels

Cancer Hates Oxygen: Angels: " 'Angels and ministers of grace defend us. Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damned, Bring w..."


"Angels and ministers of grace defend us. Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damned, Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell, Be thy intents wicked, or charitable, Thou com'st in such a questionable shape, That I will speak to thee.”

Dear Joe,

This is your "official" notification that John Doe’s time with the ChemoAngels program is at an end as he is not receiving chemo at this time. His last scan results were good - isn't that good news?

I belong to a program called Chemo Angels. It’s simple really. You volunteer to guide a patient through their journey with little notes of inspiration. It’s a job that could last weeks, months or longer. There's no pay save for the fact that you may make a difference in a stranger's life.

Once a week you send a ‘note’ to your patient. Just an outside tag saying you are thinking about them. It could be humorous. It could be nostalgic. There are rules, however. You can’t ask about their status personally. You can ask through the organization however. You can’t be ‘depressing’. You know – “Well, you think you have problems? Let me tell you about mine…”

My patient must now learn to fly. It’s a tentative flight at best. I can’t really tell him this because it would break the rules but I want to scream the warning – Watch out for the cliff. Science is done with you. The hordes of doctors, nurses, rehab clinics…all gone. The storm is in your face and your toes will barely break the cliff’s edge. Time to fly. Your sand timer has been turned over. You get a reset button. How long? I don’t believe in fate but it waxes poetic to say fate will decide.

My run was tough today. I adore running in cooler weather as opposed to the summer heat. This time of year, though, the elements throw more than warm rain and sun. Wind, misting ice, leaves, everything.

I drove into my downhill trying to gain as much momentum as I could. When I turned the corner, I started my uphill climb. I can’t dwell on it much. It feels like it is at a forty-five degree angle.

My patient popped into my head. He has to go it alone now. After radiation, chemo and limb-severing surgery, he has to swim solo.

My strides grow smaller and I lean into the hill. My ungloved hands swell in the cold wind. One step at a time. That’s how he has to go from now on. One step. Deal with what he knows now, not 2 days from now. He's clean right this minute - right now. I want him to grab onto that and clutch it tight. Let no one take that away from his present moment.

I am halfway up the hill. I often wonder if the neighbors are looking through their windows at this nut running uphill, into the wind. My lungs are maxed. I am leaning into the hill but I still have to keep my torso straight. More air gets into your lungs that way.

My patient will have many hills to climb now. I supposed we all do. Most likely, I will never meet him. His universal path lies elsewhere.

I begin to crest the hill. This is good because my hips are protesting and my calves are looking for a golf cart.

The wind is actually pushing me down the other side of the hill and for a brief moment, I feel like a kid being pushed in a cart at the store. You want that energy to last forever.

I just hope I pushed my patient’s cart hard enough…