Marisa Guerin, PhD - September 7, 2021
This week’s note is a personal update on my health, and some reflections on what it brings to mind for me. I’m using this blogpost as part of my communication plan because my personal network is quite large and I won’t realistically be able to be in touch with each person one by one.
In the coming months I will begin treatment for a newly-diagnosed, early-stage case of Multiple Myeloma. MM is a cancer of the blood plasma cells. Although this isn’t a curable cancer, it is one that can be controlled for a long time – sometimes many years, kind of like other chronic conditions that need medical monitoring. I don’t have any symptoms to speak of, so that’s good. It helps to be managing this new challenge from a position of feeling well. I’m fortunate that the signs for this cancer were picked up incidentally on tests for other matters.
Starting September 16, I’ll have weekly cancer drug treatments for two months, then two months of bi-weekly treatments, then on to monthly, until such time as the disease might be brought into remission. I don’t know yet what the treatment experience will be like; I’m going to hope for not too many side effects. If remission is achieved, I’d switch over to maintenance therapies for as many years as that lasts. The cycle repeats with different meds when the myeloma returns, as it eventually does.
Down the road a bit, I may have to make a decision about whether or not to have an autologous stem cell transplant, which most MM patients apparently undergo. It’s a pretty drastic procedure, not easy or pleasant, and takes some months to recover from. I’m trying to keep an open mind about it, while at the same time hoping to avoid it if newer alternatives are just as good. Multiple Myeloma is a very dynamic area of medical science, and there are new and genetically-targeted medications coming onto the scene all the time. There are reasons to be hopeful. We shall see.
That’s the clinical report on the facts of the matter…..but meanwhile, back in my life….
...This is a pretty challenging new experience for me to have, needless to say. It brings me up short and requires my attention. The tests and scans have been going on for about two months, so I have had time to ponder the likelihood that the results would lead to this diagnosis. I have learned a fair amount about the disease and have had time to talk with my husband, Mike Sweeney, about our feelings and the implications of all this. He is a wonderful companion for this journey; I am leaning on his empathy, humor, good judgment, affection, and support.
At the beginning, I relied on my mind to learn and think and understand. It’s my normal modus operandi. But once the main information was digested, my feelings had a chance to emerge as I have contemplated the personal impact of the diagnosis. There are times when I feel the sadness and grief for what isn’t lost quite yet, but will be. There are other times when I am intensely aware of the preciousness of each day, the gift of each loved person, the beauty of every sun-lit flower in the neighborhood.
The hope that I may have many years of decent health during remission – if all goes well – rests uneasily with the fact that my body now harbors a dangerous malignancy, one that is inevitably going to win. It is strange to feel pretty much fine while knowing that the disease has taken hold. I have joined the ranks of so many people who also have a condition that isn’t going to be cured. And with some regret, I realize that for many, my identity is now going to become "cancer patient" -- as if everything else about me weren't still true. Not much I can do about that, other than keep living my life, with its new mix of myeloma-plus-everything-else that has nothing to do with cancer.
Overall, I’m doing well enough, I think, with up days and down days. My own personality is a fairly steady one, and I am pretty well-anchored in reality. I appreciate being an almost-70-year-old; maturity and seasoning arrive along with years! For me, the gifts of age include a considerable capacity to hear and be with truth even when it is difficult, a practical orientation that keeps me doing whatever is most sensible and useful without just wringing my hands, and a life-long reflective habit. I also have a tremendous sense of gratitude for the many good people and gifts I have been blessed with – I have an amazing family and wonderful friends. And there is the fact that I live near a major medical center and have the necessary insurance and resources.
Most important, I think, is that I am aware most days of a quiet sense that all will be well in a fundamental way. All of our journeys end someday and that is a sad truth, but in the meantime, I trust that all of us are accompanied, deep in our hearts, by the mystery of the Loving Creator who sustains us in life every day that we are given. I know that might come across as just words, but I’m doing my best to convey what actually lives in me as a calm center, steady and peaceful as my feelings come and go.
Meanwhile, here at the writing desk I am still working away, collaborating with Br. Joe Schmidt on our book which is nearing its final shape. I hope it finds its way to the world! I may start other writing projects when that one is finished.
I expect to continue to write this occasional blog, although I’m not sure what I will write about since it has become harder to think of interesting topics lately. I have to pay attention to the muse and strike when she gives me a clue.
(Just so you know, I do NOT plan to use this blog as an ongoing update mechanism on my health. For regular updates, please check the Caring Bridge webpage that I have created for this purpose. Here is a link to the Caring Bridge site: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/marisaguerin )
I think that’s all the news I have to share for the moment. I know many of you cope every day with personal health challenges that are just as daunting, or you are accompanying others who are dealing with their own illnesses. In solidarity, I wish for you all that is good. May we be of support to one another, no matter the distances that separate us. Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and concern. You have mine, too.