The Second Relapse

There has been a long time since my last blog. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I would keep it going. But gradually, it called me back, this small record of living with cancer and reckoning with the strange wilderness of remission. Having left my last post out there, like a marker on the trail, I simply went on with my own daily truth, which turned out to be hard enough. Now I take up the story once more.

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Enter The Bardo

I entered 2019 with a shadow over my head. In that strange eerie way of leukemia, little out of the ordinary blips were showing up in my blood work.

Steve and I went on to nearly a month in La Manzanilla, Mexico and the worry of it hovered over us upon our return into an uncertain spring. Still, for awhile, I convinced myself that the growing fatigue was normal, just another step along the path of remission.

The Medicine Dog

Our dog hunger was growing. Instinctively, we must have known  we seriously needed the pure zest for life and love and patience of a companion dog. We decided on a puppy, and only regretted that a few times. We wanted a lot from our next dog, not yet knowing she would be called upon to wait for long hours in the Seattle Cancer Care parking garage, or be expected to calmly meet busy, noisy Seattle streets, full of things she’d never seen. We wanted a pup to make us laugh, who wouldn’t eat too many shoes (she did eat a few), wouldn’t shed all over the house, or wander and who would love all children and other dogs. In other words, we wanted Izzy (or Isabella, as Steve calls her), whose original name was Grace –and this signaled to me from the beginning that she was the right dog for us. Izzy came to live with us, in mid-April, and breathed her puppy energy on our lives, giving us an anchor of love and the groundedness of earthly needs and delights.

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We settled into a hopeful rhythm, awaiting Mariya’s baby, walking and puppy training. But we had those trips to Seattle too. At the end of May, suddenly there it was, a positive for leukemia, unmistakable and cruel.

I always knew leukemia could–probably would– return. But when it did, I just couldn’t process it. This was the second relapse and the first since the T-Cell immunotherapy. I had somehow trusted and hoped this remission would last much longer. There was no time to mourn that it wouldn’t, or to reconnoiter.  Immediately the oncologist presented me with hard options: the preferred being a trial for Keytruda –the wonder immunotherapy that had cured Jimmy Carter. It had not been tried for leukemia. All my options were draconian, for as the doctor didn’t say but I said, and he nodded, we needed desperate measures to keep me alive.

The Bardo

As the summer progressed, and a friend decided to end her life and pain quite publicly, I was drawn to the concept of the Bardo, borrowed from Tibetan cosmology, as a metaphor, –the state of existence between two lives on earth. I called on my old tool, disassociation, to keep me going. I was quiet, and restless and edgy and wanted only distraction. It was a gray and hollow time, completely separate from the summer blue skies and busyness of our tourist-economy  town.

Bardo

My personal experience of the Bardo, threaded its way between carefully scheduled and conducted trips to Seattle, each one punctuated with bone marrow biopsies or tests. I was facing death once again, as we all do, but don’t. Until we have to. I had no idea that the Bardo would come to overtake the whole world.  I had seen the plume of smoke on the horizon, of an out of control wildfire coming for all of us.

Thy Will Be Done

I wasn’t sure I could face more cancer treatment. And what did that mean? Giving up? It was on my mind as a possibility. Not surprising that the only prayer that wanted airtime was : “Thy Will Be Done”.

Somehow, somewhere, perhaps deep in my mysterious body, my fate was being decided.

The Grandkids

Our new grandson came into the world on June 17, 2019 by Caesarian: Wyatt Ingalls Hamilton, two weeks after I got the message the leukemia had come back. We were still figuring out how to navigate the next round of cancer, but we had a new grandchild and a new puppy. L’Chaim. Life had armed me for this next battle with new life.

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In Part 2, I continue this journey toward our modern, communal Bardo, in the time of Coronavirus.

21 comments on “The Second Relapse

  1. Stay the course, my thoughts are with you, and Steve, Izzy and the rest of your family.

    Peter Goddu PO Box 1271 Friday Harbor, WA 98250 360 317 6323

    On Fri, Apr 24, 2020, 9:53 AM Do It Yourself Life wrote:

    > Shann Weston posted: “There has been a long time since my last blog. > Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I would keep it going. But gradually, it called > me back, this small record of living with cancer and reckoning with the > strange wilderness of remission. Having left my last post out ” >

    • Thank you so much, Peter. Looks like you and Margaret have been having a fine time traveling. Where did you settle for home base for the Virus? Since I rarely go out, I don’t bump into people.

  2. I have missed your blog. Your courage and determination are so inspiring. I am sorry you are going thru this again. Your grace and acceptance is remarkable. Your writing is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your life with others. All the blessings in the world and your puppy is adorable….. vicky g.

    • Thank you, Vicky! It took a long time to want to write again after the second relapse. That was a very hard time for me. So, I am soon to get Part Two out the door, and then I can write more about the crazy plague we are all living through. I hear hard things going on in New Mexico. How are you?

  3. Thank you Shann. Your writing is so clear and moving.

    I look forward to the next installment. Sending a big virtual hug. Nancy

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  4. Hi Shann,

    You are an amazing guide for all of us. Susie and I send love and thanks for your many gifts, especially the courage, insights and spirit which abound in your life and writing. Thanks for sharing your downs as well as ups and for holding us close throughput your journey.

    • Steve, thank you so much. I so appreciate you following and reaching out. I am nearly ready to send out Part 2, which will tell you I am in remission. I feel well, and constantly appreciative that I live surrounded by nature and that my family is within a few miles of our home. How are you doing? Did you or Susie have a brush with cancer?

  5. Shan, You precious soul. Keep those you love close at hand. No one gives love better than puppies and babies. My love to you and to all those who are there every day taking care of you. Karen

    • Thank you, Karen! Hope the Quarantine isn’t too bad for you. I feel so grateful everyday to wake up living here, with fresh air all around and places to explore. I am fully independent and am really glad that PeaceHealth has been able to give me blood tests and infusions when I need them.

  6. Dear Shann,
    I feel badly about not knowing that leukemia returned last Spring. I did have the feeling that you probably were not in the best of health, since I hadn’t heard from you. When we spoke on the phone, just after Christmas, I don’t remember that the topic of your health was addressed.
    It’s sickening to read of the return of the dreaded disease. I was in the hospital 7 years ago this summer, and my recollection is, you were battling leukemia even before.
    I pray that the miracle drug works.
    It’s amazing that you look so good, after all that you’ve been through.
    As usual, your writing is spellbinding. The photograph of the deserted curving road, emblematic of a troubled journey, is just a great photo. And the art piece of the lone individual facing uncertainty, powerfully pulls myself, the reader, toward both identifying with you, because as you say, we are all going to die, and sympathizing with you, because most people do not have to undergo so much boredom and prolonged suffering leading up to our denouement.
    Love to you Shann,
    Steve Schreiner

    • Thank you, Steve–you are always so kind. It was fun to see you on your Zoom birthday! I want to say, I am rarely bored! Even profoundly sick, I wasn’t bored. In fact, now that I have been alive for 7 years past my transplant, I have so much more to do. I will live as many years as I am given, same as you. May we both enjoy them and hopefully, I will get to see you again some time.

  7. Shann, what can I possibly say? Please just accept whatever I have in the way of loving awareness. Thinking of you.

    Candace

    • Your loving awareness is worth a lot! I can’t say I miss much about working but I do miss colleagues and friends, people like you. I appreciate going by your farm everyday. I hope you are well.

  8. Somehow, I knew you were battling again so this news does not surprise me. It does awaken a deep sadness in me but also joy in your new puppy, your grandchildren, and all the things you would not have seen or known had you not entered this fight like a warrior. I honor whatever choice you make at this time and feel so privileged to have caught glimpses of your courage, your stubbornness and your deep love for Steve, your family, and this beautiful planet that has gifted us with life. When you have a moment, look up Warning to Children by Robert Graves. It’s a poem I think you’d like.

    • Thanks, Marnie. That is a luscious poem! Thanks for sharing it with me (found it by googling, of course). Part two of the blog is almost ready to come out and it will tell you that I am currently back in remission. I have lived seven years since that first diagnosis and struggle with cancer treatment. And yet, yesterday, I walked deep into the breathtaking island woods, feeling strong as Izzy flew with her dancer’s feet in all directions. I visited the grandkids on the way home. It is remarkable. Thanks for reaching out.

  9. Such courage, love and stamina! I am always amazed at your writing about your struggle and life. A new baby grandson is wonderful. Hugs to all of you, including Izzy.

  10. Lots of love and hugs sent to you and the family. I can’t believe you have to fight so hard again. I will be thinking good thoughts about you, Shann.

    >

    • Thank you, Cathy! Part Two is almost ready to send out and it will tell you I am back in remission for the moment. Life is good for us now, despite the terrible Virus. Steve and Izzy and I have developed some much loved routines we all enjoy.
      I don’t know if events will allow us to go to Fairbanks this year… probably not. But I send my love.

    • Thanks, Part II coming soon. Yes, the Trivia game was great. I am not a game player and not partial to trivia, but I really enjoyed it and think the game aspect kept us focused together in just the right way. Good to see you too.

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