Rendered Fat Content


Artist unknown [Japan],
Fukusa [Gift Cover] (circa 1801–1900)

" … The Muse departs those premises for good …"

As we pulled The Schooner into the Cancer Center parking lot, the radio started playing Leroy Anderson's arraignment of Sleigh Ride, the only absolutely essential holiday song, complete with wood block hoof pounding, slapstick, and full orchestration. The Muse commenced to shake and jiggle in the seat beside me. I asked what was happening and she replied that she was channeling when she played percussion with the Groton, SD high school band. "I'm shaking sleigh bells," she said, "and whipping the slapstick." Our reverie resolved into tears, and we held hands there while weeping in recognition that this infusion would be the final one in The Muse's months-long sleigh ride through CancerLand.

The oncologist had little more to offer.
The Muse had made her way through the immunotherapy and radiation exhibiting nothing but minor and transient side effects. He said her numbers remained stupendous. She does not exit without a scratch, but very likely with nothing more permanent than scratches, now, thankfully, quickly healing. The inventory, taken just before every infusion, revealed nothing worrying. What pain remained qualified only as discomfort, a one on the scale. She's even back to swallowing her horse vitamins again, and those calcium tablets. Her neck, seared mahogany last month, has recovered and appears unscathed. She never did manage to lose that weight, her one regret as a result of the treatment.

The doctor dared to mention the sole unspeakable word: cure. The Muse's recovery had been slow at first, with some fits and starts, but given that she hadn't even gotten to the last stage of active treatment, any recovering at all seemed a godsend. Each day brings a fresh increment of improvement, each built upon the prior progress to increasingly appear exponential. Small steps transforming into larger leaps. Her taste buds were even getting into the game. She'd finally, gratefully, tasted sweet again over the weekend, though wine remains iffy, and better left to future enjoyment. "It would be wasted on me right now," she insists.

Her number now goes back into circulation. She's gained no immunity to future outbreaks. She never had more than about a one percent chance of contracting this cancer in the first place. That chance hasn't changed. The doctor thinks it unlikely that she'll experience any recurrence. The surveillance stage will extend three years and be followed by a final year or so of more distant scrutiny. By the end of three years out, there will be little doubt that The Muse is cured. Nothing in her present pathology suggests otherwise. She seems as good as free and clear now.

She rang the gong in the lobby on her way out, then rang the huge bell in the Cancer Center's garden, each signifying her upcoming absence from that place. Everyone stands and cheers whenever they hear that gong or that bell, for they know well what the stakes were. Their stakes are no different than anybody's, just more immediate. They inhabit The Valley Of The Shadow Of while the rest of us remain mostly "safely" in denial. Graduating from that program does not release anyone back into the population from which they exited to receive treatment. Nobody exits unchanged. It might be that nobody ever really exits. What do I know? I'm just the Emotional Support Animal. Tears of relief and gratitude stream down my face, too, as The Muse departs those premises for good and into Christmas, both of us immeasurably better for the experience.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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