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Isack Elyas: Merry Company (1629)

"She has not managed to bust out of any of the human condition on her road to recovery …"

The slow-baked yellowfin tuna in cream sauce featuring lobster mushroom and shallot seemed a decent choice for supper. The Muse had, after all, received two terribly reassuring assessments over the preceding week. We could afford to celebrate her headway. Her radiation oncologist had declared her progress through cancer treatment, "Great!" and her other oncologist had just that morning characterized her condition as she passed into halfway through her immunotherapy treatment regimen as "Exemplary!" Her progress could not have been better, but she found that she could not swallow the tuna entree. She fell back to the baked acorn squash with Bosc pear side dish. Even that, she swallowed reluctantly, the radiation treatments culminating in a rough, raw throat wherein her shrinking tumor still resides.

It's Tuesday, the morning when I deliberately set aside the primary focus of this series to update on The Muse's progress through her present bout with cancer.
As expected, she's exhibiting none of the side effects typical of Chemotherapy because she was chosen for participation in a clinical trial of an immunotherapy alternative wherein she receives instead of the usual heavy metal poisoning, monoclonal antibodies attempting to encourage her own immune system to go after that tumor. There are risks even to this kinder and gentler alternative, but she has managed to avoid even the least of those. (It could spark any of a raft of immune system disorders.) The accompanying radiation treatments, six each week, have done their damage, inexorable, as both oncologists describe it. That damage's "just" of the grin and bear it variety, for there's virtually no opportunity to sidestep any of that. Both doctors agree that the next three weeks will become increasingly more difficult, ergo the serving of yellowfin tuna so recently leftover in the refrigerator.

The past week could serve as an object lesson in winning. The Muse, by all medical measures, has, indeed, responded to her treatment in Exemplary fashion. Further, she has exhibited an absolute minimum of whining between treatments, preferring to curl up in her corner when ailing, and bravely stepping out to make it on time to each of her increasingly dreaded appointments. While it's obviously true that we each face the great unknown every morning, a prescribed regimen of treatment puts a rather finer point on that unknown. "Nineteen down and eleven more to go," she declared as we left her most recent radiation treatment appointment. It's definitely not downhill from here. She describes it as the steep part of the passage coming, the part needing crampons, guides, and ineffective oxygen. Both doctors agree that the last week of radiation and the first week following will produce peak suffering, yet still she insisted yesterday when asked, that she wanted to continue participating in this trial. That's courage!

I might suggest, as the witnessing Emotional Support Animal, that The Muse's treatment has become a bed of roses, but an actual rather than the usual idyllic metaphorical one. In her bed, the thorns remain intact and sleep's still prescribed. The accommodations would be absolutely unacceptable under most conditions, but qualify as four star for this unique situation. Amelioration becomes the central focus and, of course, each alternative sucks. There is no choice that doesn't bring externalities into even sharper focus, for there's no better way to amplify a shortcoming that by failing to mollify it. Molly's Magic Mouthwash proved to be so viscous that it prompted her gag reflex, amplifying her suffering as she struggled to overcome another surprise insult. Throat lozenges, cough drops, water and rest, the oldest treatments known to this universe, seem to have become the most reliables, but nothing really eliminates this disconcertion. It will be her companion until it isn't, a fine allegory for treatment.

When I report that The Muse is progressively getting better, I mean to report that she's gotten much worse since I reported last week, but this worse has not meant negative progress. She's getting better. For example, last week, her radiation oncologist shared with us before and current scans of the tumor, which showed a dramatic reduction in the size of the bugger. To these images, she waxed exuberant. We know from experience that radiation oncologists do not as a class frequently wax exuberant. They're more the deliverers of the sadly sober, emotionless assessments. The good news carries its opposite, too. Who were any of us to presume that it wouldn't? There's always Hell to pay even when we've managed to sidestep the heavy metal poisoning portion of the program.

The Muse plans to crawl into her hole through the remainder of her treatment. She cannot speak now above a whisper, which her Emotional Support Animal mirrors in his responses, so rather than yelling from floor to floor and room to room, we whisper into each other's ear. Even then, I'm only getting a small portion of the messages she's sending. I'm trying to be attentive, concocting suppers she might not be swallowing, but that tuna dish has, gratefully, been a rare exception. The codfish cakes and the lentil soup both went down like gangbusters. Her usual yogurt and fruit breakfast has yet to disappoint, though flavors have been increasingly metallic tasting and unappetizing. She's fine and feeling lousy. She's hopeful and sometimes feeling doubtful. She has not managed to bust out of any of the human condition on her road to recovery, a state her oncologist insists qualifies as Exemplary! She still won't answer to "Poor Baby" either!

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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