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Henri-Edmond Cross: The Pink Cloud (c. 1896)

"Her forbearance might well be remembered …"

The Muse's oncologist reported that her "numbers are Spectacular," an uncharacteristic characterization from any practicing physician. They're professionally more restrained, less effusive. On good days, they might allow themselves to express guarded optimism and, always, unshakable support, but they only rarely enter the unconditional superlative realm. I ask a follow-up question and receive a more sobering perspective in return. I note that her tumor had become invisible on the last scan we saw. He cautioned us to take such visual evidence, however seemingly reassuring, with a grain of salt. He explained that this cancer's cells remain unbelievably tiny, that we can only visually verify their presence when they're present in the billions. A few hundred million of them cannot be seen by even the most sophisticated scanning technology. Visual verification's virtually impossible. We're poking sticks into darkness, he explains.

I thanked him for blunting my enthusiasm, and I meant it.
This cancer world remains an alien place, one we're hopefully Just Visiting, but one by which we're still deeply influenced and affected. It mostly beggars understanding, which opens up a lot of space for feeling like a victim. It will be years before The Muse will receive the All Clear. The mere absence of visual evidence, even of negative numbers, says little about her actual underlying condition. Her outward signs suggest plenty but verify little. The fact that she's so far lost no weight through the ordeal might well be damned near unprecedented, but still hardly definitive. She continues with the prescribed therapy. She'll live as a lab rat for years into the future. Her current condition will remain a function of her future more than her present until then.

Still, Spectacular stands as a valid assessment. If this treatment isn't working, its shortcomings have not yet shown. The Muse continues to insist that she's fortunate, that on her worst days, her symptoms do not even distantly approach what she anticipated experiencing. She's still been suffering, managing symptoms with uniformly blunt instruments. She's conservative with every palliative, careful especially with the pain killers, largely avoiding anything more powerful than ibuprofen. She's not above a little silent suffering. The worst so far has been the tasting disruption. Last night, she was craving something sweet while recognizing that she could swallow a ten pound bag of sugar without detecting even a distant hint of sweetness. Food still mostly tastes of nothing or cardboard, which remains frustrating. She compensates by sticking to pleasing textures such as oatmeal and unsauced pasta.

She cooked a full Thanksgiving meal all by herself, though she had to enlist tasters since she couldn't properly taste anything. I worked outside, not wanting to get underfoot. She was insistent that the damned cancer would not prevent her from engaging in her usual rituals. It didn't. Her meal was Spectacular even if she couldn't taste it.

To celebrate her Spectacular review, she went for fish tacos and a caesar salad at The Green Lantern. She'd been avoiding salad, a twice daily staple before this treatment. It swallowed even if it didn't taste quite right. Ditto the fish tacos, though she avoided the accompanying chips as if they'd been shards of glass. The salad's croutons also went untouched. Supper featured a half squash steamed in the EazyBake Oven with some tasteless flan for dessert. Nobody knows if her futuristic-seeming treatment regimen will one day become the standard for treating her kind of cancer. Earlier trials failed to meet or exceed the present treatment's effectiveness, even though the current standard chemo would have left her condition assessed at something far less than Spectacular at this point in her treatment. Her experience can only be statistically anecdotal. Effectiveness remains a collective phenomena, a hoped-for future state, a presently faith-based initiative. One day, probably a day long after all the players in this current drama have gone, a future winner in the cancer lottery might face a less daunting treatment than most in the past experienced thanks in part to what The Muse insisted upon doing. Her forbearance might well be remembered as her most Spectacular contribution.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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