Sunday, December 25, 2011

Electra & AML: Christmas update

A minor, but very vital part of Electra's recent re-diagnosis was the question of New Years Eve. Specifically, the timing of the recommencement of the treatment. As her relapse only occurred (or at least was identified) in the middle of December, the doctor informed us that she would need to start treatment either early in the new year, or in-between Christmas and New Year. We dearly hoped for the first option, an early January start. This, however, would depend on her blood levels; if her white cell count stayed high, she could start in the new year. Were it to drop, she would have to check into the hospital shortly after Christmas and begin treatment. At the risk of giving away spoilers, we were thrilled to be told that we should be able to make it to New Years Eve (pending a final check this coming Wednesday to ensure all was OK).

To some, this may seem strange. Indeed, when describing it to one of my closest friends, he quite reasonably asked why we wouldn't start immediately, regardless of the results of the blood work. You see, the efficacy of the treatment is increased when it is administered earlier. As chemotherapy is targeted to attack cancerous cells (with the healthy ones taking a hit as collateral damage), the greater the concentration of "bad" cells, the greater the force standing in opposition to the treatment, and the less effective it is liable to be. As is the case with most cancers, early detection and treatment can often have a profound effect. So why not start the minute the diagnosis is reached?

The reason is life. Not surviving, not just getting through, but life. We want as much life as we can possibly ring out of whatever time is left. Although we are obviously trying to maximise the quantity of available time, more importantly perhaps is trying to maximise the quality. When things are at their very darkest and it becomes increasingly harder to see in front of you, even the dimmest, most flickering light becomes a beacon, something to strive for and dream of. A flame in the dark is the very essence of guidance and hope. So each victory, each bit of enjoyment, each "win"… they matter. More than they ever have before.

The terrifying, horrible reality is that there is now a very real chance we may not get to spend next Christmas and New Years together. Though we were together last New Years Eve, Electra was diagnosed at 2:00 PM and connected to chemotherapy at 7:00. We did not truly have a New Years Eve. So, dammit, we will do so this year.

Fighting cancer is a siege, not a lightning war. The process is long, draining, and demoralising and is won not through pitched battles and intense triumphs, but through inches. When full victories are won, they come on the back of a hard-fought slog, digging through the deepest trenches of human physiology to stand upon the pinnacle of health and well-being, glorious victories celebrated all the more for the exhaustive battle of wills required to achieve them.

And in a years-long battle of inches, every win matters. We celebrate when the blood counts go up, we celebrate when the need for antibiotics goes down. A bit more energy or a bit less of a cough. A reduced temperature or an increased stamina. Every victory counts. And every victory, no matter how small, is treasured. And that treasure keeps you going.

New Years Eve is often overblown in importance. Ultimately, it marks the passing of a single day as much as it does a full year. But our traditions and customs define-to a very large extent-our priorities and our core values. And New Years Eve is therefore more portentous than other days. It is a chance to reflect on the past year and prepare for the next, to right the wrongs and further improve the rights. So we celebrate. We celebrate with friends; we celebrate with family; we celebrate with loved ones, and with love itself. So New Years Eve matters.

December 31st, 2011 will very hopefully see Electra and I celebrating the coming of 2012 with a group of close friends in a small cottage in the south of England. We will drink, we will eat, we will sing and talk and hug and love and be merry. The new year will bring tougher battles and more brutal fights, but those are for another day. For one night, for one glorious, celebratory, joyous evening, we will be as we were before cancer and before chemotherapy: hopeful, uncomplicated and revelling in all that this wonderful, flawed, beautiful world has to offer. That matters, because that is living. And we will live.

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