(continued from yesterday’s “Happy (Third) Birthday, Pavel”)
Although the months and years of uncertainty regarding insurance coverage and treatment and prognosis took a big toll on our lives, the days and weeks immediately post-transplant were some of the most difficult of the entire seven years since Pavel was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He had to remain in the transplant unit for about two weeks as his blood counts slowly recovered and another two weeks in Chapel Hill for frequent monitoring at the clinic. He was weak and fatigued, and he had lost his senses of smell and taste. He had severe restrictions of activity and diet for at least entire six months. He could not work in the yard, clean the litter boxes, or be around crowds. He had to wear a mask when he left the house and could not eat raw fruits and vegetables–or sushi! And of course there was the endless waiting for the next CT scan, the next blood test, the next visit to the oncologist.
But times got better. He was well enough to take some community-college classes in the fall. We attended several performances at the Playmakers in Chapel Hill. Doctor visits became less frequent as CT scans remained negative. There were setbacks, to be sure, including an entirely different cancer–the fourth!–requiring surgery under the left arm and resulting in sepsis and a stay in the ICU. His kidneys were damaged by the nitrogen mustard chemotherapy, and he still suffers from severe neuropathy in his feet.
But as weeks became months, and months became years, hope returned. Dr. Jeffrey M. Crane, the hematologist/oncologist who shepherded us with skill and compassion through seven long years, retired last summer. At our last appointment with his surgeon, Dr. Yale Podnos told him, “I don’t know if you’re the luckiest or the unluckiest man alive.” Pavel responded, “I know. They keep trying to shoot me, but they keep missing.” Dr. Podnos countered, “Nope. They keep shooting you, but they can’t kill you.”
Even for the often gloomy likes of Pavel, the future now seems a possibility. He has returned to his passions for bicycles and motorcycles and spends his afternoons dreaming of Patagonia. He wants to build things. He wants to give something back to a world that has, after all, provided good fortune time and time again. As Pavel always tells me in his less gloomy moods, “Life could be a lot worse.”