5th Birthday + “Light Within” Discussion

DSCN0945It almost went by unnoticed but for my mother and sister.  Sunday was the 5th birthday of my stem cell transplant.  Transplant survivors traditionally mark this date as a birthday.  This is a biologic and metaphoric truth.  Our blood type changes.  We need vaccinations just like a new born.  The cells in our bone marrow are destroyed and replaced by new and different donor stem cells.  And, of course, it is literally a rebirth, a new beginning for a life compromised by cancer.

My sister baked me this train cake.  Dorothy and the girls met us next door at my Mom’s new house.  We had cake, ice cream, and strawberries (Isabel loves strawberries as much as pizza) out on the patio.  I got a t-shirt with nursing slogans emblazoned on it as well as a blue long sleeved t-shirt with the Indianapolis Colts logo.

But I further want to celebrate this birthday by launching a NEW LOOK to the site.  I have chosen a three column version of my old theme design so it hopefully won’t look too different.  I had fears of readers logging on, then off again, thinking they were at the wrong site.  I have also gone with a cooler,  more relaxing blue instead of the blood red.  I can change it back again of anyone has strong feelings about it.

This whole process, which included finally upgrading my blogging software, was accompanied by considerable labor pains.  You know I chickened out twice before after getting bogged down in the instructions.  The real technical stuff unnerves me.  WordPress provides planty of helpful documentation but there seem to be thousands of pages.  I made two consultation calls to my son in Boston.  Root directories, API codes, back-up files, permissions, database authentication,  MySQL, FTP, HTML, PHP, CSL, WPAU, etc., etc, etc.  My greatest fear was not only that you wouldn’t be able to view the site but also that I might lose everything!

Book Discussion: In the next two chapters, The Great Equalizer and The Art of Dying, we continue to learn more about the personalities of young Dr. Lois and her ovarian cancer patient, Deb Sills.  We get a greater understanding as well into the evolution of their growing friendship.  I like the way the book is structured.  The narrative proceeds through its history in parallel fashion.  The oncologist recounts events through her perspective, followed by the patient’s viewpoint.

lightwithinLois’ hectic life as a medical resident is further complicated by a failing marriage and later becoming a single parent.  She gets caught up in the turmoil of her life.  But each day when she enters the hospital, those same problems seem less significant compared with the women she cares for, women who frequently have dim prognoses.  As Deb tells her, “It’s all about perspective, and none of us are very good at it.”

Once again I think that these two are exceptional women, meeting each other at exceptional periods in their lives.  Dr. Lois opens herself up to Deb, with Deb’s persistent encouragement.  Each comes to know the other’s problems and issues.  The patient is even introduced to the doctor’s young daughter and her parents.

It is relatively common for cancer patients to find the courage to bare their deepest fears and aspirations.  The fact that Dr. Lois found the same courage to divulge the messy parts of her life is, I believe, even more remarkable.  As the tale continues it engages in themes familiar to many of us cancer survivors.  The issue of how far do we want to take this fight and when do we concede and accept a hospice path is painfully familiar (and surprisingly political in the context of the current healthcare debate).  It is interesting though to consider the plight of family in dealing with lingering terminal disease.  “How long can this go on” imagines the young daughter of a fellow ovarian cancer patient who is decidedly dying.

“Illness is genuinely crazy-making” writes Deb in describing her cancer’s effect on her two children.  And yet it is Deb’s intricate response to her disease that informs the transformation of Lois from a tentative intern to an assured and philosophically-grounded teacher and physician.  “Deb was taking me farther inside the worries, fears, and hopes of all my patients, and that couldn’t possible be a bad thing.” Later, when Deb is uncomfortable with the periodic rotations of her transplant doctors, she asserts again and again “My doctor should know who I am.” – a statement which the young doctor finds defining and powerful.

Patients’ motivations surprise us.  Although for many readers of this blog, they are not so surprising.  In a conversation with an elderly woman with late-stage ovarian cancer, the doctor advises that “additional treatment is not going to give you the life you are looking for.” The woman seems relieved to hear this.  And it is obvious to Dr. Lois that ‘she is doing it for (her husband)….She wanted him to know that she had done everything she could to stay alive, and that there was nothing left to do – that it was time to let go.” I have had similar experiences – people enduring untold hardship and suffering, but thinking primarily about how this will affect their family members.

Deb’s admiration for her doctor and friend is equal to her doctor’s respect for her as a teacher and friend.  Deb finds “her professional life extraordinary in its engagement with the human drama.” That made me consider that it is precisely that engagement that I most miss about nursing.  Deb says “I could not do cancer work…and I am grateful…that other people can find the grit and the courage to do it instead.” Strange that for most of us in “cancer work” we could hardly imagine doing anything else.

Reading Assignment: pages 123-190.  Chapters 5: Pas de Deux in Paris, 6: Spirituality and Cancer”, and 7: The Interview

Question: I did not offer discussion questions last week.  Would any of you prefer such questions with each Book Club post?  Let me know.

Reference: The book’s website has many interesting features providing a richer context for understanding the book and its authors.  The Light Within


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.


5th Birthday + “Light Within” Discussion — 4 Comments

  1. Happy “Birthday” Dennis!!!
    I am enjoying “The Light Within” very much. In fact, I went ahead and finished it during my last chemo treatment today! Personally, I like the discussion questions.

    • Thanks for the input. I haven’t posted questions late;ly for two reasons. First it requires me to read ahead of everyone else – I fell behind. Secondly I wasn’t sure if questions were helpful since I don’t always get a lot of direct responses back. I will try to post them in the future. I will also try to post questions for the next reading in the next few days.
      Take care, Dennis

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