A few reasons why I’m blessed

Every once and awhile I must take inventory of why I call my blog Old and Blessed. Of course, most of my consciousness of being blessed stems from my years-long survival with Multiple Myeloma. If you’ve followed me in the blogosphere, you are familiar with my journey. It’s been one loaded with challenges galore. At the risk of ad nauseam, I will probably continue to write occasionally about my cancer journey. I do this in the chance that someone experiencing similar circumstances might find a bit of encouragement from my good, God-given fortune.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the time my journey with Multiple Myeloma began. Recently, I could almost feel the fatigue I experienced when I returned to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Cancer Institute after being sent home with my first chemotherapy contraption attached. I felt fine going home and moving about the house, no problem; however, making my way down the halls of UAMS later for my return visit to the cancer center was a new experience. Have you ever been so tired that you just want to be a blob, spread out wherever you are and not move because you haven’t the energy to do so? Chris was driving because my energy level was in the negative. I slowly got out of the car to make my way to the clinic, which wasn’t that closely located to the entrance. A few steps into the building made the case: wheelchair sorely needed!

That first infusion of chemo was traumatic to my body. Chemotherapy did get less traumatizing from that point. My care team had advised me that I would experience mouth sores, puking my guts out (my terminology, not theirs), severe fatigue, and a few other discomforts in the days to come. The fatigue did come, but no mouth sores or constant need to address the toilet for gastronomical purging. I would consider that a blessing. Wouldn’t you?

My treatment called for a stem cell transplant. Normally, close relatives are tested for donor compatibility. Although two of my siblings were more than willing to donate cells, they weren’t suitable donors. This meant the stem cells had to come from me. The explanation of the procedure given to me by my care team didn’t make me feel very good. First, I had to have apheresis done. This procedure, without being too technical, draws blood from me and separates stem cells while returning what’s not necessary for the transplant to my body. I was told that it would probably take three to four days of sitting for this procedure to collect sufficient stem cells for my transplant. It took one sitting to collect more than enough stem cells. Another blessing, don’t you think so?

It was necessary to give me Melphalan (chemotherapy) to essentially destroy my immune system before the stem cells were introduced into my body. This is some nasty stuff. Not too long after being given the Melphalan, my body hair from even the most remote regions of my anatomy simply vacated the premises. I’m skipping forward here to make it very clear that I went into complete remission within a relatively short period of time. Since one of the nurse practitioners on my care team told me sometime later that I was in “bad shape” when I was diagnosed, compete remission was a blessing for sure.

I spent a lot of time in the chemo treatment room for the first year or so, and I spent a lot of time with other Myeloma warriors. I never got used to showing up for an appointment, looking for someone I had spent time with, as we sat side by side in recliners, only to find out they had died. My journey started when I was diagnosed in March 2,000 and it continues until now. I’m no longer in remission. As a matter of fact, I haven’t been there for over three years. With the advancements in treating Myeloma patients since I was diagnosed, I’m now living with this disease and living well. I’ve come to appreciate in ways I never would have imagined back in 2,000 how valuable the OLD in Old and Blessed truly is. Blessed for sure…

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Still thinking about Africa

If you follow my musings, you know that Chris, my oldest child Felicia, my cousin Hansel, and his wife Martha and I made a trip to Africa over the past Christmas-New Year’s holiday. Although I’m not sure if I’ll visit the continent again, it’s important to me that I say I’ve made my first trip. Visiting the land of my ancestors was a spiritual experience for sure. I feel as though I was fed with all the good stuff that has come before me on the continent: the ancient empires, the kings and queens who ruled those empires, the genesis of all things that were introduced to the history of humankind.

Yes, now that I’ve had time to think about the trip, I feel that I’ve made a pilgrimage that needed to be made. It’s a pilgrimage that I wish every person of African descent throughout the diaspora could make. Many are currently making the trip, for a pilgrimage as we did, as well as repatriating. There are currently thousands of folks, not born in Africa, but with Africa born in them living and thriving in Ghana, West Africa. Over the last few years, the tiny country of The Gambia, West Africa has seen a sizeable increase in descendants of former slaves repatriating. The stories these folks tell have a common thread: I felt a longing to return to a place where I feel more at home; I feel less threaten by all the drama that’s been occurring on western shores; I feel a spiritual connection that has long been absent from my life’s experience; I want to defy the words that are written on the doors of slave castles/dungeons (The door of no return).

I wrote a blog back in June of 2018 about a trip to Spain and Morocco we had planned. We never made that trip due to an employee of the travel agency we booked with not performing her job well. The trip was planned around the time of Ramadan which made travel in that part of the world a bit more challenging than at other times. This was a trip Felicia had booked for herself, Cecily (my middle child), Chris and me. It would have been my first visit to the African continent. Although it wouldn’t have been to West Africa, from where my ancestors were kidnapped, it would have allowed me to set foot on the soil of my ancestral motherland.

This trip to Ghana was viscerally quite powerful. I certainly don’t intend to sound anti-anything, but it was an experience like none I’ve had before, seeing people who look like me all day, every day when you move about was strangely comforting. While reveling in the visual signs of connectivity to the continent, one thing quickly became obvious: I don’t have a cultural connection with the people of Africa. My sisters and brothers, who I’m related to from millennia gone by, could tell I’m from the west as soon as I opened my mouth. I would suspect they could tell I was a cultural misfit even before I spoke.

Racists are sometimes guilty of yelling obscenities to people of color while demanding that they go back to where they belong: Africa, China, or some other place that they know nothing about. I’m at a point in my life where some cerebrally dense individual demanding I go back to Africa is viewed as a welcomed suggestion. Africa is the one place on the globe that would probably be more welcoming of me than my country of birth, the good old United states of America. I must caution myself to not paint with a broad brush though. I honestly don’t believe the current attitude seen and read in the media exemplifies that of the majority of Americans. It would be refreshing if the silent majority (the good folks) would find a voice.

Africa is rising. The third millennium will be a time when development will move into high gear on this ancient, huge piece of real-estate. I pray that the dark side of geo-politics doesn’t prevail on my ancestral land.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Grandpa, what was it really like?

Grandpa, what was the pandemic of 2020/2021 really like? We talked about it in school today. Ms. Anderson told us that more people died in the United States during the year 2020 than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined. Was it really that bad? I remember you telling me that my great grandpa, grandpa Hosea had it. Did he die from it?

Son, come here and let me tell you what I do know. We did study about that horrible time in world history when I was in school. That was a scary time. I don’t want to frighten you, son, but just about everybody in the United States had a relative or knew someone personally who died from that virus. They called it covid-19. The 19 was used to designate the year the virus popped up worldwide. It started in Wuhan City, China during the latter part of 2019. There were all kinds of stories floating about that the Chinese were experimenting in a lab, the virus got loose and spread among the population. With people freely traveling around the world back then, as they do now, it didn’t take long for the virus to reach just about every country.

Grandpa, Ms. Anderson also told us that the virus hit Europe and America real hard. I don’t understand that, since these two places were known to be advanced in many ways, as they are now. Son, I wish I could explain why the western world was affected so badly by the virus. There were lots of things that couldn’t be explained about this virus. For example, seemingly healthy young people, in their twenties and thirties would come down with the virus, get real sick, go to the hospital, and never come home. Family members couldn’t visit their relatives who resided in nursing homes. Patient with the virus who were in the hospital couldn’t have their relatives come visit; many of them died alone in the hospital. Churches closed their doors to parishioners. Yeah, son, it was a scary time in world history. But you know one of the scariest things was that after a year of the virus creating havoc all over the world, folks got anxious. They wanted to get back out and do things as they had done them before. They wanted to discard safety practices like wearing masks and keeping safe distances from each other.

Grandpa, Ms., Anderson told us that this might happen again during my lifetime, That’s scary, grandpa. Isn’t there something the scientists and people in charge can do to keep this from happening again? Son, I’m not really sure. But one thing I am certain about. We just don’t seem to prepare ourselves for things like this. They happen when we least expect them. We’re far too busy competing with each other to make the most money. Anything that might protect us, but add a little too much cost, we don’t want to do it. Although the pandemic was a worldwide event, people around the world weren’t willing to come together, pool resources and efforts to try to make sure everybody had equal access to vaccines and other measures to fight against the virus. The rich countries, like the United States did a good job of getting vaccines to its people, but poor countries struggled. By the grace of God, the virus was eventually brought under control. I think we can live without being fearful that we’ll see covid-19 spread as it did back in the early 20s.

Grandpa, I hope you’re right, but I can’t help but wonder what will happen next.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.