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Senior Correspondent

Robert Schrag, a regular contributor to Senior Correspondent, documents the process of undergoing a stem cell transplant in response to multiple myeloma.

Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012

OK, so I probably should have resumed the blog the day my friend told me, "There is a bit of an anomaly in your latest blood numbers." Coming from most of my friends I would have assumed some sort of vague vampire allusion. This friend, however, is a luthier who also happens to be my oncologist. Bummer.   

"Well, let's keep an eye on it," he said. So we did. Despite a clear bone marrow biopsy, a few eyes later it became clear that my old partner in crime, multiple myeloma, had come to call again. After spending four and a half years in remission, I was not wild about having to redefine myself again as "being sick," especially since I felt fine. But life is what it is, and eventually I wrapped my head around another stem cell transplant. In truth, the fact that we can do another stem cell transplant is a very cool thing — so here's a big "Huzzah!"  for the wonders of modern medicine at my sister institution down the road.

Interestingly, a major barrier to making my peace with this second "oil change" was that I have been going through a stretch of "have to do" tasks that have kept me from spending time in the creative spaces in my life. I changed textbooks in my major course and began writing an ancillary text for the same course. That necessitated a huge amount of retooling, reprogramming websites and restructuring assignments, etc. I also agreed to head a search committee to recruit a new faculty member because, well, because it was the right thing to do.

These are all tasks that can be done artfully, and I try to bring that focus to them. But they are not tasks that are themselves works of art. You do not go home, whip out your camera or sketchbook, fire up Photoshop and paint up a new course or sketch out a new faculty member. So the "art" had been getting squeezed out of my days. I have been trying to squeeze it back in, but not too successfully. Strangely, the stem cell transplant with its mandatory separation from the "outside" world may allow me to "up the art quotient" in my life again. 

You see when you, to use my older daughter's phrase, "go back inside," nobody emails you in the hospital to ask you to do "work stuff." Well, they may, but once you play the "I'm in the hospital having a stem cell transplant … " card, they tend to back off pretty quickly. Probably a good thing, since I'm really not in "professorial mode" when I'm doing the procedure. My wife tells me I sleep a lot and take pictures around the bone marrow transplant unit and wax artfully philosophical about the voyage and my fellow travelers. Sounds like a vacation to me! 

My plan, then, is to get all my professional obligations for next semester out of the way before I go back inside, so I can once again spend my time in the hospital searching out the beautiful in the necessary.

For a quick example, on Tuesday we went over to the hospital get poked and prodded and prepped for admission in mid-December. As we walked through one lobby, Betty, our personal liaison and invaluable guide, pointed out a couple of huge quilts hung on the wall. They are incredible, representational forest scenes, wonderful islands of tranquility in a swirl of human activity tinged with the ubiquitous hospital anxiety. I will try to get a shot of them to share with you before I go into the transplant unit — the inside-inside.

I did however shoot a couple of "tree shots" with a new app on my iPad in honor of Thanksgiving and as a commitment to start prying open my artist's eyes again. I like this one included, shot at sunset as we made our way back to Raleigh.

So, that's it for today … more to come as time and energy permit.

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