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Graduation Day 2018

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

It is high school graduation day and science has saved me for this day. Twenty years ago, on Mother’s Day 1998, my family doctor called that Sunday saying my blood work showed a multiple myeloma cancer marker (MM). He was going on vacation and said I needed to immediately see an oncologist.

I checked my medical reference and read there is no cure and life expectancy is one year. Newer scientific references indicated survival to be 1 to 3 years. My MM appeared to be smoldering and meant developing slowly. Practice is for doctors to watch and wait to start treatment until the cancer becomes active. 

For ten years, I was observed with blood work and X-rays to determine progression. I showed no progression. Suddenly in 2008, I experienced severe pain that prevented normal functioning. I was examined and MM had not appeared to have progressed. An MRI was done and found I was a mess with seven bone fractures. 

I asked why MRI’s were not done annually. I was told it was too much. That meant too much expense. The cancer progression could have been found earlier but the scientific testing was too expensive. The survival average was still one to three years but a new discovery with thalidomide appeared to be changing longevity. 

My oncologist said I might survive a year or possibly longer. It was not predicable because every patient differs. I had seven fractures in my back and needed a walker to move. There are holes in my skull. Getting out of bed can break bones. Treatment began to bring the cancer under control for me to have a bone marrow transplant. 

I visited Karen’s second grade class to give a science talk but we also addressed my health and MM. It was obvious I was in poor health. I told the class that I would attend their high school graduation in ten years despite the prediction of three or less years survival. I stated my goal was to productively serve others to age 75.

The cancer is not curable but is somewhat manageable. Treatments improved my health enough for the bone marrow transplant. Later the cancer took control again and a final bone marrow transplant followed using my stem cells. Scientific stem cell research has prolonged my life and allowed me continued productively to serve the community. I continue writing nature niche articles and each year I wonder if I will survive to complete another year’s articles. I manage Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary for enhancing biodiversity and share its wonders of life with others. Management is personally financed but donations are welcome. I have distributed my insect research specimens to major museums across the nation and still present programs. 

As expected the cancer began advancing again and my oncologist suggested I participate in a clinical trial at the U of Chicago. I was accepted and four years later I am functioning. I have frustrating limitations. I received a call the last week of May informing me the cancer is advancing and a new survival plan will be tried.

I move extremely slowly, tire easily, have weakness, experience short term memory loss from chemo brain, and have a list of 20 chemo side effects. Some are minor and some significant. Despite mean survival indicating I would not reach age 50, I continue. I was 47 at first diagnosis. At age 57, I was severely crippled but have rebounded with treatment. Now ten years later at age 67 it appears I will see my 68th birthday. 

I told the 2nd graders ten years ago I would attend their graduation. Karen and I have cried at different times. Now we can cry with joy that I will be able to attend her students’ graduation. My goal of living productively to age 75 remains possible. Experimental science, clinical trials, personal determination, and prayer all help. 

Karen hosted a three-year survival party when I reached what was thought the long end of survival. Now special treatment has a survival longevity of 7 to 8 years. I am in year ten the way doctors count. They count from when treatment begins. I count from diagnosis and that is twenty years. I thank everyone that has been supportive. The 2nd graders lives have progressed and they have likely forgotten me but I remember my promise to them.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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