Day +2924: First you get hurt, then you feel sorry…

Dec 2nd, 2018 by

“There comes a time in a short life…

Turn it around, get a rewrite…”

This entry was actually written on Karen’s 8th rebirthday, 30 Nov 2018, where she expressed in simple eloquent form her gratefulness to be alive. And that is the overarching message – enjoy each day with eyes open.

I don’t know if any other travelers actually still look at the blog but that in itself is really not important – it is intended to remind Karen and me of the journey.

  • We are not at the edge of crisis waiting to see if engraftment is going to occur while watching the blood counts plummet and disappear.
  • We are not hitting trigger for the next measure of dilaudid to suspend reality while mucositis ravishes the entire digestive system – tip to tail.
  • We are not enthusiastic about having the energy to go the bathroom – sort of on your own or celebrating the victory of swallowing a mouthful of ice water.

For those travelers at the start of this journey…

  • We wish you the best that science can offer – take the damn meds! Live to be a hero tomorrow!
  • Let family, friends, or strangers comfort and take care of you – but you know you best!
  • May your inner strength, Karma, faith, the Sunday comics, and luck sustain you! In the fight for your life, anything that adds a measure of hope is a win – fears require no coaching.


  • when the counts finally pick up and seconds cease being eons…
  • when the scrutiny of doctors and nurses weans from minutes to hours…
  • and the next visit and (blood) draw changes from hours to days then eventually weeks…

Congratulations, you are a survivor! – now, the journey to [new] normalcy begins again…


Turn and face the strange


There’s gonna have to be a different (wo)man…

Time may change me…”

At the five year mark, you’re statistically branded “cured”.
The masks and gloves are all in the trash now – except for the box in the back of the cupboard. The sanitizer is around the house, but no longer is every visitor doused with it upon entry. The day to day routines are reestablished – back to work, to back doing what it is you do. Family, friends, coworkers, and the mass of humanity find comfort in “you’re cured” … Normalcy.

In the world of transplants, medical experimentation and drugs … the procedures from five years ago (or more) – whole marrow, T-Cell, haploid, radiation, induction chemo, radioactive antigens, Cytoxan, Fludarabine, Vidaza – may be suddenly archaic; however, no matter the nature of the treatments and cure which allows the celebration of another day – life, there is a price, and it is often only known or felt by you.

“So if you’re mad, get mad, don’t hold it all inside,

Come on and talk to me now.

Hey there, what you got to hide?

I get angry too, well, I’m alive like you.

When you’re standing at the cross roads,

And don’t know which path to choose,

Let me come along, ’cause even if you’re wrong …”

Acute – Chronic
Emotional – Physical
Side effects

Labels we hang on to define the new normal you?
You’re healthy, mentally agile, strong, working, loving, living!
After all you’re cured!

You climbed five flight of stairs on the way to the show or ran miles last week.
You can’t get out of bed? Lazy!
You chatted with friends, debated the merits of this or that – your mind racing with the possibilities.
Now you sneeze and freeze? Panic? Really?
The family wants supper, the pets need food… you only think of yourself – just rude!
The spouse, friend or acquaintance spout about the trauma of the hangnail of the day…
You just want to scream and tell them to go away? Selfish!

Ok – maybe the poetic license above needs review, but…
Waltzing away from the brink of destruction does leave its marks. The positive ones – like being alive – are easier to accept and deal with.

“I’m only human after all…
Don’t put your blame on me
Don’t put your blame on me.
Take a look in the mirror

And what do you see…”

You survived a transplant which at the genetic level is a sledgehammer treatment with a little eternal stray voltage sparking around from chemo and/or radiation (Karen lucked out skipping radiation, but got extra chemo), and few side effects from the sustaining good medications (never read their brochures). Then it was time to train this baby immune system and watch it hum…Whoa! Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD)?!? – better slow this baby down a little…

Dry skin, dry eyes, dry mouth, digestive sensitivity, just little pin pricks to the liver and lungs.
But you roll this into the new normal and routine of the day.
Can’t freeze in panic – can’t live life that way.
Spams, hot/cold flashes, neuropathy, photosensitivity – the roll of the dice – what will it be (today)?

The perception of health is shaky – you’ve got a cause and a right to worried – to be a little paranoid about routine illness; symptoms mask symptoms after all. Your boogeyman came out from the shadows and will never really go way again… Colds linger longer and flu strikes fear to the core – the problem is to keep immune system on target and not on overdrive, survive.

So you go to the doctor to keep tabs on your system, to get the reassurance of the day – the problem is they can’t look past the parts and pieces to everything else that is at play.

Some days putting two thoughts together is a challenge; the recall fuzzy – it’s ok. Chemo brain is ever present. A random trigger rules the moment and the mind – the body may seem suspended in time. These is no reason, logic or predicting when it may appear.

The hair is gone. The skin is splotched. Sex? Tears can’t fall; and all of this and more is the new normal after all.

So, the point is that your world has changed, and at times it is ok to feel scared, angry, emotional, selfish, tired or crazy without reason, cause, justification or apology. You pick yourself up, put on a face for the world and live your new normal and manage to smile and enjoy life.

Everybody is different. It is a thing that amazes and scares me a little in the perspective of all cancer. In my non-medical mind, it is the most individualistic and incestuous disease that attacks a person at the core fabric of what makes them human.

So, again we are thankful for life. Karen mostly can do what she chooses to do; but the point of this little motivational blog entry (note: sarcasm) was that the complex treatments and methods, doctors, donor, and staff which facilitate a cure are hailed and highlighted by the world (rightfully so) – unfortunately the post treatment concerns and issues are all too often relegated to the unsexy research closet in the basement or left to the patient to deal with on their own.

“What would touch me deeper…

Tears that fall from eyes that only cry?

Would it touch you deeper…

Than tears that fall from eyes…

That know why?…”

In tradition, there are song lyrics in our Blog entries. Sometimes they capture the mood better than the narration.

Best wishes to all the travelers.

Day +2922: I can ride my bike with no handlebars, no handlebars….

Nov 30th, 2018 by

“I can ride my bike with no handlebars, no handlebars
Look at me, look at me
Just called to say that it’s good to be
Alive, in such a small world”

No Handlebars

11/30/2018: I vividly remember my original 8th birthday when I got my very first bicycle, a beautiful blue full sized bike with slender racing tires and no training wheels. We lived in the country in a time when kids roamed free from morning till dusk. Before this, my personal independence day, I rode only on the back of my brother’s bike with no choice but to share his destination. Learning to ride didn’t take long. The sparse lawn where my stepdad taught me was difficult to navigate but a soft landing when I fell. My permanently scarred knees are a subtle reminder of occasional bloody encounters with the gravel at the base of our driveway over the years, temporarily painful but never daunting. Nothing could dampen the heady freedom of riding solo on those country roads, endlessly, effortlessly, hands dangling at my sides.

Life remains good as I turn 8 once again, scars and all. Thank you, Mary Lou! Happy rebirthday to me.

Love to all,

Day +2886: Birthday greetings, bottle of wine? …

Oct 25th, 2018 by

“…if I had been out till quarter of three…
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me?
When I’m Sixty-four?…”

Wow, just in the nick of time – an hour from now it is
Happy Birthday, Mausi!

Been going through our anniversary to birthday tradition –
pizza first…and then a present a day from the 11th to the magical 26th.

Karen is great…like Tony the Tiger. October and Halloween are upon us; we decorated the house, and the squirrels and raccoons carved the pumpkins.

“With nothing in between to break my fall…
I’m blue for you, blue for you…
I don’t know what to do…”

Well, actually we do – Karen continues her weekly UVA-1 treatments for GvHD. Hey, let’s stand in the ‘microwave’ of health… yes, I know it’s long wave for all the physicists…but you get the picture which hopefully she will post, the Blue (wo)man Maus!

“Happy Birthday to you…
Happy Birthday to you..
Happy Birthday dear Mausi….Happy Birthday to you…”

Time to wear…
the Hat …if you dare…..

three easy songs…life is good …so play along…

Love, Michael

Day +2812: Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

Aug 12th, 2018 by

“Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?”

We are well.

Winter snow turned into Spring rain into the Summer monsoons.
Nope, we did not move.

“Hey farmer when you gonna fix that leakin’ roof?…
…Ah stranger, when its rainin’ it’s too wet to fix it …
..and when it’s dry it’s just as good as any man’s house…”

Entropy – not just for physics anymore.

The roof is patched …for now.
Lawn – definition: anything in the yard that is green, including poison ivy.
Benjamin the groundhog living under the hot tub doesn’t seem to mind.
The Trash Pandas – other people’s term for our masked kids outside …ten on the deck last night are placing orders for Alpo and cherry danishes.
The crow and squirrels prefer sunflower seeds and peanuts.

The cats follow Karen around the house… everywhere … singing in mews and meows:

“I will be your keeper for life as your guardian…
…I’ll be your warrior of care your first warden…
…I’ll be your angel on call, I’ll be on demand…
…the greatest honor of all, as your guardian…”

Karen still goes to photo therapy weekly for GvHD.

Life is pretty normal …. thanks to Mary Lou.

Greetings from the distant edge…
Wishing all the travelers the best…

Michael and Karen

Day +2,624: Let your mind rest easy….

Feb 5th, 2018 by

“Sleep well my friend
It‘s only our bodies that betray us in the end…

…We are alive
And though our bodies lie alone here in the dark
Our souls and spirits rise…”

Transplant Comrades

(Michael) Mike Orlowicz
May 7th, 1952 – January 17th, 2018

All words are inadequate … or maybe it is the author; so the tag line is from Bruce Springsteen’s “We are Alive” from the Wrecking Ball album.

So now a step back in time…

“…Day +31 Happy New Year (2010)…
Happy New Year and a new beginning, hope food is becoming more tolerable
Debbie and Mike +91 …”

Early in the blog, I likened the whole bone marrow transplant to being a lot like standing on the edge of a cliff…the fear involved depends on the view and if you have to take the next step.

The “+91” was Mike’s day count after his stem cell transplant at Sloan Kettering, and he and Deb were blazing the path, stumbling along, and meandering through this medical miracle towards a life we all hoped would just be normal.

60 days may not seem like a lot, but when you’re looking for blood counts to go from zero to anything, it was Mike’s journey that showed hope and glimpse into a possible future. The scary stuff is always there, and a simple comment from Deb made it easier to deal with the crisis of the moment – the lifeline to be woven into the rope bridge to get beyond the cliff.

As the blog was the primary connection for our parallel journeys, a note here and there was valuable beyond measure and often eased or answered worries of our own. Over the years, as we struggled towards the place called normality, it was easy to lose yourself in yourself. As the Rebirthdays started to add up, the occasional note served to reassure. Then Mike relapsed and underwent the second stem cell transplant. The turmoil on our end was almost paralyzing; Mike was battling for his life again and Deb rededicated as the primary caregiver – What would we do if it happened to Karen? … it’s a question we had the luxury to ponder, the answer is entirely to obvious if one is facing the consequence.

Mike’s spirit and Deb’s love and support let them move on – and to our joy, Karen was extremely pleased that they visited for her fifth Rebirthday, and we all were able to meet for the first time outside of the virtual world.

This is the best memory and the picture to hold in our heart.

Never to be forgotten, you stepped beyond the cliff of the mortal realm and journey outside the twisted tangled paths of time. Farewell until we meet again.

“Across the universe divide,
And when I reach the other side
I find a place to rest my spirit if I can.
Perhaps I may become a Highwayman again
Or I may be a single drop of rain
But I will remain….”

Thank you, Mike and Deb.

Michael and Karen