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The post offered below titled How Can This
Be? would have remained unpublished
were it not for the report this week of David
Bowie’s death from cancer at the age of 69,
a few days after the release of his latest,
and final musical project, a jazz based
If it had not been for NPR’S All Songs
Considered podcast originally aired on
December 17th, with Bob Boilen hosting
jazz Saxophonist Donny McCaslin and
longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti,
who discussed the historic making of
Blackstar – referred to by NPR as Bowie’s
deep dive into jazz.
McCaslin and Visconti offered a detailed
and inspiring behind the scenes account
of the merging of Bowie’s creative
collaboration with the seasoned jazz artists
who contributed the jazz foundation on
McCaslin and Visconti also expressed
the thrill of using Bowie’s original home
studio demo guitar recordings, originally
offered by Bowie to demo the project,
that were so good there was no need
for a do over. So, as the band played and
improvised along with the guitar tracks,
Bowie applied the lyrics live.
After I listened to this podcast, I was
not only excited by the prospect of Bowie’s
new work, but also for the potential of a tour
that it seemed to indicate: strongly encouraged
by Boilen, but never reinforced by McCaslin
and Visconti. I would suggest downloading
the NPR app, or going to their website, and
not missing this exceptional program.
Ok, I wake up, I am about to meditate
Monday morning, and there it is, David
Bowie has died of cancer. I am floored
that Bowie, in his final days, has produced
such a work of art. Bowie, who I later find
out has not only created Blackstar, but a
musical titled Lazarus, now showing off –
Broadway. I was inspired by how Bowie
was able to marshal his creative forces,
and overcome the malaise of death by
cancer. I decided to resurrect this
previously half written but unpublished
post that follows.
HOW CAN THIS BE ?
vicissitude – noun - a change of
circumstances or fortune, typically
one that is unwelcome or unpleasant.
No human being is insulated from the
vicissitudes of life – that is, as the
definition above suggests, often used to
describe unwelcomed or unpleasant life
situations – the ones that cause us great
suffering, pain, and despair – loss of
a loved one, natural or self-created
disasters, professional or moral failures,
addictions, life-threatening illness,
disability, unemployment, destitution,
incarceration, and the list goes on.
I wrote this lead-in paragraph you
just read for a post I was planning
to publish back in August of 2015,
when I was experiencing moderate
pain in my lower left leg, so I went
to the urgent care center connected
with our local hospital and had an
X-ray done of my leg.
After thirty or so minutes, the doctor
returned to the cramped examination
room with a bewildered expression,
referring to to a radiologist report he
gripped, saying, “based on this X-Ray,
it appears you have lucent patches
on your left leg, indicative of either
bone lesions created by Multiple
Myeloma or osteoporosis.
I stammered – what – as he continued,
explaining, that Multiple Myeloma is
a cancer of the blood plasma cells:
a malignancy of the plasma cell, and
these impacted plasma cells inhibit bone
marrow regeneration, creating cancer
ridden brittle bones that end up breaking
All I could do was shake my head in
a blur of confusion, as I was being clearly
instructed to immediately see my Primary
Care doctor and be tested for the cancer
I went to the parking lot and texted Ann
that I might have Multiple Myeloma or,
if I was lucky, Osteoporosis. By the way,
this was not a good way to convey life
threatening info to your spouse, to be
tearfully read at a traffic light. Especially
since Ann was no stranger to this cancer,
her cousin’s quite difficult ordeal and
death from Multiple Myeloma looming
in the not too distant past.
The second thing you should not do,
if you, or a loved one, are ever faced
with such a potential diagnosis, is dive
into a description of your chances on
the internet. Although, the related
internet sites did help us realize that
what happened to Ann’s cousin was the
worst case scenario. And the internet
did fully explain just what I might be
facing in short order.
Ann took over as I tried to clear my
head, strong-arming a primary care
appointment for the next day, made
more difficult because my Internist
was out at a medical conference. So,
by the next day I was being tested for
the myeloma protein produced by an
abnormal proliferation of plasma cells,
also known as a paraprotein, an M protein,
or an M component, which would indicate
whether or not I had the condition.
After a long week of waiting for these
initial results: this test ended up taking
seven days, not the two days that we
were told to expect. The wait was most
difficult for Ann, who had been close to
her cousin, and could not escape the
dread that was overtaking her.
I have spent much of my life in the past
decade mentally and spiritually preparing
to deal with this type of life vicissitude –
maintaining focus, staying positive, looking
for the horse in the pile of manure that
was just delivered. I would wake each day
expecting at least an answer.
At one point, I told Ann that I didn’t
want to die before I was actually dead,
referring to the tendency to grieve what
could happen and act as if it was already
over. I also knew that survivors usually
refused to accept the verdict, praying
and believing themselves, sometimes
even laughing themselves, to health and
cancer free well-being.
I received a call on a Wednesday at noon,
one week after the blood test, from the
stand-in Internist who had met with us
the prior week, after I said hello
she paused to to gain composure, then,
“George, you have tested positive for
Multiple Myeloma.” But, the good news,
my levels were exceptionally low.
No one was quite sure what the indicated.
I worked to fight the sense that there was
a finality to this interchange, like a judge
saying – “guilty as charged,” as if suddenly,
I was made privy of the final days, how
I would exit from this plane of existence.
My Internist had already arranged for an
appointment with a Hematologist, for
extensive testing and X-rays of every bone
in my body, for Friday of that week.
Ann and I, once again, prepared ourselves
for what might be a lethal dose of our own
personal vicissitudes of life – and honestly,
we stood, bewildered as we viewed the
potential for a heavy dose of suffering,
our lips forming the phrase and title of
the note below – How Can This Be?
Followed, by our next question – how
do we proceed? – the spiritual answer
we received was in the form of the note
below, suggesting being grateful, or
thankful for this opportunity to be able
to overcome. Personally, I was having
a hard time being grateful or thankful
in the face of suffering – yet, I well
understood the futility of rage, self-pity,
despair, hopelessness, and depression;
basically, choosing to die before you
HOW CAN THIS BE?
Often we must allow life to unfold
as it will, even when it shakes our
foundation, disturbs our existing
conception of order and reason,
leaving us dazed and confused;
even as our lips form – how can
this be? – our hearts must proceed.
It is precisely at these times of
extreme bewilderment that we must
be content to gather our strength
and proceed without answers or
clarification, our souls in true accord,
knowing our faith is strong and
Even when nothing appears to be
worthy, we are challenged to find
meaning, reason, and purpose;
we are summoned to sift through
even this offering, somehow, some-
way grateful – thankful for this
opportunity to overcome!
Little did we know that it would take
over two months of extensive testing,
X-rays, and MRI’s before the extent
of my condition would be clearly
determined. In the interim, Ann and
I went on the offensive, focusing on prayer.
I would pray and meditate, often my
hands on my lower left leg, envisioning
it and me healed, vibrant, whole, and
back to normal. Ann chose to go for
the numbers, requesting daily prayer
assistance from Joel Osteen’s ministry,
with an estimated praying population in
the upper millions – folks praying for
my recovery daily, all over the world.
That Friday, my Hematologist retested
me, confirming that the paraprotein was
evident, and charted out for us what would
be his, our course of action. First, where
was the cancer evident in my body, had
it spread beyond my left leg; possibly
impacting my ribs, spine, and/or even
my skull. We went in search of more
lucent patches, as every bone in my body
was X-rayed, including the left leg again.
I prayed, Ann prayed, we prayed, and Ann’s
multitudes prayed for me, for my left leg,
and whole body to be free of cancer and
regenerated; healthy; whole. After a few
more weeks, a month or more had past
since the original test results, the X-ray
results came in – there was no other
indication of the cancer in my body.
The assumption was it was isolated in my
left leg, to determine this conclusively we
would do a bone marrow sample directly
from my left leg, a painful procedure I so
wanted to avoid, but first my Hematologist
requested that the original Radiologist
review a fresh X-ray and confirm the
original lucent spots.
The Radiologist did just that but could
not confirm the lucent spots originally
found on my left leg - they were gone -
so my Hematologist called in a team of
Radiologists to review this second X-ray,
hoping for a supporting confirmation,
but it was not conclusive.
So my Hematologist arranged for an
MRI to make a final determination.
Two weeks later, now in late October,
I would have what would for me be
a painful MRI, due to back pain, and
went home to await the results.
Let's just say that both Ann and me
still kept praying, but also preparing
for what might be the fight of our lives.
And then the phone rang, the results of
the MRI of my left leg showed no sign of
lesions, lucency, or the impact of Multiple
Myeloma. It was normal, lesion free and
I was determined to be what is known as
It would certainly would make a better
story, if I could report that I had beaten
Multiple Myeloma, free to walk the earth
without fear or trepidation. Turns out
that I have Monoclonal gammopathy
of undetermined significance, known
for short as MGUS, (Unknown or uncertain
may be substituted for undetermined in the
MGUS nomenclature), a condition where the
M based paraprotein is found in the blood,
but there is no evidence of lesions, anemia
or the other symptoms of Multiple Myeloma.
At the Mayo clinic MGUS transformed into
Multiple Myeloma at a rate of 1-2% per year
or 17%, 34%, and 39% at 10, 20, and 25 years.
It is possible I will have already transitioned
when I get the full cancer, yet, since it could
and does manifest at anytime, I will be tested
every four months for the rest of my life to
be able to determine my levels, and react to
the full onset of the illness in time.
I have never been so happy to be a runner-up.
As we look back on this initial ordeal and my
initiation into Multiple Myeloma, depending
on our perspective, and belief system, this
experience may indicate a mistaken obser-
vation by a Radiologist, who suggests that
I be tested for a condition that I, by chance,
actually tested positive for now, but will not
fully suffer from the symptoms he thought
he actually observed until sometime in the
future. Let’s call this the Twilight Zone
scenario. (Note that for many Multiple
Myeloma patients, including Ann's cousin,
they only find out about the cancer after
their bones break from the actual cancer.)
Or, just perhaps I was really experiencing
pain from actual lesions that created patches
of lucency resulting from Multiple Myeloma,
but they were healed by the months of prayer
assistance I received. We might refer to this
as the Intercessory Prayer solution.
Either way, I now am aware of my MGUS
condition and will be able to move forward
fully informed. I truly thank God for this!
Thanks for reading,
With Love, G.