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Fable

ejourneys's picture

There's a life-and-death battle in progress in my laundry room. It's been going on for more than a day and a half now, between (as I can best determine) an American House Spider (Archaearanea tepidariorum) and a Brahminy Blind Snake (a.k.a. Flower Pot Snake, Ramphotyphlops braminus).

Both are likely females (the Brahminy is parthenogenic; there are no males in the species). Both help rid the area of pests. They're what are called beneficial animals.

I was in the middle of my workout Sunday night when M burst into the studio.

"I have to interrupt," she insisted as I took my headphones off. Then she told me about the struggle. We share a fascination with nature and its various photo ops. M added, "This is a movie op."

My workouts form part of my own battle: to kick cancer's butt, to stay healthy. Once I get on my mini-bike I am in the zone and focused; if I stop prematurely it has to be for very good reason. I thanked M and declined. It takes time to set up a sufficient amount of light, position my tripod, and get my camera focused. I figured that by the time I stopped pedaling, had a bit of cool-down, and set everything up, the fight would be long over.

Boy, was I ever wrong!

I completed my hour on the bike. I cooled down, hydrated myself some more, and prepared my post-workout food. While it was cooking I checked in on the laundry room.

I was mesmerized.

The Brahminy was writhing mightily, trying to break out of the spider's web. The spider's weaving was equally frantic. I was impressed that they were still going at it after more than an hour.

They were still battling after I had set up my light, tripod, and camera. I recorded 41:31 of video before my batteries gave out. Like a pair of prizefighters, they seemed to struggle in rounds, with near-motionless rest periods in-between.

I sped up the video during their rests and posted this version. With the addition of a title slide and its explanation of the action, the video comes in at just under 18 minutes.

By the time I finished editing the video they'd been struggling for more than five hours. By the time the video went public that had stretched to more than 18 hours. I have just checked in on them again. Forty hours after M had announced the fight, they are still at it. We host an epic, mortal contest in the space of a few cubic inches.

In my heart of hearts I am cheering for the Brahminy, whom I also think is doomed. I cheer for her anyway. You never know. But I have tremendous admiration for both combatants. They must be exhausted at this point. The spider is fighting for sustenance. I wonder if she knew what she was getting herself into when she captured this opponent.

On Thursday I will start my 12 weekly infusions of Taxol, "a walk in the park" compared to the Adriamycin/Cytoxan cocktail I've been getting, according to the oncologist's assistant. The A/C infusions had come three weeks apart, but if all goes well I will sit in the chemo chair every Thursday from this week through most of October. If that timing holds, I will be done with chemo in time to celebrate my 56th birthday -- a year younger than my mother had been when she died from heart disease and diabetes.

Those are the diseases I'd been on the lookout for. Cancer had surprised me out of left field.

I'm lucky. My tumor had been caught early; I'm stage 1a. We hope to keep cancer at bay between chemo (recommended due to my age and recurrence score), radiation, and aromatase inhibitors.

I also know that we're treating one particular type of cancer, with no guarantee that another, different variety won't hit. I read the experiences of people who have beat cancer back two times, three times, five times. They are my role models.

So, too, the combatants in my laundry room. They don't give up. They do what they have to do for as long as they have, hour after hour and round after round. The more I watch them, the more I take their fight to heart. They are a fable in vivo. They teach me, because I had no idea that they could continue for so long, with such high stakes and odds that seem not to matter.

Last night I also learned a lot that I didn't know about palliative care, thanks to the discussion at #bcsm (breast cancer social media). My main take-away points from the full discussion are:

1. Palliative care does not kick in only when all other treatment options have failed. It begins from the time of diagnosis.

2. Its focus is to relieve suffering in all forms. Pain relief is a major component, but palliative care is not limited to pain relief.

3. Oncology staffs are trained in a basic level of palliative care. More complicated care requires a specialist in palliative oncology. A patient can request a consultation with such a specialist.

4. Palliative care is interdisciplinary and treats the whole patient, with attention given also to caregivers and family.

Among the links provided during last night's discussion are:

ASCO Daily News, "The Changing Landscape of Palliative Care." The author, Dr. Michael Fisch, was a major contributor to last night's discussion. Dr. Fisch (bio here) is chair, dept of general oncology, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

American Society of Clinical Oncology's palliative care guidelines.

Journal of Clinical Oncology (Smith et al.), "American Society of Clinical Oncology Provisional Clinical Opinion: The Integration of Palliative Care Into Standard Oncology Care." Includes numerous links to articles on palliative care. Some have a paywall for reading beyond the abstract.

Cancer.net: "Required Palliative Care Discussions can Lead to Improved Quality of Life for Patients and Caregivers."

Cancer.net, "Caring for the Symptoms of Cancer and its Treatment." Includes the distinction between palliative care and hospice care.

ASCO Daily News, "Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis: IOM Report on Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care."

The New York Times (Jane E. Brody), "Cancer as a Disease, Not a Death Sentence."

Dr. Fisch also provided excellent graphics, which are collected here.

The battle in my laundry room continues. Forty-three hours and counting.

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