Sunday, November 23, 2014

Metaphor in Lord of the Rings

Update on clinical trial MLN0128

Cycle 7, week 4

I have been in the clinical trial for almost 8 months. I still feel fine with no new symptoms but my next scans are still just over 4 weeks away. The most bothersome side effect is the itching. I have a fine rash over most of my torso and it itches terribly at times. It is far worse than when I was on the 5 mg so I’m wondering if it has something to do with 4 mg being in the form of two capsules and 5 mg in the form of one capsule. I have a bit of diarrhea when I wake in the mornings but it is not like before. I also have occasional nausea. However, now that I take the drug at night, I take an Ativan and that sends me to sleep and I sleep through the nausea.  The mouth ulcers come and go as before. I still run for an average of 30 minutes a day and walk 50 – 60 miles a week. I still work and bake bread and record my life in photographs and video. I haven’t done any traveling in the last four weeks. I came back from NYC  with a terrible cold and it took weeks to recover.

Metaphor in Lord of the Rings.

Frodo: I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

As the weather turns colder, I am stuck exercising on the treadmill more and more. The treadmill is nicely placed in front of our large screen TV so this is an opportunity to revisit my favorite movies. Currently, I’m working my way through the LOTR trilogy for the many-ith time. At the end of Fellowship and the beginning off Two Towers is the battle of Gandalf and the Balrog, Durin’s Bane. As I watched it again, I was struck by the metaphor of cancer as Gandalf the Grey fought the Balrog.

Now, I have never liked the metaphor of cancer as a battle or fight. A battle implies that you have a chance of winning if you fight strategically. What we know, or more accurately, don’t know about cancer makes winning or losing arbitrary. My response to people who think they will win against cancer is, “Maybe you will and maybe you won’t.” You do not defeat cancer by force of will.

At the Bridge of Khazad-dum, Gandalf turned and faced the Balrog and refused to let it pass so that the others could escape. Gandalf broke the bridge and the Balrog fell. Gandalf then turned away from the Balrog and the falling bridge to flee with the others who were escaping. However, as the Balrog fell, it wrapped its whip around Gandalf’s legs and dragged him into the abyss. The two continued their battle until Gandalf killed the Balrog. However, the cost was the life of Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf returned briefly as Gandalf the White to complete his tasks.

As we face the diagnosis of cancer we turn and fight. We bear the beatings of surgery, radiation and chemo. Then finally we are done. We are exhausted and wounded and battle weary, but hopeful that is all we have to endure. We turn to flee back to our old lives. But we are suspended there at the end of the crumbling bridge in a timeless void. We have no idea if the whip of cancer will catch us again and pull us down into the abyss to continue the battle, knowing that if it does we must die. We can fight and take the lashes for a while and use the time to finish our quests but this will be our final battle. We will find incredible strength at times, but the old wounds will haunt us and eventually we have to confront the end. The Balrog dies when we die.