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Terminal Diagnosis: How Montana Writer Ivan Doig Coped With His Own End

Doig's spirit springs to life in the MSU Library Archives, revealing his literary triumphs, fears and what lay in his heart

Ivan Doig.  Photo courtesy Carol Doig/MSU Special Collections, Ivan Doig Archives
Ivan Doig. Photo courtesy Carol Doig/MSU Special Collections, Ivan Doig Archives
Ivan Doig eschewed needless injection of melodrama, not only in his storytelling as one of Montana’s most famous writers, but in his personal life. The nature of human existence was compelling enough, he often said; the profundity of the seemingly ordinary inescapable. 

So imagine this scenario: what would you do if, in the glorious autumn of your career, you were diagnosed with a progressive unstoppable disease but you didn’t know how much time you had left? In 2006, that was the fate handed to Doig who, rather than trying to flee from reality or become hobbled by depression, used it as yet another opportunity to explore revelation and introspection. 

The Montana native, representing the third generation in a family of Treasure State settlers of Scottish descent, called Seattle home. For more than eight years, from diagnosis until his death in 2015, Doig accelerated his methodical, workmanlike devotion to composing words on the page, producing five more books capped by the finale Last Bus to Wisdom. Those works joined a corpus which includes the book that established him as a giant, This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind (finalist for a National Book Award) and the earlier Dancing at the Rascal Fair.

Doig didn’t write flashy; he was acclaimed for his fidelity to how people in the great American flyover thought, behaved and dreamed. He possessed a Savoir-Faire with vernacular and he presented characters who accepted their fate, most destined to wind up in prairie cemeteries long forgotten. Stories about “his people,” Doig believed, were no less important than those who found fame. 

One of the most insightful narratives Doig ever completed focused on himself— his own mortal struggle and it was never published. In the pages of several journals, Doig made observations about his decline—his unexpected discoveries and flourishes of hope, fleeting moments of joy, profound expressions of affection for his wife, and existential ponderances as the disease steadily brought him closer to the end. 

Fortunately, those volumes today are in Montana State University’s Special Collections in Bozeman, part of a remarkable mother lode of Doig material made available by the writer’s wife, Carol. On Thursday, October 10, a novel event is being held on the MSU campus and the public is invited to attend. Held in Inspiration Hall (inside the Norm Asbjornson Engineering Building), it is titled “Living With It: A Look At Ivan Doig’s Literary Perseverance In the Face Of Mortality.”  Secure a ticket by calling MSU at (406) 994-6857 or contacting Ann Vinciguerra: ann.vinciguerra@montana.edu

Seldom have outsiders been able to glean a more intimate and moving picture of what was on the mind of a prominent Westerner confronting one’s end. That the guide is Ivan Doig, who matter of factly shared things his fans would never have otherwise realized, maybe this was his greatest humanitarian contribution as a writer whose books command an important place in the canon of western arts and literature. 

Dr. Kenning Arlitsch, dean of the MSU Libraries, and a driving force behind efforts to bolster the university’s growing special collections, says those who attend will be treated to an extraordinary evening of remembering Doig and gaining insight to his psyche. The multi-media program features an appearance by his widow, Carol who is coming to town from Seattle; writer and close Doig friend David Laskin; and Ohio-based physician Dr. Rob Patrick who will deliver an expert opinion about the medical issues Doig faced. Click here to read Patrick’s essay for Mountain Journal about what Doig’s notes revealed to him. The night will also include the reading of passages from Doig’s personal journals by MSU students, outreach librarian Jan Zauha and others. 

Mountain Journal is serving as a host along with the MSU Library Special Collections and the Ivan Doig Center.
Doig homestead at Sixteen Mile outside of Ringling in the lower Shields Valley.  As Doig noted in his books, beauty alone doesn't put food on the table or feed hungry families. Life in Montana was hard. Photo courtesy MSU Library Arives/Doig Collection
Doig homestead at Sixteen Mile outside of Ringling in the lower Shields Valley. As Doig noted in his books, beauty alone doesn't put food on the table or feed hungry families. Life in Montana was hard. Photo courtesy MSU Library Arives/Doig Collection
Ivan Clark Doig was born on June 27, 1939 in White Sulphur Springs, the only child of ranch hand and sheepherder Charlie Doig and Berneta Ringer Doig. After his mother passed away from asthma on Doig’s sixth birthday, he was raised by his father and grandmother, Bessie Ringer. “Members of my family were the Western equivalent of sharecroppers,” he once said. 

Doig’s recollections of those years figure prominently in his work, hailed for giving voice to everyday people who struggled to get by and who found meaning and hardship in the absence of material wealth. Together with the assistance of his wife, Doig was known for being a tenacious researcher, painstakingly painting portraits of his characters down to their nitty-gritty essence. His novels, set in fictional towns inspired by real places, flowed with authentic attention to vernacular and everyday life. His references to the Smith River drainage, far north Bridgers and Shields Valley will resonate with Bozemanites, just as his stories set near Dupuyer and Valier, where he graduated, speak to those inhabiting Montana’s Front Range where it meets the prairie. 

In 2001, Doig was told he had MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance), a disease without active cancer cells but that contains two of the seven symptoms of multiple myeloma. In 2006, after years of routine blood screenings, it was discovered that he had an elevated reading of lymphocytes, an early indicator of either multiple myeloma or lymphoma. In April 2006, he was diagnosed with “smoldering” myeloma—a form of myeloma that can remain stable for years. However, in November of that year, his spiking protein levels indicated that the myeloma was progressing. 

Over the next several years until his death, Doig wrote five novels while battling the disease: The Eleventh Man (2008), Work Song (2010), The Bartender's Tale (2012), Sweet Thunder (2013), and Last Bus to Wisdom (2015). In summer 2019, I made a pilgrimage along with Patrick, Arlitsch and others to meet with Carol Doig in Seattle.

At the Doig residence, even though it had been four years since her husband’s passing, the spirit of the writer still was present. His writing desk with typewriter were still in place, along with hand-written notes he had left as reminders of things he had to do. Beyond the window was an inner passage of Puget Sound and across the water the Olympic Peninsula. Every afternoon just before dinner, the Doigs would mix a cocktail and enjoy each other’s company admiring their view of the Pacific.
Unsung hero: Carol Doig, wife of Ivan, trained journalist, college professor and gentle advisor/editor who was there to assist her husband as he brought his characters to life.
Unsung hero: Carol Doig, wife of Ivan, trained journalist, college professor and gentle advisor/editor who was there to assist her husband as he brought his characters to life.
Carol Doig is self-effacing, downplaying her role as the supportive partner, but it wasn’t underappreciated by her husband. The couple met in Chicago, at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where they both were pursuing careers to be reporters. Doig flirted with becoming a college professor teaching history, earning a PhD in history at the University of Washington. But his dream was to be a full-time novelist In Seattle. When Carol landed a college position teaching journalism, the income in the early years allowed Doig to write magazine stories to help pay the bills. He received a stack of rejection letters from publishers for his books. 

Doig's first three Montana novels—English CreekDancing at the Rascal Fair, and Ride with Me, Mariah Montana, form the "McCaskill trilogy", covering the first century of Montana statehood from1889 to 1989.  Not all of his books were acclaimed. Despite his growing stature, East Coast publishers still seemed unable to appreciate the pathos of the rural Western interior and again, the memoir that became This House of Sky initially received publisher rejection letters. It faced stiff competition in the 1979 National Book Award competition, with Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard winning top prize in the general non-fiction category.

“I don't think of myself as a 'Western' writer.' To me, language—the substance on the page, that poetry under the prose—is the ultimate 'region,' the true home, for a writer,” he once observed.
“If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it'd be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life.” 
“I don't think of myself as a 'Western' writer.' To me, language—the substance on the page, that poetry under the prose—is the ultimate 'region,' the true home, for a writer. If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it'd be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life.”  —Ivan Doig
It’s no coincidence that Doig and the late Wallace Stegner (some of whose papers are part of the MSU special library collection) were mutual admirers of each other. Serving as the backdrop for their stories were unforgiving landscapes where the forces of nature bent human inhabitants to humility. He was also a champion of working class laborers and two of his books in "the Morrie Trilogy" are set in the copper mining city of Butte. 

Carol spoke to Doig’s routine, how some of the book titles came to pass and how, despite his national recognition, Doig never lost himself in the positive attention he received. 

On many mornings he would rise early, fix her a small breakfast and leave her a slip of paper with an endearing note, then disappear into his office. When it came to his personal writing effects, Doig was something of a packrat. The Doigs wanted Ivan’s records to provide a methodical pathway for people who think about pursuing a writing life. 

As the impacts of Doig’s illness turned weightier, he enlisted the help of Betty Mayfield in the last year of his life when he realized the end was coming. Mayfield who had assisted others, including the late Microsoft founder Paul Allen, in assembling their personal papers. 
Doig and good friend, the late Norman Maclean, the Montana-born writer best known for his novella "A River Runs Through It" (also turned into a movie adaptation produced by Robert Redford) and "Young Men and Fire."  Photo by Carol Doig,  courtesy MSU Library Ivan Doig Collection
Doig and good friend, the late Norman Maclean, the Montana-born writer best known for his novella "A River Runs Through It" (also turned into a movie adaptation produced by Robert Redford) and "Young Men and Fire." Photo by Carol Doig, courtesy MSU Library Ivan Doig Collection
Many universities swooned over the prospect of obtaining Doig’s archives. Montana writers Thomas McGuane, Jamie Ford and Rick Bass helped convince Carol that MSU was the ideal place. Carol thought it was appropriate that they be an asset for Montanans and MSU promised to to make them available in digital format so that anyone, anywhere in the world, could experience them. 

While traditional libraries in the digital age confront a shifting culture that places more value on ease of accessibility to information over tactile heft of the packaged word, the meaning of original sources and the process of information discovery as a lesson in resourcefulness, the Doig collection is a reminder of why special collections matter. 

Through thousands of well-organized documents, from notepads where stories came to life, draft manuscripts, correspondence with friends and other famous writers, and even love letters offered to his wife, one can get a sense of Doig’s spirit. You can sample it by clicking here.  Add to that a selection of photographs and research materials and Ivan Doig becomes as fascinating a character as any he bestowed with immortality in his novels and memoirs. 

“Ivan Doig’s DNA is literally present on the pages of things in our collection,” Arlitsch says. “It’s not only a resource for writers and historians, and members of our community and students, but it is an invaluable resource that will exist for future generations.”

In the journal entries, below, which cover the period of time from when Ivan Doig was diagnosed with multiple myeloma until he died,  the writer made observations, here-to-fore unshared with the public. They reveal his lyrical way of thinking about the world, fears and pain, his sharp wit, love for his wife and friends, and resignation to the coming inevitable. Most of all, these vignettes speak to a celebration of life—savoring moments, honoring them, while one still can.

Excerpts From Ivan Doig's Personal Diary In The Last Years Of His Life

April 7, 2006

… What I can’t scant is the possibility, even probability, that my diagnosis may soon change from MGUS (Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance) to some level of myeloma. Talked with Carol after supper, and between us what we come up with is to take this one step at a time, and for me to not sit around in my head but go over things with her whenever I want to. Much of that will have to come out of me choked up, as just the typing of these words brings on, but I’d better get used to it.

April 20, 2006:

...the point I must keep reminding myself of is that I am otherwise healthy and feeling fine, and therefore must get on with life. Told Carol when we were both typing up our notes...that I don’t have any “why me?” at all, because I’ve always figured life asks back, “why the hell not  you?” Did tell her, in choked up fashion, that what daunts me about the possibility ahead is going through the end of life from one cancer treatment to the next. So we know that’s daunting, and now to work through it in the meantime.
Told Carol when we were both typing up our notes...that I don’t have any “why me?” at all, because I’ve always figured life asks back, “why the hell not  you?” Did tell her, in choked up fashion, that what daunts me about the possibility ahead is going through the end of life from one cancer treatment to the next. 
November 9, 2006

...I told [Carol] -- through a lot of emotional choking-up, one of the countless things I despise about all of this but which we are going to have to get used to -- that I don’t feel I have great unachieved things I have to get to or places I must see, I simply want to have as much more time with her as we can manage. 

December 8, 2006:

We’ve decided we’re going to forge ahead socially, telling people what’s up with me medically when and if we have to...After all the info we’ve garnered this week, Carol tells me I have “a lot of innings” left. I can’t say I’m that sanguine, as the life expectancy rates from the time myeloma is diagnosed aren’t that hot, and it’ll take drugs, drugs, drugs to extend that. Yet I felt remarkably composed yesterday… and I’ve been pretty steady today. The will to live, I guess, although I’m likely to have that challenged a lot in whatever time is ahead.

December 31, 2006:

Sunset, a muted one, last of the year. In the morning I begin my next phase of life, as an out-and-out cancer patient. I find I’m entering this unsought experience in a spirit of hope; wrenching as the drug doses may be, they are proven medications and I have otherwise good health and a supremely flexible schedule and Carol’s positive spirit on my side…. I am somewhat scared (as seems to me only rational), guardedly hopeful…, and resolved to quiet diligence, pill by damned pill.  And today I ordered my vegetable seeds for spring.
Doig's writing space as it appeared in early August 2019 four years after his passing. Not much has changed. The views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains outside his window remain as inspiring as ever.  Photo by Todd Wilkinson
Doig's writing space as it appeared in early August 2019 four years after his passing. Not much has changed. The views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains outside his window remain as inspiring as ever. Photo by Todd Wilkinson
January 1, 2007: 

At 5:30 this morning, about a dozen bites into cereal sprinkled with peach and banana, I took the first ten little green go-daddies, dexamethasone, of the pill marathon. With customary glucosamine/chondroitin tagging along, it’s a daily total of fifteen tablets/capsules. So far so good on the dex; I have maybe a bit of heightened awareness, a mental aura that is not quite a buzz on, and my mouth and voice are somewhat dry, but I haven’t (yet) had anything running wild. Therefore I wrote. 

January 18, 2007: 

… [Becky] wanted to know what my drugs are and when I mentioned Thalidomide, she said, “You don’t want to get pregnant, then.” Told her I’d been counseled more on sex than any time since I was in the Air Force. She chortled and said, “Only you would make that joke.”

February 15, 2007:

...David [Laskin] questioned me about the physical side of the treatment I’m going through, then asked about the psychological aspect.  I said something about there really being no choice in girding and doing it, not nearly quick-headed enough to lay out the better answer that occurred to me first thing this morning: that I don’t have any “why me?” in this, I have always figured life coldly asks any of us “why the hell not you?” and therefore it becomes a matter of doing the medical chores and seeing what happens.”

April 1, 2007: 

And now we are at the day before, three months to the day since I first downed those ten green little pills. There have been other hinge days prior to occurences that I knew would alter my life from what it had been: early in freshman year in high school, leaving White Sulphur Springs for the unknown north of Montana, the Dupuyer country; departure into the military; the decision not to pluck the Indiana University faculty job and a life of professorship. This one, of course, comes with medical postings ahead, almost certainly for the rest of my life. Hard to gauge this dispassionately but I have to grant that I made it through 67 years of life with relatively little wrong with my body, never enough to put me in a  hospital overnight. 

On the other hand, as Carol and I walked the neighborhood this morning, I thought about the recuperative creeping-back of that capability in the weeks/months ahead, and I am almost exactly at the age my father was when he similarly underwent the regimen of walking a little farther every day… in his struggle against emphysema. Be that as it may, what I face has a day-to-day aspect with arithmetic of improvement intrinsic to it, according to medical experience, and so onward we go.

April 18, 2007: 

The first day of the rest of everything. Not sure yet how my stamina will hold out, but I am definitely in a different body than I have been during all the drug and chemo rigors...My hair and beard is falling out. I don’t know what it says about my level of vanity that I didn’t think to jot that down until the 3rd paragraph into this. But I just visited the downstairs bathroom and I am beginning to look a fright. Thus far, my reaction is so what?

September 3, 2007: 

...there have been a couple of inexplicable bonuses from somewhere, something, in the resetting of my immune system: by now I seem to have more hair and with somewhat more color to it than before the chemotherapy, and my weight stays quite steadily right at 150. And so at age 68 I have grown into a smaller size, going from medium to small in shirt orders, having various trousers taken in by a tailor...There is no telling, of course, how long this truce in my indolent myeloma can be expected to last; I have the 3-monthly blood tests and sessions with Dr. Ginsberg in early October. Everything could speed back in the direction of hell then… so I am going to need all the energy I can scrape up. But for now, I have achieved a rough stint of manuscript and lived to tell the tale. 

December 30, 2007: 

...We are going through this season… in an oddly thrilling household glow, the writing of 11th Man burning in me like a filament. I woke at 2:30 this morning, two of the book’s final sentences clear in my head. I put in a big day of manuscript work yesterday, Saturday, and the couple of complex scenes yet to be done...brim in me with that feeling I have had only a few other times with books, that if I could just work for the next hundred hours straight the book would be done. It’s never that basic, or I don’t have the iron constitution to do it that way. But even as I contradictorily pace and push myself just enough, these are monumental days.
January 26, 2008: 

...The one definite thing I can see I learned from [Stegner’s] example is not to spread myself thin at this stage of life...I generally think if I live my life right, I’ll never go to another conference. It’s of course hard to be that absolute, but this health watch certainly gears me in that direction. My abiding belief is that the one thing I should be doing with whatever is left of my life is writing books.

June 27, 2008: 

At some moment of this day, I become 69 years old. Nearly three hundred seasons on the face of the earth, and each season now is a medical measurement, my next assessment by Dr. Ginsberg nearly coinciding with the coming of autumn. Borrowed time, I have to see it as, given what myeloma would have done to me if it hadn’t been assessed and curbed -- for who knows how long -- by the treatment thus far. Whatever is going on in the red war of my cells, I continue to feel fine, and have tolerated the Prednisone and Thalidomide combination all right, now nearly ten days in. It is a spectacular blue day for a birthday…

September 4, 2008:

Despite the nose to the grindstone, we have been blessed lately with friends, entertaining here three nights out of four. First of all it was Tony Angell and Lee...Then we had David Laskin over, while Kate is in Paris...Next night, Ann and Marshall, the monthly meal, here this time, by all evidence wowing them with our fruit salad dinner, off the property. So, there are wondrous things about our life, and may we eke them out longer. 

July 21, 2009:

 I don’t know that I can continue the determined writing pace that produced the 11th Man and Work Song in the past, what, three years, with the stem cell transplant and Thalidomide/Prednisone thrown in, but that is still the direction I should go. 

December 30, 2009:

,,,Here I am now, at what’s being talked about and endlessly listed and reprised as the end of the first decade of this century. It has been a rugged enough set of years [but]... We’ve accomplished a lot -- The Whistling Season in itself justifies the decade, Prairie Nocturne and the 11th Man are both good books if under-recognized, and reading the galley of Work Song gives me the hunch it could do quite well .... Thank goodness we have each other, and this house, and our pattern of life... I live with a wonderful woman, in a wonderful place, and in our surroundings as close as we can hold them, I look forward to as much time as fate will give us with one another. 

November 7, 2010: 

Glimpsing back, this way, tells the old truth that there’s no predicting what’s ahead. I likely won’t see another total decade; and so, to make the best use of day-by-day life.

June 27, 2011: 

And now I am 72. Threescore and ten and two. Living on borrowed time? That could be said since the first diagnosis, now ten years ago, so at least I am still borrowing without the final bill coming due. We marked the day pleasantly -- Carol is wonderful at coaxing me into a good time of whatever kind I can get around to imagining -- by going to the ship canal locks, along with scads of multi-accented tourists, and then cioppino and beer for lunch at Chinooks. All delicious. 
September 22, 2011: work as salvation

… my mind is turning toward Sweet Thunder, as it must -- that is, my head needs something to do, there is no such thing any more, if there ever was, as blank relaxation. Maybe it’s the need to stay ahead of the footsteps that are out there -- cancer, age, who knows what else -- or the particle mode of thinking caused by chemotherapy and Thalidomide, or maybe it’s just me, but my head is busy and doesn’t want not to be.  So, with the Bartender’s Tale manuscript just now landing in New York, I find I have ideas perking for Sweet Thunder and am really gratified to see notions I wrote when I conjured the book proposal. 
During the first half of his career Doig wrote from a writing studio in his home that was dark because of shade trees preventing sunlight from coming. After he and his wife, Carol, moved to their new—and last residence—he had commanding views of ocean and it brought a brightening within his intense focus and attention to details and plot.  Carol Doig says that following a long day of writing and editing his stories, Doig would join her with a pre-dinner libation and consciously savor what a good, fortunate life they had together. Photo by Todd Wilkinson
During the first half of his career Doig wrote from a writing studio in his home that was dark because of shade trees preventing sunlight from coming. After he and his wife, Carol, moved to their new—and last residence—he had commanding views of ocean and it brought a brightening within his intense focus and attention to details and plot. Carol Doig says that following a long day of writing and editing his stories, Doig would join her with a pre-dinner libation and consciously savor what a good, fortunate life they had together. Photo by Todd Wilkinson
April 3, 2012: 

Just quick at the end of a big day, I must put down that yesterday and today I feel better than I have in years. Had never thought I could feel so good again. Am trying to use this stint, both in making headway on Sweet Thunder and starting to think toward a next book proposal.

April 6, 2012: 

This is such a signal day. Opening the door at 4:20 this morn for the newspapers, I found a box of The Bartender’s TAle reader’s copies, bound galleys as we used to say. Then this forenoon’s work rounded off the chunk of Sweet Thunder I was getting ready for Carol to read, 145 pages. That done, this afternoon I pitched in with her in spreading bark, etc. in our lovely new front yard plantings. Through it all I have felt steady and fine. This is like being 60 again.

April 24, 2012:

These are large days, a lot happening, both of us trying to use to advantage my medical furlough...I have been noting in my weekly self-report since going off Thalidomide my improved mood, greater calm, and so on, but haven’t yet said one of the real benefits of this medication-free time: it lifted some of the worry that effects I was feeling -- absent-mindedness, dumb small things I’d do, physical clumsiness -- were age-caused. It turns out that when I’m unmedicated, I’m still a pretty good version of myself.

June 27, 2012

And so I am 73, and amazed at how good I feel about that and everything else… I’ve wanted to get down some details of this gift phase of life, as I see it. Mornings, I’m awake or at least my unignorable body is by 4:15, and while Carol sleeps in until 5, I get up to the incessant robin song out there in the first hint of daylight. Mug of coffee, magazine to read or the newspapers if they’ve arrived, while watching the passing castle of light, daily cruise ships that come carelessly ablaze along the still fundamentally dark Sound. When Carol awakes I make a mug of tea for her and take in the front section of the NY Times, and if the timing is right, we catch the local weather forecast - often only approximate to what really happens -- at 5:07 or so. She reads the paper in bed, I fix breakfast - three kinds of dry cereal, our own glorious raspberries and strawberries at this time of year -- have mine, and head down here to write. Just after 7, we walk the neighborhood, the same nearly 2-mile loop we’ve done since, what, 1974? 

October 23, 2012:

On this first day of a Revlimid-free week, I’m struggling with after effects, side effects,  effects of some damn kind that have me somewhat murky in the head and threatened another onset of hand cramps at the usual time, after breakfast. Soaking the hands in alternate hot and cold water headed that off, and the warming mitt I tried on my right hand maybe helped a little. And I’m feeling somewhat depressed, without the book tour and/or Sweet Thunder to take my mind off how I feel. Here’s hoping these symptoms will clear away as the Rev wears off. Meanwhile I’m trying to force myself to get things done.  

 December 29, 2012: 

 ...summing up situation I’m having a rough day, combo of Revlimid and I guess the aftereffect of the Temazepam sleeping pill I took last night. This morning I was jangled and as can happen on Rev, deficient in sequencing, doing one thing and then maybe having to undo it to fit in the next, as in change clothes to walk the neighborhood in this chilly dank weather and then realizing I hadn’t put on my knee braces… I think I’m shaping up, now at 2:45 having focused on Dog Bus work and tonight ought to bring me to life at dinner at Laskins. For all that, things have been going basically OK...If I can just get hold of myself past the mood shroud of medication, I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in. 

 February 3, 2013

 In the sense that I’ve finished going through the copy-edited manuscript of Sweet Thunder, and it now reads as I want it to, my tweaks and the copy editor’s resolved. What a feeling of relief, that the book comes across as well as it does -- if the reader will go for Morrie’s voice and persona, this is a tale that moves right along, with a lot happening and some of it I think really unpredictable. So I am a happy writer, and also a tired one, the Revlimid effects waking me around 2-2:30 every morning, with maybe some more sleep after getting dressed and maybe not. The effects also have been raising hell with my hands -- it’s easier to type than to handwrite, the manuscript receiving some of each -- and so I’m glad to have handled a 295 -page manuscript as well as I did. 
A bookshelf in Ivan and Carol Doig's living room just outside of Seattle.  Photo by Todd Wilkinson
A bookshelf in Ivan and Carol Doig's living room just outside of Seattle. Photo by Todd Wilkinson
 April 13, 2013: 

 ...I don’t want the diary to turn into a medical journal, but am not sure how much else I can manage, as things are. I work on the manuscript from pretty soon after breakfast -- done by 4:45, in my case; I see Carol has aptly described my nights as “chaotic” in her diary, my body routing me out usually by 3 -- through the morning and then usually 2-3 hours in the afternoon, a heftier writing stint than I’d put up with if I wasn’t saddled with Thal/Rev/Dex side effects. Thank goodness for the work, the mental occupation, so I don’t just wizen into an illness victim. But there’s not much energy left after that much writing, so quite a lot of our doing goes unrecorded. 

May 4, 2013: 

When we’re not scrambling and my side effects aren’t warping me too badly, life is going really pretty well. I can particularly say that today, a lovely mid-70s day with the mountains out clear and a diamond spill of sailboats on the Sound before lunch, when we inaugurated the season with a beer on the deck.  

 December 21, 2013: 

Carol’s encouragement As Carol said first thing this morning with a big smile, “It’s a new day.” ‘Tis, with the medical report from Chen that the “augmentation” drug, Melphelan, added to my existing pair brought down the blood protein readings a lot… So we keep doing what we’re doing, at least for one more cycle of Melphelan in the mix. .. Carol put it so well yesterday when we talked over my medical situation ahead of Chen’s phone call, that all this medication is a load on me, but I’m carrying it. There are going to be times ahead as nasty as ones that I’ve already been through, but for now, I feel relieved that at least the side-effects-loaded drugs are doing their job agains the cancer. 

December 31, 2013: 

Maybe it’s fitting that this eve day that closes the year was uneven, this morning a tough slog on the manuscript, but this afternoon I went at it fiercely, adding throughout to the remaining chapters. Whatever it takes.  June 13, 2014: Losing self to meds Friday the 13th, which I hope misses this household with any bad luck. This entry is one I need to get down, ahead of my re-immersion into cancer drugs, for two reasons:  -- First of all, I want to record how good I have felt, the past few days. This despite some periodic aches in my bursitis hip, even after the cortisone shot bestowed by Dr. Huff, and the chronic semi-chaos of my sleep.  I’ve been productive, not only on the manuscript but alert ot chores etc. and taking them on in what I hope was not the kind of list frenzy when I’m on steroids (Dexamethasone) -- Carol at least says I’m not. So this has been the me I want to be, and that I like, reasonable and capable, and that I must say goodbye to again, for who knows how long, when the medication regimen starts once more in a few days. 
Doig pacing off shadow at dawn along the Rocky Mountain Front. Photo by Carol Doig, courtesy MSU Library Doig Collection
Doig pacing off shadow at dawn along the Rocky Mountain Front. Photo by Carol Doig, courtesy MSU Library Doig Collection
 June 27, 2014:

 #75 on the long calendar. In 15 minutes Carol and I are going to Chanterelle in Edmonds for my birthday lunch, which will be a breakfast because we keep such early hours in this household. I celebrate making it to three score and ten and an extra 5 in slightly woozy condition, the 2nd cycle of Dexamethasone kicking in on top of the Pomalidomide. Strankly, the Dex hypes up the writing, I’ve been creating dialogue much of the morning after a somewhat drunken-sailor walk with Carol. So I am what I am, an old man who doesn’t feel like one, who has cancer and all the treatment a  body can stand, literally. I may have noted that Carol said recently, Life is what it throws at you. Well put.   

 December 30, 2014

...There are a lot more complaints I could make about the constant fending with this, but Carol fortunately is entering the better side, the social side. Our friends have been wonderful all through this, to the extent of the Laskins coming in and cooking spaghetti dinner a few nights ago and tonight Tony and Lee bringing supper. And Carol has been wonderful. Patient, uncomplaining, attentive. How I have despised the ordeal she’s being put through, but she is doing it magnificently. Some good news to end this crippling year with.

January 9, 2015: 

Carol I am witnessing true love. Carol has done every chore brought on by my afflictions without complaint. Thank heavens the morning finally came, maybe on the 5th or 6th, after I’d been a woozy pain-ridden wreck the day before, when she took her first look at me in the morning and said, “You look better!” And I said, “You look better because I look better.” “Better” is relative, as I still have back pain even if it has lessened, and the right leg is an achy concern. Have just experimented with soaking the foot and applying as much hot-water washrag as I could to the leg, then rubbing in VapoRub (I’m in old pajama bottoms). But I am better, as everyone tells me and tells me, and I have to start working on becoming as normal as possible and not merely perfecting the “cripple” maneuvers that I can see are a trap.

Ivan Doig died April 9, 2015
Todd Wilkinson
About Todd Wilkinson

Todd Wilkinson is an American author and journalist proudly trained in the old school tradition. For more on his career, click below. (Photo by David J Swift).
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