Monday, April 26, 2010

D Day Minus 232 (July 19, 2009)

“Am I bugging you?” I asked from our landline in Bassett. I had just texted you, “call if you feel like talking.” Dad warned me to give you some space. I guess I had "Rain Manned" him by asking whether or not I should call you like twenty times. I texted you from my bedroom when Dad was busy making some of his buttermilk pancakes. I just got through yelling from the bedroom to Dad, "Your pancakes always taste better in Basset" so he wouldn't get suspicious.

“You’re fine.” You said. I think you were watching something on the History Channel. “It’s the waiting and not knowing.” I imagined you reclined on the white leather sofa in the family room with the phone cradled by your left ear.

“I know.” I said. I tried not to think about the logistics of treatment in Houston – airfares, hotels, work. We’d already canceled our two week vacation in Bassett just in case. “We’ll figure it out.” I walked to the kitchen and Dad was gave me his 'give the kid a break look.' I mouthed, "he called me."

We talked about you 'maybe' fixing dinner for Katie and doing something outside to enjoy the weather – a bike ride or a walk around the long loop. You asked about Bassett Dad (aka relaxed Dad) and when were we leaving and stopping by to give Morgan the birthday cards. We laughed as we guessed her reaction. Dad gave me his 'time to eat signal' where he holds his right fist and fake eats. "Gotta go." I said. “Believe in Zebras." I hadn't said that in the past week. And I had said it constantly since last January.

Believing in Zebras was my code for believing in miracles – organized religion had been a bone of contention with you throughout your life especially since the cancer—so I tried a little different packaging. You inspired me with your love of Mystery Diagnosis and the line they always used about diagnosis: “"When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” That was last January. You were down to 120. You asked if you looked like you were in a concentration camp. You did— given you were nearly six two. And you were in so much pain – you couldn’t sit on a chair or find comfort anywhere or eat.

I organized the Zebra Event behind your back. You thought I was just handing out the wristbands. You would have killed me if you would have known I had your name plastered on flyers across the country and and to churches of all denominations. The Zebra Event involved hundreds that I know of, and probably thousands in reality with the power of email and Facebook, on February 13th when you were supposed undergo surgery at Loudoun Hospital.

You had a large tumor that was invading your bowel and upper abdomen. Mary Ann, our next door neighbor, researched a TIL trial at MD Anderson, where they harvest the tumor to create TIL cells. We hoped they could inject the TIL cells after your surgery along with Interleukin 2 just in case the melanoma came back. We would have gone to NIH because they were doing the TIL trial, but we had heard stories about the NIH bureaucracy. On the 12th you and Dad, with his fear of flying somewhat under control, took a non-stop flight to Houston for TIL screening. On the 13th, the Zebra event took place as scheduled.

You were getting sicker and sicker each day you were Houston. But you muscled through the litany of tests and procedures. We didn’t know it at the time, but the reason you were so sick was that you bowel had perforated and you were septic. Your actual surgery went down a week later and you had a five percent chance of surviving. To top things off the tumor wasn’t viable for TIL. Dad called me with the news on February 20th. I remember throwing my cell across the car and screaming at the top of my lungs driving down Algonkian Parkway after Dad told me you probably wouldn’t make it.

But you did. And I did believe.

"Now what. Do I still believe?" I thought as I took my first bite of pancakes as I watched golfers through the trees off in the distance.

"I'd better." I thought because not believing made my stomach all butterfly-eee.

Then I smiled and took another bite. Pancakes really did taste better in Bassett.

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