Tuesday, May 18, 2010

D Day Minus 218 (August 2, 2009)

As soon as I opened the front door,  Dad said, "Greg found the garlic again."  It was almost 10:30 at night. Dad and I spent the last five hours listening to Time Bandit by the Hillstrand Brothers from The Deadliest Catch on our trip back from Bassett. Dad and I laughed whenever Jonathan said 'crazy psychotic laugh' in the book, which was a lot.  I told Dad I was going to do my crazy psychotic laugh if I didn't make a pit stop soon.

Upstairs in your room, Katie laughed at your imitation of Chewbacca from Star Wars.  On my second load of carrying crap from the truck, you and Katie finally came downstairs.

"Do Chewbacca." You teased as I dropped my laptop bag in the foyer.

"AAAAARRRGGGGGGGHHHHGGGGLLLLLL," I did my best, but agony is all that came out.

"You sound like you are gargling spit. You need to loosen your tongue like you are trilling your rrrrs." You shook your head in disgust. "I thought you took Spanish."

"I slept through it." I said. "It was first period." We laughed as you pulled car keys out of your khaki shorts. 

"Katie and I are going to get some snacks for treatment tomorrow.  And maybe a drive." I barricaded myself in front of the door and made you hug me. All I could think of were the lyrics to Christopher Cross's song Ride Like the Wind and wondered if you'd make it Mexico.

It is the night, my body's weak
I'm on the run, no time for sleep.
I've got to ride, ride like the wind.
To be free again.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

D Day Minus 219 (August 1, 2009)

I called you in Sterling when I found good service between Bassett and Roanoke.

"What's up?" You said like you had places to go, people to see, and things to do.

"On my way to Morgan's for our spa day.  An early birthday present." I said, eyeing the empty McDonald's bag that fell from the passenger seat to the floor when I stopped for the light.  Something that would never happen in your car with your no food or drink policy. 

"That's good." You said. Actually it was more than good, and you knew it.  It was more like unbelievable for Morgan to even consider getting a massage and body wrap. She was clinically depressed throughout high school and resorted to cutting just to feel. After the hell of high school, Morgan got better. But, she was self-conscious about her cutting scars and weight. Last December, during your off-weeks for chemo, you'd call me from Roanoke to tell me she wasn't taking care of herself and had been gaining weight. I knew her weight was her symptom of your cancer.

I'd long since given up trying to control the uncontrollable with actions - but I never stopped imagining what it would be like if things were different. Every night before I went to sleep last Winter, I would imagine you telling me you were cancer free and Morgan telling me she felt healthy and loved to exercise.

I hung up the phone and felt a surge of hope in my heart.  My wildest dreams had come true.  Earlier that week, Morgan told me she felt healthy and loved to exercise.  Last April, you told me you were cancer free. 

I believe in zebras. I do. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

D Day Minus 222 (July 29, 2009)

You handed Dad his birthday card in exchange for food -- Chili's take out.  Dad opened the card and burst out laughing. "Turkeyman, it's the same card again."

"Are you serious?" You said poker face.  I'm pretty sure you didn't mean to get him the same card again, but you never told me for sure.

"Yep." Dad said as I rushed to wipe off the kitchen table. When I dropped some crumbs on the floor, Dad shook his head and said, "Nance, you can sure tell you learned to clean from McDonald's."  

"You're really milking the chemo thing." I teased as I grabbed silverware from the drawer. 

"You really want me to have that birthday card, don't you?" Dad said as he piled baby back ribs on to his plate. 

"What can I say?" You grinned and piled food on your plate like Dad.

You and Dad went on and on about the ribs and comparing them to Pigs-R-Us and Dave's BBQ. I was perched at my normal vantage point - the chair with the back to the patio door.  You sat across from me, kitty - corner from Dad.

You had your Dad's eyes and nose and hairline and the gift to gab like Cliff from Cheers.  (I know I'm dating myself with  that one - but oh well.) But, you had my quest for soul searching, making up goofy dances, and bathroom humor.  I thought of our library of Fart books down in the basement and smiled -- my nasty, dirty smile.  

"What?" You and Dad asked in unison.

 I bobbed my head the way you taught me and gave my boys two thumbs up and said. "Good times."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

D Day Minus 223 (July 28, 2009)

"What are you doing home?" You asked as you bit into your barbecoa burrito you must have just picked up from Chipotle.

"Making sure you passed your piss test for your pre-employment physical for Wegmans." I  plopped my purse on the counter and said, "I'm watching  you."  Your eyes got  fake big and you laughed when I tried to do my commando hand signals that I always messed  up. You know, where  I mime "I'm watching you" by pointing to my eyes by making a 'v'  with my  index and middle fingers and then pointing to you.  I usually pointed to you first then did the 'v' thing with my fingers. This time I got it right.

"No, really." You said. "Why are you home?" 

"Doctors appointment." I said. "Damn sinuses."  I poured some filtered water from the fridge into a glass and took my antibiotic as I walked toward you.

"I know your secret." You said looking toward the little black fridge in the corner by the patio door. My little Fort Knox of contraband Diet Mountain Dew and Diet A&W  Rootbeer had been compromised.

"Katie and I found it this weekend. What's the deal? You said pulling the buritto wrapper tighter so you wouldn't drop any black beans.  "I thought you were cutting back." 

"Shhh."  I said as I put my right index finger to my lip. "Did you hear that?" I cocked my  head to the left and pretended to hear something outside."  You shook your head and probably thought I was an idiot and took another bite of your buritto.

"You didn't see anything." I said ala Madagascar, the way you taught me.  Then I pilfered a Diet A&W from the fridge and took a swig.  

"So how was the physical?" I asked as I hoisted myself up on the kitchen chair. I put my right foot on the chair so I could hug my knee to keep warm.  You and Dad were trying to freeze me with the air conditioning. I guess the cold Diet A&W probably didn't help either. I put both my feet up on the chair about a ten seconds later and hugged my knees.

"The port confused the doctor." You said with a half laugh. "Yeah, he asked me what the port was for, so I told him. He was surprised that I had melanoma and looked so good." 

"Did you want to tell him that you loved your port?"  You laughed as you thought about the  HBO Special, you and I watched last Fall called "Letting Go of God," starring the comedienne who played the androgynous Pat on Saturday Night Live.  It was about Julie  Sweeney's journey through her brother's cancer and treatment. He had to get a shunt for his treatment. The way Julie teased that her brother 'loved his shunt,' made us laugh really hard.  It was our running joke that 'you loved your port' when you got your it last Fall. 

"Katie doing ok?" I asked, while you threw the last bite of your burrito in the Chipotle paperbag and bunched it up.

"I think so, but she really doesn't know what she is in for." Your voice trailed as you walked through the family room to throw your trash away. 

"Do you want me to come to your first treatment on Monday?" I asked.

"Katie said she wanted to come, but you can come with us." You said. I rubbed the space between my eyes to stop the sinus pressure. 

"I'll give you space." I said.

"Mom, you don't have to give me space." You looked serious.

"I know." I said. "It'll all work out."

"Are you afraid?" I asked.

"Not afraid, I just want to bring it so I can put this behind me and move on with my life. And I really don't want to lose my hair." I had a flashback of you and Morgan fighting for time in the bathroom.  You needed extra time so your hair was perfectly coiffed.

"Worse." I said, mimicking Jerry Hicks from the audio book "Law of Attraction," playing the game -- find a better thought.  Just the way you did when you thought I needed cheering up. 

"It will grow back." I said.

"Better." You said with the hint of smile and added. "It could grow back thicker."

"Better." We both said at once.

"I don't want to be bald." You said.

"Worse." I said.

"I could get some cool hats." You said.

"Better." I said.

"Not everyone loses their hair." You said as I gave you the thumbs up.

"Better." You said, "And, I may not lose my hair. If I do, it'll grow back."

"Better." I said. We both smiled and sighed. 

I left you with the remote and some Tivoed Alton Brown. Then went upstairs with my Diet A&W and iPod to meditate with Kelly Howell until Dad came home.

Monday, May 10, 2010

D Day Minus 224 (July 27, 2009)

I sat back at my desk after a quick trip down the hall to the vending machines. It was my fifth trip to get contraband that day. It was only 3:00. My head pounded from one of my signature sinus headaches – probably from trying not to think about making travel arrangements. And that damn little patch of poison ivy on my right ankle had spread up my leg. The phone rang the same time I twisted the bottle cap and I almost spilled Diet Mountain Dew on my keyboard. I let out a sigh of relief when I saw it was our Sterling number and reminded myself not to go all RAIN MAN on you.

“Any word?” I asked, putting the contraband on the file cabinet to my left.

"I can do chemo in Virginia.” You were probably sitting at your desk in Morgan’s old bedroom. I could tell by the way your voice kind of stretched when you said 'cheeeeeeemmmoo' that you were reaching to file stuff in your file cabinet.

“How did that happen? When did they call? Have you called Dad? What about Katie? Have you called RAJ’s office to set up chemo here? Do you want me to call Morgan? When can you start? Do you want me to come home? “ I didn’t take a breath. You probably thought– she’s gone all RAIN MAN on me again.

“I called you first.” You were calm. “Kristin, Dr. P’s nurse, is sending the order to RAJ. Treatment will start later this week or Monday next week.”

“This is frikkin awesome news.” I said, thinking of Hannah my guardian angel. Remember I told you about her last April after you told me about your plans to get divorced. When I was six, I couldn’t find the key to my house and I was locked out. I was so afraid I was going to get in trouble and just wanted to get into my house. I kept asking for help. I cried a big snotty cry, while I searched the hiding place (under the toolbox in the shed) for the house key. I’d search for a few minutes, then try to open the back door. I did this about twenty times. Then it just opened. Just like magic. At that moment I decided that I had a guardian angel and her name was Hannah. I smiled and glanced at Hannah’s namesake – the plastic zebra I bought for the Believe in Zebra event last February – standing guard next to my computer monitor.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

D Day Minus 225 (July 26, 2009)

I got fed up with weeding and avoiding poison ivy so I showered with Dawn and covered my legs with a jewelweed salve. Remember, you tried to find it in Roanoke last month, when I first got poison ivy. You couldn’t find it, so I ordered it off eBay.

Anyway after all that, I finally took my monkey feet for a real run. You laughed when you first saw them – my black Vibrams Five Fingers – and deemed them monkey feet. I heard about them when I listened to Born to Run the weekend before the Fourth of July in Bassett. Dad barbecued hamburgers on the grill by the back porch. We sat on the reclining lawn chairs Dad bought to observe the stars. Stanley (that is what you named him) the black cat kept coming up to you wanting you to pet him the entire evening. I teased you that he knew you had a good soul. You lit the stinky citronella candles to fend off all the mosquitoes. After we ate, you and Dad rocked in the chairs and stared at the chimnea. I listened to my book. It was about Christopher McDougal’s quest to find out why his foot hurt when he ran. Through his quest he found a tribe of superathletes who ran barefoot. They ran for days and stayed in a peaceful meditative state. The state I craved every since Morgan was depressed in Middle School.

I only had one earbud on so I could half listen to you and Dad.  I stopped the book and added my pearls of wisdom and wit on dating. I would be your wing-mom. You and I would go down the street to the ABC Liquor Store to troll for your dates. I would even buy you new wife-beaters to make it special. You laughed while Stanley rubbed up against your leg – close to the scar from your biopsy.

I hit play on my iPod and listened to Kelly Howell’s Running Meditation. It had binaural beats which is supposed to get you into a relaxed state pretty fast. I watched my form, shoulders back, head aligned, hands relaxed, so I would not hurt my knees. After the fifth loop or so things I was grateful for just kept popping into my head like:

1. We would be able to make travel arrangements tomorrow.
2. You got your job at Wegmans.
3. You had Katie.
4. Dad was going with you to Houston.
5. Morgan was working out and eating better – thanks to you.
6. The fun we had with our Abraham humor and how it made us feel so much better.
7. You didn’t show any outward signs of cancer.
8. Your hair would grow back.
9. The weather was beautiful.
10. My knees didn’t hurt when I ran.
11. Dad was smiling while he mowed.
12. I just had a little poison ivy on my ankle.
13. We could plan a trip to Hawaii to take when you finished treatment.
14. All the books and music on my iPod.
15. Zebras.
16. Flexibility in my job.
17. Some cash reserve.
18. The fun I had hiding my contraband from you.
19. Your obsession with organic and healthy foods.
20. Our extended family and friends.

After my run, I grabbed the cordless phone from the living room, and plopped on a rocking chair on the front porch. I just dialed our number to the house in Sterling. Before I could hit send, you said, “Mom, is that you?”

“It’s me.” I said as chills ran down my spine. “I was just thinking of you.”

And you said, “So was I.”

We had another one of our synchronicity calls. They started with your Interferon treatment.

Friday, May 7, 2010

D Day Minus 226 (July 25, 2009)

I almost tripped over my pink overnight bag splayed on the bedroom floor to get the phone that wasn’t on the nightstand. I had just started my bath, but hadn’t checked to see if it had too much cold water. Dad walked in from the kitchen where he was checking his work email – and handed me the phone. “It’s your son.” My heart sunk.

I’d called you an hour earlier to let you know we made it to Jones South. You were bummed that you weren’t going to see Katie before she went to work at 11:30. She got caught up in a family celebration for her dad’s birthday – and hadn’t told her parents that you two were a couple. You said her family didn’t like you very much, but you would win them over eventually. I asked you to call me if you needed anything or had trouble sleeping.

“Guess what?” You asked without giving me a chance to answer.

“Katie got the night off .” You said to the background sounds of kitchen chairs dragging and dishes rattling. “She brought me chocolate covered strawberries.” You must have fired some happiness my way because I caught something good. Then you passed the phone to Katie.

“Hi Mrs. Jones,” Katie said. We both started talking over each other and played about four rounds of “you go, no you go.” Finally, I said, “ I’m so glad you are there with Greg. I love you.” Katie inhaled and fumbled over the rest of our conversation, then I asked her to say “goodnight” to you.

I turned off my bath water and watched the water drip from the faucet for a minute.  Then, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror staring at my reflection.  I didn't look any different, but felt lighter.  I'd just released the reigns I held so tightly protecting your emotional well-being.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

D Day Minus 227 (July 24, 2009)

“I’ve got to get my lottery tickets. It’s getting up there.” Dad said as I texted you that we made it to Sheetz – exit 273 on I81. Our first stop on the way to Bassett.

“Yeah right, like you are going to win the lottery.” I teased. But really I imagined Dad would win the lottery — a lot. Especially, since you were diagnosed. That way we wouldn’t have to worry about money to pay for airfare, hotels, insurance coverage or missing work. And we all could move to Hawaii and live on the beach. I’d imagine it all the way to Harrisonburg, while Dad yammered about some work crises or complained about the stupid drivers on 81. I’d smile at Dad in the driver’s seat and nod while I’d secretly imagine:

Dad yelling from living room in Bassett sitting on his brown leather couch, “Damnit Nance.” Then I’d roll my eyes and mutter, “Now what?” Then Dad would say, “I just won the lottery.” I’d give him a big hug, then smile so hard that it hurt, the way it did when I got carried away with Facercise. Then I would do the happy dance, like I did in April when you got a clean bill of health. I imagined it in slow motion, with stereo, and with smells. I really wanted him to win.

Dad glanced over at me when we pulled up to the pump and asked, “What’s so funny?” I smiled and said, “I need to make a pit stop.” And jumped out of the Expedition.

I think that was the first time I smiled on that trip. I felt bad about leaving you, but we needed to mow and check the garden so Dad could go to Houston. Besides I really wanted to give you space now that you and Katie came out of the closet. You said, “Go Mom, I’ll be fine. I’ll make Katie a special dinner on Saturday... She’ll stop by after her Dad’s birthday dinner tonight before she goes in for her nightshift.... I won’t be alone.”

Earlier in the afternoon, we finally got answers to your questions from Dr. P.  You printed off the email, so I wouldn’t make you repeat the answers. We learned that you would get two cycles of bio/chemo (cisplatin, vinblastine, dacarbazine, interferon) then get scanned in six weeks. You wouldn't get the IL2 component of the treatment for now because it increased the risk of a bowel perforation like last February. For this treatment, there was a 40 to 50 percent response rate with a 5 to 10 percent total response rate. You would probably lose your hair. You should be able to get the treatment as an outpatient over the weekend or evenings in Houston. Dr. P. did not want to do consider surgery at this point, so TIL was not in the picture for now.

You checked to see if the treatment had been schedule on your MD Anderson account, but there was nothing there. We didn't know the actual dates of the treatment to make travel arrangements, which drove me crazy. I tried not to get stressed and tried to feel better by telling myself that we would know more on Monday and that there may be even better deals on flights and that there are plenty of hotels and that you were getting the best care possible. 

I kept telling myself things to stop worrying until we finished packing the Expedition. 

You hugged me outside on the driveway before Dad and I headed to Bassett and said, "It'll all work out fine." 

When we left Sheetz, I really tried to imagine Dad winning the lottery all the way to Harrisonburg, but I kept thinking about the stupid email. I knew the treatment was going to be rough and I wouldn't be with you in Houston. I looked out the passenger window and watched the blue sky and green mountains blur as the tears fell down my cheeks.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

D Day Minus 229, July 22, 2009 (Part 3)

“Son of a bee.” Dad cried when he pinched his finger extending the kitchen table leaf so we had some room to eat.

“You all right, Dad?”  You asked, centering the huge platter from Famous Dave’s BBQ on the kitchen table.  Dad shook his hand so it would stop stinging and said something like, “I’ll Live.”  You sat and waited for Dad to recover so you could eat, while I pilfered a corn muffin and some potato wedges.

“I thought Katie was coming.” I said as I bit into a potato wedge.  You turned around and looked out the window for signs of Katie and shrugged your shoulders. “She's probably sleeping. She has another overnight shift tonight.” You smiled, I’m sure you were thinking about how magical the day had been – Katie was really back in your life.  You got the job at Wegmans with your own insurance.

“Eat Turkeyman,” Dad said in his usual faux annoyed voice as he piled his plate with brisket.  You bit into a piece of Texas Toast like you hadn’t eaten in days.  In reality you had just finished a bagel a couple of hours ago.

“Dad, when are you going to make some of your brisket?” You asked, scooping brisket on to your plate. “You should open your own place.  That would be awesome.”  You took your first bite of brisket chewed a few bites and commented. “Dave’s isn’t as good as Pigs-R-Us.”  I added. “I love Pigs R Us hush puppies.”

You and Dad debated the merits of each places BBQ and the possibility of starting a BBQ shack.  You even came up with some stupid names for restaurants, but I forgot them around the time the two of started talking about the impending treatment and trip to Houston.  I chimed in, ‘Yeah, that way I can make reservations.” I only said it twice, but thought it at least a hundred times.  I would've pushed the issue, but you and Dad were going round and round again about whether TIL and surgery was an option.  I kept thinking – just ask the doctor yourself Jeff – to the point my head started pounding.

I asked, “What are your concerns about biochemo – Greg?”

“Losing my hair.” I knew you meant it. You loved your hair.  So far none of the treatments made you lose it.  It was coarse and a little thinner and wasn’t as red as it used to be. “Especially my eyebrows." You said. "I don’t want to look like a ghost.”  You rubbed your eyebrows.  I think you were checking to make sure they were still there.

“I’ll buy you a mullet wig.” I thought of your crazy mullet run and broke a smile.  You laughed a little.  Dad grabbed his laptop and started to write an email to Dr. P. while you looked over his shoulder.   I grabbed my water bottle and hid in the dining room and took three motrin.

“I’ll be in the basement doing yoga with Bryan Kest.” My head stopped pounding about the time I finished my fourth vinyasa. When I got to my seated work, I inhaled, looked to my right, and did the best seated spinal twist I could.  And thought wouldn’t it be nice – really nice – if we could do treatment in Virginia.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

D Day Minus 229 (July 22, 2009) (Part 2)

You and I almost collided on the first landing of the stairs  – me to get the news and you to give the news about the final Wegmans interview.  I knew even before you said a word.  Your little smile betrayed your attempt at a poker face.  

“I got it.” You said. “They still want me.”

“Did you tell them everything?” I asked.

“Mom, I’m not an idiot.”  You rolled your eyes. 
“I didn’t say you were an idiot.” I said. “I’m just playing Mom.” 

“I know. I know.” You said as we walked down to the kitchen.  “I told them the cancer was back and that I would need to go for treatment in Houston for a week at a time.” You paused and opened the pantry door. “I can work on the off weeks. Besides, the store doesn’t open for a few months so I’ll be in training.” You shook an almost empty bag of Chex Mix to see how much was left and moved on to some different prey.  “It’s all good.”  You said as you pulled out a plain Thompson Bagel. 

My stomach knotted as I hoisted myself up on to the tall kitchen stools that left my legs dangling.  We still didn’t have the details nailed down.  It wasn’t because I didn’t worry enough or nag you enough.  To top it off, you and Dad had gone a few rounds last night about whether or not surgery and the TIL trial was on the table.  You were both right.  I only had to ask each of you.  And I was stuck in the middle.  I frowned a little and gave myself a half hug.

“It’s all right, I think we’re going to make.” You did your best rendition of Christopher Cross as you were getting your bagel ready to toast.  I laughed and bobbed my head to the beat out of habit. 

“Remember Hawaii.” You said. 

 “Of course.” I said.  “We sang that song every time we got in situations when we were nervous like turbulence on the flight, the late night pick-up by the shark hunter guy that looked like he had a bounty, getting lost on the way to the hotel.”   

“Good times." You said as you bobbed your head up and down like you did whenever you said it. I nodded, while you put the bagel in the toaster. 

“Mom, you’d really like the Bakery Manager. Her name is Julie. She listens to Gangsta Rap and plays it really loud before the store opens in the morning.” You stood by the toaster. “We have the same sense of humor.” You smiled and  tried not to burn your fingers retrieving the bagel from the toaster.  “She’s awesome.”

“Are the songs cleaned up?” I asked.

You laughed and said, “No.” 

"You're right." I said. "I would."

"So what's for dinner?" You asked as you took your first bite of bagel. 

I smiled and snapped a mental picture.