Saturday, July 31, 2010

D Day Minus 181 (Sep 9, 2009): Keeping up with the Joneses (Part 1): We Gotta a Plane to Catch

“Katie is on her way.” You said, dropping the black duffle bag, the one with the yellow stripe you commandeered from Dad on one of our trips to Bassett. Dad was outside, playing with the Garmin GPS. Okay, he wasn’t really playing, he was telling the Garmin chick where to go: Baltimore Washington International (BWI).

I was teetering on the brink of ‘Rainman.’ Had I printed out the boarding passes? Was Dad mad about having to leave work? How long is it really going to take to get to BWI? Did I pack the power cord for the zebra netbook? What about the chargers for my phone, iPOd and Kindle? Was Dad keeping the GPS with him to navigate back from BWI? Do I rent a GPS with the car in Houston or go old school commando with maps? How much is renting a GPS going to cost? Do we have enough time go buy a new GPS? Should I bring a camera? Should I get some cash? Did you print out your appointments so we knew where to go? Did I pack enough Dentyne? The sugar free sucralose gum makes my stomach hurt. I don’t want stomach issues especially on the plane and especially when I was supposed to be there for you. Do I have a plastic bag for my makeup and lotion for airport security? Do I have my neti pot for my sinuses? What about the salt and baking soda solution for my neti pot? Where’s my calcium and Zyrtec? What about Motrin? Was Dad mad? Where’s my license? Should I take a big Diet Mountain Dew to drink on the way or will I have to pee before we get to the airport? Where’s the printouts for the car and room reservations? What if we have to change our flights for some other treatment? Where’s my sweater? I don’t want to freeze on the plane. Did I pack enough clothes?

Rainman won. I opened my new hard-cased zebra rollaround carryon– with the extra special wheel technology – that didn’t get jammed like my old rollaround. And double and triple checked my mental list while you were outside waiting for Katie and talking to Dad.

Last night, we talked about what to pack and if we were checking our luggage. You wanted to know because we needed to buy a small tube of toothpaste if we were doing carry on. I told you we weren’t checking our bags, because it was easier and quicker not to. Besides Continental does (or may) charge to check bags and I didn’t feel like getting online to check. I said, “Just risk bringing your ‘half-squozen’ regular sized tube of Toms Toothpaste and throw it away if we got any grief at security.” That prompted you and to call Katie and invite her to go with you on a toothpaste run to our favorite French store Tar-sjay (Target).

Before Katie picked you up for the toothpaste run, you bragged that you already packed. “Whatever.” I teased “You packed already because you have to work in the morning.” Then you went on and on about your packing prowess. Three days worth – one outfit for Thursday – one for Friday– and a spare just in case. All with their sock buddies, which made me laugh because you were so anal about making sure socks matched. You even had a battle cry for your socks –stay in pairs and leave no buddy behind. You got the sock gene from Dad. I didn’t even have the chromosome for the gene to map to. Close enough was good enough for me. Why do you think I wore boots and sandals so much? Maybe I have a problem, but I’m a river in Egypt – De-Nile.

Have you noticed any of my refuges for all the sock refugees spanning Sterling and Bassett? There’s one in:
  • my bedroom stuffed in a trash bag in the deacons bench,
  • a bankers box stuffed away in my closet,
  • a clothes basket stuffed in the spare room in Bassett, and
  • in the middle drawer of my nightstand and Dad’s nightstand.  
Come to think of it, I know why you, Dad, and Morgan were afraid of losing your socks when I washed clothes and why you stopped having me wash your clothes when you were fifteen.

Oh well, life’s too short to worry about socks. I’ve got better things to do. On the other hand it would have made Navy boot camp easier if I had an inkling of the gene. It wasn’t the early morning physical training that made me break a sweat, it was the attention to detail – lining up dress edges in my locker, make sure my gig line was straight and threading my belt through all my belt loops. To this day I know how many belt loops are on a pair of dungarees (seven) and it drives me crazy when someone’s gig line is adrift. I have to fight the urge not to straighten up their shirt so it is aligned with their pant fly. Come to think of it, maybe there is hope for me. I just don’t do socks. Don’t you think it is ironic, that I was the one in the Navy, but you were the one with the military precision?

“It's time to go.” You said, picking up your duffle bag. Katie stood next to you, wishing she could come with. Believe me, I knew how she felt. It was harder to stay behind than to go. But, I also wondered if she had a breaking point.  Dealing with cancer in the real world is hard and you and I didn't have the option to leave ourselves behind.  We both knew this was for real. This ain’t no scripted reality TV. This is real life unscripted – It’s "Keeping up with the Joneses."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

D Day Minus 184: (September 5, 2009); Life is a Box of.......

“Any flammables of firearms?” Bassett Post Office Lady asked as I hoisted up the first of three, thirty five pound boxes of clothes, bound for Utah. She scrunched and stretched her nose at least four times trying to read the numbers on a faded tape measure: which made me think of caterpillars; which made me think of Morgan’s school play in grade school and the costume I made. You know the play, the one where Morgan was a caterpillar going through metamorphosis to a butterfly. Remember how she got stuck in the black cocoon I made out of fleece and Velcro. I thought she was going to die on the stage. You, me, and Dad tried not to laugh while we all willed the cocoon open. By the time she got free, she looked like some wild eyed butterfly. Man, I wish I had videotaped it. It would have been good blackmail material.

Anyway, Post Office Lady was annoyed that I showed up five minutes before closing. I would’ve been there sooner if I would have got the good parking spot. You know, the one right outside the front door. Well anyway, I ended up parking way out in back and lugging all those big a**ed boxes myself. You should have been there to help me, but you had to work. Dad offered, but I thought I’d get the spot in front, plus I wanted to go hunt for Dentyne without him and his grief, so it’s my own fault. At least the locals, opened the door for me, but I had to listen to “she’s such a little thing carrying all those big boxes” each time I brought in a box.

‘No, just clothes.” I said, willing Post Office Lady to move faster. When she finally put the first box on the floor behind her, I grabbed the second box and said something about all the boxes being the same size. It didn’t matter. She measured the boxes anyway. So much for trying to be helpful!

“That’s a lot of clothes.” Post Office Lady said with her southern drawl. “Somebody movin or die?”

“No,” I said, searching for my Visa card. “Just sending clothes to my sister, who will share the clothes with her daughter-in-law and our nieces. I have a lot of family in Utah. I like to share with them because I feel like I’m with them and that we are all connected when they wear my clothes. That way I don’t feel guilty if I decide I don’t like something I bought. Besides, I’m a good shopper and can find some really good deals. Sometimes I buy clothes that I know I’ll just send to Utah because I thought they were cute and my sister or nieces will like them. I just like to share. I love them.”

I don’t think I took a breath and felt like an idiot after I spewed out all that kumbaya crap. I can just see you pinching the bridge of your nose, trying to be invisible. I know I should have just said “clothes.” But, I didn’t want Post Office Lady mad at me or to think I was a stuck up Northerner. Besides, you know how I always fill in dead air.

After that I just kept my mouth shut and wondered if the Post Office had changed much since it was built some fifty-years ago and imagined all the changes that took place. Then I thought about whether people change and if we’re all connected then how do we stay connected if we’re all changing.

These thoughts went on until 12:05 and Post Office Lady said, “That’ll be $95.22. It’ll take up to two weeks.” I handed her my Visa in tandem with “That’ll.”

On my way out, I caught my reflection in the front door window of the Post Office. A 29+ year old mother of two twenty-somethings, brown hair pulled back in a pony-tail clad in a Pepe Le Pew black and gray striped graphic tee, leggings, and monkey shoes. Maybe monkey shoes wasn’t typical Bassett footware. But were you and I really that different from all the Bassett locals? Probably not.  Everyone has dramas playing out in their lives every day. Some better, some worse. Thoughts, feelings, and reactions were the only difference.

A late model car with a really loud muffler broke my train of thought as I walked back to the SUV. I started it up and made sure my cell was in the charger. And stared at my reflection in the rear view mirror, thinking about what matters.

Last May, after you separated from your ex and were on the road to recovery from your bowel surgery, we talked and talked about what really matters. Do you remember that Spring Day when we walked the loop around the pond in Sterling? We talked about how happy we were that Morgan was finally taking care of herself – eating better, exercising, and taking time out to enjoy life. You didn’t care so much that she was looking better and could fit in cute clothes. You were mostly happy that Morgan was feeling better about herself.

You said,”It’s not the outside and how you look that matters. It’s how you feel on the inside.” Then we talked about how our thoughts affect the way we feel. And that beliefs are only thoughts that we keep thinking over and over again.

I said, “Faith was certainty in beliefs." And you said, “Our feelings were like an indicator of thoughts. It was fine to be scared, as long as you find a way to feel just a little be better. Then you’re doing all you can.”

I felt for my Believe in Zebra band and thought of all the others that believed. I wondered what that meant and what everyone believed, but decided it was none of my business. I just wanted everyone to believe that things (no matter what) could get better if you just pay attention and found ways to feel better. It didn’t have to be perfect, just better. I really wanted to tell you what I decided, but knew you were working. So, I texted you, “call when you can.” Because I knew you would.

As I drove through Bassett, passed all the old furniture factories, my mind was still on overdrive. Was life really a box of chocolates? You never know, what your gonna get like Forrest Gump said. Or was it a box of clothes and all the connections it makes by all those that wear them? Or were we the boxes and life is really our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and emotions? I answered “D” for all of the above? So much for standardized tests. You know, I’m just one crazy mother.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

D Day Minus 186 (September 3, 2009): The Present

"Do you think the chemo is working?" I asked Dad when someone in a minivan cut him off just as we exited, off I 66 on to I 81, on our way to Bassett. Dad yelled "Pay attention" and glared at the minivan ahead. He let out a loud sigh and shook his head like he does when he thinks someone is an idiot.

I waited for an answer, but Dad didn’t answer. Maybe he was replaying what he’d really like to do to stupid drivers if he had a gun or contemplating winning the lottery. Dad fantasized, while I debated whether to stare off into space or listen to Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden that I downloaded from Audible a few days ago. I just reread, Tim Ferris’s book, The 4-Hour Work Week, and Walden was on his short list of recommended reading. Remember I made you read Tim’s book last October just before we found out that you had to start Dacarbazine. I thought you’d like the concepts to simplify and march to the beat of your own drummer. And you did.

Dad still didn’t answer! So I listened to Walden and stared off into the sunset. The rhythm of the road vibrated my face as I leaned against the passenger window. I tried not to think about whether the chemo was working, but failed miserably. I’d miss two or three paragraphs at a time of Walden. It would have helped if Thoreau didn’t meander and muse so much. He made the ‘simple life’ complex, confusing, and boring. The sunset didn’t help either. I’d go into a trance as strands of pinks, purples, and yellows hugged the Shenandoah Mountains like a blanket and think of how much you liked sunsets and how I wanted you to have a million more. I wanted the chemo to work. I wondered how much “the want” invaded your thoughts today at work or if you were too distracted to think.

My cell rang, but I didn’t make a move to get it from the tangle of electronics in the middle console. Dad was annoyed I didn’t answer. But, he answered it for me anyway. Aunt Janiene wanted to know if I was doing okay. I nodded yes and pleaded with Dad not to talk. You understood. You knew how hard it was to talk sometimes and assure people that it is going to be all right. You knew how hard it was to be fearless when you felt like the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz. Like I told you earlier today, waiting and not doing anything is the hardest part. All I wanted to know is the chemo working?

“How is my am-me-nal? Dad asked, when he got off the phone with Janiene. I turned off Walden and put my left hand under Dad’s sleeve. “I just want to know if the chemo is working.”

“We’ll know next week.” Dad said as he moved to the far right lane so we could make our first pit stop (on the way to Bassett) at Sheetz.

“And if it doesn’t work?” I asked squeezing Dad’s arm. “What then?” I wanted assurances, but knew it wasn’t Dad’s job. But, I wanted him to tell me it would be okay - anyway.

“One day at time.” Dad said. “One day at a time.” I nodded to Dad and did my best not to bawl. Then, he kissed my forehead in front of the gas pump, just after he put the SUV in park. While he got gas, I got a liter bottle of Diet Mountain Dew and waited for him to get his lottery ticket. I texted you that we were at Sheetz and you texted right back with “k.” And I felt a little better. In fact, a lot better. I thought of something I heard a long time ago:

                       The past is history.
                       The future is a mystery.
                       This day is a gift.
                       That is why they call it the present.
And finally smiled, just as Dad opened the driver's side door.


Friday, July 23, 2010

D Day Minus 187 (September 2, 2009): You Get What You Give

“I’m going down to the basement to do yoga.” I said after a long day of work. In fact, it was extra long because Dad and I were trying to get caught up so we could go down to Bassett for a long Labor Day weekend.  Of course, I’d beaten Dad home because he was dealing with the crisis du jour.  You’d eaten a late lunch at Wegmans and were waiting to go pick up something to eat with Katie.  So dinner was catch- as-catch-can. 

You sat in your black leather office chair at attention like the letter L.  Even the way you held the mouse looked like the letter L.   Hall and Oates, No Can Do, was playing just loud enough to be annoying.
 “I have a date with Bryan Kest.  Don’t tell Dad.”  You didn’t respond.  Instead you mumbled something about the date of a check and direct deposit as you updated the register in Quicken.

 I shook my head, muttering, “So much for making a funny,” on my way downstairs.
“Mom.”  You yelled, just as I rolled out my yoga mat in the basement.

“What?” I yelled back.  I only heard half of what you said.  I rolled my eyes and stomped back up the stairs to your office complaining (under my breath) about never finding my inner peace and tranquility at this rate.
“Work was good.” You said like it was news to me.  You’d already told me that during my earlier inquisition of how your day was. 

“Listen to this.” You said. The Pointer Sisters, “He So Shy,” blared out of your tinny sounding computer speakers.   “Yeah, this was playing in the background at work today.” You smiled. “Remember when.”

I interrupted you. “You thought they were singing Please Don’t Shine and you had me looking all over for the song.” We laughed as we remembered when the song came on the radio and you said that was the song.  I wouldn’t have ever figured out the mystery if it wouldn’t have been on the radio.

“So work was good.” I said, smiling at the déjà vu of the conversation of an hour ago.  But it really wasn’t the same this time. Early our conversation was cogent and perfunctory.  This time you had diarrhea of the mouth. I guess balancing your checkbook or whatever you did between then and now made you relax.

“Everyone that I work with is awesome.” You said. “They couldn’t believe I looked so good.  I told them everything was fine and I expected good news next week at MD Anderson when I get scanned.  I don’t think they really believe I have cancer.  Or that they’ve never seen someone so positive with cancer.”

I planted myself on the floor and just let your mouth run  You hoped others would learn by your actions and knew great things were in your future. We talked about inspiring awesomeness and how this journey was teaching you (and me) to be a better person.  About a half an hour later, Katie called and you two made your plans.

I went back downstairs to yoga, not to find my inner peace and tranquility like earlier.  I’d just found that with you.

As my date, Bryan yammered for the umpteenth time about not doing nose breathing, my mind flashed with awareness.  Were you inspiring us or were we inspiring you? 

“You get what you give,” kept repeating in my mind until I finished my prayer twists on both sides.  I was in the zone until Bryan ended our practice with Namaste.   Then the thought started up again, “You get what you give." And it stayed with me for the rest of the night. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

D Day Minus 188 (September 1, 2009): Life is the Mundane

"You going to work slacker?" I asked, but you just lay there. I knew you were awake.  How could you not be with the squeaky closet door opening and closing just outside of your bedroom and my heavy stepping?  I’d traipsed back and forth between my bedroom and my overflow closet at least five times in search of something to wear that didn’t make me look fat. 

“Are you awake?” I pulled on your right toe that peaked out from under your sheet.  Your comforter was rumpled around your head like a crown or maybe a rainbow. 

 “I’m not working today.”  You said, eyes closed, head glued to the pillow.

“I thought you were feeling better.” I said bracing myself for a tale of insomnia, puking, and a throbbing head.  My stomach churned as I thought about canceling a meeting I called and staying home to make sure you were doing okay.  I stood there for a minute or so, trying not to ‘rainman’ you about taking some anti-nausea meds or Tylenol or getting food or filling your water bottle or bargaining with whoever would listen to make you feel better.   Meanwhile, I practiced my deep breaths –in for four and out for four. After a few rounds of my deep breathing, you opened your eyes, sat up, and smiled a devious smile.

“Oh, didn’t I mention it.  I’m off today.   Julie wants me to be extra rested when I go in tomorrow.  You know Mom.” You paused. “I have an intense week of training ahead.  Then we’re going to Houston.” You punctuated ‘Houston’ by throwing your comforter on the floor right next to my feet.  I was sort of glad you had bed head and bed creases across your face.
“I hate you.” I said yanking your right toe extra hard this time.

“Be nice.” You said.  Then you rattled off your plans for the day – oil change, hair cut, Walmart, bank.  My nose started to tingle like it was getting stuck by pins – a sure sign of tears to follow.  All because I was so happy that you could do the boring trivial tasks today especially since I was so afraid that you were going to be in bed all day.  I was happy you had Wegmans. I was grateful for your boss Julie.  She saw all of your potential and gave you hope.  I was grateful that I could go into work and not worry all day about you. All things I used to take for granted.

“Are you ok?” You asked when the tears streamed down my face. “Do you need a hug?” And you gave me one, while I finished with one of 'my moments.'

Saturday, July 17, 2010

D Day Minus 190 (August 30, 2009): Hasta La Vista Futon

“Damnit Nance, you almost ran me into to the wall.”  Dad yelled as we carried your old futon frame down the stairs. You were in the guest bed reeling from a bout of nausea and the afterglow of chemo.  And you knew Dad and me well enough to ignore our bickering.

I did not almost run Dad into the wall.  He was being a drama mama.  He was cranky because I cajoled him to get rid of your futon as soon we got back from the mattress store.  It didn’t help that it was really hot outside and we already had been up and down the stairs twice—carrying up the new box springs.  All I wanted to do was get rid of that futon. I hated it.

It was a mistake when I bought it.  I was tired and mad at Dad about something I don’t even remember, so it must not have been important.  I’d been on a HGTV redecorating on budget kick so I thought futons were a good idea. You and Morgan were running around the furniture store like little monkeys.  You were eight and Morgan was six.  I thought about leaving both of you in the store and selling you for a buck ninety five to the first takers about third time Dad told you guys to behave.  I got fed up and told Dad to buy the futon, while I waited in the car with you and Morgan.

You rescued that stupid futon and its slouchy mattress from Goodwill when you were fourteen.  You wanted a bigger bed and thought it was cool that it could be made into a couch.  We didn’t have money for a new bed so I let you adopt it, with the intent to get you a real bed within a year.  As time went on other things came up.  But, I vowed to get rid of it “one day.”  I don’t know how you could stand it.  It was uncomfortable and the mattress never stayed put.  It was possessed.   Did I tell you I hated it?

You actually liked that futon and said it was fine up until last January, just after your appendectomy. You couldn’t sleep because you couldn’t get comfortable.  You’d lost forty pounds and you needed more padding.  (We didn’t know at the time that your bowel had perforated, which made you even more uncomfortable.  Hindsight is 20/20.)  You were still in Roanoke and I talked to you four or five times a day on the phone and your biggest complaint was how uncomfortable your bed was.   Dad and I got you a thermapedic clone from Costco in hopes that you could finally get comfortable.  We didn’t have enough room in the SUV for box springs last January, so we put that on the back burner. After we found out the cancer spread on your 24th birthday and that you needed life threatening surgery, the box springs didn’t matter.  Getting you back up to Sterling so we could help you recover was all that did matter.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to,” is all I said to Dad once we got the futon frame to the garage. But, it was enough.  We worked together to get your bed set up.   Well actually Dad put it together and I just followed orders.  In between Dad’s orders I checked on you in the guest room, which probably drove you crazy.   The song from the Lion King’s Circle of Life kept popping in my head as I thought about the futon and its role in our lives.  It didn’t stop until, I thought of the Terminator.  Then I said “Hasta La Vista Futon.”  

Thursday, July 15, 2010

D Day Minus 191 (August 29, 2009): Say Goodnight Freddy Krueger

You jumped back like you just saw a ghost.  Only it was Freddy Krueger.  Well it wasn’t really Freddy Krueger. But if you wouldn’t have bounced into my room like Tigger (from Winnie the Pooh) excitedly telling me that you and Dad were going to Best Buy, you would have known.  Sure the lights were low and the television wasn’t very bright and the sound was muted. But at least I was watching Building an Empire on the History Channel instead of the E! News.  I was in the middle of an experimental beauty regimen.  I seriously thought you and Dad had already left for Best Buy.   I thought I was free to retreat to my healing and beauty sanctuary.  That imaginary place I go with white fluffy pillows that smell like toasted pecans lit by hundreds of candles.  My eyes were closed as I was healing.  Healing my soul!  Healing my heart!  Healing my body!  Healing my face!  Only to interrupted by you!  And that s*** eating grin like you could blackmail for life.

 “Where’s Freddy and when are you going to give him back his mask?” You asked, heavy on the sarcasm.

 “Shut up and get out of here.” I glared but you couldn’t tell because only slivers of eyes peeked through the mask. I couldn’t move my head very well either because the treatment mask was sort of dripping on my pillow.

 “Seriously, where’s Freddy?” You burst out laughing and called Dad upstairs.  And said something about your phone, a camera and being set for life.  Then you started up with your exaggerated knee slapping smart aleck laugh.

“I’m going kill you if you don’t leave.” I barely choked out “kill you” before I started laughing -- hard. It was like doing serious ab work.  Just when I progressed to my snorting laugh, Dad headed up to our bedroom.

“Turkeyman, are we going or not?”  Dad’s voice trailed as he made his way up the stairs. “Leave your mother alone.” Dad stopped at the door jam and shook his head like I was an idiot.

“Yeah.” I said. “Leave your mother alone.” And shook a faux angry fist when you turned to leave.  

When you and Dad were in the foyer, I yelled, “Yeah and get me some Diet Mountain Dew, too.”  Dad mumbled something about me getting off my lazy butt and getting it myself, punctuated by the slamming of the front door.

After you left, Freddy came off. I was all alone looking at myself in the mirror with a wicked smile plastered on my face.  And a big fat secret.  “You’ll never know the real Nightmare on Rutherford Circle.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

D Day Minus 192: (August 28, 2009): The Rest is Downhill

Earlier today you gave me a full report on your last day of chemo.  I was at work making us some money.  Maryann, our next door neighbor, had the con.  She spoiled you with:
  • lunch from Paneras
  • inspiring and fun conversation about cooking, Wegmans, and healthy living including yoga and exercise
  • strategic silences when Atavan hit and during your endless trips to the bathroom after the nurse gave you the medication that started with an “L.”   
You bragged about getting out in record time, 1:30, even though you got your port flushed.   We talked about how lucky we were to have Maryann and her husband Craig in our lives.  I said I loved them. You said, “I do too.”  You were doing pretty well, but were going to hang around the house.  You said, “This should be the worst day, you know Mom, because of the cumulative effect. The rest is downhill from here.  But, today and tomorrow are going to suck.”  You paused for a second and added, “Big time.”

I was excited for Morgan because she only had a week before she had completed her first round of P90X.  I told her to order her P90X tank and I would pay her back.  I wanted one but didn’t want to get it without really doing P90X because that would be cheating. Then I complained that “damn Morgan is gonna want to raid my closet because she's almost my size and that she’d better ask first or else.” I rambled about that topic for a few minutes before I took a breath and  asked, “Do you want to try to do P90x with me?” Then I promised not to embarrass you too much.  You laughed a little and said, “Let me get my store opened first, then I’ll see after that.  Remember, I still want to do some martial arts class with Katie and you.”  That was all I needed to break out into my rendition of Kung Fu Fighting.  You were lucky you couldn’t see my moves.  On second thought you have and probably imagined my seizure-like moves with a high kick that nearly knocked me on my a** everytime.  After I piped down, I told you to get some rest and take it easy.  And that I loved you so friggin much.  You said, “Me too.”

When I got home, Giada’s Everday Italian was on the TV and you were sprawled out on the well-worn cream leather couch in the family room.  Blankets were tossed on the floor and you asked, “Is it hot to you?” while I hid my half full Diet Mountain Dew behind some of Dad’s stuff on the counter.  “No, it’s not hot.  I was looking for my sweater.”  You said something about chemo messing your body up.

I stayed with you and we planned the evening, something like soup or macaroni and cheese for dinner, Dad working late, me doing my Power Yoga with my boyfriend Bryan Kest, you talking to Katie before she went to work the night shift, and taking your anti-nausea meds to stay ahead of the wake of chemo side effects, and going to bed soon. 

After I did my workout, I checked on you.  You were buried in a mountain of blankets in bed.  Only your feet clad in socks were hanging out like they always did so they could breathe.  I sat on the floor next to ou.  Either you were really out of it or I’d mastered my ninja skills because you didn’t move.  I watched your nose and chest just make sure you were still breathing.  Then I took a deep breath and watched you until my heart slowed down.  I thought about what you said earlier, “The rest is downhill from here.” And said a silent, “Thank God.”

Sunday, July 11, 2010

D Day Minus 193 (August 27, 2009): Still in the Closet

 “How’s Katie?” I asked during a lull of your millionth text. Well not really millionth, but you were texting each other a lot.  You sat at your favorite spot, the blue naugahyde recliner next to the nurse’s bullpen and were almost at the end of your first bag of saline.  I made sure not to talk about food, even though my stomach was growling, because you threw up before and after breakfast.

“She’s fine.”  You said, as your phone chirped the arrival of a new text.

“Is she?” I said acting disinterested because I knew you’d spill your guts if you thought I didn’t care.  I casually searched the Internet for the best ways to display information graphically -- something that I could go on about ad nauseam, sort of like you did about baking and Wegmans.

I fished for a Diet Mountain Dew, the dreaded contraband, out of my zebra bag – ignoring your stink eye blazing my way.  I took the curse off my Mountain Dew and acted nonchalant when my stomach growled.  Then I popped three pieces of Dentyne in my mouth.  And waited for you to cave. 

“Her folks are worried about how much time we’re spending together.”  You said by the time I counted to 10 Mississippi. 

“She hasn’t come clean with her folks, has she?” I arched my brows, trying not to wrinkle my forehead.

“She’s too much of a chicken.” You said.

“Well I’d be concerned if it were Morgan and this guy who broke her heart waltzed in with cancer, in the middle of divorce, and they were spending a lot of time together.  I’d be concerned not knowing what was going on – especially if she lived at home.  I know Katie’s 23 and out of college.  But I really hope she comes out of the closet soon.  First, there is the cancer thing and it is a big deal to go through.  If I were her mom, I’d want to be part of her support system.  Second, I know the circumstances of your divorce, but I don’t know if her folks really do.  Third, I wouldn’t my daughter getting hurt again.  So I’d have my radar up.”

I paused long enough for us to monitor the mood of the nurse who was sad on Tuesday as she walked passed us. I mouthed, “I think she’s ok.” And we both nodded. 

“Anyway” I said. “Timing is her choice, but I think she’s making it harder for herself.”

“That’s my Katie.” You said with a half-smile.

“And we love her.” I added.

By the time you were finished with hydration, you had plotted how to win the hearts and minds of Katie’s clan – a home cook meal – when she was ready to come out of the closet.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

D Day Minus 194 (August 26, 2009): A Whole Lot of Nothing

“Nothing.”  Is what you said when I asked what you and Dad talked about this morning during chemo.  I called as soon as I got out of my meeting around noon.  I knew you were in good hands with Dad.  But, I worried about you two clashing because that is what you did.  I was the self-proclaimed mediator much to yours and Dad’s chagrin.  I’d been on the receiving end enough times where neither one of you lived up to the other's expectations.  Actually you both were a lot a like.  So I could understand how the wires got crossed or your versions of right could be skewed.  Frankly, I expected some drama.  I couldn’t help it.  Blame it on the Rainman in me or maybe it was habit.  You worried Dad was too busy. And Dad worried that he wasn’t doing enough. Dad was up to his eyeballs in work and juggling Grandma Jones's affairs and my secret meltdowns.  You were just trying to get through it. All I knew is that neither of you really wanted to be tied up for the day getting treatment.  So now you know why I was not satisfied with your "Nothing."

“Nothing?” I asked, hoping for some enlightenment.

“Nothing.” You said, stifling a yawn. “Dad just went to Panera’s to get lunch.” You paused for a second. “I think the Atavan kicking in.”

“Didn’t you talk about work or food or anything?”  I wished you and Dad could talk like we did.  Over the course of your life and especially since you were diagnosed– we’d talk about nearly everything from the meaning of life and relationships to trivial things like Brian Regan’s comedy skits, John and Kate’s breakup, and who was cuter – Giada de Laurentiis or Rachel Ray.  I didn’t want either of you to waste any time.

 “Maybe a little.”  You said. 

“So you just sat and stared at each other.” I teased, maybe with a little edge in my voice. 

 “He mostly played with his iTouch.  He couldn’t connect to the Hospital wifi.   It's ok. I didn’t sleep well last night so I kept dozing off. ” You said. 

You were tired and the IV monitor started beeping so I let you go.  Then I called Dad, who was almost to Panera's and essentially got the same report, you talked about "Nothing."

After I hung up with Dad.  I thought a lot about nothing.  I thought about nothing and little else for the rest of the day.  "Why did you and Dad talk about nothing?  Didn’t you nearly dying knock any sense into either of you? Don’t you know how precious time is?  Why don’t you say what is on your mind?  Why don't you guys make plans? Don't you know how much you both love each other? " These questions loomed in the background through my next two meetings.  It was a good thing I took notes, because I don't remember what was said. And I was supposed to write up the summaries.  Needless to say nothing was taking up a lot of my brain power. 

On my way home, I started letting go of my baggage of expectations of  you two.  By the time I was on the Fairfax County Parkway, I realized the action of being there spoke louder than any words. And nothing was something.  In fact, some of my best times with you came from nothing - no expectations- just being there in the moment. Nothing was going on when you told me how much I taught you.  Nothing was going on when we played air band and I had lead vocals.  Nothing was going on when you told me how much you loved me.  Nothing was really a lot something. The nothing between Dad and you belonged to Dad and you.  And it was none of my business.  Bottom line, I was worried about nothing.  

Thursday, July 8, 2010

D Day Minus 195 (August 25, 2009): Cankles and Chemo

“Morgan’s got cankles.” I said after I read her email.  I battled with the Internet for almost a half hour and decided to use my own connection because the hospital's connection was so slow.  It was around 10:30 or so, just after the new nurse hung your second bag of saline.  You needed a lot of hydration so the chemo wouldn’t burn when it pumped through your veins via your port.  This time I remembered the protocol and didn’t even have to ask you about the number of bags and why.  
“What?” You asked turning toward me, brow furrowed like you were doing calculus.  I scooted my chair closer, being extra careful not to make any noise and showed you Morgan’s email on my zebra-skinned Netbook. Then, I Googled cankles and tried to show you what I found. “It’s an ankle that blends into the calf without clear demarcation.” You didn’t bother looking, so I read it out loud. 

You rustled in the industrial blue naugahyde recliner, laid your head back, and focused on one of the nurses walk passed us without saying a word. Normally, she was upbeat and teasing you about your taste in music – 80’s – instead of more contemporary music or asking you about your latest adventures in cooking or about your future with Wegmans. Today, her head was down, hands were stuffed into the pockets of her multicolor geometric patterned scrubs, and her eyes were sort of puffy. One thing for sure, she was a million miles away. 

“Cankles are genetic. I blame my mother- your grandma with her big Danish calves. I got them too.” I smiled, hoisting my ankles up almost to your eye level. My ploy didn’t really distract you from our sad nurse.  You cocked your head to the left to keep her in your line of sight until she was safely in the nurses’ bullpen.  You half smiled as I rambled about maybe finding my ankles once I start P90x and that I always wanted ankles but that it may be hopeless.   I didn’t stop until you closed your eyes and your shoulders relaxed. “Do you want me to not talk for a while?”  I asked.

You said something about “that being a good thing.”  And I promised not to talk for awhile so you could rest.
I pulled my zebra skinned iPod out of my zebra bag so I could to listen to music to help me be quiet.  I listened to Israel Kamaakawiwo’ole’s - Somewhere Over the Rainbow and started to cry because it made me think of how scared I was last February when you had your surgery.   I switched to Fountains of Wayne - Stacy’s Mom before you noticed. It made me laugh because Morgan told me her friends said I was Stacy’s Mom.  It was when Morgan and I were on our Hawaiian Adventure just after she graduated from High School.  We were sitting on beach on Waikiki just like I did with you. 

I was going to ask you what you wanted for lunch (Hospital Cafeteria or Paneras), but noticed your eyes were still closed and remembered that I promised not to talk.  I emailed Aunt Sue and Morgan back and forth a few times (about how you were doing and daily trivia I used to take for granted) while I surfed Amazon. I was searching for books on creating Dashboards and visualizing information for work.
The sad nurse walked passed us, still not talking, but neither was I.  I closed my Netbook and put on some binaural beat music and thought.  "What was it like to be you? Did one of the sad nurse’s patients die? Why are you the youngest patient? If chemo, doesn’t work? What will? If I sold everything would that make you better? How does the mind/body/spirit connection really work? Or does it, the AntiCancer book said it did. But, if it did, why don’t doctors really acknowledge it? What type of cancer do all these people getting chemo with you have?  If sugar really feeds cancer like the AntiaCancer book, then why do doctors tell you to eat anything you want to keep your weight up?" Thoughts fed questions. Questions fed more thoughts.  It was a vicious circle.  The only thing I knew for sure is that chemo doesn’t cure cankles. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

D Day Minus 196 (August 24, 2009): Just in Case

“Catch” I said, impressed you actually caught the bag of Skittles I just tossed outside your bedroom door. You sat half-reclined wearing your favorite gray hooded sweatshirt clutching the bag of Skittles like a hand warmer.  You had that little half smile like you did the first time I filled your Skittles prescription.  Remember how they fixed everything?  If you or Morgan got hurt, sad, or sick – it was Skittles to the rescue. Skittles couldn’t hurt. They could definitely help -- in any situation. And they were always good to have around - just in case.

“I saw them in the vending machine at work and thought you might need a little insurance – just in case.”  I trailed off, not saying “the chemo doesn’t work.”  But you knew what I meant.

“I’ll save them for later.” You knocked over your Burt’s Bees Chapstick when you put the Skittles on the nightstand. The Chapstick roll up underneath the bottom face of your digital clock.  It was 6:56. Before it was 6:57, you had the Chapstick upright. I thought of your clothes hung in your closet with all the hooks facing in towards the wall organized by color.  And all your hangers were white - not blue, or pink, or gray. Only white.  Everything had a place in your world.  I used to tease you being so anal.  But, now it only made me feel better.  At least it was something you could control.  And at least I could help control a little of your world.

You nestled your head on three or four pillows.  I talked a lot about nothing, but that wasn’t the point.  I wanted to be there just in case you needed some water, juice, the heat turned up, some pain meds, the remote control, or someone to talk to.  We both already knew how our day went because we talked throughout it. My meeting went well, but I ended up with a lot of actions.  Dad was working late. Katie was with you up until 5 or so because she had to work all night.  You said that watching you go through treatment was hard for Katie, but added, “she’s  a tough girl. I know she’s glad to be with me.” Only three of the patients started snoring during treatment. And only one was loud enough to be annoying.  I texted you a “BiZ” followed by an obscene acronymn at 5:13, just before I headed home.  I knew my shock and awe tactics would make you smile. You would shake your head because I was such a goof, then you’d delete the evidence.

'Mom, I’m cold.  Can you get me a blanket?” You said bracing yourself for the rollercoaster to come -- fever followed by chills; chills followed by fever; with variable peaks and valleys of both.  I picked your well-worn bedspread off the floor that you had kicked off earlier and put it over you.  Then, I went to the spare bedroom and brought back three more heavy blankets and put them underneath your bed.  I looked at you and said, “Just in case.”  But, you already knew what I meant.  

Monday, July 5, 2010

D Day Minus 197 (August 23, 2009): Guilt, Fear, and Control

I only asked, "Is Katie going to treatment with you tomorrow?" when I called to tell you that Dad and I were leaving Bassett around 5. And you went from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. 

“Mom, I’m a big boy and I’ll figure it out.”  Your voice elevated. “Besides Katie is supposed to work all night and she needs to rest.  I can’t expect Katie to rearrange everything for me.  She’s only been at this job for few months.”

“I know that Greg. I know you’re going to be fine. But, I don’t want you have to drive if you are feeling sick. Mostly, I don’t want you to be alone through any of this.” I bit my lip and my stomach felt all tied up in knots.  “It wouldn’t be such a big deal, but I have a meeting in the morning that I really should be at. I’m flexible the rest of the week, just not Monday morning.  I could drop you off, then come right back after my meeting. Or I could ask Dad to go.”

“Mom!” You probably clenched your jaw when you said my name.  I know I held my breath.  “I drove myself to treatment when I was on Interferon. I did fine and it was much worse than this.”

“I know that.” I said emphasizing “know.” You went through the day-to-day Interferon treatment mostly by yourself.  But, you were a newlywed.  I wanted to give you space and didn’t want to intrude. The last thing you needed was me hovering around to complicate things.

Do you remember just before you were diagnosed? You declared your independence and that you didn’t need anyone’s approval (even mine).  The only thing that mattered was what you and your soon-to-be wife thought.  You said you loved me --- but this was your life.  I got that! So I walked the tightrope of letting go and holding on from your initial diagnosis until your marriage ended. 

 I remember the day it ended like it was yesterday. It was a little over a week after you returned from Houston.  You were finally home after weeks of recuperating from surgery because the cancer perforated your bowel.  You were septic! You almost died! You said, “We want different things. She wants to be single and twenty-one. I want a wife and a family.”  My heart broke for you. But you said, “It was for the best.”  And it was. You wished her well and looked forward to so many possibilities and second chances. Remember, how you told me there's nothing like almost dying to get a really good perspective and appreciation of life.
“I want to be there for me as much as I want to be there for you, Greg.”  I forced myself not to cry or show any fear. “I just feel better being with you. And knowing and seeing exactly what is going on.  It’s harder to not go with you than it is to go. I don’t ever want you to be alone again.”

 “You can come every day if you’d like.  You’re my mom.  You don’t need an invitation.”  You said, softening your tone.

“I would like to be there every day. But as long as I know you are surrounded by positive juju, I’ll be fine.” I smiled. “Besides, I know I have to share.  You have an entourage.”

Call waiting beeped.  It was Katie, so you took the call.  Five minutes later, you called me back and said, “Katie can take me, so we’re good.” And Dr. Jekyll was back as quickly as he left. 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

D Day Minus 198 - (August 22, 2009): Delaying Dreams

“Do you want to renew this?” I asked, holding up a subscription renewal card to Cruising World. Bills and letters were sprawled out on my side (and dangerously close to Dad's side) of the kitchen table. The zebra bag I packed in Sterling was thrown to the side and leaking Dentyne gum wrappers. Dad had just set the kitchen timer for an hour so we could have my steel cut oatmeal for breakfast.

“What needs renewed?” Dad asked as he squinted and took the renewal card out of my hand. “I can’t see anything. Where’s my glasses.” He stretched his right arm as far it would go. I sort of half got up to help him find his glasses. “I really need to get into the eye doctor.” Dad complained.

Cruising World, should I renew? I was a little annoyed. Dad only said that he needed to get his eyes checked every day for the past six months. And he had twenty pair of glasses all over the house, but not one when he needed them. I asked him really slow. “Or not?”

“Do you think we’ll be getting a boat any time soon, Nance?” Dad asked ignoring my snotty “or not.”

I worked hard to not let out a big sigh. All I wanted to know is whether I should write a check so I could finish up with the bills. Liberty Fair Mall in Martinsville was calling. I only wanted to pick up some good deals at the J.C. Penney outlet. Now renewing the Cruising World subscription was becoming an existential question.

I guess it was a big deal and you and I both know I can get pretty darn cranky when I do bills. Anyway, just before your last scan at MD Anderson, Dad and I resurrected the dream to get a sailboat and maybe –just maybe- sail around the word. If not the world, maybe Caribbean or along the Eastern Seaboard. Our plan was getting real. Dad had done his homework and passed it on to me. He picked out sailing schools in Annapolis, read blogs about other sailor’s treks around the world and researched sailboats. And when I say researched, I mean he studied old versus new sailboats, the best size, the most sea worthy, and best type - sloop or catamaran. Sometimes he’d confuse me with all the details sort of like you do when you talk about the details of bread making or cars, but it was fun to see him so excited. We even planned to put our house in Basset on the market in September to pay for the dream.

“It depends.” I trailed off, while I stacked the bills and letters into neat piles.

“I know I can’t put everything on hold. If it were the right time it would be easy and flow.” I said, a little defensively, as Dad picked at the mole on the back of his neck.

“Remember, how I was obsessed with making $60K. I’d interview for jobs, be over prepared--probably a little obnoxious with all the prep. I even followed a script I found in some stupid job hunting book. But I never got the money I wanted or the dream job. It wasn’t until I decided to be happy and appreciate the job I had that it happened. I finally got the money and job I wanted when I stopped pushing so hard.” I said it in one breath and pretty fast. To Dad’s credit, he didn’t tell me to slow down. I think his brain had finally trained on how fast I talk when I get excited.

“And.” Dad said furrowing his brows. “What’s your point?’

“When it’s right, the sailboat and the dream will come easy. We’ll know how we’ll support ourselves and it will just work out. Right now I feel like it would be forced. I get stressed and my stomach goes in knots even thinking about it.” I looked up at Dad who was leaning on the counter in front of the dishwasher. “You know, we’d both be torn if we weren't there for Greg. It won’t be right until we know he is ok.” I exhaled harder than I meant to but I was trying not to talk so fast. Then I asked Dad sort of quiet and intentionally slow, but not snotty. “Who knows if this treatment will work?” Dad didn’t say anything, but I’m sure he thought I was going to cry, but I didn’t. Instead he opened up his arms for me and I got up from my chair.

“Jeff, I think we’re just looking for a little relief and a place to relax.” I said as he wrapped his arms around me. “It’s more about a feeling than a boat or a house. Don’t you think?” Looking up, I added, “We can try on possibilities and see how they feel for now. We can dream and hope. Because without that, then what’s the point?”

Dad and I talked about possibilities and dreams for all of us. Morgan becoming the big boss and loving it. Your cancer going into remission. Dad winning the lottery. Dad being the Captain and me being the First Mate on our sailboat with satellite television and Internet. We talked and talked until the timer for my oatmeal went off. I smiled when I wrote a check for a two year subscription to Cruising World. And thought of another fun possibility – you meeting Dad and me on our sailboat in the Galapagos Islands and having the time of your life.

Friday, July 2, 2010

D Day Minus 199 (August 21, 2009): Footsteps

The thud, thud (pause) thud, thud (pause) of your footsteps padding down the stairs woke me up around seven o'clock. My morning fog hadn't lifted and it took a minute to realize I was in Sterling. But, I knew the footsteps were yours. Not because you were the only one in the house besides Dad and me. But because you had a bouncy cadence the reverberated from your head to your toes and back, kind of like a big thick rubber band. I noticed it when you were my curly red headed little boy. The cadence and gait stayed the same as you grew. The force of your footsteps changed – from the trepidation of a toddler to the determination and confidence of an adult.

I knew I should get up, but was too tired to move. Instead, I savored my Friday morning symphony of roaring trash trucks, running water, shutting doors and padding footsteps. Footsteps in the kitchen where you were fixing breakfast and making your lunch. Footsteps across the family room to the garage where you recycled the empty orange juice bottle. Footsteps up the stairs and to your bathroom to brush your teeth and comb your hair. Footsteps to your room to get your hat and name tag. Footsteps down the stairs, through the foyer, and out the front door and off to work. Footsteps back on the front porch, in the front door, to the kitchen (to get the lunch you forgot), and back off to work.

I reveled in my appreciation of the simple pleasure of your footsteps and the memories that launched memories of other memories -- like a mirror on infinity. Until, the alarm went off and Dad yelled at Jack Diamond from Mix 107.3 to “shut up Jack." Just like he always did.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

D Day Minus 200 (August 20, 2009)

"Tired, ornery, and cranky." That is what I said when you asked how I was doing. I’d worked nearly fourteen hours trying to make the monthly dashboard perfect so I could take next day off and have a three day weekend in Bassett. Not that that was going to be relaxing. I was trying to be nice and offered to help Dad weed the garden and the flower beds so he could figure out why the hot tub wasn’t working anymore.

The Motrin, I took a half an hour ago, hadn’t kicked in. And I was tired of people. I must have been on the clueless frequency, because I sure attracted a lot of stupidity wrapped up in well meaning people today.  Someone asked about you and proceeded to quote dire mortality statistics and wanted to know if you were in the sun all the time growing up. I didn’t think he would ever shut up about how deadly the sun could be. Someone else told me about the sister of a friend who has been in complete remission from Stage III for seven years. I don’t know who I hated more – doom and gloom or miracle survivor.  To make matters worse, I was really trying to get home by six and two people who never bother me decided to darken my doorway and get all chatty.  I willed them to leave, but it didn’t work. I pretended to listen but my thoughts bounced between how to show the metrics on the dashboard to tell a more complete story and whether or not you had your posse lined up for treatment next week.  

“Ask Turkeyman if he wants anything from Chilis.” Dad said as we turned into the parking lot around 10:30. You ate dinner around 8 at Olive Garden with Katie so you weren't hungry. Dad asked me if I wanted something.  I lied and said "no" because you know I never eat this late at night for fear of getting fat. As soon as Dad got out, I closed the AC on my side while you talked about possibilities. You were really excited to make new friends at Wegmans and were actually letting people in.  You were even more excited they were Foodies like you. You planned to share your find – Amphoras -- the all night diner, when you got back to work after this next round of treatment.  Either I caught your excitement or the Motrin kicked in, because my headache disappeared by the time you hung up.