Saturday, August 14, 2010

D Day Minus 180 (September 10, 2009): Oz (Part 2): Courage and the Cowardly Lion

“Just cause I can’t eat until this afternoon.” You said after making your final deposit at the lab – the urine specimen. “Doesn’t mean you can’t.” You were kind of snitty, but I knew you were hungry yourself.

“Mom, you need to take care of yourself.” You said that a little more softer. Out of the corner of my eye there was an unbalanced (literally not mentally) man in his fifties trying to steady himself on a walker to take his turn up at bat for labs. Some lady that was with him, helped him get going, but she wasn’t doing a very good job. I wasn’t ignoring you. I was just making sure walker guy was okay.

“I didn’t think my stomach growling was so loud that you could hear it all the way back where they drew your blood draw.” I teased a little and you smiled a little. Seriously, while you were back there, my stomach was growling. It was so loud, a lady with a blue patterned cancer doo rag, smiled at me. I wondered, if she wondered, if I had cancer and couldn’t eat because I had fast for tests like you. I tried to look like I didn’t have cancer—whatever that was —just so she would know.

My stomach growled again so I popped three pieces of Denytne. I tried to make it look like one piece, so the doo rag lady wouldn’t think I was a pig. Then I stuffed the wrappers in the coin pocket of my skinny legged jeans because I was too lazy to go through the obstacle course of people’s feet and bags to get to the trash can. I thought if I took a giant swig of warm Diet Mountain Dew, my stomach wouldn’t growl anymore. But it didn’t really help. I think it made the growling even louder or maybe I just noticed it more.

“I’ll get some real food, if we can stop by the Canteen and get you some snacks so you'll have something on hand to eat, when you can. It’s just down the hall on the right. The snacks are a lot cheaper there because it is run by volunteers.” I said as we turned into the Canteen.

You got your haul, Chex Mix, Gummy Worms, and Skittles, to have just in case we couldn’t get you real food right after your brain scan this afternoon. I smiled when you picked up the Skittles and said, “Skittles fix everything.”

I took the brown paper goody bag and stuffed it into my zebra shopping bag with all my electronics, a couple of warm Diet Mountain Dews, and three bottles of water for you. I had to readjust the straps on the bag a couple of times because they were getting heavy and digging into my shoulder. I didn’t say anything about the bag being heavy, because I didn’t want you to take over.

I led the charge to Café Anderson, but lost my bearings on the second floor by Elevator A. Remember it was the place where they do imaging almost around the clock. You told me that was where you had one of your scans to see if you were eligible for TIL Trial last February.

You said, “Mom, just follow the path on the carpet.” Like the yellow brick road, from Wizard of Oz, I thought, but didn’t say. I was too hungry.

“You always get confused at this place. What’s so hard about it? Don’t you remember?” You yammered on and I let you. Like I said I was pretty hungry. You talked about the merits of the dining at MD Anderson. You said, “Café Anderson was fine, but you like the Waterfall Café in the Mays Clinic better. Then there was the place to eat with a little food court with a Pizza Hut Express and the Chinese food that you wanted to check out. You liked the buffet at the Oaks Restaurant by the Rotary House, especially the lemon cake, but that was expensive, especially if you were too sick to eat.”

I was going to tell you I wanted to go to the Oaks Restaurant buffet to fatten you up if you felt all right after all your tests. But didn’t. I forgot when a family unit clustered around a pre-teen girl attached to an IV with four of five bags of something being pumped through her veins just ahead of us, turned into Café Anderson. Her mother (I think) fussed with her catheter bag, trying to hide it from public consumption. I bit my lip and blinked hard to erase the memory of you last February in the ICU attached to all the monitors that lit up like a Christmas tree. As you recovered, we talked a lot about courage and bravery. You said. “I’m not brave or courageous. I just wanted to live and make the best of it.” Then you’d get quiet. “You do what you have to do.”

“Mom, what are you getting for breakfast?” You tapped my shoulder. I knew the drill and my favorite options: biscuit and scrambled eggs, a slice of breakfast pizza or a kolache with eggs and jalapenos. I ruled out eggs and a biscuit -- the line was long because of pre-teen patient’s entourage. I thought the breakfast pizza would make you even hungrier.

“Kolache.” I said darting passed a guy in blue scrubs who couldn’t make up his mind about breakfast. I did say excuse me and was nice. Scrub guy did say he really was still deciding. So we were good. You really didn’t have to give me that look like you wanted another mother.

I stopped without any warning, while you kept walking to the registers, and got an iced Diet Coke. You can blame it on Diet Coke by default at BWI. I missed the feel of a thirty ounce cup sweating and sloshing in my hand. You didn’t notice I was gone until you were by the napkins and condiments. I yelled at you trying to fuse a whisper and a shout, “Greg,” across the Café Anderson. I wasn’t very good, but I got your attention. And you headed back to me.

I couldn’t find a lid that fit, so you checked the other side and put it on. “Make sure it’s on tight. You don't want it spilling over everything.” You said, channeling Dad.

“Did you tell Katie about kolaches?” I mostly asked because I didn’t want you to give me grief for another form of contraband.

“Yeah.” You said, with a longing look at a fruit bar with all of those fresh strawberries, cantaloupe, and pineapple.

“Did you know kolaches are Slavic or Czech, not Mexican? ” I asked like I was a Kolache Master Chef.

You rolled your eyes and said, “Mom, I told you that. Remember?” I smiled because I did. My diversion worked. You didn’t say anything else about my Diet Coke, even when I took an extra, extra, long swig, like a junkie, getting a fix.

After you watched me eat, we headed to the third floor to the Skybridge. That is where I saw my first lion, near the Gazebo on the third floor – a stuffed one sitting on a chair by itself- abandoned. Then I saw a lion on some girl’s graphic tee as we started our quarter mile trek across the Skybridge to the Mays Clinic. Next, I saw a guy that had hair that reminded me of a lion’s mane. Then I saw a lion tattooed on a guy's lower arm wearing the green scrubs walking towards us. All those lions, got me to thinking about the Wizard of Oz again and how the lion was cowardly throughout the movie, but he was actually brave because he was so afraid and did it anyway.

You didn’t notice that I was preoccupied with lions. You had Katie on the brain. You walked ahead of me talking to Katie on your cell to let her know how you were doing before she went to bed after working all night. Besides, we always got a good signal on the Skybridge, so that is where we usually called from. So it was all good.

We stopped into the Waterfall Café so you could fantasize some more about food. You hoped it would be still be open so you could get the lunch special with two sides and the dinner rolls that were to die for. Your eyes rolled into the back of your head when talked about those dinner rolls.

We rode the "T" Elevators in the Mays Clinic to the twelfth floor. On the way up, I decided, you were like the Cowardly Lion, because you do what you have to do and never give up.

You didn't call yourself brave or claim to have courage. If you did, then it would have diminished it. In fact, you were embarrassed to tell me all the nice things people said to you about how you inspired them, or how brave you were, and how they wish they could be more like you. You didn't feel special. And that is precisely what made you the Lion, you silly monkey. Bravery is not something that you strive for like badge of courage. It is something that you are called to do and it chooses you like this cancer. Bravery comes in the mundane choices you think you are making, that in retrospect aren't so mundane.  You either rise to the challenge or don't. And you were getting ready to rise to the challenge of one the tests you hated most. The abdomen CT scan with the barium enema for contrast.

I called Aunt Janiene while you were getting your scan and talked behind your back. And gave her the short version of you, courage, and the Cowardly Lion.


  1. You are so right Greg is the lion. He strived to be strong with out even knowing it. He really was an example to us all. And Nancy you are too.

  2. That is the secret. Doing things without the reward or expectation. :-)