We discover early in life that language, simple or sophisticated, constructive and condemnatory can engender a profound and enduring visceral response. Song lyrics, poetry, books, and the language of love, hurt, fear, and anger have long left their faint fingerprints or forceful footsteps on the human psyche. Words, benevolent or malevolent, can undoubtedly pack an emotional punch.
Three words etched by friends, Dan and Lori Boyle, on a Coronado, California beach continue to stir my soul every time I read them.
“Home.” Now, there’s a simple, four-letter word that impacts us from a very young age. Dictionary.com defines the word “home” with a number of dispassionate terms including, “A
Eric, my decidedly social, 4-year-old grand-nephew, (apparently that’s the term used to describe a niece’s son), epitomizes the ardent, absolute attachment to the place our whole world resides. So excited yesterday to share his home with me after school, Eric was willing to forego lunch with his beloved father at the Flying Saucer, declaring “we can eat at home.” Parking lot negotiations produced a successful, if temporary compromise, whereby a quick trip upstairs would precede lunch next door. Of course, once there, leaving again was of little interest…Some feelings, explanations, reminders and solid, respectful counterarguments later, we were on our way to lunch. I spent the remainder of the afternoon observing and listening to this precocious child, whose vocabulary puts me to shame, and soaking up our shared appreciation for home life.
When I first arrived in Houston, I instinctively knew I had to adjust to being here, an adjustment that precluded visits home. I couldn’t fathom going home and leaving again, especially with so much treatment remaining. Neal and our sons would have to visit me in Houston. As it turned out, I often felt too sick to travel, anyway. But, with chemotherapy completed on 12/28, healing underway, and a long break until surgery, my 4-year-old self began to implore, “I want to go home!” It had been 7 months since I’d left California for a second opinion at Houston’s MD Anderson, and had not returned. Despite my concerns about traveling during a particularly virulent flu season, I decided to take the risk. I booked a flight to Los Angeles for January 13-22. N95 masks and a pair of gloves would provide reasonable protection at the airport and aboard my flight. TSA, ever vigilant, took a short moment to question and confirm my identity. I understand…I hardly recognize myself…
Neal and Ben picked me up at LAX 45 minutes late – courtesy of a car fire. Welcome to LA.! I thought ahead to order some food, which we picked up on our way into Moorpark. My guys prefer mealtime spontaneity; I’m the planner. Finally home, I was warmly greeted by yellow ribbons, a welcome home sign, heartfelt hugs and, of course, 3 manic, squealing, whining, barking dogs and 1 affectionate cat who thinks he’s a dog.
It was wonderful to be home, despite a few “issues.” Looking out at my cherished lemon tree from the kitchen window, a cup of coffee on the back patio, sleeping in my own bed, snuggling with our fur babies, driving my own car, enjoying a couple of leisurely breakfast dates with friends, dinner with our dear friends and neighbors, the Players and Maniscos, and participating in a family team meeting for my former foster/CASA child, all made me feel somewhat “normal” again.
We celebrated Ben’s 21st birthday at home that first weekend.
A trip to Vegas, organized by Ethan, took place the following weekend. When I cautioned Ethan about doing anything that would give his mother with cancer anything more to worry about, he reminded me that they are “level-headed,” and I would have nothing to worry about. He was right. And, yes, I pulled the cancer card…
While I cannot overstate my appreciation for the way Neal, Ethan and Ben have taken on the additional responsibilities at home, my visit often required some major tongue-biting, to be sure. My will to remain positive failed several times, however. Over dinner that first night home, Ben retreated to the garage for a drink only to return with an admonition for Neal and Ethan. “You guys could at least wipe out the garage refrigerator. There’s maggots in there!” Dropping my head over my plate, I got tears in my eyes and responded, “I can’t. Guys, I can’t. Please take care of that after dinner. I’ll freak out if I open the refrigerator and see that.” I was tired and hungry, my resources very low. Following our meal, Neal disappeared to the garage for “Operation Refrigerator Maggots Clean Up Before Jill Melts Down.” He returned to the kitchen a few minutes later, reporting, “Those aren’t maggots. Ethan’s got a pot of rice in the refrigerator because he’s been feeding chicken and rice to Maverick for his stomach problems. It’s rice. I cleaned it up.” Whew!
The following morning, Ethan announced, “Mom, I need to show you something.” Uh-oh…”What is it? Just tell me,” I responded, as my peaceful tranquility evaporated with the steam from my coffee. “I need to show you,” he said. Now, Ethan is not the best of drivers. In fact, neither Neal, Ben, nor I are often willing to be his passenger. Other family members can also attest…As he’d been driving my car on occasion, I was prepared for a fender bender, or such. He would have to pay for the repairs, I told myself, as I walked through the house. And, besides, “What’s done is done,” as Dale and Brennan teach us in Step Brothers…So, just remain calm…
As I stood at the garage door, I said, “Just tell me, honey, I don’t have my shoes. I don’t want to come all the way out into the garage.” Ethan responded, “I can’t. I need to show you.” I thought, “Oh Lord, it must be bad!” So, clad in somebody’s nearby flip flops, I shuffled around the end of my car, looking for the damage, only to be greeted by a Harley Davidson 750. Surprising no one I’m sure, I started crying. After every trite reason and elaborate explanation for his decision, I walked away. Crying, of course. For all you motorcycle fans and aficionados: Don’t.even.go.there.with.me.right.now…But, what am I to do? Other than pray? “What’s done is done.”
I returned to Houston on 1/22 to prepare for surgery, which had been scheduled for 1/24. Neal would fly in on 1/23 to be with me. During pre-op appointments on 1/23, however, I learned my platelets were too low for surgery. Deeply disappointed, I made what I thought at the time was a strong argument for proceeding anyway. If only I’d had Eric there, I may have prevailed! “Listen to me, please,” he asked me repeatedly. And, by gosh, it worked! Of course, I’m not as cute, tenacious, or committed to my position, so when I pleaded with my doctors to transfuse me, I quickly lost the argument. I learned that they are far too ethical and responsible to take risks with my life just because 4-year-old me really, really wanted to move forward with surgery. Transfusing platelets is not the most reasonable or prudent option, as they have a short life span. Lots of tiny blood vessels once attached to the removed lymph nodes need to clot. My platelet count will need to rise to at least 90K from its last count of 60K. “But, my husband is flying in today!” I appealed one last time. Now, THERE’S a valid argument…🙄
Admittedly, I had worked myself up with optimistic predictions of “just 2 more months and I’ll be done,” and “I’m on the home stretch,” which is all generally, but not entirely accurate. Delays due to low blood counts have been a recurrent theme throughout. This surgery postponement is certainly unexceptional.
If my platelet count is up tomorrow, Thursday, 2/1, surgery will take place on Friday, 2/2. Neal is booked to arrive tomorrow afternoon following a 2 day trip back to CA to take care of his business. If surgery is cancelled tomorrow, we’ll reschedule his trip for the following week, when I’m told surgery will proceed on 2/9, no matter what. The optimal window for surgery is 3-6 weeks post chemo, I’m advised, and February 9th will mark the 6 week point. IBC is so aggressive it cannot be given too much treatment-free time.
Cancer is a thief. It steals your hope, faith and optimism if you let it. And, while it may not sound very positive to some, I’ve learned to thwart cancer’s thievery by adopting a neutral attitude toward my treatment and prognosis. I’ve determined that my emotional equilibrium is best maintained by two simple words: “We’ll see.”
Those two simple words – words which can infuriate restless children and anxious, results-driven adults – provide an immediate mental and emotional suspension of my anticipatory conjecture. I feel neither too confident nor too uncertain about how and when my continued recovery may advance and unfold.
So, we’ll see what my platelets are up to tomorrow morning. And, we’ll see what my surgeon says about proceeding, or not, with Friday’s scheduled surgery.
Cancer may have conquered my left breast, but access to my psyche is denied… no matter how many times it darkens my door. I’m not going down without putting up a fight…Or, at least a very solid and persuasive argument…
Luckily, I know a 4-year-old with a mutual love of language and home life who may be available to mentor me…