A faint, fleeting smile surfaces on Ben’s face as sleep conquers his slowly crumbling consciousness, his childlike, incognizant and almost imperceptible expression evaporates in a heartbeat, awakening visceral memories of cradling my sons as they gradually entered that mysterious, transitional intersection between willful wakefulness and surrender, where some private, pleasant thought, image, or sensation bridged the divide and escorted them across sleep’s threshold. As I watch him drift off, I am consumed by my profound love for my child – this now mature, responsible and conscientious young man who eagerly chose to spend spring break in Houston accompanying his mother to MD Anderson Cancer Center.
It had become relatively challenging to continue finding silver linings, my confidence and hopefulness reserves unquestionably exhausted by a disappointing and disorienting pathology report, chemotherapy-induced, compromised blood cell formation, a serious, unexpected post-mastectomy infection and hospitalization, and the development of scar tissue and cording that has necessitated painful physical therapy and radiation treatment postponement. I’ve read inspirational accounts, and have met cancer patients who manage to remain cheery and hopeful, at least in some measure, despite their disease and prognosis. While I established many years ago the habit of greeting each morning with gratitude, and trying to recognize each day’s good gone by, cancer conclusively exposed a suspected anemic ability to separate my mind and emotions from my physical health.
It’s taken several weeks to recover my mojo; the reclamation, I’m certain, made more efficient and complete by family and friends’ love, support, encouragement, trust and faith.
But, the indisputable truth is: I feel better physically…And, because my body feels stronger, my mind and emotions tag along. As I await the commencement of radiation, and the possibility of more fatigue and nausea, I am focusing on making the best of this respite, which includes increased energy, appetite restoration and food enjoyment, a renewed sense of optimism and considerable fear abatement. I’m feeling downright “normal” again. My bone marrow has finally started cooperating, so my white blood count, hemoglobin and platelets are inching up. What a relief! I did NOT want to do a bone marrow biopsy. I am having some issues with my thyroid medication levels, so I’ll see an endocrinologist next week. And, I’ll see a Genitourinary doctor later in April about persistent and frequent urination throughout the night. I think the chemotherapy shrunk my bladder…
Fortunately, odors and aromas are no longer overpowering, and my stomach feels completely healed; no more Nexium, Pepcid or Zofran required.
My hair, which I haven’t missed at all, has begun to sprout like patches of Texas bluebonnets spotted on a recent trip home from the Texas Hill Country. While I haven’t missed my hair, (particularly it’s care), I’m surprised how heartened I am by its regrowth. It feels hopeful and promising to see something taken from me by cancer returning with vigor to its rightful home! Spring has sprung – seasonally, on my head, and in my heart and mind.
Ben’s spring break stay, closely following Neal’s therapeutic visit, revitalized my depleted determination to maintain a more forward focused attitude – an outlook that had gone relatively missing in the pathology report aftermath. How I love and cherish these temporary opportunities for concentrated togetherness!
Ben and I spent time with family, and stayed a couple of days at the Houstonian to make his visit feel a little more like vacation. Since our wedding reception there nearly 27 years ago we have enjoyed numerous family vacations at the hotel, but never without Neal; his absence made more conspicuous by a decided lack of swimming “competition” banter between him and Ben.
When I returned to the room alone after Ben’s departure for Los Angeles, a distinct, deafening silence filled the space, evoking a swift and unexpected emotional response. I’d convinced myself that I’d grown more accustomed to farewells, but the adjustment from concentrated togetherness to solitude never gets any easier, it seems. Cancer’s contradictory, back-handed “gift” to me has been, ironically, time; individual, extended and intimate time I may never have otherwise experienced with loved ones. Of all the blessings I’ve taken for granted throughout my life, time unquestionably tops the list of most consequential.
This experience has awakened in me an increased and concrete awareness of not only time’s uncertainty, but perhaps more significantly, it’s potentiality. There is only so much of it left to me, or to any of us for that matter; how to live more purposefully and meaningfully has taken on increased significance. I still don’t know exactly what that will look like, but I am reflecting and praying on it.
But, first I need to complete 22 radiation treatments requiring twice per day sessions, before I can return home, heal, recover and decompress. Radiation begins next Tuesday, April 3rd, and concludes on May 2nd. I’ll remain in physical therapy throughout, as radiation will cause additional skin tightening, and I am nowhere near complete range of motion restoration.
Then, I get to go home. But, I have decided to participate in another clinical trial using the immunotherapy drug Keytruda, which will require a flight to Houston every 3 weeks. On occasion, I may remain in Houston for 2 treatments so I can continue spending time with my sisters, brothers, and extended family. Perhaps I’ll make another trip or two to Leakey, Texas, where brother-in-law, Clay, and sister, Jenny, own a river house. It is a small slice of paradise, and just what the doctor ordered for rest, relaxation, and peacefulness beneath a canopy of cypress trees and starry, starry nights…
Ruby, my new fur-niece, thinks country life is pawsitively perfect despite all the loud, scary motorcycles we encountered in town while waiting in the parking lot of Chicken Earl’s for some of the tastiest fried catfish in the Lone Star State.