Sunday, March 16, 2014

Push back

Here are more excerpts from the journal I have been keeping since returning from the hospital after brain surgery.

To be completely honest, this is not just a bad cold I’ve got. It has at its disposal the wherewithal to dispose of me. Treatment is a process of push back against the inevitable. I’m OK with that. The focus and clarity it gives to each waking moment are what you can wait a lifetime for anyway, so acceptance is joined by an unusual degree of gratitude.

2/26/14. Yesterday was a hard one. Time got away from us in the a.m. and we were 20 minutes late for the first radiation session. Then there was a long wait for my chemo meds at the pharmacy, where I discovered that the credit card I intended to use had expired, the credit union, once I reached them, unable to explain how new cards sent to my correct address had been returned undelivered. Then, with some blind stroke of luck the charge for well over $1000 worth of drugs came to less than $20.

Rock garden by front door
Witness to the growing stress on my wife, whom I’ve unreasonably expected to be my “minder” since leaving the hospital, I resolve to do more of my own minding, starting with management of all the meds I’m supposed to be taking now, and I painstakingly create a schedule, studying the pill bottle labels. Before long, I’m feeling a wave of fatigue, which I take to be a side effect of the radiation. Mostly I’m aware of the chemo capsules themselves, Temodar, scheduled for bedtime and the expectation of possible nausea and vomiting. I admit to being daunted after days of insisting that I’m not.

The day has been the crossing of a threshold. Washing down the Temodar with a glass of water before turning out the light for the night, I become a cancer patient for real. Treatment is no longer an abstraction. It has invaded me.

2/27/14. Yesterday’s radiation session went more smoothly, as we arrived on time for a 3:30 appointment. With the mask over my face, which holds my head motionless, the two minutes under the gun seemed more like five, but the personal touch of the technicians eased the anxiety. “You’re writing a book,” one tells me, “What’s it about?” This must be in my patient profile. Everyone seems to know it.

On the drive back home, we stop at a favorite bakery, where I go inside and buy two fudge brownies, which are so big we split one between us, deciding to eat them at home lying in bed. And we continue the conversation of what lies ahead for us.

Ornate gate, new addition to the patio
When others, like one of the surgeons, speak of what to plan for the window of time after treatment, they mention travel. I do not understand the logic of this and wonder if it is based on the experience of other cancer patients, or just the limited imaginations of well people projecting themselves into a situation beyond their ken. The last car trip we took was tiring and stressful. Air travel is worse. The comforts of home and the familiar are so much more appealing. Meanwhile, email and blogging have given me a connection with others I could not make happen with any amount of travel. I may change my mind about this, but in the meantime, reading a good book beats any amount of sightseeing.

2/28/14. Yesterday, I was scheduled at the hospital for an ultrasound. Arriving in the waiting room, I found it filled to standing room only with a large Latino family, mostly women and children, with one older couple sitting stoically by themselves, the patriarch maybe and his wife. As soon as I came through the door on my walker-roller, two small boys were shooed off seats so I could sit down.

I quickly gathered from the somber mood in the room that someone important to them all was a patient. A young man no older than a teenager sat on the floor near me, looking inconsolable. “You look so worried,” I said to him, and he told me his father was in surgery with a burst blood vessel in his brain and not much better than a 50-50 chance of surviving. “The surgeons here are excellent,” I told him. “You have reason to hope.” Later, I felt the sadness of being suddenly struck down without a chance to prepare for life’s end, and I was grateful for that “window of time,” long or short as it may turn out to be for me, to come to terms with it and to say farewells.

Flowers from friends
Another night has passed without ill effects from the chemo. Outside, a rare drizzle is falling, and at 6 a.m. I am setting out the trash and recycling bins for Friday pickup. And so the old normal reemerges in company with the new normal.

3/1/14. I am grumpy and irritable this morning, partly thinking of things I don’t care to discuss with the psychologist we’ve made an appointment to see. I’m defensive and distrusting, and I admit there’s this shadow side of me I’d like to keep shadowy. I strongly suspect it is my own tendency to be stubbornly impatient and judgmental, while preferring to see myself as warmly generous and tolerant. Which brings me to my new favorite prayer, “Lord, help me not be such a jerk.”

Previously: No doubt

Coming up: Randolph Scott, Abilene Town (1946)


  1. Hi Ron-I think of you so often and am grateful you are sharing this with us. A woman in my writing group is writing about her double sojourn through this experience and how she has turned to a lot of alternative therapy. Not sure I would do this but it's interesting to hear about "balancing" and various strategies she is using. She is off to climb the mountains in Italy. Wishing you and your family the best. L, Patti

  2. Ron, I with you about reading a good book beats any amount of sightseeing. Thanks for this latest update. We are all wishing you the best.

  3. Much of this sounds familiar to me from Lana's treatment. She too had the mask that held her bolted to the table. She got to a point with the chemo and radiation where she couldn't even eat. Or rather, she simply didn't want to eat. But she came out the other end and is enjoying food again. My thoughts are with you both.

  4. My niece's hubby is going through this, too. He said the chemo left him with no appetite and a loss of almost 50 pounds from throwing up, etc.. He has managed to make a slight comeback now and eats a little bit without getting nauseous. He's a Cubs fan and they were here during spring training to see a game and visit their old friends. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Best wishes, Ron.

  5. Ron, your journal entries are almost three weeks old and I am hoping and praying that you've been feeling a lot better since then. Best wishes to you for a full recovery. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  6. Travel. Everyone seems to love travel. Especially the much-ballyhooed trip to the Big City or luxury cruise on the Floating Big City. Like you, I look forward to long, nurturing books, restful naps and puttering about the local property. It's hip to be square, Ron. Keep the faith.

  7. Of course you don't want to be patronized by the staff. We, your admirers, know that you're an intellectual and above such clap-trap. But, I do recall my mom with breast cancer telling everyone she had cancer. "Why are you telling everyone, Mom?" She answered, "I need all the sympathy I can get." I guess the staff is programmed to give sympathy and to try to distract you. Don't think poorly about them. Yes, we want to know how you're feeling right now.

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