Chapter 33: “Home for the Holidays”
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My biopsy got pushed back… I anxiously awaited this procedure so I could go home and visit my family for Christmas. It was supposed to be on the 9th, but my counts weren’t at the level needed for surgery, and since it wasn’t life-saving (like my experience with the EpiPen), it was put off until I could regenerate those levels on my own.
So instead, I was housed once again by Ronald McDonald and fulfilling a regular blood check every morning. The plus side is that I got to go out and about, and actually do things in Bangor. Of course my energy levels never really allowed us anything substantial in length, but we still accomplished as much as possible.
I was really beginning to enjoy the Ronald McDonald House; it wasn’t home, but it was close enough. And since my counts were coming back to more manageable levels, I was able to (with mask) hang out in the elusive common areas such as the two living rooms and the kitchen.
Our trio mingled with other family members, those who had to watch the “Wall of Sadness” play out in real time, so they felt relieved to see another patient in the flesh, fighting his battle. We all fall on the same side of the trenches when this ugly disease (and its cousins) attacks; it’s similar to how all the people of the world would rally against an alien force should they breach the Earth’s atmosphere: arm in arm, locked and loaded.
We all sat together at night and watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy together, like the old times. I was never much of a partier (and wasn’t all that popular) in high school, and since I spent a lot of nights home, I’d compete with my Mom for Wheel Watcher Superiority. This stemmed from the many nights my Memére and we partook even before that.
But as we sat here, I was able to sometimes surprise the other houseguests in RMD by answering the clues on Jeopardy before the question was even read aloud. See this is how I was before cancer and before chemo; sharp as a tack.
It felt great knowing that I hadn’t lost all of my wits, considering that Doctor McGann told me how chemo could have long-lasting effects on the brain’s functions; a notion that terrified me to no end. I’m already dumb enough.
But nothing would beat the ability to spend some time with family; a feeling I had hoped to extend to my other family members during the Holiday.
We went to visit Doctor McGann for another checkup. We drew the blood as we always did; the nurse tipped the vials one way, and then the other (it was soothing to watch, like mixing the perfect hot chocolate), and then we waited for the lab to do their magic.
I sat in the waiting room, reading the nearby Highlights for Kids. I thought to myself, “Was there any other Highlights?” Gary and I had a shared interest in the hidden objects game, but I didn’t want to circle them in the book only to spoil it for another patient.
I heard the printer, and my head perked up, trying to look around the corner of the office for someone to walk out. Sure enough, Susan was the one and she brought out with her “the” paper. Your counts are great! I’ll let Judy know and we’ll schedule the procedure!
They set the charge for December 19th. Way to cut it close, guys. Christmas was almost here, and I didn’t want to miss it.
YES. I’ll get to go home for the Holidays. But first–
I arrived downstairs at the Intake Center. This was the first time I went to the inpatient surgery, (and not the out), and it was more nerve-wracking than usual; it must have been the notion that I wasn’t just going to leave after the procedure was done.
Their waiting room felt more sterile than any other I had been to in years; it was dourer than others, and as soon as I was taken inside, it brightened up. Really. Their lights blinded me as they began pre-operative anesthesia. Soon, the “counting game” began and I lost to 8. What a joke.
I awoke a few hours later, in a daze (as per usual), and my side was already sore. They performed the biopsy laparoscopically, and therefore only three small incisions, large enough for the instruments, remained. But it wasn’t that, it was my inside side.
I asked for some crackers and Pepsi (also as per usual), and they obliged, and then sent me to my room. But I got wind that my room wasn’t available?! God, no.
“So where am I going?”
“But 860 is a double room?”
“Yup, but you won’t have a roommate, at least not yet, it’s been quiet this week.”
“Then why’d you give away my damn room?!” —is something that my ego wanted to say. But of course, that would have been rude. Id wins!
They wheeled me to the “Penthouse Suite” and I lay in bed; within seconds, I was out like a light.
I again awoke several hours later in utter pain. My innards were pulsating, and thankfully, my care staff anticipated this and pumped the first of many doses of steady morphine. As I recovered, each hour was another hour closer to my family up North.
I didn’t want much company because I was either baked out of my gourd, or grumpy waiting for the four hours to pass before I could pump more morphine into my body; but soon, I was visited by Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.
Then, a few days later, when the pain subsided, I was relieved from my medical shackles and free to go home. Gary drove us up the long, slipperier than usual roads, for when Gary passed the other cars, we moved onto the lesser plowed half of the highway. The small Mercury Topaz careened over the snow, I felt my insides twist with anxiety.
Gary had been used to years of driving all sorts of vehicles in this weather, but with my limited experience, I found myself terrified; ignorant to the tricks of the driving trade.
After the long, seemingly treacherous trip, we finally reached our destination: Northern Maine. The very first thing I did was to call my friends and asked what they were up to. I felt guilty that Mom and Gary were the ones who took care of me and brought me up home, and yet, I immediately split, but I hoped they knew that it was a matter of balance and that it wasn’t anything personal, and how much they meant to me.
I drove up to the apartment where Shawn and Mitch were hanging out, fresh from their first semester of college. I was envious of that fact, and that I had to wait a year to begin, but I knew it was for the best; plus it’s not like I could have done anything about it.
They had outdone themselves in decorations; Shawn and Tony had amassed an assortment of Christmas lights, and their tree was amazing.
The guys and I caught up, it had been a while since they came to visit me (makes sense with finals and all), but we picked up exactly where we left off.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better…
Tony came back from work.
We shot the shit for a while longer, then I decided that I had to visit the family, but I promised I would return before we headed to Bangor again.
I arrived at my Dad’s house (both he and Travis blissfully unaware of my return), and I knocked on the door. Unfortunately, the element of surprise was lost on them as the wraparound driveway gave me away.
We embraced lovingly. It was good to see Trav, considering he hadn’t been around the last time Dad made it down (and it was a good thing considering he could have witnessed my near-death experience). “So what’s the plan for the Holidays?” I asked. Dad told us of the usual; we’d go to Uncle Ray and Aunt Claudette’s place for the Christmas Day family gathering. The usual was just what I needed.
The next day, Christmas Eve, my Mom’s side of the family got together at my Memére and Pepére’s place as per usual…
It was a sheer delight to see my Aunts and Uncles, cousins and grandparents again. We shared in a large feast, like the one I craved during Thanksgiving and all was right with the world. Sure my family asked how I had been feeling, but it felt as though nothing had happened; overall I wasn’t treated any differently, and I appreciated that. There were simply grateful to see me.
Memére made a point to show me that the candle was still burning, that it would always burn, as long as I needed the power of prayer. I thanked her because I believed that it truly was helping.
After that magnificent feast, presents were exchanged. I couldn’t begin to tell you what we received, but I knew that it wasn’t what we received that mattered that year, it was the fact in which I was there to receive at all.
Then, like I had won the lottery, I was lucky enough to awake the next day and do it all over again. My Dad, brother, and I went to our Aunt and Uncle’s and everyone from that side of the family was there: my aunts, uncles, cousins, and Memére, everyone who could have been at that moment. I had felt these gatherings waning over the years, but this year was different. I’d like to think it wasn’t because of me being here (I never liked being the center of attention), but at any rate, I’m glad we were all together.
The second night of Christmas drew to a close and as I lay in bed, I knew that this was happiness.
It’s great to have your family by your side at all times, but when able it’s way better in person.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.
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