Chapter 40: “The End of the Tour”
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It was eerie how well things had been going. The chemo bombardment had become shorthand to my caregivers and me. I would receive the blood count-killing poison and then waited it out until my body bounced back to life. The overall process wasn’t as long as it had once been for the first few courses, as these were significantly less potent, but nevertheless, I was running through the paces.
But this one was different in another way… It was my very last one.
I tried to keep it a secret from everyone with whom I would communicate, for I wanted to return home and surprise every single one of them. But, I’m sure my parents had spread the good news to anyone who would listen (you know, like a sane person would do).
It was an amazing thing to think of; that my treatment was roughly fifty percent effective, meaning, that I may not be out of the woods just yet, but this was a monumental milestone. The fact that the cancer was subdued early, meant the final blows of poison finished it off (I hope).
It’s baffling to think that I spent the past half a year in and out of the hospital, worrying only about survival. It’s essentially the modern day version of a caveman trying to survive the harsh winter; except if I really wanted to, I could recreate that easily in Northern Maine.
Yet here I was, at the end of the tour. I’d met so many new people: the nurses, the doctors, the other patients, the families, the Ronald McDonald Staff, and countless others. As a shy kid, I couldn’t have imagined going through something like this, and it made me want to do more for those younger kids who were battling similar diseases.
The final cancer check was today. All I had left was a bone marrow biopsy and lab work. I tried not to think of this as the last course of treatment. I didn’t want to get my hopes up after all of the left-field shit that I experienced. I simply played my video games like I always did. The doctor came in with the results. “You’re clear to go. Your spinal fluid is clear; your blood counts are great. We’ll schedule you for discharge.”
We all hooted and hollered. It was an expected celebration, but I knew no one had wanted to jinx it. The nurses surprised us with a “Congratulations!” cake and we all gathered in the Atrium. The feeling was overwhelming. I made it; I survived. Nothing could have prepared me for such an emotion. The sensation was a mixture of glee, hesitation, regret, and awe.
As we celebrated, I would see the occasional patient walking the loop with their families. I motioned them over to share in the cake eating, hopefully, to instill this moment in their own battle plans. You can make it. There is hope. And while I was happy in this moment, the Wall of Sadness was all I could think about. I wished I could have witnessed the families from the Wall of Sadness celebrate their own victories over the C Word. My success wasn’t yet earned in my mind.
As much as I had yet to experience, I knew these kids missed out on so much more. It pained me to think of them, but their memory is what I would need for the upcoming years of my life. I mustn’t live in vein; action must be taken. If I didn’t at least try for my life goals, then I would have lived for nothing.
After the party, I waited several more hours for that damn discharge paperwork to process. What an unbelievably slow procedure. I sat on my bed with everything I owned packed next to me, and I was helpless. I decided to walk around for a bit, but in the end, it didn’t kill that much time.
Finally, the process was complete, and we began the long drive home. I took this trip to mentally prepare myself for the monthly visits I would have to take in order to keep an eye on my health. That was a small price to pay for a second chance at my life.
By the time we reached Eagle Lake, it was far too late to surprise anyone, so I stayed at my Mom and Gary’s. This place had been a great interim home; I had my own wood-paneled room, a restaurant nearby, and a gas station with good food up the road. I also had Krusty and Missy the cats, and Lassie the dog there to keep me company at night.
And yet, all I could do that first night home was plot a scheme to surprise my friends and family. In fact, I had told my friends that I had one more course of chemo, so they didn’t know that I was home for good. I think I was more devilish than I had led on. Sure, that could have been viewed as cruel, but to me, I loved seeing people’s faces when I gave them amazing news.
The next day, I had done just that. I went to everyone I knew, everyone who had helped me along my journey, personally to spread the good news.
When I went to visit Lori (my old foster Mom), I decided to change things up and knock on a different door, so that she assumed someone else was at her house and didn’t know which door to use. In fact, I had parked at the nearby Rest Area instead of in her driveway, so she didn’t spot my car.
I knocked on the door and told her the good news. She was overjoyed, and I stayed and chatted with her for a few hours. She was amazed because she had heard my chances of survival was much lower than I had been told (*editor’s note: I only recently discovered this fact while researching for this story, so no, she did NOT tell me that this very night. That was a creative license).
Apparently, she had spoken to another doctor on the sixth floor (where I had been originally kept until deciding I would move to Grant 8.
At any rate, I made it this far, and I was sure to make each and every day the best I possibly could.
Later, I hung out with some of my friends at Mitch’s house, and we had a mini shindig there. We played pool. ate like pigs, and just had fun.
I sat quietly as my friends chatted amongst themselves. They talked to me a lot, but I was still kind of in awe that I was here at all. My closest brothers were with me, and I knew that with them; I could beat anything that came my way.
But while this past year was the most crucial in my rebirth, the following years would prove to be the ones that solidified the man that I would become. These formative years would shine a light on the things medical practitioners don’t really tell you, because, for most of the time, they don’t of which the extent.
You’ve made it this far in the book (and so had I), but the rest of the chapters will highlight what chemotherapy and the experience of near death does to a person and their psyche.
You thought this first half was intense… You haven’t seen the half of it. Now we enter: The Aftermath.
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.