The air had grown crisp earlier than usual on this late August day in Maine. As I drove up the long campus street to my designated parking lot, I rolled down the windows to take it all in. It was one of those serene moments in which I took a step back out of my mundane day-to-day existence and marveled at the gift that was life. In these moments, I thought back to that first time I stepped outside of the hospital – holed up for over a month – and it never failed to humble. I could have been dead never to experience this faux-fall day or the first day of classes that would be the propulsion towards my career.
My path was set. I was ready to make films professionally and my tools to do so were falling into place. The money from the Sunshine Foundation finally came through (a cool grand) and I used it in tandem with my credit card to fund my very own laptop.
I stuck with Dell and decked it out with state-of-the-art processing power and the best graphics card and storage money can buy (in 2005). All in all, the impressive laptop cost me around twenty-five hundred dollars.
Yet, I still felt like I was missing something even as my desired career was well underway. I had spent the past two years being comforted with the fact that I remained in the vicinity of my family and friends, but I had spent the past twenty years without a single relationship.
Sure, I’d had some little childhood flings as many kids are wont to do, such as my girlfriend, Jenn, in second grade or my other girlfriend, Danielle – of one day – also in second grade, but I never had a true relationship.
Soon after receiving my camera, the eternal window into my past, we visited the Pediatric Outpatient Oncology Clinic for my typical monthly checkup.
It was here that Betsy, the Pediatric Social Worker, had told us of a yearly retreat the Ronald McDonald House puts on for the families battling cancer. It was the weekend after Labor Day, so the rates were cheap and best of all: they paid for the entire event.
My attitude had forever been altered for the better, even as I returned to work. Sure, I still despised the job– I mean, who likes trying to get people into debt? Yet I had this sense of comfort in it all. I was alive; so the simple fact I could feelanything at all – even if it was disapproval of the company’s practices – was reassuring, to say the least.
As March went on, I grew more excited each and every day. It was one thing to be home, but soon, I would be home at my own place. Well, I would share this house, but with some awesome friends. Tony, Shawn, and I were going to rent an entire freaking house.
I wondered if the place would become a sort of “party central,” and if I was healthy enough for that possibility, but in the end, it was a consistent place at which to rest my head and begin my new life.
The nights that I stayed at the apartment grew in numbers as I had yet to pack. It felt like yesterday that I had moved in this apartment, but it was only because I had spent less than a week total at this place.
The need for things to keep me preoccupied was ever present and even more so when I would stay at the Ronald McDonald House. This first smaller-dose treatment of the back half of my chemotherapy was boring. I wanted to go out in the town of Bangor and explore, but there were a few problems with that:
My counts were devastatingly low again.
I needed to wear a mask at all times.
Oh yeah, and it was frigid out there; well below zero frigid.
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.
The next few deliveries of Amphoterrible weren’t that bad really. They properly bombed me beyond the point of the shakes, and I mostly slept through the courses. I had been discharged and again stayed at Chet Ronald and only had to visit the outpatient clinic every few days in the mornings to get the treatments; it wasn’t necessary to waste my Dad’s Insurance on expensive hospital stays.
Sunday rolled around, and the “tag teams” made hand contact: my Dad and Brother left to go back home to Fort Kent, and my Mom and Gary returned. It was nearing the end of October, and I was set to go home– home home. God, it felt good to get out of the hospital these days. The cold autumn air hit my delicate skin as I anticipated snowfall once more.
Wow, who would have thought I’d want to see the snow?
The days were getting shorter, and my chemo was halfway done– HALFWAY! Three down, three to go. I couldn’t believe it was already nearing November. In these times of reflection, I’m reminded of how lucky I am that (so far) I haven’t seen many complications during chemotherapy.
Most kids who roll onto the eighth floor of Eastern Maine Medical Center experience serious side effects. Again… everybody reacts differently, aside from the few constants: nausea, shedding of hair and skin, and lethargy akin to that of a sloth.