Everything I knew about cancer I learned from movies. Brian’s Song was probably the first “cancer” movie I ever watched and it confused me. (If you have not seen Brian’s Song it is about a professional football player who is diagnosed with cancer. Spoiler alert: James Caen dies. Billy D. Williams gives the first locker-room speech where guys were allowed to cry while watching.) Here was a healthy, athletic guy, who was suddenly sick and then he died. It didn’t make sense. Healthy, young people didn’t die, old people died. People who went to Vietnam died. People who played football for the Chicago Bears were indestructible.
What was known about cancer back in the Brian’s Song days wasn’t much. We treated cancer the same way we treated gun shot wounds to the leg during the Civil War, brutally. I don’t know if people survived cancer back then, it doesn’t seem like anyone ever did. They got sick quickly and then were gone. I remember a girl in my dad’s church showing up one Sunday and playing with all of us and then next week her mom noticed her belly was swelling and her pants didn’t fit. It was cancer. I never saw her alive again. I do remember my father coming home from visits to the hospital and talking to my mother in hushed, not-for-kids’ voices, and then there was a funeral. We went. I don’t remember anything about the funeral other than there was a small, white casket. I don’t know what my dad said to explain why children die before their parents, there isn’t any solace in situations like that. What I do remember is that we went to the family’s house after the funeral, there was food, and a pool table. I didn’t know anyone who had a pool table in their house and I really wanted to play. I asked my mom if I could play and she said it wasn’t a good time to be knocking pool balls around the huge green table. We were eating, why was pool wrong? Eating seemed more wrong to me? The rules of old people seemed especially silly to me that day.
Recently, I have wondered if that girl would survive today. I believe she would.
The doctors and nurses tell you when cancer treatments are starting that there will be good days and bad days. We have had a solid week of good days. Dylan has slowly gained strength. He has gone from full-time couch potato, to part-time couch potato over the week. Mornings are still a little difficult, but mornings have always been difficult for Dylan. I know his strength is coming back when I go down to get my morning cup of coffee and he isn’t sleeping on the couch; he had enough strength to climb the stairs and sleep in his bed.
The best part of this week has been his ability to be out and about. He hasn’t been able to be out in the sun very long because of sun sensitivity, but he can now do normal things for short shots and as the week has gone along the short shots have gotten longer and he is less exhausted afterward. The week started with a trip to the Boys and Girls Club so Dylan could attend a fundraiser for a kid who had just finished up cancer treatments. It had been a tough day up to that point, but he wanted to go, so we did. It was a good decision. A few days later, I took him to have lunch with some of his coworkers from Peninsula Mental Health where he was working as a Peer Support Specialist before his diagnosis. He had been pretty tired before going to the lunch but came away from the meeting simply glowing. We drove home talking concretely about the future instead of broad abstract strokes, Dylan began talking about how his plans were slowly coming into focus, and how his goals have been altered by the past two months.
Each evening there have been walks. The walks have gotten progressively longer each day but they have always included carrots and horses. There are some horses in a pasture near the end of our street and they like carrots. (Yes, I live on a street where people have horses, sheep, and chickens.) Dylan is scared of the horses, which is funny in some ways, and understandable when the horses start crunching on those carrots it sounds like they are cracking bones. The horses see us coming and run over to the spot where we hand off the carrots. We break the carrots in half and feed the horses.
This weekend there was a fundraising car wash at the Windermere Real Estate office arranged for Dylan and it was a huge success. I got sunburned, we raised $1300 for his hospital bills, and Dylan was finally able to meet Donna and Destiny (the mother and daughter team who have done an incredible job of fundraising for him). There are times when I realize how lucky I am to live in a small community.
I know we have five more good days. Monday through Friday are going to be good this week, but once Saturday hits the looming final round will hang over the last few days of freedom. The last round promises an end, but it also will bring an anxiety we have not felt since our first days in the hospital. We will be back to the unknown. Did it work? Is Dylan cured? Are we done with all of this?
Last night all of us were sitting on the couch. I had the remote and was going through the recordings on the DVR and organizing and deleting the offerings on the recorder. I managed to get rid of about half of the nonsense and was pretty proud of my accomplishment. “Look at that,” I announced, “isn’t that better?”
Dylan said in a slow caveman voice, “I am Dad. I deleted shows.” Everyone laughed at me and it was good, these were the good days, and we are so close to the end.