July 7th was the date circled in red on the calendar, actually the date wasn’t circled, no one in my family needed to be reminded what was happening July 7th. We hoped July 7th would be the bookend to this collection of stories that started on February 3rd; July 7th was the day for Dylan’s CT-PET Scan. I woke Dylan up yesterday at 4:45 AM for our trip to Swedish Hospital so we could make the 7:05 ferry to Seattle and be at the hospital by 8:15 for Dylan’s scan. The scan would probably take two hours, then there would be a blood draw, and finally, at 2 PM we would meet with Dr. Pagel. It looked to be a long, stressful day.
The past few weeks have not been easy. Dylan no longer looks like a chemo patient. His curly brown hair has been replaced by soft, blonde hair (which he hates), and he is back to fighting weight. All of us have retreated into the patterns established by years of practice: No talking about angst, No Discussions about the frightening “What ifs”, Keep your nightmares to yourself and watch another episode of —————–. Outwardly, I have tried to look strong and unconcerned (this is in the job description for being Dad) but my insides have been wound up tight like the innards of a golf ball.
Dylan had to fast for 12 hours before the procedure so when I woke him up and got him out of bed he was his normal, charming 4:45 AM self. We loaded up the car, I added a few podcasts to my iPod and we took off.
My mom asked a few days earlier if I needed her to come along for company, I told her I would be fine, this is when she started crying on the phone. I’m not revealing any family secrets here, but my mom is wound up like the innards of a golf ball 24/7/365, and I wasn’t sure I needed to add any stress to my day, but then I had an epiphany, this day wasn’t really about my stress level and having my mom along would save me about 15 text messages, four phone calls, and I wouldn’t have endure the shame of not knowing the answer to some medical question she had about Dylan’s condition. I ended up calling her back and asking her to come along with us.
At 5:15 we stopped to pick my mom up and we were on our way. As we crossed the Hood Canal Bridge we could see the sun rising over the Cascade Mountains. The atmospherical smoke from local forest fires gave the sun a blazing, unnatural, cartoonish red color, “What’s the saying? Red sun in the morning…is that a good or bad thing?” I asked Dylan.
My mom remembered the saying, “Red sun in the morning sailor’s warning…” which wasn’t really reassuring, but I have never trusted in those sayings when they didn’t confirm what I already believed so I chose to ignore this stupid saying.
As we approached the ferry loading area we were forced to pull off to the side of the road. Pulling off to the side of the road meant the ferry loading area was full. This is not unusual during the summer because everyone wants to visit where I live during the summer because of its awesomeness. Tourists clog up my ferries with their cars, take pictures of everything, and generally make my peaceful life 3% more difficult. It was 6:30, and we were plenty early to make sure we were on the 7:05 ferry, but then the guy on the radio announced one of the ferries on our route was out of service. This was not good. I called the help line, which should be called the “not much help line”, and talked to a lady who told me the out of service ferry was back up and running but couldn’t tell me if the run would be on-time. While I was on the phone with the not much help line, the line started to move. I got out our “we get to cut in line because my son has cancer” paperwork (this is a real document allowing us to cut in line so we don’t miss a ferry) and handed it to the guy in the toll booth, “Don’t worry, you’ll get on the next ferry,” he said handing me the document. We pulled into the loading area and waited.
By 7:50 we were in Seattle and driving up the familiar streets to Swedish. We parked, made our way inside, and by 8:30 Dylan was sitting in a big chair getting ready to drink the tracing solution that would light up any cancer cells still in his body. The nurse asked him, “I have banana, vanilla, chocolate, and mocha flavored solution, which one do you want?”
“Banana,” Dylan said. Banana? Eww, gross.
The nurse asked if we had any questions. She said he would get a shot of tracer fluid right before he went in and then she told us it was time for us to leave Dylan alone. He needed to drink the fluid, sit still for about an hour, and then the scan would take about 30 minutes.
It was a long two hours.
While Dylan was inside my mom and I were half-reading, and half-watching an interesting episode of “Lady in a wheelchair who doesn’t speak much English got dropped off at the hospital and no one knows where she needs to go.” Anyone who ever visits the Arnold Pavilion of the Swedish Cancer Center knows the security guard who stands just inside the second set of automatic doors, he is the most cheerful man in America. He greets people with enthusiasm, he gives directions, he fist bumps regular visitors, and he helps everyone who walks through the doors. Yesterday, his task was to figure out where this lost lady in a wheelchair was supposed to go. Her English was not good. She did not know if she had an appointment. She did not know how to get home. Most security guards would not bother to help someone like this, but he did. He got her apple juice, found out she didn’t have an appointment, called her family, called the home where she was living, got an interpreter, tried to find a bus route back to her place, and finally arranged for a cab to take her home. He managed all this while still greeting everyone who came through the doors.
When Dylan emerged from the lab area the drama of the lost lady in the wheelchair was over and Dylan was ready to eat. We walked to a German café and had lunch. There wasn’t much to talk about and we had about two hours to kill before our meeting with Dr. Pagel so we did our best to pretend everything was okay.
After lunch, we visited the Frye Art Museum. The Frye is a great little neighborhood museum that always has interesting visiting exhibitions and is free, there is even free parking! We spent an hour looking at the different exhibits and then walked back to Swedish.
We still had an hour to kill, and Dylan wondered if we could drop in early to see Dr. Pagel, so we did. The office was open, they could see us early, and before too long we were in a small examination room. Sonja (Dr. Pagel’s nurse) checked Dylan’s vitals and then told him Dr. Pagel would be in soon and “it will probably be a short visit.”
Dr. Pagel came in, sat down, and asked, “So how are things going?” He half-smiled, like people do when they have good news.
Dylan looked ready to burst. He told Dr. Pagel he felt good, but was stressed about finding out about the results.
Dr. Pagel said, “Everything looks good.” These three words have come out of Dr. Pagel’s mouth 50% of the time he has talked with us. Everything looks good on day 20. Everything looks good on day 50. Everything looks good on day 100.
“Does that mean there wasn’t anything on the PET scan?” Dylan asked.
“It is clear.”
“You told us when I was first diagnosed that I could see the first scans when we are all done.”
“You want to see the first scans?”
“Feeling pretty cocky now?”
“Let’s see,” Dr. Pagel went to the computer keyboard and typed. He turned the computer screen so we could all see. “Here are the first scans.” CT/PET scans on the computer screen look like slices of body cavity shaped blue and grey head cheese, “The red color is cancer.” Dr. Pagel scrolled through the slices. The blue slices were gradually replaced by more and more red as the scans moved down Dylan’ s body. At one point about 80% of the slide was colored red (the same cartoonish red of the morning sun). “Here are today’s scans.” He clicked on the screen and brought up the next set of scans. He scrolled through the slices, blue slice after blue slice went passing by like the many days spent in Swedish. Each blue slice a reminder of how far cancer treatments have come, a reminder of how miracles still happen, a reminder of how fortunate we have been.
I can’t really sum up my feelings about this whole journey. It is easiest to say I am relieved. I will go back to what I said early in my blog when I said I wanted to drive by Swedish someday and say, “That’s where Howie Myers was born, and where Dylan was cured of cancer.” Today is that day and blue is my favorite color.
Author’s Note: I have been spending my writing time off-line and focusing on fiction lately. I miss my blogging family and friends and should be back sometime in the near future.