Tag: chemo

The Third Round of Chemo is the Charm

As we waited for the ferry to leave the dock for round three of chemotherapy yesterday, Dylan and I watched a family of Canadian geese bobbing in the harbor. The two adult geese were standing atop a group of pilings 20 feet above the little black bodies of their offspring. The tiny geese dove below the water’s surface and generally not following what I might term good  guidelines for survival.(I’m not an Ornithologist and am certain there are specific words created for these differing bird groups/ages/types, but I don’t care enough to find out. It takes less mental energy to write a long parenthetical note letting you know I don’t care. Call me a lazy writer if you wish, or leave me a comment on how a family of geese is called a gaggle, but keep in mind it will not change what I have written.)

Most of the baby birds stayed in a small group, but two of them began to move away until they were a dangerous distance away. They were so small against the cold, wet, gray world surrounding them, and yet they didn’t care. They dove deep into the black unknown Puget Sound without thinking about the danger hiding below. As the ferry pulled out of the dock, Dylan pulled his hood tight around his bald head and went to sleep on the bench seats we were sitting on. The ride only takes about 30 minutes from Bainbridge and for about 10 of those minutes we rode on in peace, and then a 17 year-old girl sitting in the bench seats next to ours got a phone call. I am amazed at how clueless people are about phone calls in public. Nobody wants to hear your conversation. Nobody around you thinks you are as charming as the person calling you. So…take your call quietly, or go find yourself a tiny place where no one has to hear you squeal and say over and over, “I’ll be your wingman. She’ll love you after I get done with her.” I’m all for a little room, like a sound proof cage, for people who must talk like they are in their pink bedroom filled with stuffed toys named Brad, Bradley, and Prince William.

Dylan slept through the whole thing, but he was not looking forward to the next round of chemo. We left the ferry, got a ride to Swedish and by noon we were checked in to room 1249. Dylan wanted me to run out and get him a sandwich from a terrible national chain sandwich shop nearby while the IV nurse put in a new access point to his port. I zipped over to the shop and got him his sandwich and when I got back his IV was not in. He said the nurse could not get it done so somebody else was on the way. We ate our sandwiches. (Yes, I ordered one also, I may think their food is terrible but that won’t stop me from eating there.) We finished our lunch and before too long Dylan’s port was accessed, blood was taken and sent down to the lab so his chemo cocktail could be mixed, and by five chemo started. Reina, our nurse, put up the treatment schedule and it was much shorter than we had anticipated.

Dylan had difficulty with Rituxan (a drug for tumor killing) the first time through because his abdomen was filled with tumors, and the last time he was able to tolerate the drug much more easily. The process the nurses follow is they start the dosage at around 100 and then bump it up 50 each half hour until the patient can no longer tolerate it. Tolerate can mean many things, it can be pain, discomfort, itchiness, heart problems, elevated blood pressure, or anything different.  As chemo began, I read David Foster Wallace’s commencement address to Kenyon College titled This is Water. Dylan had not read it yet and I thought it would be the perfect time to read it. I love DFW, and This is Water was how I was introduced to him. It was a good choice, because it gave us time to talk about empathy and being conscious of others. (This empathy does not extend toward loud cell phone talkers.) After I finished reading it, we got up and walked the halls of the 12th floor. Each nurse who knows Dylan stopped him to check in and give him a moment of love, it felt a little like the first day of school after summer vacation. It is moments like this that  I realize my kids are going to be okay after I am gone, or after they have swum away from my watchful eye. The world might be a cruel place at times, but it is also a place filled with compassion and love.

This time Dylan raced through the Rituxan. At one point, late last night, he was asking to turn it up to 500 even though the nurse said the pump only went to 400. This is when I know I raised my little boy right, even during chemotherapy he was referring to the mockumentary Spinal Tap.

This morning he sleeps. He has finished most of his chemo in a single night. He still has a spinal shot and one more thirty minute treatment, but it went amazingly well, so well that I slept through most of it. There is still the unknown, but sometimes the dark murkiness isn’t something dangerous, it is just dark.

Cancer Realities

The third day of chemo finally caught up to Dylan’s strength. He was too tired to shower, he skipped lunch, and spent most of the day sleeping, but it was a natural sleep, he hasn’t taken any pain killers heavier than Tylenol and the only requested comfort drugs have been for nausea. So, things continue to go well in the relative world of cancer treatment.

We did get a ray of hope when Joanna visited yesterday, she said, ” Looks like you will finish chemo on Sunday, so maybe you will get to head home on Monday.” Both Dylan and I were surprised, Monday Monday, like this upcoming Monday? Yep.

Dylan said he didn’t want to get his hopes up, but it was good news nevertheless. He still has a spinal shot to get through today and last round’s spinal seemed to trigger the terrible headaches and cause his severe back pain, but he has done the difficult things, the things that are small but turn into large things, like rinsing his mouth with saline each time he gets out of bed, like walking the halls when he says he can’t, like eating when he feels like he might vomit. His resolve this time around has been forged by hot fires.

Yesterday, as we walked the halls in the evening we talked about the difference between round two and round one. He wondered if the remaining rounds would go like this and I began talking about the possibility of me returning to work between treatments if things went well. With all the hopeful unknowns left floating in the air we returned to our small room in the southwest corner of the 12th floor. We walked by one of the rooms that had been busy with visitors and family for the past two days and when we closed our door behind us Dylan said, “That’s why I don’t look in rooms.” I had seen a nurse hurrying a portable toilet to one of the rooms with an older person and assumed Dylan had seen something I missed, but it wasn’t that, “There’s a body bag in the room across the hall,” he said.

This morning the room is empty. A cleaning crew is sanitizing the entire space.

All of the pieces fell together for me, it isn’t important to know what happened because it really isn’t any of my business but yesterday the hall was full of a number of people crying on cell phones. It isn’t unusual for people crying into cell phones here, I have been that person, but looking back I did notice many people who I had not seen before and a number of children who were new to the 12th floor.

It isn’t unusual to have large family groups with children on the floor, but most often those groups are here on the weekends and spend most of their time in the family room watching cartoons because it keeps the kids quieter. I didn’t think about it being mid-week, or even consider the possibility that cancer was about to claim another victim, just like the many times I drove by Swedish saying, “That’s Swedish. Howie Myers was born there,” I hadn’t been in tune with other people’s suffering even though they were right across the hall. The truth is earlier in the day, for an hour, I was mad at the people in the hall because Dylan was trying to sleep and they were making noise. I thought about walking out there and getting self-righteous about my son with cancer trying to sleep; in the end being a coward allowed me to be a jerk in my head without being a jerk in the oncology hallway.

I don’t know much about the person who died other than they had a young child: A hospital crib was set up in the room. There was time for people to say goodbye, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic.

I never met my mother’s mom, Grandma TenPas. Cancer took her when my mom was six or seven. I didn’t know much about what happened until last year when I finally asked my mom about what she remembered about her mother’s death. Her mother got sick, my mom was sent to another house to be taken care of and then her mother died. She hadn’t been told that her mom was dying. She was sent away and while she was gone her mother died. Cancer took people suddenly in those days. No kids allowed. Times have changed.

I wonder now if my mother’s decision to become a nurse (her oldest brother became a doctor) was a product of this tragedy. Like many kids, I was curious about who my parents were before I came busting into their lives and making demands, but my curiosity was a selfish curiosity. I wanted to know the details that made my parent special. If my parents were special, I could then project my “specialness” into this world with so few special people. I spent hours looking through their yearbooks and smattering of pictures from the years before I existed. I pawed through black and white photos hoping to find something that would prove my parents lived a life of glamour before I was conceived. There wasn’t much evidence supporting this premise and there was very little I could construct from my limited sources. In the end, much of what I know about my parents is a mix of fact and fiction because there is no real way to know the truth. There are stories, there are memories, but like the black and white photos so much of what is remembered has been washed out by time. It isn’t important because I know longer hope for special parents in the same way I did as a child, now I am happy to have kind and caring parents who tolerated me.

Last night, after death passed so close by, I read to Dylan. We started with a few essays by Ross Murray to lighten the mood and then dove into A. R. Ammons’ poem Corsons Inlet. The poem describes the poet’s attempt to classify things as he walks along the shoreline. He discovers the things that seemed so separate, so distinct, are, on closer inspection, really not distinct at all. This world he tried to classify and order is not orderly. Then the poet notices how everything works together, each bit of chaos relies on another bit of chaos to support life. In the end, Ammons says he will be back again tomorrow, everything will have changed but everything will look as if nothing has changed. It is a longer poem and a lot to swallow in one reading, so Dylan and I talked about it. The divide between life and death seems so distinct and from where most of us sit, it is, but when death is close the divide falls away. I don’t mean life and death are the same, I mean that life is fragile and death surrounds us.

Today, the sunrise was glorious. The room across the hall is ready for a new patient. The nursing rotation is taking place and everything feels the same, but somewhere close to this place there is a family who will remember March 5th, 2015, as the day their friend/sister/aunt/mother stopped living and passed into another realm.

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