Today is the fourth full day that Ian has been gone. The dogs and I are limping along moderately well in his absence; no one is starving (although Hoover thinks he is, at least beginning at 3:45pm every afternoon, disregarding the fact that I 1: fed him breakfast at 9:30am (two hours later than when Ian's here and therefore much closer to dinner time); 2: fed him lunch at 1:30pm (more or less the usual); and 3: dinner time is NEVER before 5:00pm. The dogs' favorite time of year is Spring Forward, when all of a sudden the clock says 5:00pm and they're only just beginning their vociferous yearning to be fed).
Actually, I should be honest here—for the most part, I've been having an excellent time while Ian's gone, barring the OF COURSE freezing cold bed to climb into after a long day's labors clearing the hidden reaches of our house so that I may stuff them full of new hidden things. In fact, to give you a quick summary, I have:
- Taken 42lbs of papers to the UPS Store to enjoy the fruits of their shredding service
- Donated 9 knitted caps (already knitted before) to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
- Donated 2 gently used breast forms to same
- Recycled all the Amazon boxes left over from Christmas and the last year (which means that the coats in our coat closet can actually hang straight now!)
- Cleared out all the baskets in the bathroom of nail polish colors that I decided were in questionable taste and what was I thinking??? and sterile bandages that had been cut in half . . . rendering them . . . NOT STERILE; I consolidated cough drops and threw out expired over-the-counter meds; and I recycled or tossed the jellyfish swarm of plastic bags infesting it all
- Collected and removed from the fridge 18 vials of Neupogen that hadn't expired and so was worth something like $6,000, and the 300 or so syringes that had come along with it
- And, finally, I went through all the expired prescription drugs and got rid of those—yes, including all the oxycontin and codeine and whatever else the kids are selling in high schools these days.
You see, last night I felt a hard spot in one of my neck lymph nodes, one of the ones that I've been so desperately afraid to touch since 2008 when they were so, so engorged with cancer and I was in such denial. This hard spot was new.
And suddenly, the gossamer veil between contentment and fear, confidence and insecurity, joy and deathly dread, was ripped down and I found myself, again, staring stark-eyed at my mortality.
Here are some of the things that I thought in the next 30 minutes:
- Maybe that was something actually inside my brain shifting, of course not in a good way.
- I feel a bit dizzy. Can I walk straight? Yes, I'm walking perfectly straight.
- Ian is in Hawaii.
- Maybe that was something actually on my spine.
- I need a shower. Well, I'll take a shower and see how I do . . . Yes, I'm able to stand up perfectly well in the shower with my eyes closed.
- I went rock climbing last week. That pulls on these muscles.
- I attempted pushups two nights ago and did four before I got bored.
- But, even though all these things are fine, I'm feeling a bit panicky. I'm going to take ½ an extra clonazepam.
- Ian is in Hawaii.
- Okay, next, blow-dry my hair.
- The dogs need a walk. Can I hold Hoover back if he apeshits, or will it make my shoulders/neck worse?
- Look at me, holding on to Hoover and it doesn't hurt at all.
- Wow, it's really beautiful out here, bright and cold and with the air flowing with winking crystals.
- And I don't have a headache.
- (Conversation with Ian in Hawaii, including the suggestion that I could take a taxi to the clinic. I chose to drive the Big Red 4-Runner).
- I never had a headache.
- I think this is non-serious.
- I should make myself some lunch.
I HATE the chairs. They are ugly brownish-gray vinyl, and sitting on them is like being in a bed with no mattress pad and old polyester sheets. Minus the part about being on Virgin Gorda. And they are not private at all; or only nominally so. They are separated by curtains only, and light and sound spills seamlessly from one to another. I was on the edge anyway, and the sight of this awful place pushed me over and I began to cry, trying all the while to NOT be crying. I explained to my nurse (one whom I've known a long time, maybe 9 years) that it was just one of those days, and that I had all these drugs I wanted to get rid of, and all this really expensive Neupogen that was still perfectly good, and all these ridiculous syringes that were completely sterile still as they'd never even been taken out of the baggy from the pharmacy in the first place. She took the handfuls of my garbage away and someone else came in with some warm blankets. We put one on the chair and I sat down and was cocooned with the other over the top; a couple minutes later my nurse returned with a hot gel pack that I put between my shoulder blades, and yet a third warm blanket behind my neck. She told me they had an organization that might be able to use the Neupogen; I pulled myself together and began working on the morning's Sudoku.
As I sat in my chair and nurses came and went and jabbed my port with a needle and squoze my arm with the blood pressure cuff and offered water and whatnot, I started to listen to what was going on around me. Not just the incredibly annoying television two bays down, or the endless, ENDLESS beeping of empty infusion machines, but the people. And this is what I heard:
The woman through the veil on the right side of me was Filipina and, I would guess, in her 50s. She was there for Herceptin, as I was, but it wasn't going so well for her, although she sounded lively. She would feel short of breath for several days after an infusion, but it would stop a couple days before her next infusion. This process repeated, every three weeks. She couldn't think of the words in English to explain exactly how she felt. She also talked about a woman she knew who had cancer in one breast and had it cut off. The next year it came back in the other breast and she had that one cut off. The next year it came back in her lungs and she had two of her ribs removed and surgery on her lungs. Her nurse gently told her that everyone has her own experience, and that we are all very different.
The woman through the veil on the left side of me was dying, maybe not this week or next, but soon. I had seen her in the waiting room with her daughter, who looked to be about 30. The woman was frail, confused, sitting in a wheel chair. She was in for an infusion of platelets, but was given oxygen as well. "Isn't there a bed?" she asked, three or four times, while the nurse gently told her she was on a waiting list and would be transferred as soon as one became available (the next time my nurse came in I said, abashed, "If I'm on the waiting list, take me off. She needs it way more," and I pointed to my left.). This woman, as all of us, was treated beautifully by the nurses, and by her daughter. At one point they wheeled her away to a private area to talk about her care; when she came back, hospice had been set up, and by the time her platelets had gone in they had set up in-home oxygen to begin this evening. The woman needed to be told each detail multiple times, and each time everyone around her was kind.
But fear of that incapacity, that frailty, that sort of death, is what I walk with in my life, just beyond that gossamer veil woven of fine, fragile cobweb. In certain lights—in many lights—the veil is opaque, solid. Ignorable. Forgettable.
But not all.