She's been going through her chemo and radiation treatments and seemed fine at first, but about three weeks in, her white blood cell count started getting low. She was hospitalized one time for a fever.
Now in her seventh week. The chemo is done. This past week was supposed to be the last week of radiation, but it's been the hardest. She finds it difficult to sit because of where the radiation is centered and has been losing her appetite.
Yesterday, dad took her to the emergency room because she was so lethargic. After waiting all day, she was admitted for a few days. I spoke to her last night and she seemed tired, but relatively upbeat. She still has two more treatments to go. They cancelled today's.
Today she was told she would be having a blood transfusion. Turned out to be two. I spoke to dad at the end of the night. He seemed pretty down. It's the first time I've heard him down through this whole thing. That's gotten me concerned.
He had just left her for the night at the hospital. "Looks like you and me are both alone without our signifcant others, huh?"
"Yeah," I said. "I don't like it."
"I've been watching a lot of Rome," he said. "I always liked the series. I like how Marc Anthony is played, don't like much how they portray Caesar." He paused. "It helps me keep my mind off things."
I know how he feels. Thank God I have the play to keep me distracted.
I miss having Corb around.
With Corb and I on different schedules now, that's how we tend to say goodbye nowadays. Between our sleep schedules and the eight hour difference in time, we tend to speak to each other around 11:30 or 12 midnight (when he is waking up and I am going to sleep) or at two in the afternoon (when I am at work and he is just going to bed). It's weird.
I think of all the animals, Ping is missing Corb the most. That makes sense, because Ping considers Corb to be her mom.
Every night when at bed time, she would cuddle next to him and lick her tail for about an hour, before jumping out of bed to terrorize the other cats (she is the smallest cat we have, but definitely rules the roost).
Without him around, you'd think she might try to snuggle up to me instead. However, she has decided I am a poor substitute. Instead, she has elected to stretch out on the floor next to our bed and do her thing. Here she is at bedtime last night. I think she's waiting for Corb to show up.
Corb flew off to Bulgaria yesterday. He texted me at one in the morning to tell me he reached London. Around seven this morning, he reached Bulgaria. He says it looks like Soviet Russia.
I miss him very much.
I hate this photo of me.
"Are you a gay couple?"
The one thing we didn't know much about when it came to being on a cruise involved the etiquette one observes when attending the dinners in the formal dining room. The first evening, when we found our assigned seat, we discovered we had been placed at a table holding eight. There was only one couple, an older man and women in their sixties, sitting at the every end of the table. He looked like George Bush, she looked like my mom. We didn't know better. We sat at the exact opposite end of the table and proceeded to ignore them the entire night.
"Are you a gay couple?"
The next evening, we discovered with great pleasure that the table was completely empty as we approached it. We immediately moved over to the seats that George and my mom had occupied the night before. They were plum spots. Right at the very end, by the windows, overlooking the water. I sat down in anticipation of a delicious meal served up by our waitress, a lovely lady from Kenya who had a broad smile and loved to contrict the food selctions recommended by the chef. We had also started to quiz her about her life back in Kenya (she has two kids and doesn't see them for seven months at a time), and I was looking forward to getting more information out of her.
And we were just about to get started on that, when a couple made their way to our table and sat down next to us. He was a nice enough gentleman, kind of non-descript, with a balding head and a short moustache. She had stringy blondish hair and a willowy build. Carried a glass of beer in one hand. And after we had exchanged pleasantries and ordered our meal, she turned to me, took a look at the Appletini in my hand, and asked...yes, you guessed it..
"Are you a gay couple?"
Hmmm. Well, I'm not used to being asked it quite like that, but I'm also not used to saying no. So I just smiled politely and said, "Yes. Yes we are."
A huge smile crossed her face. "Are you?" she asked, sweetly. Her voice had a hint of southern twang to it. "Well, I think that's just great. My son's gay, too. Has a boyfriend that is about ten years older than he is."
Oh, I thought to myself. This might be a nice conversation. How nice that she wants to open herself up about...
"He hates me!" she continued, her eyes widening. "He is HIV positive and a pagan. A pagan! And he has the nerve to go on Facebook and even though he knows I am a Christian, deeply conservative woman, he goes out of his way to offend my God and my beliefs and say the most mean, vile things, even though he knows that I might actually read therm. But tell me, how is your boyfriend's family about your relationship?"
Ummm... "We all get along really well," I replied. "His mother loves me. And my family loves him, even my ex-wife."
"Oh, you were married," she replied, and turned to order another ber from the waiter. "I was married, too."
I glanced over at the man next to her. "Oh, I didn't realize that--"
"Oh no, we've been together a few monthsm" she replied. "He's a genius! Recovers military equipment! But then, so's my son. Former military! Wrote ten symphonies before he graduated from high school! And now, because of this guy that he's with, he no longer writes any music at all. Oh, I just love my gay son. I love all of your kind. Tell me, do you get along with your ex-wife?"
I turned to Corb, who was engaged in conversation with her...boyfriend? I mean, I gues. Okay, no help there. "Yeah, we are great friends. I mean, she's the mother of my children, you know what I mean? And one of my best friends. Is that the way it is with your ex-husband?"
"Oh we get along as well as someone can with a former coke addict crack addict who lies and cheats and hates gay people more than my conservative evangelical family does. Even though his own son is gay. But of course,m he doesn't really know that, because he never sees him. He does see my daughter, though."
"Oh? You have a daughter?" I asked, brightening up, desperately trying to change the subject. "What's she like?"
"Stupid," she replied, and kind of laugh. "Not like my gay son. How's your family about you being gay?"
"Oh, they're fine with it," I replied. "My sister is gay, too, so it kind of runs in the family." I attempted a nervous laugh. "So I gues your family doesn't know...about your son..."
"If they did, they would kill him," she replied. "My father was a preacher all his life and would have disowned him. Of course, I hated my daddy. Didn't talk to him the last 15 years of his life, because he would always come around every Saturday for years and tell me how much I had disappointed him. Finally one day I snapped and told him he didn't need to come by any longer. That was it. Just like that! And when he was dying, my family told me I should go see him one last time, he wanted to see me, and I just said, 'Nope, I done said my peace with him 15 years ago. I don't need to say anything else.'" Then she turned and stared at Corb. "Is he always brooding like that?"
It went like that for the rest of the evening. Questions about being gay. We'd move back to her gay son. Family. Her deeply conservative background. Her God. My kind.
At the end of the evening, I gave her a great big hug and a kiss on the cheek. I thanked her for sitting with us that evening. "You know," she said, "I truly believe God plans for these type of chance encounters. He sat us together for a reason."
Well, wasn't that sweet?
I waited to say anything until we were away from the table. Out of the dining room. Close to our cabin. I know that Corb was waiting for something. Some word. Something.
"That was nice," I said, finally. "And I'll be damned if I'm going to sit with her ever again for the rest of this trip."
Corb smirked. He knew it! "But you two seemed to be getting along so well," he said, using his card key to open our door. "You even kissed her on the cheek."
"And I meant that! I meant the hug. It wasn't a bad conversation at all. I'm glad we spoke, actually. She's clearly looking for something and is troubled about her son and needed to speak to someone. Us? Me, I guess. And you, even if you are brooding. She's trying to evolve. I mean, that's clear. She doesn't mean to be offensive. And I would never want to be rude to her. I just don't ever want to sit next to her again. That's all."
I know, that sounds harsh. I'm not sure I can do justice to why I feel that way. I mean, you're on vacation, you know? You want to relax and get some rest. Have a lot of good food, enjoy the sites. Engage in meaningless small talk with strangers. Maybe, make plans with the one you love. Focus on a project or two.
She was a nice enough lady, but EXHAUSTING. How many more family secrets did I really want to dig up?
And besides that, how much more did I want to talk about being gay, to be honest? Believe it or not, straight lady, being gay and my relationship with Corb and how my ex-wife is about it and how my kids are about it and how my parents are about it is not something I need to discuss for hours on end.
I once had a friend at the last company I worked for who was chief legal counsel for one of the companies and was partnered to a brilliant, succesful artist. She was a fierce advocate for gay rights. People loved having her go places with her partner. But, a lot of times at dinners for the company she'd either get really drunk or skip them altogether. When asked why she skipped out, she'd sometimes say, "I wasn't in the mood to talk about being gay all night long."
It was fine for one night. For the other four nights of the trip? Look. A cruise only lasts so long, you no what I mean? I just didn't feel the need to go through that particular ringer for three more meals.
Post script: we had a lovely meal at an Asian restaurant the following evening, and then checked with our Kenyan friend the next two nights. The rest of our dinners were spent exchanging strictly small talk with complete strangers.
Just what the doctor ordered.
Docked at one. Yeah, I think I can get used to this...
We made it :)
You know how sometime you are so busy thinking about your current crisis that you neglect to think ahead?
Good thing I have Corb around. Here we are sitting in the airport congratulating ourselves on making it and certain our plane will take off after a slight delay. After a leisurely breakfast and getting settled in the waiting area, Corb takes out the tickets and realizes the plane we'll be on touches down in Charlotte AFTER our stopover flight to Tampa takes off!
A quick trip to the counter. We grab the last two tickets for a flight at two. Next flight after that: four.
Phew! This trip is fraught with trickiness.
At the carport to the airport. Everything good so far!
The roads to Braintree were pretty clear. Feeling good about this, although tired. Only slept for four hours last night.
Woke up at 4:30. Kyra clearly did not want us to go. Corb would not let me take her with us. I guess...
So you know how you're trying to figure out when and where to spend your vacation time, and it's months in advance, so you don't spend any real time thinking, "Gee, I wonder if the weather's going to be bad when I head out for my trip?" I mean, if you're booking something in early December, you kind of know there might be bad weather in January, but you brush that aside, you know what I mean? You figure, "Ah, we can deal with that when we get to it."
Hmm. Guess who booked a cruise to the Cayman Islands for this week-end. This guy!
For those who don't live on the East Coast of the United States, this week-end has become known as the week-end of the monster snowstorm of the year. They've named it Jonas, for some reason. Snowstorm Jonas, and it's gobbling up Washington DC, New York City and all sorts of other areas in the states in between. It's hard to take seriously something that reminds me of the Jonas Brothers every time I hear about it.
It's not like I didn't give some thought to this possibility. I mean, I did take out insurance. And I did ask our travel guide what she suggested back in December, and her advice was to fly out the day before the cruise, to give yourself plenty of time for contigencies. "Leave Sunday morning. Your boat takes off at 4 on Monday, you should be fine," she said.
So, I felt fine. She said I should be fine, so fine. Fine, I've got this covered. Fine.
And then, starting around Monday, we started hearing about this huge motherloving storm. I honestly thought it was a bit of hyperbole, at first. I mean, this year has been so mild so far, the weathermen are probably making a bigger deal out of this than it actually it, right?
Around Thursday, my friend Kim suggested I might want to consider heading for Tampa before Sunday. And I did consider it. I spoke to Corb about it, too. And we decided, it just wasn't possible to do. Neither of us could get out of work on Friday, and Saturday was supposed to be the day when the worst was going to hit. And besides, added hotel room expenses? Another day of eating out in Tampa? "Also, it doesn't look like it's really going to hit our area that bad," said Corb, after checking weather.com. "We're just going to get a few inches, that's all. It's going to go out to sea."
Well, here we are. It didn't go out to sea.
This afternoon we braved the elements to pick up a new suitcase, and as we were driving to pick up some clothing for Corb, my phone started ringing. It was the airlines. The flight from Providence Saturday morning had been cancelled.
"Oh no," groaned Corb. Oh no, indeed. Shit. SHIT!
Immediately I called the airlines back. Turns out, there are no flights at TF Green to Tampa until TUESDAY. Kind of late to catch our cruise by then.
What to do, what to do? Dammit, I am NOT going to work on Monday. I've earned this vacation! "See if they have any flights going out of Boston," suggested Corb.
Sure enough, thank God, they did have one, an hour later than our flight from TF Green. It means getting up at 4:30 in the morning to be on the safe side, but I'm fine with that, as long as we can get on the flight and get out of here. So far, Boston seems to have been spared most of the snow, and even here in Eldredge, it seems to be dying down. If Boston doesn't work out, though (AND IT WILL), we will even consider Manchester, NH, which hasn't gotten any snow at all.
So, contigencies planned. Fingers crossed. One way or another, Snowstorm Jordan is not going to bring us down!
PART ONE: KERRIE
"They think Mom might have colon cancer."
Shit! Why did I decide to call my sister back on the drive home? If ever there was a swerving off to the side of the road moment, this was it. Amazingly (for me, I guess), I kept my cool. Maybe I was too tired from the busy day, I don't know. "Well, wait. What do you mean, might?"
"I mean, they aren't sure, because they haven't done any testing yet. But they think that might be why she's been complaining about stomach pains for a year now. At least, that's what the doctor said today."
Oh. Well, there's a whole boatload of difference between "might" and "has." Corb's family helped me to figure this one out. Her cousin Shelley went through treatment for breast cancer (for a second time) this past year and has kept a good attitude all the way through. His grandmother was on death's door for years and pulled through more times than I can count. His mom's boyfriend Jim was diagnosed with Hodgkin's, and that one is fairly serious. What I've learned through all that is:
"Then we just have to wait and see," I replied. "We can't freak out yet. We need to find out what exactly she has and how bad it is. And stay positive. She needs us to stay positive more than anything!"
"Teddy, I need to hear that," she said. "Laurie is kind of freaking out about this. She gets a little dramatic about these things. I think you need to call mom and dad and say exactly that."
Funny. Thinking that I'm NOT the dramatic one.
Well, I did call my parents, but what I said was essentially the same attitude my dad had about things, which is what I figured. "We have to wait and see," he said. "They drew blood...again...and took a sample. She has a colonoscopy scheduled for the end of the month. We will know more after they look at that."
A few days later, Kerrie sent me a text: "Mom's blood work looks good. That's the first relieving news. Not out of the woods yet, but still good!"
I thanked the gods above.Good news, indeed.
PART TWO: FAMILY
Saturday was the party at my house, with everyone but Tommy. There's a photo of mom and dad and the three of us, shown above. (You can even see our lovely Elvis painting in the corner, if you look hard enough.)
It was a great day. Mom looked good and we had a ball, playing board games and eating pizza.
We didn't say a word about what she was going through. We didn't have a single conversation about anything serious, even though I am sure it was on all of our minds. But not a word, even though Laurie and I had gone over and over how important it was to talk things through a few days before that, mouthing platitudes and overstating all the right words.
Typical us, I suppose. But maybe it wasn't the right place to do so. Besides, the kids were there.
Instead, we focused on having a good time. And I have to admit, Laurie was lovely. It was almost a side of her I haven't seen in years. She was laughing and making dirty jokes (just as dirty as the ones I like), and at one point, she made a joke with Kerrie that made her laugh so hard she was crying. I found myself having trouble laughing along and that's when it dawned on me: You're the one who has to loosen the hell up, Teddy.
At one point, Mom started talking about ghosts in the family house. We were talking about the Amityvile Horror and mom started talking about one time that a door slammed shut in our garage without warning. I couldn't help it, I had to tape a little bit of her conversation.
Kerrie, who was sitting next to me, turned and looked at me, as I was taping. I shrugged, sheepishly. "I know."
PART THREE: MOM
Tuesday afternoon, Laurie sent me a text message. I didn't get it until six that night. My phone had died at work.
Before I could respond, Kerrie called me. "She does have has cancer, Teddy."
What? What about the blood work? What about..
I immediately called dad. "What's going on?"
Dad sounded strong and upbeat. Despite the news. Typical. "The sample they took shows she has cancer, Ted. The good news is, since her blood work was positive, it means it hasn't entered her blood stream, and so they think it's probably Stage 1 or 2. They'll know more once they do the colonoscopy this month. But if it is what they think, she won't need surgery, and their recommended treatment course is radiation and chemo.
"It's going to be a really sucky three months," Dad continued. "But she is going to get through it and I am going to be here to take care of her through the whole thing. The hospital she will be going to is only ten minutes away and they are affiiated with Dana Farber. And, our doctor is one of the best."
"That's good news," I said. Well, ish.
"And what I am telling all of you kids is we DO NOT want you to stop what you're doing and we WANT you to live your lives. The only thing we ask is if we need you, please be there. That's all."
"Dad, you know we will. We love you guys."
"We love you, too. And Mom is going to get through this."
Honestly? I think so too. I feel it in my gut. Even though we've gone from "might" to "has" in under a week, I know Mom has the might and the strength to get through this. And she'll have her whole family by her side. These next four months may be horrible, but at least we know what she's facing now, which is a relief.
Don't think it hasn't crossed my mind that there's ben so much talk of cancer in the news these days, what with David Bowie and Alan Rickman. And Jim. Not to mention, Corb's mom had a smaller cancer scare while all this has been taking place. What's going on?
Never mind that. Now is the time to take care of this. Now is the time to get past this...together. I'm going to think positive and be there for my mom every step of the way.