…Son Richard’s Post… Cancer sucks. There’s no two ways about it. It sucks. I don’t have it, and it still sucks. Brain tumors, prostates, breast, thyroid, skin… I’ve seen a lot of cancer in my family. Earlier, it had always been older people. You know, grandparents. I thought to myself, “well, that’s just how it is. The longer you’re around, the higher your chances are of getting some form of cancer.” I was a bit of a dick then. I still am, but I was then, too.
I’m in my 20’s and receive a kick in the nuts. Hard. Dad has Lymphoma. That was a lot to process, but we got through it with a heavy dose of fezzes… but that was then, when I was still in college and unable to travel. I did when I could, we got through it. It was odd for me, the bulletproof man with a chink in the armor. Every kid looks at their Dad and knows that they’re Superman, but they never expect Lex Luthor is hiding in their system with a chunk of Kryptonite, waiting to jump out like Doakes after he finds out about Dexter being the Bay Harbor Butcher.
Ten years goes by pretty quickly.
My sister had a kid and got married. Then had another kid. My brother graduated High School and got accepted to the college I wanted to go to, but wasn’t smart enough to get in. I got a job, bought a house and got engaged. Despite all this, Lex Luthor waxed his scalp again, and in the past ten years had been moonlighting as a place kicker for the NFL. Ten years after the fact, he started from ten yards back, wound up and kicked the boys way up to my throat. Cancer 2: Electric Boogaloo. I thought to myself, we did it once, we can do it again.
After my wedding, honeymoon and settling into married life (which, by the way, is exactly the same as unmarried life), I had this nagging feeling that I wasn’t able to fully understand what was going on with Dad. I didn’t really understand what was going on the first time we went through this. Talking on the phone only goes so far. Parents are programmed to protect their progeny. Mom and Dad are doing just that, and I can’t blame them for it. I always wanted to know the details, the day to day challenges, the ups and downs. But no matter what answer I got I knew there was something missing. Everything felt too filtered, too clean, too… boring. Then, when this whole stem cell process was dumped on my folks, my Mom actually called me and told me everything. It was raw. It was… horrible. Incomprehensibly terrifying. I digested what I could and cried out the rest.
I felt an overwhelming amount of guilt that I wasn’t there for all of this. I felt sick to my stomach. Talking to my Dad on the phone during treatment was (and is) always difficult, but every little bit helps. Mainly because he sounded like he just chained a few Naragansetts like Quint aboard the Orca, meanwhile I’m left crushing my styrofoam cup. All the killer chemo drugs, coupled with the additional drugs that try and counteract some of the side effects of the poison they’re dumping in your body, seems to make people a bit out of it. It reminds me a bit of my Poppop and his dementia – never able to properly put the correct words in the correct order. I could hear this on the phone. Some days, consonants are difficult, sometimes, when the Benadryl is really kicking in, it’s hard to imagine that the voice on the other side of the phone is my Dad’s.
After one such call, I looked at my wife, Noelle, and said I need to go to the Island on weekends. I was scared. I still am, but I was then, too.
I spent last weekend here trying to stuff my Dad full of the things he’d be missing while in the hospital. Sushi, power tools, driving at excessive speeds on the parkway.
This weekend, we’re in the hospital. An ungodly amount of poison is administered by a rotating staff of genuinely nice people. The wing is a bit goofy. It’s a wing within a wing – a very belt & suspenders approach. There is a vestibule between the run of the mill cancer patients (hah!), and the insanely delicate cancer patients. Sanitize before you go through door one. Sanitize before you go through door two. Wash your hands. Sanitize. Put on your yellow disposable apron. Sanitize. Put on your gloves. Now you can go into the room. Don’t take your gloves off. Don’t take your apron off. When you leave the room, dispose of your apron and gloves. Immediately wash your hands. Sanitize, open, sanitize, open, sanitize. Like my Mom said to me: Plan your bathroom breaks accordingly.
The room itself isn’t the smallest room, but definitely not somewhere I’d want to be for a month. The entire room is positive pressure. A non-stop barrage of HEPA filtered air keeps everyone germ free. Plus side of this is that you can fart and just about instantly share it with the orderlies. Minus side is that it sounds like the inside of an airplane 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For a month. The fan comes in two speeds: Loud and insanely loud. There’s a Murphy toilet, with the Bigger, Blacker Button to flush. There’s a cool Darth Vader looking panel on the wall that runs the room. It shows temperature, has controls for the privacy curtains, to adjust the blinds and to turn individual lights on and off. There’s call buttons, Jake’s day count (-4 at the time of writing), and a mini fridge stocked with bee—uh, leftovers and condiments.
My mom decorated the room in its usual fashion: pictures of family, places we’ve been, good memories, goals… as well as a reminder that Dad made it through this once before. It’s a picture of me in my graduation outfit: Fez, Doc Martens boots, gown, and my best dress. I was told in the invitation that I was to wear my best dress. I had one that I wore for a cross- dressing party in college, so on went the little black chenille number. It was comfortable. Sometimes what seems like a good idea in the moment comes back to bite you in the ass. And it makes you laugh. And that’s a good thing, because if we can’t laugh about how insane and absurd this process is, we’re fxcked.
First thing my Dad does is thank me for being here… I don’t know how really to react to that. I’m glad I can be here to help with the lifting. If the tables were turned, I know he’d be doing the same thing. I’m glad I can give my Mom a night off, although I know she’s not going to sleep well. For as much as she trusts me, I haven’t been here through the whole process. If something comes up, I have to guess what to do and what the best course of action is. If it doesn’t work, I pick up the phone. I know that right now, my Mom is waiting for the phone to ring.
Today was largely uneventful. Poison and godawful amounts of liquid in and nurses screaming for the amount of liquid out. Lunch, dinner and walks up and down the hallway. A little bit of Mancala, some nausea from the meds caused a small panic, but the drug regimen is there to fix what ails. I don’t know if sleeping half the day is normal, but that’s what Dad has been up to. Hopefully the rest of the night here goes the same. A little awake, a little asleep. Some light scolding to wake me up if he needs anything. It’s a funny full circle thing. Twenty or twenty five years ago, Dad would wake me up when I was sick at 2AM with antibiotics, cough medicine and two vanilla Hydrox cookies to wash it down. Here I am waking him up for drug o’clock at midnight.
You learn weird things about cable television while in a hospital. For instance, after ten hours Pawn Stars loops their episodes. Yep, we’ve been watching Pawn Stars for ten hours. You also learn that Sam Adams brewed over 60 different beers last year. You relearn this every commercial break. The most terrifying thing you learn is that Cellino & Barnes have made it out of the Western New York area and are slowly but surely taking over. You learn weird things about the people in hospitals. Everyone does their thing. The rest of the patients in the wing have that same look I see in my Dad’s eyes as they’re doing their hallway laps: Fuck Cancer. Behind all the exhaustion and exasperation, people are fighting with absolute determination, knowing that the care they are getting here is the best possible, that they’re riding the bleeding edge of science.
The night was restless. For me, at least. Dad got a lot of rest. Of course, I was peeking at him every time he stirred, not being able to go to sleep until about 2AM. I faded in and out of consciousness as nurses popped in and out to either take blood, administer more drugs, or to remind Dad that he needs to go to the bathroom lest his bladder be bathed in poison for too long. The last saline bag for a while came at 5AM. Today, there is a new drug cocktail that the doctors are prescribing. Along with that comes the anxiety, the fear of the unknown and the rule of threes, Liz Lemon. I’m hounding the doctors for the next dose of Xanax to keep the mind demons at bay. We’ll see what comes of it.
Exercise is important when you do nothing but heal, eat, sleep and eliminate. Dad was a champ yesterday with the exercise, but today is a little shakier. All the diuretics are working, too. He’s down a few pounds, a little closer to the weight he was when admitted a week ago.
So for now, everything is moving forward as planned. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still scared. And that’s fine because we’ve got people who are really, really good at their jobs to do the heavy lifting. Outside of that we’ve got friends and family and people who Dad has impacted all pitching in where they can. It’s the greatest “thank you” I can possibly think of. It’s a humbling experience to be here and experience what Dad’s going through.
My homework assignment was to write about my experience for Mom. I couldn’t really write about this without bringing everyone up to speed. Mom’s been writing these posts for months now. Everyone knows her voice and perspective. She writes poetic prose and chains a few metaphors to get the point across and make the story a little more digestible. I’m a little more literal, much fouler mouthed, and completely unable to string sentences together well enough to ensure people actually follow along with what I’m trying to get across. Plus, my grammar sucks and I tend to write with a touch too much misplaced brevity. That, plus excessive commas. If you have made it all the way through my incoherent ramblings, thank you for bearing with me.
TL;DR: Cancer still sucks. There’s no two ways about it.