Saturday, April 30, 2011

If You're Happy and You Know It...

Today is Saturday – one day away from May, and one day away from THE WEDDING OF THE CENTURY.  I’m equally joyous about each. It will take a while to extract all the royal fluff from my ears and get back to things of much less global consequence – namely, life.

Thursday was rather significant for us in spite of the fact that all our preparations had nothing to do with nuptials.  But the anticipation was, if we may be presumptuous, nearly as compelling. 

We traveled, not by horse-drawn carriage, but by horse-powered, really, really old Toyota SUV to the Huntsman in hopes of receiving an infusion of gemcitabene.  Now this may not be the equivalent of dainty cucumber tea sandwiches without crusts and Windsor soup, but it’s royal jelly to us.  We didn’t have to bow to the Queen.  We only genuflect to the porcelain “throne” when no emesis basin is handy.

Our festivities centered around those capricious lab numbers.  Unless all the stars align and the hematology gods smile upon us, Dennis does not get the infusion of chemo so critical in eradicating this disease.

That’s where I come in. 

I have a certain exercise protocol that I swear can influence the phlebotomists in our favor and can boost those numbers to an elevation that is dang near astronomical.  It is simple and effective.  It involves hauling Dennis’ cookies out of the sack at 4:30 a.m. by singing with lusty discordance, “It you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”  Of course, this is accompanied by clapping resembling thunderous applause.

On this particular morning, he was not happy at all, and only wanted to clap his hands – around my throat.  I was really testing his a. q. (aggravation quotient)!  But this worked in our favor, because it not only got him out of bed, it also raised his heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen in-take. 

I was not to be deterred by empty oaths…his or mine.  The regimen then called for us to wander the lone and dreary streets at an hour only fit for voyeurs and the lowest members of the subculture…those who still drag their knuckles on the ground as they walk.

With my best Princeton rowing megaphone and rhythmic commands, I told him to breathe in and breathe out.  I felt like a demented birthing coach.  Dennis agreed.  However, being diminished by nausea and weight loss, he was prevented from offending me by audibly expressing “inaudibles,” and was thus reduced to muttering incoherently into his beard.  Again, this worked for both of us.

Our reward for my efforts came later that morning at HCH when the Phlebotomist Superior posted his pathology leader board.  Most of the chemistry panels were sterling.  But the most vital and essential granulocyte result was – (drum roll, please) TA DAA – 3.6!  Read ‘em and weep! This was nearly double the number of last week’s counts.  BOO YAH!

I asked the nurse if that meant Dennis could have 2 bags of gemcitabene.  She just smiled indulgently and tried to discreetly signal security that there was a member of the lunatic fringe loose on the premises.  Dennis donned a disguise of glasses with big eyebrows and large nose and tried to enter the witness protection program on the spot. I was unfazed.  Actually, I was too busy excessively celebrating in the end zone.  But the entire clinic joined in the festivities.

I tried not to gloat.  Actually, I’m at my best when being scoffed at. This is an admirable and personal favorite vice. My standard of decorum DID prevent me from chanting, “I told you so!” repetitively in Dennis’ ear  as the techs were attaching a draught of Huntsman’s finest vintage through “The Great Chemo Umbilical” to his port.  His reluctance to ACKNOWLEDGE my decorum prompted multiple declarations from me that expressions of undying gratitude and a vow of abject subservience were unnecessary.  He agreed – a decision that will come back to haunt him come next Thursday at freakin’ 4:00 a.m.!

We walked this morning in a storm that thrummed a backbeat on our umbrellas.  There was the ultimate oxymoron – robins in a blizzard harvesting anything that slithered on the road and returning to their nests for breakfast.  I’m sure such ornithological gastric delights were not featured on the menu of Kate and William’s bridal cuisine.  Pity, really, because the whole scene seemed curiously optimistic.  Spring is here, in spite of blossoms encased in snow like some frosty sarcophagus.  They were lovelier by far than all the lace in London.

We will not quit this race.  We will go the distance.  And when you lean your ear close to Dennis’ beard, you’ll no doubt hear the faint refrain, “If you’re happy and you know it…”

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pieces of April

It is infinitely easier to record miracles than to comprehend them, even if one is an eye witness.  But it’s April – the season of lilacs and Easter – a time when history chronicles that some rather profound miracles occurred.

Last week we migrated south to Houston for further testing and CT scans at MD Anderson. Both Dr. Wolff and Dr. Jones wanted to gauge the efficacy of the current rounds of chemo.  Needless to say, a lot is riding on numbers and results.  We tried not to think about that until tomorrow, but tomorrow bore down upon us, and demanded to be thought about immediately.  It can be stressful.  A little like waiting for the foreman of a jury to return a verdict.  Fortunately, I was able to convert my expletives into rhymed couplets, which diverted Dennis’ attention from angst to complete and utter chagrin.
MD Anderson

MD Anderson is daunting to negotiate.  It is a labyrinth of corridors, hallways and passageways that honeycomb this massive complex.  There is a plethora of waiting rooms populated by those with varying degrees of illness, disfigurement, scars, staples and hair deprivation, not to mention the ubiquitous emesis basins strategically located and readily available should the need arise.

These open areas are also distinguished by something else – waiting room camaraderie.  There is an easy affability among the brotherhood of affliction, comfortable and congenial.  One begins to realize that the mystery of true beauty does not lie in cosmetics, dimensions or surgical enhancement. Recognizing that beauty is an acquired taste. In fact, my selections for most beautiful people are neither rich, famous nor notorious, which is why I’m not on the selection committee of People magazine.

We observed that not one patient was alone.  Each was attended by one or more companions in compassion, as were we.  It was both touching and inspiring.  People placement – “body guards” – can cushion blows and radiate tender energy.  It is the errand of angels.  One’s well-being is greater than the sum of all the numbers and images.  Those who are courageous may not be royal, but they are most assuredly regal.

Dennis spent a goodly portion of the first day getting labs drawn and guzzling dizzying quantities of contrast in preparation for the scans.  His flavors of choice were chocolate and “very berry.” Yum.  He downed those bad boys in record time, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, scratched his belly, belched, and swaggered toward the scan room.  Actually, I made up that last part. In addition, the procedure also required a “wazoo wash” that discretion dictates is better left unblogged. Actually, you couldn’t make that last part up. However, in this instance, he was not given a choice of flavors.  But the whole thing left him seeping and depleted.

Our appointment with Dr. Wolff was scheduled for Wednesday morning to review the results of the imaging and discuss options and possibilities.  As we sat in the exam room awaiting the verdict, we were peaceful and serene.  It was the most vital vital sign.  We were acutely aware of the presence of a multitude of loved ones.  We were not alone…we were swarmed.  Thus, we expected good news.  We had reason to believe.

Finally, Dr. Wei, Dr. Wolff’s associate, arrived to display the “before” and “after” pictures.  He seemed pleased, and a little baffled.  The scans showed “dramatic response” and “significant reduction” in the appearance of the nodules.  This was plainly evident even to our untrained eyes. Then Dr. Wolff came in and declared that the results of the scan were compelling.  He called Dennis a “subset of a subset,” and said the gemcitabene and 5FU had been quite effective.  He reiterated that this was unusual.

Dennis and I were dazed, amazed, but not surprised.  We know how potent chemo can be.  But we also recognize that charity, faith, prayers and hope are the ultimate healing agents.  It was easy to gauge their power.  We saw the images.  Undeniable.

When Dr. Jones received a copy of the scans, she also noted that these results were out of the ordinary.  We savored the moment.

We are not removing the armor, nor declaring a cease fire.  We are still in attack mode.  We plan to carry on with this same regimen. And we will continue to center our lives on joy, not adversity.

The bridge over troubled water has become a paved highway.  So many traveling companions have run ahead to carve a path and ease our journey.

We celebrate Easter, as is our custom, with contemplation amid episodes of grandchildren exploding with effervescence, like cans of soda pop that are opened right after shaking.  And we will continue our constant supplication amid microbursts of mini prayers. 

It has taken a kingdom, with a willful disregard for the laws of gravity, to hold us up, and enable us to live our lives from miracle to miracle. But then, it is the season.

Monday, April 11, 2011

April Showers

April showers arrived in the Witness Protection Program.  They came disguised as a winter deluge.  The heavens opened up and poured out a storm like a benediction.  Dennis and I caught snowflakes on our tongues as we went for our early-morning walk.  I was able to attract more flakes, nearly causing freezer burn, because I can keep my mouth open wider and longer than he can – a skill I’ve perfected over a lifetime.  Dennis is used to keeping his mouth shut.  Dennis needs to work on his technique.

It looks more like Christmas than Easter, which is OK with us because last week we got a welcome gift in the form of some lovely lab results.  Dennis’ tumor markers went down to 29, well within the parameters of normal.  We like those numbers.

Some numbers we don’t like.  Dennis’ weight has diminished noticeably.  Apparently increasing my thigh size by proxy doesn’t transfer to his body mass.  Pity.  We like to think of him as aerodynamic. In reality, he’d have a hard time in a stiff wind. My skinny jeans would swallow him whole.  We’re both embarrassed by that.  So we simply agree not to cross dress.  End of problem.

We will be going to Houston Tuesday morning.  We are scheduled for lab tests, CT scans, and a visit with Dr. Wolff.  We have a robust optimism, corpulent positivity, and Dennis has a stout heart.  Too bad it doesn’t register on the scales. 

 Our six little Ninjas have provided the usual comic relief.  Asher (age 4) had us all in stitches Sunday.  Since being toilet trained, he has had time to perfect other vital skills.  He has mastered the art of the “smolder,” ala “Tangled.”  He cocks one eyebrow up as he assumes his most provocative “come-hither” look, holding the pose for maximum effect.  Then he erupts in hysterical laughter, exposing a mouthful of baby teeth and crossing his legs for bladder control. I defy anyone to keep a straight face.  I was smitten.

Last week we went to a movie because Dennis had a week off from infusion.  Movies are much more fun than infusions…and less expensive.  Talk is cheap.  Gemcitabene is not.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a break. 

Our hearts are grateful.  We are ready for this journey.  We are overwhelmed by the kindness and tender concern of friends and loved ones.  This has been such a resource of strength and courage for us. 

We will provide updates as they occur.