Christmas is a time for telling the old familiar stories of journeys: Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, and Wise Men following a star to a manger. So it was entirely appropriate that at this particular season, we, too, made a pilgrimage. Our destination: Houston, affectionately known as “Thoracic Park.”
We prepared for our flight by checking the Heavens for navigational lights. Then we way over-packed, and stayed in optimal physical shape by squat thrusting our luggage.
We have never been gone for over two weeks, but we were most willing to hie ourselves to M. D. Anderson for the opportunity to eradicate a significant portion of Dennis’ lung nodules with high intensity radiation.
We met and conferred with the Three Wise Men: Tom Buccholz, a dear and trusted friend; Dr. Joe Chang, a thoracic wunderkind; and Dr. Robert Wolff, who, as his name implies, is a ferocious oncological canine.
There was no room at the inns, so we stayed in a local Best Western. It was adequate, consisting of two rooms (with two beds and a bathroom) and dimly lit interiors. I began to realize how minimally one can live when great opportunities present themselves.
However, the interior of our particular stable was dimly lit, and the lights cast a grayish, yellowish tint to one’s reflection. When the post-shower fog on the mirrors vanished, we both looked sicker than we actually were.
So I resorted to the Kardashian make-up handbook with tips for drag queens and smut mags, and applied several extra layers of mascara and foundation to counter the specter of my ghostly appearance. I have decided that mascara is the opiate of the masses. The mirrors at the hospital, unfortunately, were truer than those at the motel, and I realized I looked like a geriatric refugee from the Kabuki Theater, gaunt and apparition-like. I hate mirrors.
Things could not have gone better for the first five treatments. We were high on optimism and egg nog. Dennis received his daily dose of radiation, and then we spent each day letting our light so shine and seeing the sights of Houston. At the end of that week, he could have guided Santa’s sleigh.
But that Friday night, there was an episode of such severity, we rushed him to the ER, where it was determined that he be placed in the ICU immediately. His blood pressure plummeted, his lungs became “fluffy,” and throngs of doctors and caretakers swarmed him round the clock. Of the two of us, I was the only one cogent. We all panicked.
At one point, in order to avoid a catheter, I decided to try persuasive imaging on Dennis. After all, I watch “The Mentalist.” I understand hypnosis. So I started counting backwards from ten, telling him in my most velvet voice, that when I reached one, he would pee. It didn’t work the first time…nor the second. By the third try, I was looking frantically for a bathroom. Dennis got the catheter.
In spite of all my protestations that we were going to be fine, Erin and Brodi boarded a plane for Texas. Apparently long-distance “clotting” was insufficient for them. I mark Dennis’ turn-around from the moment he saw their faces. The light in his eyes was beyond radiation. And to tell the truth, their faces looked awfully good to me, too.
The three of us went “commando” and never left his bedside, except when hospital rules forced us out after 12 hours. Then we rocked Houston. We went to see “Mission Impossible,” and realized just how many impossible things are possible.
We never felt alone. In fact, at one point as Dennis lay semi-conscious and wired to every contraption conceivable to the mind of man, I asked him how many angels he thought were in the room with us. I didn’t expect an answer. Most of our conversations are one-sided anyway. Besides, he was not awake, and I’m used to speaking in monologues. But this time he responded, saying he didn’t know exactly how many angels were attending, but it must be a multitude. Wow! Out of the mouths of the comatose.
Dennis began to improve dramatically. He endured, and eventually prevailed. I was in a constant state of wonderment, but not surprised. We began to see things in high def. We witnessed miracles that would astound and confound the Magi. So many miracles that I lost count…but there were definitely more than 17.
Our family was gone so long that we lost track of time. When Dennis began to recover, he asked me what just happened. I asked him what he remembered. He said not much. I said good. One day I’ll give him all the details. But not now. Some things are better left unspoken. We are at peace knowing we were exactly where we were meant to be at this time.
Staring down cancer is a monumental task. But my New Year’s resolution is singular and simple: NEVER EVER BLINK. (Of course, I’m aided in my commitment by copious amounts of caffeine. I actually CAN’T blink!)
If life is a journey, it is good to travel in multitudes, as in days of old, and to choose one’s traveling companions wisely. I have.