Thursday, September 20, 2012

Happy Anniversary, D-Day

The phone rings on a Friday afternoon.  For once it's within reach and there's a free hand to pick it up.  Ramlet (about six weeks old) sleeps on the futon next to me--nursed, diapered, and worn out from the stimulation of looking at the pictures on the wall behind us.  Last night his little hands found each other and clasped for the first time.

Since I don't recognize the number on the screen, I know this is the call.  I hesitate a few more seconds to savor the serenity of pre-diagnosis, then flip open the phone to face my future.  My pulminologist greets me.

Dr. H says my surgeon is on vacation so he's calling so I can know the biopsy results before waiting the weekend.  He's very sorry.  My biopsy is positive for Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Motherhood, plus cancer.

Slow, deep breath.  Slowly is the only way I can take a breath these days.  Any attempt to inhale quickly brings on coughing fits.  Exhale, slowly.  In a few more doctors visits, I learn my tumor burden is obstructing my bronchial tubes.

I ask Dr. H what my next step is--he gives me the names of oncologists and stresses, as he did with scheduling the biopsy, to get an appointment immediately.  I push aside my breastfeeding chart sitting on the coffee table and scribble down the information in my "everything notebook"--where I write down anything my sleep-deprived mind might need to remember.

Hodgkin's is quite treatable, Dr. H assures me. Again he tells me he's very, very sorry before disconnecting.  Later people will refer to my cancer as the "good cancer" because of the high cure rate.  They're mistaken--no cancer is the good cancer.

I dial a round of phone calls.  Husband, father, brother, mother.  Oncologist.  The soonest appointment's almost two weeks away.  Slow, deep breath.  Book the appointment.  Exhale, slowly.  Fast forward a few cycles of chemo, I my inhale/exhale rates bounce back to normal and my total lung capacity increases by 30% .

My eyes leak a few tears, but I stop myself before I'm actually crying.  For the last ten months crying precedes coughing which turns into violent coughing spells often ended by vomiting.  A few months from now, I'll curl into a little ball hysterically sobbing on the bathroom floor because the Christmas tree lights wouldn't work right for my son's first Christmas, because I'd actually lived long enough to see this day, because another round of chemo starts two days after Christmas.  But I won't be coughing.

D-Day.  Diagnosis Day.  I eat a snack since breastfeeding (and cancer) crave calories.  Ramlet will wake up soon and need to nurse.  Husband will be home from work in a few hours to hold my hand.  Keep breathing, albeit slowly.

Biopsy scar about a year later (at base of neck by fingertips).

Monday, September 10, 2012

End of Summer Reading List

Once upon a childhood "summer" meant countless hours to lay out in the backyard reading, to stay up late reading, to bask on the beach reading.  Fiction, mostly, as a child.  "Literature" as a teen.  Poetry and memoir in college.  Since academia I've tried to balance genres by always having three or four books I'm reading.  A typical stack would include poetry, something non-fiction, and a piece of well-written fiction.

This past month's reading pile reeks of a more serious, less artistic concoction.  When chemo began last October, I couldn't concentrate to read (or write) for weeks.  The few books I tried to read, I disliked.  Fiction felt shallow.  Poetry, ego-centric.  Nonfiction became my sole companion.  My racing mind could skim books about organizational methods or psychology.  Child-rearing books substituted for the mommy friends who were to germ-y for me to actually find and meet.  Mostly I read, no, memorized board books as I clung to one cherished activity I could share with my son.

These days I'm only reading non-fiction (and lots of board books).  I miss fiction and poetry.  I miss having a long list of books to read someday.  So much has been lost this last year.  The healing process is as bewildering as chemotherapy so I wonder if finding my next favorite novel or book of verse won't be part of it.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Diagnosis: Cancer

Sometimes you're contentedly strolling along with life then -pop- flat tire.

Your path veers into places unimaginable.

It's been a while.  A year, in fact, since the word "cancer" first rang in my ears as I looked down at my less than one-month-old son.  By God's grace, I'm finally well enough to begin to look back at what I've lived ... and at the present chaotic joy of being a certain toddler's best friend.

I hope you'll continue to join me on this adventure.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Flavor of Autumn



With crisp air and changing leaves outside, our apartment smells of cinnamon and cloves as we simmer down apples picked during our annual trip to the orchard.  Homemade apple butter tops my list of favorite autumn flavors.  But I'm no food snob: candy corn ranks right after the pumpkin trifecta (pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin bread). 

What food do you savor every autumn?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On Waking A Sleeping Infant

In the words of TS Eliot:

"Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."

(From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" Lines 45-49)