Three to Six to Who the Hell Knows
September 22, 2010
We left later on Friday than we'd planned, as always, heading up to Pennsylvania in the thick of DC rush hour, hitting additional rush hours in Baltimore and Delaware and Philly all the way up, to a degree where the math of "rush HOUR" starts bending the space-time continuum and we basically sat in traffic for five solid hours, until 11 o'clock at night. We arrived at Jason's parents far too late to get over to visit mine, and I admit I was grateful for one last chance to steel my nerves before having to walk in and see my dad, now that we Knew, here in the After, the Suck.
The first thing he said was that he'd read my posts. I'd emailed my mom and all but ordered her not to read them -- I didn't want to make her cry, but I needed to write what I needed to write, and I knew I'd end up with something different if I imagined them in the audience.
She completely ignored me, of course, and then promptly told my dad to read them.
He loved them. He stood there, looking so thin and pale and bruised like a peach, praising my writing to the skies -- vocabulary! prose! flow! everything he spent 30 years trying to coax out of his high school students! At any other time in my life, I would have burst into hot ugly tears because that's all I've ever wanted to do since I was a tiny thing with my crayons: To be a writer and make my dad proud.
On this day, though, I scrunched and contorted my face and felt some warmth juuuust behind my eyeballs, but I still could not cry.
Later that day, I watched my mom cry. A lot. I hugged her and patted her back and stared up at random points on the ceiling. I watched my sister cry as she talked about a dream -- a ridiculous, meaningless dream -- where our dad expressed his completely fictional disappointment with her. I watched my mom cry again as my sister and I tried to convince her to hold off on putting the house on the market, as she heard me say the most awful thing out loud, because someone had to.
"Three to six months, Mom," I said as gently as I could. "Three to six MONTHS."
I didn't much like the idea of those three to six months being spent with a sign on the front yard, with strangers marching through the house and eyeballing medical equipment and oxygen tubing and perhaps even him, in bed, because how the hell can he get up and out every time a realtor wanted to stop by? I didn't like the idea of three to six months' worth of stress over low-ball offers and contingencies and inspections and contracts falling through, and then, even if everything works out...a move? To where? To what? How? Look at him. Look at how fast it's already happening.
I felt mean and cold and hard. When it became clear that they were going to ignore our pleading and put the house on the market anyway, I got vaguely irritated and stomped off. But I still did not cry.
Even later that same day, Jason and I volunteered to go get some carry-out for everybody. We drove to a restaurant and sat at the bar while we waited for the food and I rehashed everything over and over again. We drove back to my parents' house and I talked and talked and talked, arguing with no one in particular, because Jason had already agreed with me from the beginning but was just allowing me to ramble.
We pulled up to the house and I said it out loud for probably the 12th or 17th or 32nd time: "Three to six MONTHS."
But this time I only made it to the word "six" before I was wailing. I put my head down in my lap and cried and cried and cried.
Jason got sick the next day, with some kind of vicious acid reflux episode that wouldn't let him eat or sleep for rest of our visit. He still had a work-related obligation on Monday night involving a cocktail party and a baseball game at the Phillies' stadium. We went even though we both felt miserable, trying our best to put on a happy face. My mom had asked me to get my dad a blue Phillies shirt while we were there -- which required a Lord-of-the-Rings style quest to find, despite the fact that every other fan in the stadium seemed to be wearing one.
Once we found the elusive blue shirt, I bought myself a Phillies hat to replace the one I lost when we moved.
Yesterday -- the day we were planning to leave -- my dad had a doctor's appointment. The magical call from the lab never happened on Friday -- it turned out that in my parents' shock they had completely misheard the doctor and the full pathology results would take several days longer than that.
My mom called me from the office parking lot, shrieking at the top of her lungs.
"IT'S GOOD NEWS IT'S GOOD NEWS IT'S GOOD NEWS!"
She was beyond hysterical and I started shouting over her, begging her to get on with it and tell me. I felt my feet going numb. What good news could there possibly be? Was the doctor completely wrong? How could he be wrong? And if so, then what the hell is wrong with my dad?
My mom finally calmed down enough to say that the leukemia was not acute, it was chronic, and started rushing to assure me that this made "all the difference in the world" and it "wasn't a death sentence" and the doctor was telling them about how TONS of patients go on to live YEARS with this diagnosis. YEARS. Now, this was just their regular family doctor and they'd need to talk to the hematologist but still, Amy, STILL! Everything is going to be okay! This changed everything! EVERYTHING!
I sensed my mom was waiting for me to scream, to laugh, to give a triumphant whoop. Instead I went weirdly quiet and stared at the ceiling. I told her we'd be over once they got back from the doctor.
Jason started questioning me: How can this be that different? He still can't do chemo. He still can't do a bone marrow transplant. What treatment is there? Did they catch it earlier than they thought? It's still obviously coming on fast, and making him sicker, so...?
I shushed him and sat there for a minute trying to process everything. I felt like I'd been knocked off my axis, like it was Wednesday night all over again, only...worse? I felt...angry?
"What the fuck is wrong with me?" I asked out loud.
How many times did we have to go through this? How many phone calls and car trips and well, THIS? How many times did I have to lose him, to grieve over him? To worry endlessly that The End would not be peaceful and quick, but painful and long? At what point is "more time" not actually better? When was this really and truly going to be over?
"What the FUCK is wrong with me?" I asked again, to no one in particular.
Part of what was wrong, thinking back, was that my brain was starting to already remember random Google nuggets I'd read about the chronic diagnosis. It would be one thing if they caught it early, or if he was younger, or if he was otherwise in better shape, health-wise. There would be some additional treatment options, some chance at the disease staying in a holding pattern for a decent length of time, of him BEING one of those "TONS" of patients who live for years.
The doctor had still not told my parents what stage the cancer was actually at. On the way to their house I pulled up a few websites on my phone and quickly cursed my creepy photographic memory. At Stage III or IV, after anemia develops and other internal organs get involved, intensive chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant are pretty much your only options. My father has been anemic for a few months already. He had to be at least at Stage III.
The doctor told my parents something about getting his platelets and anemia back in check, making it sound -- at least to them, in their amped-up joy -- like fighting advancing leukemia required little more than an iron supplement, tra la la la laaaaa.
The only difference I could really deduce between a chronic and acute diagnosis in my father's particular case was that while it would very likely kill him, it would just take a bit longer to do it. Or maybe it would let the chemo do it instead.
Jason had suggested outside that I try my best to keep my mouth shut and let the doctors talk with them, to let them enjoy this reprieve, and to pretend like I didn't know any better and was just as happy as they were. I promised to try.
When we arrived at my parents house I felt downright sick with knowledge. My mom came to the door with a huge smile on her face and her arms in the air, repeating her refrain about the GOOD NEWS! GOOD NEWS!
I could see my dad standing in the hallway behind her, clapping his hands.
I am a terrible liar.
Noah amused himself with my phone during the trip home, completely draining the battery. So I didn't see my mom's text message until a few hours after she sent it.
u were right
I am exhausted. I am angry. I need something to hit. Something to throw. Even though I never really believed that the switch in diagnosis meant anything...maybe I did. I know my parents did, which makes the whole farce seem so extra cruel and unfair.
Their house is on the market. After being at peace with the no-chemo route on Monday, he seems to be changing his mind, despite the high risks, in a desperate bid for more time. My mom is terrified of chemo, terrified of no chemo. I would now give anything just to have been wrong about the whole thing.
Because now I can't stop crying.