Sunday, April 29, 2012

Friendly Conversation

"I screwed it up," I admitted from across the room.  "Stopped going in.  Did only what was absolutely necessary.  So this bad review - now formally documented and everything - isn't really surprising.  But it's scary."

Friend nodded, opening her mouth to speak before frowning, her attention directed off to the side of the wall behind me.

"Wow," she declared.  "Those mattes are really ragged, aren't they?"

"Oh," I beamed proudly, glancing back to behold them.  "I did those myself."

"Really," she offered, rolling her eyes and returning to her original reply.

So we talked about what was going well now - how Adam is once again pleased and I have managed to show up - every day - and work - all day - when for the last 12-18 months, I found that all but impossible.

We've discussed career goals and when it's our fault versus the people who pay us.  Life plans and the meaning of happiness.  Death and dying.  The ability to cope.

"They complain about me on bitbook," she sighed on our way home from the mall.  We'd shared snacks at Cheesecake Factory, bringing dessert home, and selected items at Lush.  "The stores are closed, they say.  My roommate smells like cheese, they whine.  I want to sell books and you make me work at the sushi shop."  She shook her head at her iPhone and I giggled as I navigated the rainy-day traffic.  "I'll go ahead and restock their stores."

And it's what makes Friend perfect.  There is a balance of expectation of my best self and acceptance of my current self.  Moments of profound brilliance contrasting against Tiny Tower strategy.

And whether we're sitting diagonal from each other in my living room or side by side in the car or across from each other at restaurants, there's comfort.  The gentle sense that even as things change - when we see each other annually rather than daily - there's a continuity that soothes.

We're hurting, Friend and I, as her mom is gone and dad's health uncertain.  As my parents struggle with oncology treatments.  So, were you to peek in on our weekend, you're as likely to find us brushing away tears as laughing over stories, sniffing at bath products or taking photos of flowers.

But I'm grateful - so grateful, really - that she offered to come and my parents insisted I let her.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Missed Calls

I was speaking to an important collaborator yesterday when I pressed ignore in response to Mom's call.  As the next 2 minutes passed, I cursed myself for doing so - she might have needed me.  And I'll admit to panicking when she didn't respond to my next 8 calls, made in rapid succession.

Everything was fine - she'd been pleased about Dad's results and how his liver was softening in response to chemotherapy and wanted to have a celebratory conversation.  Her phone had been on silent so she'd not heard my multiple return calls until Dad and Brother returned home and had her call me.

"I got in trouble," she reported and I laughed even as I promised myself I'd always take her calls in the future.

So, in the middle of a formal review with Adam, I asked him to wait and answered the phone when Mom called.  I listened and asked a couple questions and hung up.

I stared at the desk before glancing up into Adam's concerned eyes.

"There's a spot on her bone," I managed before my voice broke and I had to lower my eyes.  He reached to grip my forearm and I offered brokenly "pre-op chest x-ray," and "scheduling PET scan" and he squeezed harder.  Then I shook my head helplessly, bowed my head and closed my eyes in a moment of pure grief-stricken defeat.

"Go home," he ordered gently, picking up my notebook and pencil and ushered me toward my office, placing items in my bag while I sat down in my chair and watched him.

"Are you OK?" Sibling asked, coming around the corner with an expression of concern.  I began to cry again, tears slipping down my cheeks faster than I could catch them with my fingertips and shook my head.  Adam gave her a look of dismay, told her to help me and escaped while she coaxed me into my jacket, tucked her arm through mine and guided me to my car.

After asking if I was sure I could drive and urging me to do so safely, she gently closed my door and watched with worried eyes as I buckled in and started the Jeep.  And I wept - gut-wrenching sobs that I couldn't control, keening moans of pain.  I managed my way home, shaking, and moved into my house, bent at the waist to control the misery.

I tried to breathe, to think, and busied myself with canceling things.  Lunch plans.  Friend's trip to visit for the weekend.  Once calmer, I called my parents again to try to gather more information - to push past my reaction and plan.

"I think it's from all the coughing she did while you were growing up," Dad reported, feeling better on Friday after a miserable day on Thursday after chemotherapy.  He's doing so well though - blood counts remain normal, liver is softening - his oncologist is very pleased.  And I'm so very proud of my father.

"I'm losing it," I confessed when he handed me back to Mom, laughing through tears.  "I don't know what to do - I can't stop shaking and crying and I'm shocked it's hitting me so hard."

"I can't do any more either, Katie," she replied.  "It's just too much.  But we'll be OK - whatever happens, it's OK.  I'm good with God so if He's taking me, I'll go."

"I know," I replied, even as Dad scolded her for being negative in the background.  Then they chided me for canceling with Friend.  So I called Post-Doctoral City again and discussed it without sobbing and we decided she would come.  I made the drive to fetch her successfully - listening to NPR and retreating into denial that the biopsy results were mild, MRI didn't note any spread and x-rays aren't all that specific to metastatic spread.

But my eyes were stinging with every blink of my eyes.  Head ached with overwhelming pressure.  And my heart - more poor heart - tried to knit its broken pieces back into some semblance of working order.

"We're fine," they soothed when I called from the cell phone lot of the airport.  "We had dinner and are watching some television and going to bed early.  We'll call when we have the appointment for the PET scan but surgery should go as planned."

I removed the phone from my ear, glancing at the screen before wishing my parents good night and letting Friend know I'd pull around to meet her.  And we've continued on from there.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I deposited my paperwork and purse on the counter, skirting the edge of the desk to stand in front of the purple fabric, taking a moment to wonder why they'd chosen that color, before smoothing my wind-tousled hair before smiling at the camera.

I'd paused before answering the 'number of years driving experience in the United States or Canada' question, realizing that 33-16 = 17.  I've been driving more than half my life, I realized, as I watched elderly couples shuffle toward the window as their numbers were called.  There was a toddler with the woman just ahead of me and I finished the journal I'd brought before she woke from her nap.  She fussed a bit before being lifted from her stroller and relieved of her blankie, proceeding to charm all who occupied the DMV on this sunny afternoon.  She would grin easily and explore a bit before hurrying back to her mother and I found her adorable.

Then there were those in between.  Teenagers with their parents who beamed at the pieces of plastic they were handed without meaning to.  Every one of them looking so self-possessed and mature as they waited patiently for photos or forms.  Then, upon the completion of the process, there was this irrepressible pride or joy or anticipation.

Dad is not yet 65.  And while I would frown at people who claimed to have 'quarter-life crises' in their mid-to-late 20s, wondering if they'd really live past 100, I didn't expect to be encountering my potential midway point at 33.

"I'm 41," a colleague told me this morning.  "And my dad died of lung cancer at 44, some 20 years ago." Yet tears filled her eyes as she told me - the diagnosis and treatment and eventual failure.  "It was fast," she said, "and my family relied on me.  It changes you," she warned.  "Makes planning too far ahead seem silly.  Instead you want to jump out of planes or have sex with someone irresistible, and if he's married, well, life isn't very fair."

"Yes," I agreed.  "It is changing me - I can't tell how, exactly, but I feel like a stranger in some moments."

"Take care of yourself," she advised kindly and I nodded, blinking back my own tears and hurrying to my next meeting, eager for the distraction.  Because how do I take care of myself?  I pray, sleep and eat.  I work, read and pray.

I need to do research on more aggressive treatment options - surgical procedures, hyperthermia, RF ablation, radiation therapy.  I want to have a plan should this first round of chemo not be as effective as we need.

I can't make myself learn though.

"When I was so happy in Venice?" I said the other day.  "I'd already screwed up that project.  The cancer was already growing in both my parents.  The only difference is that now I know.  And that knowing changed everything."

"I wish I hadn't come," Dad said a few times in the hospital.  "I don't want to know."

I call daily, discussing my dog (who's here) and my cat (who's there) and dinner plans.  What happened to me at work and what the girls did that day.  It's nice - we get a chance to catch up and love each other.  I reassure myself that he sounds healthy, that Mom sounds rested.  That they're OK.  Normal.  Just as they always have been.

And it helps me sleep at night.  Keeps me from thinking that I'm just working my way, painfully at times, toward the end.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Exquisite, yet Grotesque

There comes a moment when I'm ready to disclose information.

"You're being too helpful," my attorney murmured close to my ear after asking if we could take a break from the deposition.  I looked at him helplessly and he nodded in understanding.  "I know you can decipher what he wants to know.  I know it's instinct for people to offer information or help guide conversations.  This isn't like that - it's us vs. them.  You need to try harder."

I agreed and with grueling focus in a hotel conference room, I forced myself to take a sip of water after each question the opposing attorney asked me so that I would think.  And, as I'd been painstakingly prepared to do, would answer as simply as possible.

"Very good," he complimented at lunch.  "It's like after that break, you just shut down - stopped being so friendly.  Started saying you didn't know and you didn't know why you didn't know.  It was great!"

And that adaptability tends to serve people well when they remember to use it.

"I'm fine," I had taken to repeating.  Then I would recite the relevant bits of information - Dad's blood counts stayed well within the normal range.  He's tolerating treatment well.  Mom's surgery is scheduled and I'll return home for that 2 weeks.  My brother is helping, yes.  We're all doing very well but continue to be grateful for prayers.

And it is fine.  Until is isn't.

But those moments come rarely, honestly.  A moment in the cafeteria when someone offers an unexpected hug that elicits tears.  A random statistic in an oncology seminar that leaves me unable to take more notes, instead suffering through a miserable wave of panicked grief.  A meeting request on a day I'll be spending at home.

"I'll pick you up at your door," I told a colleague and friend on Friday at 11.  Normally we would have met somewhere on campus, but it was raining and I thought I might get sad so we drove through the sprinkling rain on that chilly day.

And I told her everything.  That there are moments where I'm failing at work, so miserably sick of some of the bureaucratic bullshit that I want to scream and escape, never to return.  I roll my eyes at promises of upcoming change and brighter days ahead.  I cringe at the thought of telling the same collaborators the same stories and having no visible progress.

"His mood is fairly good," I told her of Daddy.  Then I admitted that I prayed that he'd either grow hopeful or leave us quickly.  Because I couldn't imagine watching him suffer for months that might stretch into years, just staring out the windows, watching for death to coast down the road outside my childhood home.

"She's afraid, but it helps when I'm there," I said of Mom.  And I'm happy to do it.  Grateful that my presence offers her strength and comfort because I love her ever so much.  Given that it's pretty easy to be there, it's an easy step to take.  And, later, maybe I'll move home.  Or she'll move here.  And we'll live together.  Because she doesn't want to live alone.  Even though I absolutely adore it and dread the time when it may be impossible to do.

I whispered that I worried about Brother - the dramatic mood swings, the drinking and drugs, the unpredictability of support.  But I was also frustrated that he couldn't just do this - that his own demons prevent him from being as loving and supportive and present as Mom and Dad want.

And once that crack formed in the wall of denial around my emotions, it's easier for truth to emerge.

Friend sent cheese biscuits - a gesture so completely perfect that I found myself clutching the packages to my chest, overwhelmed as I lifted them from their box and removed them from a brown paper bag with a familiar logo.  And it's easier to chat with her - I don't have the desperate desire to beg her to let me hide in her study.  To rescue me from the life that has turned on me.  To exist in the comfort that she's never overly surprised or disappointed or aghast at my multitude of sins.

M sent a text last week and I smiled and sent a happy reply, then read an email she sent last night to catch up in more detail.  "I read an essay on death and dying," she wrote, "and it said one regret so many people have is not keeping in touch with people they loved.  And I thought of you and how I love you and miss you so we should try harder."

So I told her everything too.  The comfort arrived electronically from across the Pacific, along with the knowledge that there's another spot where I can escape and exist in the comfort of friendship.

I'm stuck by these things as I walk around the neighborhood or mow my lawn.  Drive to work or run some errands.  It's lovely - this warm support - but it's generated from this cold, awful threat - the damn cells that multiply beyond our control.

And I remember looking at Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  This compelling structure that was at once stunning and icky.  But I found it difficult to look away, finding myself turning back toward the spires that stretch into the sky, the decorations that appeared to drip toward the ground were they not stubbornly clinging to surfaces.

And though I'd have never picked this path, I do feel alive.  Like people and places are more vivid.  The tulips staggering as they've sprouted and then stayed fresh in the cold weather that lingers just above freezing.  Alive and beautiful, graceful and lingering past their expiration dates.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Art, Life & Other Notes

Upon regaining possession of my iPad, I began closing applications one after another - Smallest One has a short attention span and wants new and better and more. She's ever so sweet and spirited, making me desperately want one of my own even as I shudder at the thought.

Given that she's used to her iPod though, she's quite competent with my tablet and I grinned as I paged through nearly 100 pictures of Chienne. It gave me pause for well as I know my precious pup's various expressions and quirks, I have not captured them so well for posterity. And given that Smallest chose my parents' house over spending time with her cousins at the lake on Easter weekend, I have a bigger soft spot for her than before.


Remember my European trip? When everything seemed so easy and idyllic? I ordered prints of some of the photos - 8x10, 20x30 - and bought cut-it-yourself mattes at a craft store on the way to the cancer center with my folks. They've been sitting in SUVs - theirs and then mine - and I finally brought them inside to carefully measure openings when I returned to my house yesterday.

The scoff at an Exacto knife but obey a box cutter and I finally have images of that time neatly framed and hung in my living room, replacing the vintage posters I've displayed for years. They're a little ragged around the edges and perhaps not perfectly adjusted for contrast and balance, but I love them. Reminders of both happy times past and those still to come.


The canine traveled north with me. Senor Sprout remained with his abuelos so I'm graced with reports of his visits upstairs when I call to check in. Brother finally got to see him, indicating he was a very pretty cat before Sprout offered a snooty glare and scampered back to the basement.

Dad got to pet him this morning after he filled Spout's food dish. Mom sometimes gets to cuddle when she can't sleep at night.

"We like having him," she said when I called. "He's a good distraction at times." So I'm proud of the stripy one, serving as he is as a placeholder for us.


Chienne and I have mowed the lawn and done a bit of cleaning and slept since returning to our house yesterday. In the midst of a delicious nap this afternoon, my rest was disturbed by drumming outside the screen door at the head of my bed.

It would be blatantly false to call it music. So as the noise continued - played, I imagined, but a drunken toddler - it was soon joined by a drugged monkey on guitar. And they've continued most of the day. I finally went outside to behold the open garage across the street that contained two young boys rocking out. If they could translate only a fraction of their enthusiasm into talent, we'd be set.

In the meantime, I kind of wish I was deaf or it was hot or cold enough to close the doors to protect myself from the misery.


Fifty Shades of Grey (and the sequels) are wonderful. I know I normally read erotic romance so perhaps I'm not the most qualified to offer recommendations here, but I really loved it. So if you're in need of an engrossing story while you wait to take your parents to learn about their cancers - or another intense distraction - I'd suggest reading them.

And while the sex is plentiful and there is "kinky fuckery," it's really nicely done. I read the trilogy back-to-back-to-back (which took 3 days as I wasn't doing much else) and am very fond of EL James for offering me a much-needed escape.


I emailed myself Brother's phone number before I left for Europe. We simply didn't talk all that often before. It's now programmed into my mobile and I left a message yesterday, gently scolding him to check in more with Daddy and make sure he was spending time there while I was away.

I emailed myself my older brother's number before I left home. He's 11 years my senior and from Dad's first marriage. He apparently stopped by when I was young, but I don't recall ever meeting him. Dad has called him - talking for the first time in 20-30 years, I believe - and I'm vaguely tempted to reach out myself. Though, as I don't know how I feel about the whole situation, I'm not sure what I would say.


We could still use prayers if you have them to spare. Dad's blood counts are expected to drop this week - 10-14 days after the initiation of treatment. So think good neutrophil thoughts.

Mom decided on the partial breast irradiation, even after she and I beheld the device that will be implanted with horror. (It's larger than I expected. I told her she could do external beam instead.) Dad was in favor of the accelerated approach as was her (really, really wonderful) radiation oncologist so she signed on but is scared. So peace and strength be with her until I can return and take care of her again.

Brother and I are OK. More stressed than sad now that we've adjusted and both having difficulty sleeping. He drinks and smokes. I take prescription anti-anxiety pills alternated with melanin or Nyquil. I do, however, feel surrounded by love and support which is such a blessing. It's just at sleepy-time that I forget and panic in the face of what might be. So if anyone wants to sleep over and sing me songs or rub my back or tell me stories, I'm happy to post some sort of sign up sheet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Extreme Close Up

I have been praised more times than I can count.

Family, friends, colleagues seem to share a sense of approval that I've abandoned my life to tend to my parents and given that I don't mind doing it, it feels odd to accept compliments gracefully. As expected, Friend was correct - it just becomes what you do. The worrying is far worse than the execution of plans.

"I can't leave now!" Brother seethed at me via phone and I shook my head while rolling my eyes.

"That's fine," I replied regarding our dinner plans. "We'll take the girls and meet you girlfriend for pizza. And you can see Mom and Dad tomorrow."

"Fine," he offered, clearly irritated. "I'm just trying to do inventory and place orders and manage my people but if you can't wait a little longer, that's fine. Just go."

I declined to argue, but had my reasons. Smallest One calls for Grandma multiple times each night when she sleeps over so none of us are particularly rested. Dad had been watching the clock for his next dose of pills so leaving at the prescribed time would have put dinner at a good pain/nausea point that I hated to avoid. The girls were finished with computer games and considering baths if we waited longer (and then I get coaxed into combing ridiculously long hair on very tender scalps). And I'd moved meetings around so we could go at the proper point in time so if he was inflexible, he didn't have to go.

So there.

And I don't blame him (at least not for long, anyway). It's hard to understand all the pieces that go into a decision unless you're here. When you know that Dad's in a reasonable mood and Mom isn't overly stressed or weepy.

I do envy him (at least for a little while), especially after a day connected to work via Blackberry and a headset that's too large for my tiny ears. So I answered questions and arranged introductions and made informal presentations. And I missed it. The feeling of easy expertise and friendly exchanges of information. I don't want cancer and pain and sickness. Surgery, doctors and waiting rooms. I want it to all go away and be like it used to be.

But it isn't. And it won't be. And that somehow has to be OK.

And in the moments between where we smile our good mornings over coffee and kiss our good nights in the glow from the blaring television, there is goodness and peace and joy. Walks with Chienne and the Ones performing living-room recitals and playing games and commenting on Family Feud responses. (We are not impressed.)

"Did you know an elephant could stand on a blue whale's tongue?" I asked Dad while playing Quizzy's Corner on Webkinz (Smallest One spends money fast).

"I bet that'd make him mad - somebody standing on his tongue like that," he replied and I grinned.

"I love you a lot," I murmured to Mom and smoothed her hair while we watched Dancing with the Stars and gasped (I kid you not) at the results show.

The three of us stood at the kitchen sink one morning, gawking at the bugs that covered the screen on the first really cold night after warm days.

We see who gets to pet Sprout most in the evenings. (I usually win. But not always.)

And I say prayers when they're located in the next room. Which means I'm doing the best I can. And I hope that feeling lasts even while I need to be back at work and a few hours away.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lay of the Land

I've remembered my way around.

Driving is no longer a squinting game or guess and check. Sleep comes faster (especially when drugged). The clickity-clack of Chienne on the wood floor and the padding of Sir Sprout have grown familiar, as have the demands of two little girls who are always stealing my iPad.

We are mostly well.

After a brilliant recovery from chemotherapy, Dad crashed a bit on Saturday. While Thursday and Friday saw him happy and hopeful, his mood subsequently dipped and has become grumpy and unwell. He watches the clock so he can take his next pill for nausea or pain. He complains about the oddest of things - why the front door was locked or if the shower curtain didn't get closed properly or the car door being closed too hard. This is, however, typical Dad-like behavior so to this I've re-adapted as well.

"Don't go home," Mom said after I'd called her surgeon's office and understood the upcoming appointments before I planned to leave yesterday.

"Right," I replied absently, still writing things down - I type notes with bullet points for easy reference and to make me feel more in control. I like notes with bullet points. "You go straight from pre-surgical testing to the radiation folks."

"No, you," she said, and I looked up into panicked eyes. "You don't go home. You stay here with me."

"Oh," I said gently, taking my fingers from my laptop to reach for her hand. "Of course I won't leave. I'll be right here." And by the time she'd recovered control enough to say I could go home and be back at work, I'd called Adam and arranged to stay another week.

I've been to more appointments and taken additional notes. I've run errands and now recall how Kroger's is organized. I've done more sinks of dishes in the past 2 days than all year at my house - Dad doesn't like it when we use the dishwasher. I fetch pills and note times so we don't overdose. I've supervised the naming of Webkinz for Easter (Lambie - guess what animal she is...) and helped fill plastic eggs. I put together cheesy potatoes and bit back a sigh when Brother worked his way through a 12 pack of beer and most of a bottle of vodka with his girlfriend. He is a good, loving person. And I'm really proud of him. Mostly.

It feels routine. And easy. Which is such a blessing, honestly, as the awful thing at work has turned into an Awful Thing and I basically dread returning.

But it will work out. It tends to, anyway. And in the meantime, there are lilacs blooming right at the eastern edge of the house - right where they're supposed to be.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Tale of the Very Long Day

"Where are you?" I asked Brother via phone, having peered down the hallways looking for him to guide me to the exam room.

"Where are you?" he replied and I rolled my eyes.

"I'm exactly where you told me to meet you," I whined impatiently. "You said to come in, take the elevator and arrive at Pod C. So I came in, took the elevators and arrived at Pod C. Where Are You?!"

"I'm outside looking for you," he admitted sheepishly. "Give me 2 minutes to get back."

I took deep breaths as I waited, leaning there against the wall in the sunny cancer center. Nothing was going according to plan and one would think I'd embrace the concept after the last few weeks, but I still struggle against it, striving hopelessly for control.

After writing the blog post, I made my way toward home, planning to land at 10PM and be in bed by 11. The plane broke in Detroit, however, resulting in 90 minutes on the broken plane before leaving it and arriving at another. I crawled into bed after 1AM and slept fitfully until the morning sunshine nudged at my eyelids.

"Crap," I murmured to greet the day and stumbled out of bed to brush my teeth, gulp down coffee and walk my drugged dog so that her sedative could take affect before I hefted her into an already-packed Jeep. She mostly slept as we sped toward home, feeling sleepily hopeful that Dad would do well with his initial chemotherapy and Mom's surgeon would have encouraging news.

"Sorry," Brother said, wearing the abashed smile that often graces my face when I screw something up. I laughed at him and exchanged hugs before entering the same room we'd used at our last oncologist visit.

I kissed Mom (who looked stressed) and Dad (who looked just a little afraid) and stood next to Brother in front of the sink on one wall.

"Ready to get started?" the doctor asked when he opened the door and we all nodded and murmured in the affirmative. He shuffled through papers, hummed over blood pressure (which was extremely low) and indicated blood counts were all fine.

And we went to the waiting room. Where we waited. And waited. And Waited Some More.

Dad was a trooper, continuing to answer us that he was fine - just ready to get started - when we inquired. Brother went to fetch him some juice. I held his hand and chattered about my trip. Mom looked on worriedly. And we all sighed with relief when - nearly 90 minutes after we were meant to begin - they called us back to the treatment room.

Brother and I took the chairs between Dad's reclining chair and the window that overlooked the lake, leaving Mom in a chair across the bookshelves.

"Are you pretending you're not with us?" Brother teased her and we formed a semi-circle in front of Dad, staring up at the pre-chemo meds dripping through his IV until the Gemzar arrived and began to drip.

We four stared up at the transparent baggie of fluid hopefully there in the bright room. And glanced around at the other families dealing with varying degrees of illness with us.

We stared at the ducks in the pond outside. Remarked on the weather. Encouraged Dad to take lollipops from the Easter basket for the girls and got Brother a cupcake from a different volunteer. We spoke to the social worker - my parents want neither rides to treatment or free massages. I eagerly awaited our turn with the therapy dog, riding sweetly in his stroller for all to admire and nuzzle at him. And we talked and laughed - Brother and I sharing a similar humor and easiness with self-deprecation.

"Is it burning?" I asked and Dad shook his head and, having finished his juice, sipped at his water.

"Almost done," Mom told him, glancing between the clock and the baggie of fluid.

We panicked when the tube filled with blood - it was just the lack of pressure pushing anything in, they said - but then he was free of the IV and we made our way downstairs and out into the afternoon.

My parents had ordered a new dining room table before Christmas and were thrilled to show me the display at JC Penney until it was delivered. Then the order was cancelled and all my pouting and glares failed to reinstate it. So, after we were home from the hospital with Dad that weekend, I found a similar one online and ordered it.

And - on this hectic of days - it was due to arrive. Brother's girlfriend met the delivery guys so we hurried through construction to see our new furniture.

As we paused at a stoplight, all cars arranged single file, I watched the workers squirt black goo on the pavement over the worst of the cracks, other orange-vested men following it busily with their brushes to fill and coat the damage. I pictured the goo attacking the tumors, shrinking them into nothing inside Dad's belly.

We returned home to the new table, which is perfect in its cozy simplicity, and cooed over how lovely it was. Brother, his girlfriend and I loaded the old one in his truck so he could use it at home. And we all had half sandwiches and fruit before departing for Mom's appointment, the four of us pleased that we'd taken this cancellation and were seeing someone early.

"You'll have to wait a long time," the receptionist warned. "A long, long time - hours," she clarified when we looked at her skeptically.

So we filled in paperwork and settled in to the mostly-empty waiting room.

Mom demanded Brother take Dad home after 45 minutes. Dad refused.

I moved a chair around to put my feet up after an hour. Turned the television up after 90 minutes. Went to get water from the vending machines at 2 hours.

We watched the employees file out between 5 and 6, growing increasingly tired ourselves. My head ached so I took Tylenol from Mom's purse and sighed.

After a little over 3 hours, we grinned upon being called back to a room. Where we waited some more.

And more.

And more.

My headache returned. Dad shifted uncomfortably, still holding Mom's hand as she leaned forward, resting her head on her knees and begging God to make this end already.

We saw a nurse. Then waited. An assistant. Then waited. And when I opened the exam room door to allow blessedly cool air in, the surgeon finally came.

After a quick exam, we outline treatment option, forming a family chain with our linked hands. Brother to me to Dad to Mom as she sat by the doctor and struggled to focus. I forced my tired brain to focus, memorizing facts and references so I could write it out later.

I called in a take-out order while we waited for the elevator, wincing against my headache as Brother drove us to get it.

I called Aunt on the subsequent drive home.

"It's good," I reported dutifully. "Small invasive ductal carcinoma. They'll take it out and some lymph nodes, though they don't think it's spread. Then they'll do radiation afterward - hopefully partial breast."

"Say it again," Aunt requested and I could hear her shuffling for pen and paper.

"I'll send you an email," I promised. "I'll write it all down for you. But not now - we're so tired. Tomorrow. I'll tell you everything tomorrow."

And I laced my fingers through Mom's as we sat in the backseat, handing her the phone so she could speak to her sister.

We came home and I helped unpack dinner, swallowing more pills as I watched my parents to ensure they ate. I smiled weakly but proudly as they did, wearing my inquisitive expression when they stared at me.

"Aren't you eating? You love this chicken," Mom noted.

"Sick," I explained. "But so proud of both of you. And you," I added for Brother and he grinned easily, lifting his cheek for a kiss before I shuffled down the hall to bed. Mom came to smooth my blankets and turn on the fan so I'd not be too hot. Dad came to kiss my hair and rub my shoulder.

And I lapsed into sleep, drifting pleasantly away from the worries of the world for just a little while.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Standard Trip

"Hello," said I to the man behind the Delta counter at ATL. "I'm traveling with a colleague and her flight is earlier than mine. So I wondered if this plane was full or if I might ride on it."

He asked if I were gold, silver or platinum (I am none of those) and asked if I'd be willing to part with $50 for the change. I happily agreed and was granted a seat in an exit row on an earlier flight than my itinerary reported.

So there I was not long afterward, clicking busily at my laptop between nibbles of complimentary cookie and sips of water. And I felt happy - on an earlier flight, in the air on a sunny day, heading somewhere new to do a job - and then I remembered. And the happiness drifted away as if blown by a tornado-force wind, flapping helplessly in the whirl before disappearing into the distance.

I know not what to do with this knowledge - the prognoses and treatments and needs that I can address now but won't be able to sustain. So I reminded myself that we live - in part, at least - to feel joy and be productive. And that it's good to escape into happiness as often as possible.

"Is your room giant?" I asked when I called Sibling after we'd settled in and I'd consulted with our local hosts. "Mine has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and this huge living area. I think I could probably live here for a year or two."

So she joined me in my gigantic suite and we worked companionably, squinting at geographical borders and skimming through disease trends.

"Can you draw China?" I finally asked. "I can't figure out internal borders and it doesn't have enough ocean around it." She kindly complied.

I would have ordered what was on the prix fixe menu even without it being $25 for an nearly-too-delicious dinner. And when they were out of the standard dessert? Sibling and I got to select whatever we wanted from the beautifully stocked case.

We walked back through the southern evening and I was pleased that it was cooling down from the miserable humidity of the afternoon. I even welcomed the powerful storms that pelted us with rain as we scampered back from a colleague's room after preparing for our demonstrations today, me playing dog to Sibling's pony in this show.

I called my folks while we transferred data and checked software.

"Did Mom tell you my story?" Dad asked when it was his turn on the phone. I replied that she had not and he said that he'd been in the bathroom, looking in the mirror and heard a voice in his head. 'This is your dad,' the voice said. 'Don't give up.'

"Oh," I replied, rather surprised and quite moved. I'd not been close with my paternal grandfather - he wasn't the friendly/demonstrative type. But I found it terribly lovely that Heaven pushed a message through when Dad was feeling hopeless and sad and afraid. "That's really wonderful, Daddy," I said.

"I think I'm going to be around for a while," he said. "Because I'm not giving up."

"That makes me feel good," I told Mom when she got back on the phone.

"Me, too," she said.

Later, I crawled into both king-sized beds to see which I preferred, finally settling on one and burying myself in the blankets and pillows to relax. I finished my presentation, delivered my part of the day and accomplished some work besides.

Now I wait at the airport, souvenirs in tow, and prepared to fly north then drive south.

But I'm glad I came - it's been a very gracious and good trip.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Tough Enough

I went back to work today, once again mingling among the tall filing cabinets and wide windows and people who were wonderfully normal and oddly foreign to me.

I answered the first call and excused myself for a moment to close my door and turn my chair away from the transparent walls before dabbing at tears and listening to gentle recommendations.

"My dad was sick when I was beginning my career," she said. "And I'd go home for weekends and work all week - calling every day to hear my parents say they were fine. And I wish I'd spent more time there - knowing I was putting them first, that I helped and loved and supported them."

"But I was going to work this week," I protested weakly.

"Go back home," she advised and I blinked back more tears. I'm so lost and confused and afraid. And while faith strengthens me - and it truly does - I sometimes tremble under the weight of the difficulty.

My dad - he who fixes and advises and points out every single flaw - is dying. And I want to delete that line - erase its existence - and make him all better.

"We'll only call if we need you," Mom said. "So make sure you answer, OK?"

"I promise," I replied. I kept it - shooing people from my desk and muting my desk phone for the cell summons.

"My surgery consult got moved up," Mom told me. "It may conflict with your dad's chemotherapy - they said it'd take a few hours on Thursday - so I just wanted to let you know."

"I'll be back," I immediately replied and she said it wasn't necessary. They were fine. It wasn't my job to take care of them - it was my job to be at the office and answer emails and do presentations. "Let's see how it plays out," I concluded - what I had, what times appointments were confirmed.

And then I got bad professional news. A very unpleasant review that - though it should not have been - shocked and appalled me.

I moved back to my office from that meeting, fighting tears of ridiculous self-pity and indignation, and someone asked about my parents.

And I shook my head, moving more quickly past and away from her well-meaning inquiry. Collapsing into my chair, I stared at the screen before me and out the windows behind me and breathed through the urge to flee.

While I do have to travel tomorrow, there really isn't anywhere to run. So I'll do my (professional) job and give presentations and fly on planes and dress up. Then I'll drag my long-suffering canine back in the car and drive south to join my parents for their Thursday appointments.

Much as I worry that I haven't the resources or fortitude or faith to battle this, fight I will.

God help me.