The rooms at Stanford are much bigger than the ones at Kaweah Delta, but they're doubles. When I first arrived this time, my roommate had the bed with the window. I got the bed by the door, and was surrounded by nothing but vile florescent light and hospital curtains.It turns out that a view of a pole is better than no view at all.
Mercifully, below is the view from our new room. We were graced the opportunity to transfer into a better room today, and I can now testify to the Difference A Window Makes. How dare they ask anyone to stay on the Bad Side of the rooms?
Still, this is Stanford, so there are plenty of improvements to be found outside the unit. The gardens here are lush and elegantly sculpted, a world away from the pigeon-poop covered patio at the hospital back home. They provide live music sessions in the Atrium at lunchtime twice a week, and a decent menu from which I can custom-order at my leisure three times a day. Annie gets her very own cot, and the TV has the Food Network.
It nice to be somewhere busier with a bigger budget, although I have to say I have nothing but love for all the nurses that have been taking care of me at home.
I've never seen fear in a doctor's eyes like the ER doc's when I came in with the fever Sunday night. I assume he's used to treating more straightforward trauma—gunshot wounds and drug overdoses, knowing the Visalia crowd—so I when I showed up with six months' history of aggressive lymphoma and potentially dangerous chemo side effects, he looked like he wanted to panic, or maybe cry. He was about to order me a risky spinal tap and a painful catheter with which to take a urine sample when my Oncologist showed up. Like my own personal white knight, he immediately declared those measures unnecessary, and also made the important declaration that I was not, in fact, developing spinal meningitis.
It was a significant moment when Annie and I realized a few hours later that if I had contracted spinal meningitis, it would have been curtains for me that night. I love and trust my Visalia Oncologist tremendously, but even he can't save me from random deadly infections. This knowledge, along with the feeling that there are certain developments I can't control no matter how hard I try, gives me the uneasy sensation that I could be whisked off the planet with a giant Vaudeville Hook at any given moment. I know it's not necessarily true, but right now I do sort of feel like I'm living on borrowed time. Every day is a gift, at this point.
Confronting the possibility of my death is a complicated thing. At first, after the conversation with my Oncologist last Friday, all I could do was make jokes about it. I did the same thing after the initial cancer diagnosis. It's just too absurd to wrap my head around, so I feel like I have to say it out loud over and over again until it really hits home. I do this in a lighthearted, offhand way, to cushion the blow for myself and everyone else.
For example: "If I am dying," I morbidly joked to Annie at some point this week, "I might as well stop recycling now." Terrible, right? But kind of funny in a terrible way.
Like a marble rolling down a very complicated series of chutes and tubes, the reality of me possibly dying sinks in slowly, passing down and across many levels. Over time, the jokes stop and the grief begins, as I struggle with the fact that I'm simply not ready to leave my life behind.
For every new person with whom I discuss these possibilities, I experience two strange feelings. One is that I have the "easy way out." Everyone else has to face the idea of living the rest of their lives without me, but, if it really comes down to it, I just get to roll over and head to the light. The other weird thing I do is apologize to other people for breaking their hearts and bringing this grief upon them. I know this is wrong somehow, apologizing for my disease which is causing others such pain, but as a people-pleaser it is one of my deepest instincts.
My Cancer Counselor tells me it is a good thing to look death in the eye, or at least to acknowledge it as a possibility. He says my challenge is to be able to hold all the potential outcomes with as loose of a mental grasp as possible. Trying to plan for death is ultimately just another way to feel like I have some control over the situation, which, according to him, I really don't. Conversely, planning only for life is an obstinate form of denial that will make things more difficult if that turns out not to be the outcome. So I just have to recognize all the possibilities, and try and stay in the moment.
The amount of control I do or do not have over my cancer is also up for debate. There are so many different theories about the things we can do to overcome this disease, whether it be juicing green vegetables, visualizing the cancer cells dying, or simply "staying positive." I'm not sure how much any of those things can really tip the scale into being cured, but I'm sure every little thing is helpful. The important thing, I keep hearing, is simply to be able to say "I did the best I could." But what does that really mean?
For now, I think that means not getting sucked too far down the vortex of fear. Unfortunately, one of my biggest life mantras before cancer was to have really low expectations about all things, so that if I'm wrong, I can only be pleasantly surprised. It seems like perhaps that is not the best attitude now.
It's going to take another few weeks before we get any significant news about what the next steps will be. I'll have to finish this round of chemo and then wait another two weeks or so before I can get scanned and "re-staged" again.
|She Still Needs a Name|
I've had my ukelele just over a week, and I'm very pleased with my progress. I've basically nailed Clementine and He's Got the Whole World in His Hands. I have some more room to work on Somewhere Over the Rainbow and I'm Yours by Jason Mraz. Regardless, even the beginning stages of banging them out and warbling along gives me a thrill.
How I love that ukelele. It is light, portable, has a delightful wooden sound, and I can sing along with the music I make! Coming off a childhood of parentally enforced flute-playing—an instrument I always felt was fundamentally uncool—I could not be more jazzed about that uke. I intended to practice in the garden daily while I was here at Stanford, but I managed to take it so badly out of tune it has become un-playable. Annie has offered to take it to the classical guitar player in the lobby of the Cancer Center tomorrow and ask him to tune it for me. What a sweetheart.
|My Rock Gets a Smooch|
We were able to spend the past few nights pre-hospital in the Palo Alto area, feasting on fine foods and visiting with family. My new brother-in-law Ben flew up from LA with his girlfriend just to have dinner with us—and put us up in the W Hotel for a night. Then Dr. Dad came to sit in on the Friday visit with my Stanford docs. He also took us back to our favorite place for dinner. If nothing else, between hospital stays, we have been dining in style.
Our Last Night Out, the pre-hospital pampering continued as Annie's parents treated us to a stay at a lovely Bed & Breakfast, the Cowper Inn in downtown Palo Alto. They put us up in the Carriage House, a bright white room with gabled ceilings and a teensy little bathroom that reminded us of our apartment on Prospect Street in Northampton. Built in 1895, the Cowper Inn gives Annie a little taste of home.
From time to time I do feel a pang of worry that all these intermittent dinners, hotel rooms and "celebrations" are extravagant and undeserved luxuries. And then I remember what is happening to me, and think that these are the flavors and sensations of life—necessary touches that balance out the grimness of living with Cancer.
|Not So Grim Today!|
I am also really trying to continue to stick by that motto, and so far I think I'm doing a damn good job of it.