I’ve Got You

I picked my father up off of the floor for the first time. He’s not a small man and I couldn’t do it alone. He fell in the hallway, crashing into the ground, into the wall, smashing his head and neck into a strange position. I slipped him to the side and watched as he quaked. My not delicate, strong as an ox, can fix everything, dad has fallen a lot lately. Usually, it’s just my mom with him and after an hour or so he recovers enough for the two of them to drag him back into a chair. Next time, 911, my mother says. I don’t think the falls really sunk in until I found myself kneeling, arms around my father, meeting my wife’s eyes.

It’s okay, dad, I’ve got you.
You sure, kid?Of course. You spent so much time scooping me up, it’s my turn now.

But the truth is, I did not have him. I was in no way certain I wasn’t going to collapse. We did it though, the three of us together, dragging him back into a chair. My mother was hiding.

The doctor doesn’t have a good reason for the falls. His cerebellum is swelling on both sides a bit, but that doesn’t explain the way he walks, the tremors, or the falls. Although, the doctor says, the are some things that signify Parkinson’s and they suspect that, if the swelling goes down and things don’t return to the usual, shitty, state of normal, that it may well be this, completely unrelated, disease.

Because of course the fuck it is.

 

By Tomorrow

Find a place to see Christmas lights, my mom says. You know the kind where the shops are decorated and the trees are strung with white lights, she says. It shouldn’t be loud, my dad says. Or crowded, or cold, and it needs to be wheelchair accessible, says my mom. Maybe the downtown walking mall, she says.

I agree that yes there is a tree, but I’m not sure about other decorations. Not the stores. And it’s all outside, I mention, and there will be a lot of people.

No, she says, the street is lined with those trees that are lit up with the teeny white lights.

You are thinking of another place, I say. I don’t know if I can find a place that meets all of these things, I say.

Well, think harder, she says. We want to go tomorrow.

My Parents (Boundaries, Part 3)

My mom and dad decided to put their elderly farmhouse on the market. This is not as charming as it sounds, except when it is, which is only just as the sun sinks below the Blue Ridge, casting the crepe myrtles and blackberry bushes into shadow and when the breeze swirls the scent of freshly cut grass and young pine trees through the summer heat. The rest of the time, it has mice and the plumbing is sluggish. The pipes burst, the slate foundation leans, there is a bear in the woods.

I fully support this decision. My dad is having more trouble with stairs (and walking in general) and they have an hour drive just to have an appointment with the doctor. It never really made sense to buy the house but they did and there it is. I think it’s smart to downsize and to be closer to emergency care. I think they will be happier to spend less on gas and to be less dependent on their questionable car to take them back and forth. I think they will like plumbing. It’s nice.

It isn’t easy though. They want what they have always had* – a spacious house with a large yard. They want it to be one level and close to town. They would like to pay two pennies for this house. I’m a little surprised at their inability to truly downsize but I shouldn’t be, I guess. It’s exactly as they have approached my dad’s diagnosis on the whole: out of sync with reality.

My mother has been crying about money and moving which is really crying about my dad. I’m pretty sure that’s how you can class all the crying around here. And I reassured her that they wouldn’t be on the street. That if the house sold immediately (ha) and they hadn’t signed a lease, they could live temporarily with us. Can you imagine what my mother heard? I believe it was something along the lines of: You should move in with us right away. Debra and I will move into the unfinished basement so that you don’t have to use stairs. Live here forever.

My sisters will hopefully help to turn her away from this collision course she is on. But that seems flimsy, doesn’t it? How do you say no to a man with cancer and his bereaved wife?

 

 

*They have forgotten the tiny trailer in San Bernadino, the brick box in Benson, and all the times they moved in with my grandparents.

 

 

Ways Cancer Doesn’t Suck: Sandwich Edition

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My mom offered to buy me a sandwich today before we head to my dad’s appointment at the cancer center. She even asked if I wanted mayo! This is a pleasant change of pace and especially welcome since I didn’t have anything in the house to pack for lunch today. And, given I have two lunches out with colleagues this week and a dinner out with a candidate for a position for which I’m hiring (this is six now – it’s very Mary Poppins around here), I would rather have skipped lunch than had something out.

That’s all I can turn up today.

Because there is an appointment. And because my dad fell three times last week. And because he didn’t remember the last one even though he has two black eyes from where he must have fallen onto his face, smashed his glasses, and was carrying a nail gun with an unknown purpose. Maybe it’s a stroke. Maybe it’s the tumor. But something is making him forget what he was saying, use the wrong words, and have an unsettling greyish pallor.

Perhaps this text exchange with my sister will make you smile in that gallows humor sort of way the way I did.

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  1. From mom to family – picture of she and my dad with no beard.
  2. From sister to family – I don’t condone her use of ‘daddy’ #shes36
  3. From mom to family – inclusion of winky face to show this slippage is not a big deal.

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  1. Recently I mimed calling RR on the phone. I used the classic pinky and thumb to ear. She picked up and used a flat hand. I hung up with a setting down motion. She turned her palm and thumbed an invisible button. #old #agegap #weshouldbuyaphone #shecantcall911 #parentingfail #seriouslyold
  2. Left in because, come on! It’s a great joke! For those too young (#getoffmylawn) or out of the country, Miss Cleo was a famous television psychic in the 90s.
  3. Me to my sister in response to Text Thread 1.
  4. My sister to me. She is the best. And, I never would have had such a chuckle if it hadn’t been for the cancer so I guess that’s another silver lining?

 

Ways Cancer Doesn’t Suck: Anxiety Edition

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I know you’re utterly familiar with my mental state if not the list of medications that keep it happily in the zone of “mental state” and not just “mental”. Is that a 90’s reference? Needless to say, it’s a fine line we walk over here but we’re walking it.

Prior to cancer (not my own which seemed, somehow, less anxiety-causing although I suppose it wasn’t really, just more of an intense scream and less of a low, steady tearing out of my heart), I had a prescription for an anxiety medication that caused me to care less but to also have a splitting headache not too long after getting to the care-less point. And, since the fact of knowing I would GET a headache made me more anxious, the bottle still sits in the cupboard, mocking me with its potential but being, in my opinion, nigh untouchable.

But the anxiety, it didn’t go away. It didn’t dissipate or get less. In fact, I fell into a panic attack or two just when I thought I’d become the sort of person who could sagely look upon someone else’s panic attack with empathy and gratefulness without wondering how long until I was in that place, too. Twice (I’m a slow learner) I found myself noticing that I should really get up and leave the room/meeting/lecture/etc and try to breathe before I passed out, then attempting to do that very thing, and then finding that I actually could not physically get up or do anything actually except feel like the air was being sucked out of my lungs. They were a different sort of panic attacks. Before, something in particular would set them off for very sane (in a PTSD way) reasons. Now, they are here when they were not for no reason at all, but of course, for ALL the reasons, of which, let’s be honest, there are too many.

And so I asked my lovely physician for something else. I have an irrational fear of doctors thinking I am drug-seeking. I blame it on the emergency room visits when I was younger and blind from a migraine, doubled over and unable to speak clearly, and doctors and nurses treated me skeptically because you can’t verify migraine and so it’s one of the easier things to seek drugs for. But I asked, and I got the words out, which as a very real risk since the anxiety itself was about to send me right over the edge and now I have a different anxiety rescue and my god has it changed my life. I made it through father’s day yesterday without a hiccup and I can mostly catch it these days before I am too paralyzed to move. So it’s a silver lining I wish I didn’t have but I do, and that’s fine.

Speaking of anxiety, it is what has kept me from writing here and everywhere but perhaps if I promise more here soon, I’ll be able to jump this hurdle and come back to it.

Ways Cancer Doesn’t Suck: Uncles Edition

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My dad has two excellent brothers who married two interesting women. My dad is also, incidentally, excellent and my mother interesting so I’d say my grandparents did a pretty bang-up job. I also have pretty awesome cousins. In my mind, they have no faults but I suppose that’s what happens when you’ve only ever seen them a handful of times. Which is, I suppose, to say that my dad and his brothers aren’t particularly close.

I’m not sure my California uncle has ever visited my father (although the opposite has occurred) but if I lived in Monterey, I certainly would be happy to have visitors come to me as well. The glioblastoma has changed all sorts of things and so it is that my uncle has come to visit. My mother invited my other uncle to come at the same time. I don’t know why since her house is teensy and she has a sum total of 4 places to sit. She did it to my sisters, too. I think she wants to inflict family reunions on people when, in reality, everyone just wants my dad to themselves for awhile.

And so there we were, grilling on the porch, one uncle knocking back martinis as quickly as he is able and the other being felled by narcolepsy mid-chicken-flip. If you have never seen this in action, imagine someone just crumpling to the floor without warning. Everyone in my family just goes on as normal, which is both odd and comforting (although, if you’re my wife, just as shocking as some of the other ridiculous things that happen in this family).

It wouldn’t have happened if not for the cancer and I really like my uncles so it’s a silver lining in a whole mess of awfulness. Also, my dad’s birthday is today so, while not a silver lining, it’s pretty awesome that he got to see 70 after all.

 

 

 

 

A Different Sort of Grieving

My dad had another MRI yesterday and has his regular check-in with the doctor this afternoon. In black and white that looks so much less ominous than it feels.

I spend a lot of time crying when no one is looking. Everyone in my family is outwardly (and probably inwardly) managing this so differently that I feel as though I’m grieving five different ways all at once. We’re all grieving for loss, yes, even though it feels like we technically shouldn’t be grieving yet because we haven’t had The Loss.

I see my mother flying like a trapped bird into every wall and window except the open door right in front of her. I see my sister brandishing her essential oils and conspiracy theories. I see my other sister quivering into immobility. I see my dad disintegrating. I see my wife on eggshells, navigating me and the terrible reminder of her own losses. I don’t know how to manage it all.

And it isn’t stopping. It’s only magnifying. My scatter-brained mother forgot to refill my father’s chemo a week ago prompting her to identify a dozen ways in which he was “better.” One sister surged forward proclaiming that obviously there’s another solution to this cancer besides chemo. The other sister tolled the bell of doom, “doesn’t everyone think dad’s just tapping out?”

Maybe. Maybe he made a decision. It wouldn’t be the first time he and my mom have decided to wait on some big news in order to “protect you girls.” I haven’t seen any real improvements from Cancer Dad to Regular Dad. His balance is still shaky, his jokes make no sense, he’s slow as molasses, he doesn’t talk much, he fumbles. It hurts so, so much.

It’s not a competition to see who’s handling it better but I wish we were all handling it differently. I wish we weren’t handling it at all.

 

Hope (Five Dollar Complaint #9 and Ways Cancer Doesn’t Suck: Dog Edition))

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Sort Of.

My parents got a puppy. These are the same people who, upon rescuing a dog, re-homed it with my sister ostensibly because he was impossible to train but mostly because they were too lazy to work at it. Evidence: My sister trained him. This is the same person who sleep-trained her child by letting him sleep in front of the TV all night. But we’re not here to judge.

My father said he might like a puppy and within 24 hours he had a puppy. Named Hope. For obvious cancer-sucks-related reasons. Debra and I had the same thought “How long until this puppy gets handed down to us? Probably after all the fun puppyhood is over and there’s extensive retraining to do. Yep. Probably then.” That’ll be five dollars ma’am.

On the other hand, my father has a puppy. And he’s happy to have a puppy. I think. I mean, it’s hard to tell but he seems happy. And she’s cute. And it’s cute to see him cuddle her. Which makes my mom happy. Which makes him happy and that makes me happy. And so my wife is happy. And the world is good.

If he’d been himself, he would have done as he’s always done and rescued a rottweiler. And let me tell you, in my experience (too painful to link here but if you go searching for Sam you’ll find it), rottweilers rescued by my father have a taste for cats. But instead, cancer crept up on him and sucked out the part that was biased against anything not huge, and guard dog-y, and left him, a man of few words, with even fewer.

I want a puppy.

So thank you Hope, for being the silver lining in this week’s shitty cancer episode.

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Ways Cancer Doesn’t Sucks: Getting Mom Back Edition

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See Ways Cancer Doesn’t Suck: Fox News Edition for installment one of Silver Linings.

When I wrote the first silver linings post I figured that it would be the only one. After all, cancer fucking sucks and there is nothing, nothing, good about it. Turns out there’s another sort of slush-grey lining.

My mom is trying harder.

I admit that I rely on Debra more than I should. A lot more. I think in most relationships there is some give and take. For instance, I think she is only sort of aware of where the toilet cleaner is. My faults are too many to mention. My mom checked out of almost everything years ago. She used to pay the bills, buy groceries, drive, have primary care responsibilities for my sister and I, work full-time, etc. And then…not. Perhaps her mental health got the better of her. Perhaps it was just easier to focus on hobbies. I think the former is what prompted the latter.

My dad was diagnosed in June with a 15 month life expectancy. When the doctor said that, I think we all, to some degree, managed to forget that it wasn’t 15 months of perfect health. We didn’t get perfect health from day one. The decline hasn’t been all that gradual. It’s like the bandaid that you slowly pull off – not fast enough for a clean break but not slow enough to spare you the worst of the hair and skin tugging.

He and my mom have wills, powers of attorney, financial plans, insurance. Unfortunately, they are not the most savvy with money-based decision makers so I’m not so certain that there won’t be money-related tears in the end. Still, my mom has begun to turn a corner. She has started to email the nurses using full sentences. It sounds less like she’s typing while running away and more like she’s remembering how to be polite, firm, specific, determined, involved.

Involved. She’s tuning back into the details of life. I don’t think she’ll ever be comfortable but this in-between time, the can’t-rely-on-my-daughters-yet-because-my-husband-is-still-alive-and-we-are-still-independent time is helping to shift her into the person she was before. I’m proud of her for facing her aversion to making and receiving phone calls, her ability to remember that diplomacy sometimes helps, even in adversity, and that it’s still important to be kind to the people that are helping you.

So that’s the slushy, ashy, gravely silver lining brought to you by 8 months still alive.

 

 

Ways Cancer Doesn’t Suck: Fox News Edition

logo.pngI think we can all agree that cancer sucks. There’s not actually a strong enough word for what cancer is. I am so tired of cancer, so exhausted by being a cancer spectator, so…just…flattened by the day to day of it that the silver lining is sometimes all that keeps me from…

Giving up? Being defeated? Falling apart? None of those things, probably. That doesn’t happen (pity). I wake up every day whether I feel like it or not. So what? Being miserable? Laying down with my arm over my eyes and moaning? Doesn’t seem like my job would continue to pay me if I did that.  Fucking cancer. It won’t even allow you to get properly checked out. Maybe if I bought a fainting couch…

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So. Silver linings. Know what? My father can be a bigot. He has racist moments that make me cringe. His inability to think critically about what he hears is ridiculous. I want to lock him in his house on election day. I don’t know whether he’s utterly oblivious to my political views or whether he thinks the offensive, not-at-all-grounded-in-facts, comments that he makes are going to change my mind. Either way, it makes family dinners (every Sunday, note) uncomfortable.

Cancer has rendered him harmless. He doesn’t seem to take in what he watches on television. I’m not even sure he watches conservative TV anymore. I don’t know what he thinks about Trump or Sanders. How thrilling! He hasn’t made a single political remark in the entire election season. I don’t even know if he’ll be alive to vote. Problem solved?

This is gallows humor, right? But it’s a physical sense of relief. I don’t feel constantly tested to remain level-headed, calm, reasonable, loving in the face of uninformed, inflammatory opinions. And, to be clear before you hit that comment link, I don’t need him to agree with me. I want him to be able to sort through propaganda – no matter where it’s coming from. I want him to fact check. I want Sunday dinner to be about the delectable roast beef, not politics.

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So thanks cancer? I guess?