On Monday I met my first fellow patient that looks to be heading towards a bad outcome. It's been interesting that everyone I've met so far has had a pretty good prognosis on their outcome. As one of my chemo buddies said - "If you're here, there's hope." Which is a bit sobering - this patient population has already been sorted into the ones that are strong enough for chemo and for whom the chemo has a chance of helping them. We don't even see the ones that are diagnosed such that chemo isn't deemed to be possible or useful. Whoa.
My session started like all the others with a quick trip to get my blood drawn. In the room was a frail little woman in her mid-sixties, with the same kind of peach fuzz head that I'm now driving. In an attempt to boost her spirits, I told her a story about a tiny bit of sideburn I can still grow and how happy I was to be able to shave it and do something to keep my appearance somewhat approaching normal. I then went on to talk with her husband (who had a big beard and head of hair) how another "nice" thing about chemo was that I've lost my nose and ear hair, so I don't need to worry about the geezer guy problem of hair growing out of your ears and nose.
The husband and I then go around the corner to sit in another waiting room while Rose (his wife, whose name I've changed) got her blood work finished. I'm feeling pretty good about things - hoping my blood work is normal, hoping that I feel better this upcoming week without the bleo. I'm casually chatting with the husband Kevin about this and that when he drops the big bomb on me.
"That's my beautiful bride Rose" he says, with just so much love and tenderness in his voice.
And I nod, happy to see that she's got some such great support in her life and that they've managed to keep their love strong in the face of such a hard journey.
"We didn't think she'd make it this far. Her cancer came back this winter after 5 years. She was too weak for the chemo so they stopped it. But she's still here!"
And I just about lost my shit right there. The next day was Susan and my 9th wedding anniversary and Susan will be cancer free for 7 years in October. And I'm thinking to myself - holy shit - that could be me and Susan in 5 or 10 years. Back in here, sick again. This is my nightmare come to life - get better, think you're over all this and then years later, it comes back and you're torn away from all the things in life you love - your wife, your family, your body in motion - the whole smash. F__king hell...
And then Rose comes shuffling into the waiting room and we all sit together and make small talk - about how chemo makes you really sensitive to temperature changes (I describe it as losing your core mojo - your body core isn't strong enough to manage environmental changes). Kevin does most of the talking and Rose is more quiet, smiling every once in a while but not saying much. I sense that she's already started to drift away from this world or maybe she just doesn't have the energy for the interaction. It was just all an incredibly powerful, moving, scary scene. La-la-la, let's talk about dripping noses, no body hair and skip past the fact that you'll probably be dead by Labor Day or Halloween.
I then got called back for my doctor consult and told him that I would see them in the infusion room. And here's the pansy-ass move I made - when I went back to the infusion room, I chose an aisle where they weren't sitting. How's that for lame? I just felt like I had to protect my energy - I am going to get better, I am going to live for a long time still and I don't want to sit with someone for two hours that's dying. Just don't have it in me right now! Maybe ten years from now when I'm still healthy I'll be able to face that but on that Monday afternoon, I didn't have it in me.
So all the stories coming out of the cancer center don't have happy endings. I hope that Rose's body can muster the energy to handle the chemo and that helps her get better. More likely, she'll stop at some point, have a few reasonable months and then go into hospice and pass away. And Kevin will be left behind, his love for Rose still strong but with a giant hole in his life.
I thought about Rose a lot these last couple of days, wondering how her days are and thinking about the time Susan and I spent in CB this past weekend. I think about climbing hills on my mountain bike, I think about watching the young kids in our group move around with all their kid energy, I think about watching the crazy folks in CB doing their wacky mountain town celebrations. And I imagine that these are things that Rose will never get to experience again.
I'm not sure what comes after this life, but I know that I like being here and I know that the world is better when couples like Kevin and Rose are together. I'm also sure that at some point, in some way they'll be together forever but the transition from here to there is probably going to hurt - a lot.