The end of the year always surprises me. It shouldn’t. The tree is up and the shopping is done; there are events in the calendar that end in 2013, but it seems that 2012 will go on forever.
On the evening of the December 18th, I set my phone alarm for 8:30AM. My kids were at their Mom’s, and I generally sleep in on the mornings they aren’t here. And I’ve been sleeping a lot; my lung slowly healing from the surgery 2 weeks ago. I had planned to get up early, start some homemade bread for friends, and write about December 19th, 2011. I turned off the alarm, the bread didn’t get made, nothing got written, and I slept until noon.
December 19th 2011 is that day that I think of as the beginning of 2012. On that morning, the kids were already out for Christmas vacation. I had an appointment in Berkeley with my colorectal surgeon. For a frustrating 4 months I had been begging my oncologist to get a PET or CT scan approved for me. It is common practice to have “base line” scans done to make sure your cancer hasn’t spread. The office had been no help; saying they’d do it, I’d call the insurance company to find out they hadn’t. Finally, out of desperation, I called my surgeon’s office. The office staff consists of Dr. Bitar, and his assistant, Chastity. Within 2 days she had a CT approved for me. I was going to Dr. Bitar’s Berkeley office to discuss the results with him.
Adrienne stayed home with the kids. I slogged my way down Interstate 80, then up Ashby Ave. to Telegraph. I sat in Dr. Bitar’s office; he came in, fit and pressed as usual and began to look at the report.
Mumbling to himself, “Now why would that be?” Then, “Ah, that’s why”. Lowering the paper he said, “You have a large tumor growing at the bottom of your left lung. And a spot on your esophagus and a small one in your upper right lung.”
I didn’t cry this time like the first time I sat in his office and was told I had cancer. We talked for a minute. Chastity set up a PET scan to take place in 2 days and I went to my car.
“Honey, it’s back,” I told Adrienne on the phone. “Come right home,” she replied.
Then I cried. All the way back down Ashby and onto the freeway. I pulled myself together somewhere close to the bridge. By the time I arrived in Vallejo, Adrienne had planned play-dates for the kids. We set to work making appointments to get me back on the cancer wagon.
The days leading up to Christmas were a whirlwind of appointments. The PET scan, meeting with the oncologist, (who would be fired as soon as we found a new doctor to take over my care), a lung biopsy, a PICC line placement… We did all of this without telling anyone. I didn’t want anyone to know right before Christmas.
I wont’ go through everything that happened the rest of 2011 into the spring of 2012. It was scary. I was facing death everywhere I looked.
2012 included: 2 major lung surgeries, 7 chemo infusions, 9 Avastin infusions, (infused, but not “chemo”), 6 days in the hospital, many scans, x-rays and blood tests.
But you know, this hasn’t been my worst year ever. That distinction will always be held by my Junior year of high school, 1984-1985. And it has nothing to do with school and everything to do with my parents. Must have been pretty bad if 2012 doesn’t even come close to upsetting the titan bad year.
2012 has had some really rough days. I’ve cried a lot; mostly about my kids and Adrienne; not wanting to lose them, not wanting the kids to grow up without my eyes gazing upon them. And we’ve grown closer. I hardly ever stare at the clock and wish that bedtime would come sooner. I’ve learned to be a better parent.
Adrienne and I got married this year. A “fuck you” to cancer and its average life expectancy rates. A chance for people to come together and be part of the relationship that we have.
I finally started the book that I have been writing in my head for the past 20 years. I was stalled a little by this last tumor, but I’m back at it.
The usual chores and joys continued: the garden was planted and harvested and planted again. After many stops and starts, I learned to knit. I read a lot of books. I listened to stacks of records.
My Mom died this year. I’ve missed her more than I thought I would. But through her death, I reconnected with my extended family, and my brother and I stumbled across the ditch between us and rekindled our siblingness.
After a lot of struggling, his little brain stressing about my cancer probably a big part of it,) my son finally learned to read. He’s slow, but he can do it. Quinn just keeps getting older and smarter; I see a beautiful, talented woman underneath that pre-teen self-consciousness. Stella gets my jokes now, and we’ve created a lasting bond over me playing DJ: playing records I think she’ll enjoy. Although I can’t get anyone in this family to like Barbara Streisand, (oh, what a shame!).
And what about me? Besides 7 new scars, what has this year brought to me? I have grown up in a way I didn’t realize I needed to. Being forced to take it easy, I have reconnected to the spirituality that comforted me as a child. I have learned to look at others with a kinder eye. There are still things to improve on, but I’m grateful for the growth that I’ve experienced. I wish I could be more specific. I have always been one to strive to be better; often I fail, but I think this year I have succeeded.
Last Christmas, I fought back tears the entire day. I assumed it would be my last. But here I am. December 19th has passed. I’ve got a cold and my lung is still healing, but I’m here, sitting at my desk, still trying to make sense of life. Here’s to another year of life, learning and lots of music, books and laughing.
ps: a big thanks to all of you who read my blog, those who send me messages, or call for no reason. Friends are a giant part of the equation of life. I am grateful everyday for all of you.