Thursday, September 27, 2007

One Day

This was one day I had little hope for beyond just getting through it.

After almost two years of jury duty avoidance (cancer centers have form letters to let patients off the hook) the jig was up. The potential disruption in my already disrupted life was sending the muscles of my neck into tight spasms. Jury duty is okay if I have spare energy and some source of childcare. Having neither, but with a husband taking a vacation day to be home for school pickups at noon, I arrived at the courthouse promptly at 8:00 am with a notebook and novel. Turns out my time was not to be spent writing essays or reading. For the first time in decades of appearing in jury rooms I actually encountered someone I knew. Knew and liked! Friend T. walked in, I waved her over, and we spent the morning catching up on the month since we had last gotten together. By 11:00 our names were called and we thought our luck had run out. Instead, we were summoned to the courtroom of a benevolent judge. Realizing that few humans can manage to put their lives on hold for a 5-6 week trial, he asked how many people would not plead hardship. Those nine folks went to the jury box and the other 50 of us were released for another year. Yahoo!

Since T. and I were basically covered for the day, we decided to have lunch. Well, why not? T. can always be counted on to know the best restaurants and she did. A french bakery with sandwiches. Yum. We sampled many desserts before deciding on two to split. In the hours we spent chatting we caught up on the kids (we've known each other since the 5-year-olds were 5 months old), the husbands, the plans for family camp (next summer they'll join us!), and tended to the other bits and pieces of friendship.

T. mentioned where her son had found the perfect Harry Potter costume, and after consulting via cell phone, Danny agreed that he still wanted to be Harry Potter; a quick trip to the party store netted me two Halloween costumes. Gracie will be a witch. Not Hermione, mind you. A witch. Couldn't find a tiger or dog costume so the witch was a compromise. Still need to find a suitable witch wand.

Feeling smug at having obtained costumes by my self-imposed end-of-September deadline, I tooled home for kid approval. Yes, the costumes passed muster. Off they went with their dad to swim class. I continued on with what was turning out to be a vacation day of my own and called my friend Mot. He's undergoing a chemo treatment back in Illinois, hours from his home in Wisconsin. The grueling treatment schedule is in its 4th cycle and I think the travel component is almost as difficult as the medical portion. In late October, for the last cycle, I'll be there to help drive back to Wisconsin and will meet his wife and two of his three kids. For now, we chat about our kids, delve into matters of friendship, banter about topics we know are offlimits (hunting, guns, furry animals mounted on walls for decorative purpose), and an hour quickly passes.

The plastic surgeon I was set to visit tomorrow for a second opinion on my reconstruction cancelled. This doctor has a lousy front office and it has been one hoop after another trying to schedule anything. When I attempted to reschedule this appointment we were up to Thanksgiving when I stopped, thanked the woman and said it was just too difficult. Suddenly she did the tango suggesting that the doctor would find another time more convenient for me, and put me through to the "assistant." The assistant, of course, wasn't there. Is rarely there and hardly ever returns calls. I hung up. Made a decision, at last, about reconstruction. I have all the information I need on doctors. I like Dr. G. He's there when I'm bleeding internally, good with a knife, and laughs at my jokes. (We obviously have some history.) If he thinks I can get decent Girls from the DIEP, and my heart looks good after the echo next week, I'll schedule with him for the spring. Whew. That decision has been a long time coming. Feels good to finally make it.

Joe and I had Back-to-School Night and Luz came to watch the kids. Luz is the woman we hired to help keep the house clean when I couldn't keep things together last year. No woman works harder. She quickly became a friend, and her kindness was evidenced in the way she would take out the recycling and retrieve the garbage cans from the street, tackle the fridge interior or fold the laundry, all tasks more than required, all without being asked. I knew she made sure I was covered with a blanket when I slept during the worst of the chemotherapy treatments. The kids adore her. Weeks ago I asked if her daughter might be available to babysit; she checked the date and said she'd do it instead since Grace and Dan were already comfortable with her. We returned from the school to find both children sound asleep (never happens with any sitter) and Luz refusing payment. "No, Libby, you've been good to me. This is a favor, me to you."

This was one day I didn't expect much from. One day I just wanted to get through. Unexpected friends, kindness, resolutions made. One day. So much comes to us in just one day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Camping Without Cancer

It's happened. I've spent an entire weekend without thinking about recurrence or treatment side effects.

Sleeping bags, blankets, thermal dainties all made it into the van. Fear and worry stayed home.

We began what we hope will become a long tradition of family camp adventures at Lair of the Bear near Pinecrest Lake. Somehow I managed to talk my husband's brother and sister-in-law and their 6-year-old daughter into coming, as well as our friends with their three children, ages 8, 5 and 3. We will try to vacation together at the same camp in the summer if this weekend works.

The day before we left the forecast called for rain mixed with snow. Cold no matter how it came out of the sky. Danny and I scurried to an outdoor supply store for blankets, a lantern, thermal underwear for all, folding table for the tentcabin, SIGG bottles, ladybug rainboots for me. Amazing how expensive comfort is when purchased retail.

The weekend did not disappoint. The first night culled the cityslickers, who fled for easier vacation spots the next morning. It was below 40 degrees and by midnight I had a 50 lb 5-year-old boy snuggled deep in my sleeping bag, wedging me into one unmoving pose for the duration of a bone-achingly damp night.

Saturday we farmed the kids off to the staff who entertained them with activities, dodged rain showers, and kept the peace. Meals were prepared and served in the dining hall, no prep or clean-up required. All the moms present declared this to be their dream vacation even if it meant sitting on a folding chair near a forced-air heater while golfball-sized hail crashed down through the trees outside. Why? Surely you jest. Childcare. Someone else cooked and cleaned up. HEAVEN!

Our kids, Gracie at nearly 8 and Danny, 5, were giddy with their sudden freedom. A forest beckoned, and college students were their willing guides into the wilderness. During the rainpours, they gathered in the hall and played games, worked on crafts and goofed around without parental reprimand. By Monday morning, they were happily grungy in clothes that hadn't been completely changed and bodies that hadn't been bathed in days. Gracie took charge of the last project, tie-dying all four t-shirts for our family. Tuesday I would untie and rinse them to discover the beautiful heart design she had learned and worked into each one.

Today we have been home longer than we were away. I have washed more than a dozen loads of laundry, put most of the camping (okay, "camping lite") gear away, and organized the house back into a semblance of family tranquility. The fun and laughter of the weekend are still with us. We have healed a part of our family that was damaged in these past 16 months of anger, uncertainty and loss. The weekend we spent at family camp, the weekend it rained, will always be the weekend I'll think of as marking a change of seasons. My family is with me now. They were with me before, I think, each alone as I was and lost. This new season we are entering is not spring, not autumn. I don't know what it is or where it will take us. We'll find a way to go there, in some fashion, together.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

In the Garden of Dead Cats

We planted another one today. "Buddleia davidii 'Harlequin.' Deciduous, fast-growing shrub with long-arching branches and magenta flowers in summer." Only a one gallon specimen now this plant will soon hover over Clara, a 12-year-old calico with corn-yellow eyes. Our garden is a living tribute to many cats. They pass from the house to the garden quietly, with only the fanfare of children's tears and flower petals. In time we will smile at the flowers and say fondly, "See how well Clara's bush is doing," and "Look, Mika's plant is growing tall!"

I have been looking for my own resting place. No one is eager to accompany me on these trips. Cemeteries are often wildly beautiful; there is no hint of suffering or sorrow in the best of them. The place that most appeals to me is off Hwy 92, the road we travel for weekly swim lessons. From the hilltop the views are unlimited, the winds often unforgiving. Here nature is not contained, not crowded. If anyone wanted to remember me, it is here I would ask them to come.

Someday, when many years have passed, I hope I will go quietly from my house to another garden, with only the fanfare of children's tears and flower petals to mark the journey.