This story seeks to increase awareness and understanding of the unique needs of individuals diagnosed with life-changing illness or injury and their families by providing insight into the life of a man as he went through diagnosis and treatment of brain cancer (Glioblastoma Multiforme - or GBM).
With all that was going on with Dad during the first couple weeks in December, the days and the nights blurred together, but we never lost sight of the date circled in red on the calendar: the day for Dad to get Round Three of his treatment. After the debacle in the Chemo Suite during Round Two, I called and spoke to the oncologist about planning for a smoother appointment the next time around. He advised me that the date we were schedule to come in, the Wednesday before Christmas, was one of the busiest Chemo Days of the year and that, if we wanted efficiency, we should get there as soon as their doors opened. Because sleepless nights resulted in energy-sapped mornings for Dad and for us, I knew it would be a challenge to get out of the house and to the appointment that early. I didn’t want a repeat of the noisy, over-crowded Chemo Room or, even worse, the delay in even getting the drip started like last time, though, and so I agreed to the early bird time slot.
I also reminded the oncologist that the protocol from Duke called for an MRI at the one-month mark after the treatment had been started, which meant that Dad needed to get in for the scan right before or after he got Round Three. “How about the day before?” the doctor asked, and I put that on the books as well. The week before Christmas would be very busy for my family, I thought.
On one hand, I dreaded Chemo Day, but on the other hand I looked at it as something we could tick off our list on the road to getting Dad better. I looked at it like a Triple Letter Day on our Scrabble Board, a chance for us to score BIG TIME, and I was almost holding my breath in anticipation of the Big Payoff we had been promised from Avastin the Magic Bullet.
I had been making the three-hour drive between my parents house and mine about twice a week, staying one or two nights each time. As arduous as it was to get there to help with things at my parents’ house, to cover the distance in a state of constant sleep-deprivation, to try to keep up with whatever I could at home, and to carry on with my work responsibilities during this time, it was all I could do; I felt like I was free-falling whenever I wasn’t with Dad, and I felt physically ill when I didn’t know exactly what was going on at my parents’ house. It wasn’t that I thought that I needed to spend as much time as possible with Dad in case his time was limited; really, that thought didn’t enter my head because I was convinced that this difficult time period was just a bridge over troubled waters, an obstacle course through which we had to maneuver in order to get back to Real Life.
The week before Dad was scheduled for Round Three, I spent the night and most of the next day at my parents’ house. I had planned to leave there that evening so that I could get home and go to work the next day. However, when I went outside to put my suitcase in the car, I saw that a solid layer of ice had formed over the few inches of snow already covering the streets. As I defrosted my car, I reasoned that, once I got out of the neighborhood and onto streets with more traffic, the roads would have been salted and cleared by the other vehicles so I would be able to make it to the home safely.
I told Mom and Dad goodbye and slowly drove out of their neighborhood and onto the winding, two-lane road that lead to the interstate. The second street was hilly and shaded, though, and the ice was much worse. Cars in front of me were sliding and skidding, and, as I neared to the top of a big hill, I saw a fireman waving to get my attention. I rolled down my window to see what he wanted, and he told me that they were closing the road behind me because it was considered to be impassable. I eased my car forward, and my tires started spinning, preventing me from continuing up the hill. “Should I turn around and go back down the hill to get back to my parents’ neighborhood?” I asked him through the still-open window. “Can’t advise you,” he said. “Liability.” OK, then.
I did a three-point turn-about and started back down the hill, but my tires lost traction, and so I slowly pulled onto the narrow shoulder of the ditch-lined road. I asked the fireman who was still just standing there watching for help, and he said again that he was not allowed. I had a terrible sense of foreboding, or maybe just a sense of duty, and I was suddenly so desperate to get back to my parents' house. Frightened and panicky, I speed-dialed my husband and tried to explain to him what was happening. “Just put the car in low gear and go ahead slowly,” he said. With my stomach in knots, I clenched the steering wheel with both hands and eased down the hill, and, after taking almost 30 minutes to cover the two miles back to my parents’ house, I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I pulled into their driveway.
I went back inside the house and told them what had happened. “Wow! I’m glad you’re ok!” Dad said.
I felt my fear melt away, and I asked him, “Want to drink a beer with me?”
“I thought you’d never ask!” he said with a big smile.