For worse

Of ‘for better or worse,’ today was worse. This was a day plagued by confusion as Kevin’s brain grappled with the physiological assault of his brain being radiated and getting rid of necrotic tissue, and his conscious mind grappled with whether to hope or submit to a deadly disease. Since early January this has been a daily internal war for him, coupled with the exhaustion that comes with cancer. Although, thankfully the meds he’s on worked well immediately. As well as smaller nodules, he enjoyed a familiar burst of energy and was quickly back to his old self. We know these meds are temporary, and hope that means years for Kevin. We hope he’s one of the very lucky ones who might even be cured from this.

Since treatments have started we compare notes on the tiniest changes to his body every day. This nodule is smaller, yet he sweats more. His breath smells like acetone, but he is sleeping better. We are trading for his health, gambling one thing for another, hoping luck, genes and good overall health help him. Of course, merciless cancer cares not about these things. While there is science behind the randomness, it seems like luck to us – and even oncologists. Some survive and some do not – no one knows why.

We selfishly, perhaps barbarically, hope we are the survivors. The will to live is that strong. I remember hearing stories about how some people survive plane wrecks by climbing over anything or anyone to get out. Their goal is simply to survive because they can. They have only one simple goal – survival. CAN is the operative word. What makes someone “can” is the primary and what the fight with cancer is about. It’s a strange, curious, merciless fight when eventual death is humanity’s only certainty. How strange and ironic human survival can be. Yet here we are, fighting – as though we have a massive sword fighting an enemy in the dark.

Today we left to our first trip to Nashville. I, militantly following a plan, and he, believing in my determination. We both faced grave fears as we battled our personal fire-breathing dragons enroute to our hotel in Paducah: his was in the form of a doubtful resident at the U of I who said Kevin wouldn’t qualify for the trials (the resident didn’t know about these), mine were in the forms of night driving and immensely tall, narrow bridges in the dark as we crossed the Ohio river. It was as if we were both in our own purgatories. I kept silently reciting “The Lord is my shepherd” from a song I once performed with my friend Rita when we were in high school. Kevin stayed angry. We were together and yet distant at the same time, in the same car, going to the same place for the same reason, yet engaged in very solitary struggles and phobias, some rational some not.

We finally got to the hotel, and changed into swimming suits for the personal reward of a good, simple soaking in the hotel jacuzzi. Hotels offer the rare occasion to see myself in a full length mirror. Kevin’s body is fighting disease while mine fights neglect. Both of us need an overhaul. Younger parents at the pool immediately categorize us as grandparents now – you can see it in their eyes. This helps us make friends, so we did just that – speaking to kids and parents while in the hot tub. We look ragged, careworn and broken in, and we are. We know everything, and we let people know we know everything – that’s the funny part age brings.

I like the harmless assumption of being grandparent-y but do not like the one-size-fits-all, un-competitive group people place us in now. We are now people who can be reckoned with. We have a certain invisibility now that age brings. The sudden loss of power from aging was expected, but just so sudden! Still, we never turn down a way to laugh or meet people, and use this new approachability to our funnest advantage. With the exception of getting lost frequently and arguing about which Google map to use, we have a lot of fun traveling together. We simply have a blast, even in this bad situation.


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