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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Riding the cancer highway...

I haven’t written much here about Riley’s cancer. I’ve been trying to wait until I had all the facts; all the tests were complete; and a treatment plan was in place. It seems to be a slow process for what I consider to be a disease that warrants urgency. I have only limited experience with cancer, so what the heck do I know?

Well I DO know that Riley’s suspicious growth was found on June 26th. I know that he underwent a series of tests. I know that it was a CT scan and a biopsy that finally gave him an “official” diagnosis of colo/rectal cancer on September 24th. I know his cancer includes aggressively growing tumors. Less than three weeks after the removal of his left groin lymph node, he had a new tumor show up and fill the space left by the missing lymph node. Even the oncologist was surprised at the speed that little pecker displayed.

I know that Riley has been poked, prodded, viewed, examined and invaded in ways that no one should have to endure. Through it all, he has persevered. He has not excessively complained about the medical invasions, but rather taken each step as just one more hoop to jump through. He has shown a determination that I wonder if I would have had if the roles were reversed. Of course, there are times when he has shown his dismay and confusion about the steps of the procedures but those moments are overshadowed by his agreeability. I know that I am thankful that he is not fighting the process.

I know I sometimes feel as though I am trying to walk through quicksand. It’s been what seems like an eternity since we first were told that Riley has colo/rectal cancer back in June. There hasn’t been much rest over the past four months. With all the testing, testing and then some more testing, in addition to the surgeries to get the biopsy and the placement of the port for administering the chemo treatments, it’s no wonder we are both exhausted. And now… we start another step in the journey through cancer-land.

It’s a one-hundred mile round trip drive for each visit to Greenville’s cancer center.  Starting on Monday, November 3rd, we will be making that trip every single day for the next six weeks. It could be longer – or NOT – depending on how things go. The schedule for Monday is to drive to the cancer center in Washington, NC, at 9:00 a.m. where Riley will have some lab tests to determine if he can actually have chemo that day. If all goes according to plan, he will receive the little infusion box that will pump the chemo medicine into his body at a designated rate. Then we will continue on our journey another 30 miles to the cancer center in Greenville, NC. Riley will receive a radiation treatment simulation test and if that works out, he’ll get his first official dose of radiation.

It strikes me that it's a bit ironic that Riley served onboard fast-attack submarines powered with radioactive material for more than 25 years. He wore a little badge that determined how much exposure he had and if he was getting to a danger level. The Navy was very careful to protect the sailors for the hazards of radiation. Now it is purposefully being shot into his body.

Anyway, after his treatments in Greenville, we will drive the 60 miles back home where we will rest as much as possible before returning to Greenville the very next day. We are fortunate, however, because originally the only time slot available was at 7:30 pm. Now we have been reassigned to 1 pm. Since driving at night is difficult since my eyesight gets dim after dark, I’m happy I won’t have to use the “braille driving method” to get him home.

It amazes me that so many people are able to fight cancer and succeed. I don’t know how they do it – not just emotionally, but financially and time-wise. Riley and I are well insured. We have Medicare plus TriCare for Life and between the two coverages; we will not be forever burdened with medical bills. For that I am so very grateful. It isn’t the medical bills that have me adjusting and re-adjusting the budget. It’s all the other stuff that isn’t covered by anything. The cause for concern is the price of gasoline, supplies, and the possibility of the need for a personal aide, as well as finding space on the calendar to meet the combined needs of both of us.

Getting a job sounded like a good idea to me for about ten minutes. Then it was lovingly pointed out to me that in this state, I cannot be a real estate title examiner because I’m not an attorney. Also I’m “over the hill” and the job pool may not extend much past being a Wal-Mart greeter. Oh! Not a pleasant thought. Then there is the time issue. Where on the calendar could I fit in 20 or so hours a week for working away from home? 

A few close friends have made donations of gas cards which help tremendously. Thank you to those of you who surprised me when I opened my mail box and found the cards. There was one very special contribution from a friend of many, many years. She sent some money to my PayPal account and then instructed me that the money was to be used ONLY for something that was NOT cancer or alcoholism related. She suggested I go to the crafts store or take myself to lunch. It just so happened I was on my way to Greenville that day to pick up a disc containing the results of Riley’s last CT scan. I would be going alone and have some time to myself if I wanted.

I walked into JoAnn Fabrics with my coupons in hand. I wanted to get some things to make a couple of Christmas wreaths for my girls. As I was walking in I noticed a bin of bags of yarn. Hmmm… I have been told that I would be spending a lot of time in waiting rooms during chemo and radiation. A bag of yarn might make that waiting a bit more productive. I was thinking… scarves for Christmas presents or afgans. That would take a big bite out of my present list. I picked up a two bags, went in and cautiously completed my shopping while keeping the budget in mind. What happened when I was checking out was the real surprise.

Jonathan, the store manager, was working the register. When he saw that I was buying two bags of yarn he said “If you buy two more bags, I’ll take $2 off per bag.” I thought about it and told him to set aside all the other cart items and we would see what the cost would be. I picked out a few more bags, with the image of scarves in my head, and went to the check-out stand. Jonathan was waiting patiently. We struck up a conversation about why he was trying so hard to get merchandise off the floor. He stopped scanning and said that he would give me a card for 30% off future purchases for three months if I spent at least $50 today.  

Then he asked what I was going to do with all the yarn. I told him that I was going to be spending a lot of time in the chemo/radiation waiting rooms and this would keep me busy without too much fuss. His mother had just received a “cancer-free” diagnosis and our conversation continued. I lost track of what Jonathan was doing, but came to my senses as he said – that will be $50.

WHAT!! He had put everything in bags that I had originally had in my cart – there had to have been at least $80 worth of goodies in those bags. I protested that there must be some mistake. OH NO!! He said – the bill was $50. I handed him my card and he gave me a discount card for 30% off. As I was gathering up the bags, Jonathan mentioned that I might think about the fact that some people get cold during treatments and could probably use one of my scarves.

I thought to myself – what a wonderful way to give back. There is enough yarn to make about 30 scarves. Now, I’m not really much of a crocheter or knitter, nothing I make is ever perfect, but I’m sure I can give some away to the other patients. I sure they won’t care if there are a few flaws.  So all that time waiting will not be non-productive after all.


My friend’s gift of something just for me brightened my day and my outlook. I don’t think I broke her rule of not doing anything cancer related… the cancer was an afterthought. How I wish all of Riley’s cancer issues could just be a simple, little, tiny, afterthought. Oh well…

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