The Longest Journey

The Third Round of Chemo is the Charm

As we waited for the ferry to leave the dock for round three of chemotherapy yesterday, Dylan and I watched a family of Canadian geese bobbing in the harbor. The two adult geese were standing atop a group of pilings 20 feet above the little black bodies of their offspring. The tiny geese dove below the water’s surface and generally not following what I might term good  guidelines for survival.(I’m not an Ornithologist and am certain there are specific words created for these differing bird groups/ages/types, but I don’t care enough to find out. It takes less mental energy to write a long parenthetical note letting you know I don’t care. Call me a lazy writer if you wish, or leave me a comment on how a family of geese is called a gaggle, but keep in mind it will not change what I have written.)

Most of the baby birds stayed in a small group, but two of them began to move away until they were a dangerous distance away. They were so small against the cold, wet, gray world surrounding them, and yet they didn’t care. They dove deep into the black unknown Puget Sound without thinking about the danger hiding below. As the ferry pulled out of the dock, Dylan pulled his hood tight around his bald head and went to sleep on the bench seats we were sitting on. The ride only takes about 30 minutes from Bainbridge and for about 10 of those minutes we rode on in peace, and then a 17 year-old girl sitting in the bench seats next to ours got a phone call. I am amazed at how clueless people are about phone calls in public. Nobody wants to hear your conversation. Nobody around you thinks you are as charming as the person calling you. So…take your call quietly, or go find yourself a tiny place where no one has to hear you squeal and say over and over, “I’ll be your wingman. She’ll love you after I get done with her.” I’m all for a little room, like a sound proof cage, for people who must talk like they are in their pink bedroom filled with stuffed toys named Brad, Bradley, and Prince William.

Dylan slept through the whole thing, but he was not looking forward to the next round of chemo. We left the ferry, got a ride to Swedish and by noon we were checked in to room 1249. Dylan wanted me to run out and get him a sandwich from a terrible national chain sandwich shop nearby while the IV nurse put in a new access point to his port. I zipped over to the shop and got him his sandwich and when I got back his IV was not in. He said the nurse could not get it done so somebody else was on the way. We ate our sandwiches. (Yes, I ordered one also, I may think their food is terrible but that won’t stop me from eating there.) We finished our lunch and before too long Dylan’s port was accessed, blood was taken and sent down to the lab so his chemo cocktail could be mixed, and by five chemo started. Reina, our nurse, put up the treatment schedule and it was much shorter than we had anticipated.

Dylan had difficulty with Rituxan (a drug for tumor killing) the first time through because his abdomen was filled with tumors, and the last time he was able to tolerate the drug much more easily. The process the nurses follow is they start the dosage at around 100 and then bump it up 50 each half hour until the patient can no longer tolerate it. Tolerate can mean many things, it can be pain, discomfort, itchiness, heart problems, elevated blood pressure, or anything different.  As chemo began, I read David Foster Wallace’s commencement address to Kenyon College titled This is Water. Dylan had not read it yet and I thought it would be the perfect time to read it. I love DFW, and This is Water was how I was introduced to him. It was a good choice, because it gave us time to talk about empathy and being conscious of others. (This empathy does not extend toward loud cell phone talkers.) After I finished reading it, we got up and walked the halls of the 12th floor. Each nurse who knows Dylan stopped him to check in and give him a moment of love, it felt a little like the first day of school after summer vacation. It is moments like this that  I realize my kids are going to be okay after I am gone, or after they have swum away from my watchful eye. The world might be a cruel place at times, but it is also a place filled with compassion and love.

This time Dylan raced through the Rituxan. At one point, late last night, he was asking to turn it up to 500 even though the nurse said the pump only went to 400. This is when I know I raised my little boy right, even during chemotherapy he was referring to the mockumentary Spinal Tap.

This morning he sleeps. He has finished most of his chemo in a single night. He still has a spinal shot and one more thirty minute treatment, but it went amazingly well, so well that I slept through most of it. There is still the unknown, but sometimes the dark murkiness isn’t something dangerous, it is just dark.

11 replies »

  1. I see a pattern. Old people who cough, teenage girls who talk on the phone, noisy families on the oncology ward. Hmmmm. I Do actually think your empathy is expanding. Do you still have the wookie beard?

  2. Keep it up Jon and give my love to Dylan. Looking forward to see you guys. I hope your wookie beard will be around also.

  3. I’m so glad it’s getting better, and forgive my ignorance if it only seems that way. I’m a born optimist and will take any news and flipped it to make me feel better. Literally ANY news…

    • I tend to be optimistic too. My wife thinks it is related to the amount of time I spent playing sports where all I did was ignore bad things and thinking no matter how bad things got that it would all turn out just fine.

  4. I have to read that commencement speech now. I’ve heard about it, and listened to some speakers reference it, but now you’ve inspired me to check it out. Thanks, Jon.

    • I hope you like it, Bill. I’m reading DFW’s Signifying Rappers right now because I found a discount copy at Elliot Bay Bookstore. I love how he takes marginalized arts and writes about them in an elevated way.

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