We are having a break now from our relentless focus on the diagnosis of cancer; we are finished with most of the paperwork and farewell visits.
Last Tuesday, we went to Marv’s hometown in MN, concluding the visit of relatives there with a stop at the cemetery where he could express “see you soon” sentiments to his folks. Then yesterday, he turned 77. We planned nothing for his birthday. I baked no cake; we had leftover brownies, Flyboy (thousand calorie) donuts, and coffee cake braids from the weekend. Enough already. Time to eat lettuce. Then our daughter showed up after school with our young grandkids, at the same time as our older grandson, with B&G chipwiches for all. For non-locals, B&G is the premier caloric-provider in Sioux Falls of ice cream concoctions.
Mine was delicious, and since Marv did not eat his, I told him they only last twenty-four hours, so don’t be surprised if it disappears from the fridge, because, as any ice cream aficionado knows, it would be a shame to waste something so special.
I’m glad when our humor can play out normally. After being bombarded for several weeks from the medical establishment with the word “aggressive,” we are uber tired of that word. We were told on January 30 to come home immediately from our travels because this small cell lung cancer is “very aggressive.” We must seek treatment right away; if we weren’t coming home, then we must seek treatment at our destination, again, because this is “very aggressive.” When Marv gave me the phone on a few occasions, I’d hear the plea, “Does your husband realize this is very aggressive?” I wanted to chuckle and say I wouldn’t have had a clue, except I’d heard his firm replies to those phone conversations, “That’s not going to happen.”
It didn’t help either that Marv agreed I should read up on the diagnosis and give him a synopsis. Well, Google “small cell lung cancer” and you will find “SCLC is the most aggressive form of lung cancer.” Not very encouraging when the physicians and the literature seem to agree that indeed we are dealing with a cancer that is very aggressive!
I have to add that now that we have this lull, it’s difficult to feel how aggressive this cancer is. Marv has no symptoms; he’s always run circles around all of us, and he continues to do so. So often it feels like we’re talking about someone else as we take care of the nitty-gritty details of impending death.
So, with no obvious changes, Marv is wondering now if he still has cancer. When in Chicago a few weeks ago, his former office manager placed her hand on his shoulder and prayed fervently, “Dear God, take this cancer out of Marv,” flinging up her hand. He tells folks that since being on hospice means he’ll get no more tests, we won’t be able to see how the cancer is spreading, or not, through his system.
No matter, we are always on the alert for the “change.” What will happen first? Bone pain, shortness of breath, confusion? This last is where some humor comes in. We are keeping tabs on who has the most “senior moments” in a day. Sometimes, it’s me, and I claim that’s not fair.
I’ve told Marv that patients often die after a significant event they were looking forward to or after the last child flies home and enters the room. So, he’s decided to keep on planning things—cutting down the grasses in our backyard, hitting the road yet in April, attending a SIL’s 90th birthday party in May and a grandniece’s wedding in June, plus apple picking again in the fall.
When I hear him voice these thoughts to others, I add, “As ornery as he’s always been, he’d be the one who could pull this off.”
Meanwhile, he tells me things like this:
“We were down to one stamp, so I went to the post office today and got you stamps.”
On getting new kitchen and bathroom lighting we’d planned for this winter, “Just wait until after I’m gone and get something you like. I can’t get excited about this now.”
We have a loaner car for four days while our car is getting repaired, so he issued this warning yesterday, “If you need to return the loaner, don’t forget to remove our garage door opener.”
On my saving a stamp that came in the mail today, “You are saving well! Pretty soon you’ll be saving napkins too.” (No unused, or maybe slightly used, home or restaurant-issued napkin ever gets tossed. A family joke on him.)
When traveling over snow-covered highways, “Those crops are really doing well.” I look out at snow-covered fields. I know I’ll never get the farm girl in me, but I do know that crops don’t grow in winter. I look at him, “You goof. There are no crops now.” He says, “Made you look, though, didn’t I.”
It’s good to joke, to provide some leverage with the heavy of not knowing exactly what lies ahead. With our son as our power of attorney for property, when he told me not to worry, he’ll give me a $10.00 a week allowance, I made sure I hit Michigan Avenue when we were in Chicago while my credit card still works. And with our daughter as our power of attorney for health care, and her former career in long-term care, I’m watching that I don’t repeat myself too often or she’s threatened that I’ll be earning my keep in a place by folding linens. (I tell her I’ll be running the nurses’ station.)
This “adventure” feels a bit like we’re planning to go on a trip. Marv always does the itineraries, and I do the reservations, and it’s a fun time of looking forward to getting away. And I liken this planning time to Marv’s trip that he calls crossing the Jordan River, certainly the happiest ever kind of trip for him.
But not so happy right now for those of us left behind.
And, now we sit here in our living room, me on my couch, he in his recliner, like some boring old folks at home, happy to have a boring evening at home. Except for seeing which one of us can get the most correct answers on Wheel of Fortune.
As usual my voice broke as I read this over to him. “It’s emotional,” he said, with lips and cheeks quivering. Then he collected himself and smiled. “You can, I mean may, have the chipwich.”