Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The cancer diary: The bogeyman is real

It was mild this morning, not unlike an early spring morning, as I crammed myself into Jennette's car. I say crammed because she had the seat set for a person nearly eighty pounds smaller than me and a foot shorter.

Note to self:  It's time to get back on the diet and exercise hamster wheel. Nothing I can do about the height difference.

I arrived at Jennette's place at about five a.m. to fetch her for her cancer operation which was scheduled for eight. She was up, showered, ready. The suitcase was packed to the brim for her stay which will likely be a fortnight given the fact she's having quite a surgery. For eight hours, two surgeons will be carving a cancerous tumour out of her jaw, and resecting her mouth, taking her bottom teeth with it. A graft will be taken from her left arm to replace the part of her jaw that will be taken out. She'll also have a tracheotomy to help her breathe.

"Take a picture of my bottom teeth," she told me. "I want to show the dentist how I want them to look."

"Okay," I said, and snapped a photo. Of all the things to be concerned about, but that's Jennette. She's a proud woman, always well turned out, makeup just so, hair done. I can't imagine what's going through her head; they're taking away part of her face.

She wasn't nervous this morning, not like the last time when she collapsed minutes before her scheduled surgery from a combination of nerves and low levels of electrolytes, sodium and magnesium. That's why we're going back today, two days before Christmas, because she punted the surgery.

"I don't remember anything about that day," she told me as she sat under a pre-surgery blanket this morning.

"Well, you had a lot going on," I said. "You had your dad in the hospital, and you told me you were afraid he'd die while you were in the hospital. Now he's back at the nursing home and he's okay, but you were under a lot of stress."

Stress, I thought, wow. Jennette lost her husband just a year and half ago. She'd spent ten years caring for him before that, watching him go in and out of comas, picking him up off the ground when he fell, bathing him, and scurrying about to myriad doctors appointments.

She also cared for her father at the same time. At 87, he was a handful, with cancer of his own, heart issues, anxiety.

Roger's gone but she's still caring for her dad, dutifully driving across town daily to visit and take him to his own doctor appointments.

And now she's the sick one. She's the one with the mouth cancer.

What a crap deal for such a nice lady.

God and the mystical sense of humour that is only his. Sometimes I want to punch him in the face. That's right, I said it. Come down here, and explain to me why some people get an all-dressed pizza while others get a shit sandwich.

Anyway, it is what it is.

This morning, we had a few laughs sitting waiting for surgery. When the nurse was doing the usual inventory, she asked, "Any piercing jewelry?"

"Did you take out your nipple ring?" I asked her.

I don't think the nurse was amused, but we were cracking up.

"Any dentures?"

"Not until you get through with her."

The nurse left and we kibitzed back and forth, as if we were sitting at Starbuck's. The big elephant was sitting in the corner, silently filing his nails.  We knew he was there, but we weren't going to let him spoil the party.

And then the time came when an orderly came to whisk my little friend away.

"Are you coming?" she asked.

"This is where I leave you," I said, and gave her hug.

That's when the waterworks came.

I walked off into the drizzle and shed a few tears myself. And then I said a silent prayer.

Sorry about the face punching remark, God. I'm sure you have your good qualities, maybe you can give us a hand today, because we're gonna need it.

And then, standing there in the drizzle, trying unsuccessfully to unlock Jennette's car, I stopped and said this to her.

When you wake up, you will be different.
You will know the bogeyman is real.
But you can beat him back with love and determination.
You can do it, Jennette, you are better than cancer. You will kick its ass and hand it back. You need to.
Because you are my friend and I'd be lost without you.
And so would Scott, and the kids, the dogs, and your many, many great friends.
Do it for us. Do it for dad.
But above all, do it for yourself.
We have many adventures ahead.
You're just getting started.

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