Monday, September 11, 2006

The Truth About Cats and Dogs.

And Turtles and Frogs.

And the big fat lump of cancer in Blaine's head, which doesn't rhyme with anything.

Excerpt from our 2005 Annual Family Christmas Letter:

“Blaine and I finally traveled to Seattle for his major reconstructive surgery (two YEARS after he was originally diagnosed) UP; Blaine contracted a staph infection after the surgery and had to have six weeks of self-administered IV antibiotics, and two additional surgeries to clean up his leg, DOWN. The Seattle surgery wasn’t a complete success, DOWN; so he traveled to Augusta for corrective surgery this fall, UP. *That* surgery wasn’t successful, either, DOWN; but his doctors reassure us they can fix everything in the spring (Perhaps back out to Seattle we will go --- we’re still hoping for an UP ending to this whole saga!)

And with regard to his ongoing, never-ending reconstructive process, well, seriously, I figure it should culminate with the doctors finishing everything, and him finally getting a full set of teeth, about the age of 92, just in time for them to yank them out and give him dentures. Funny how “getting rid of his cancer” wound up being the easiest, least-stressful part of this whole process.”

And with teeth like a piranha, **that** final sentence came around to bite us firmly on the butt when we found out, just six weeks later, that the cancer was back.

The doctors hoped to remove it surgically this past spring, but there were two tumors; one diffused throughout his cheek, and one extremely close to his carotid artery; neither of which could be operated on. So they sent him back to Seattle for four weeks of a relatively new type of treatment, neutron beam radiation.

I remember back in high school, my sister Kelly had one of those personal-size suntan lamps you could use at home. A girlfriend of mine borrowed it and held it too close to her neck for too long and burned the ever-loving crap out of herself. Seriously, it’s a miracle she’s not scarred for life.

Blaine’s face and neck looked just like that when he came home from Seattle this past May. And if the OUTSIDE of his head looked like a lobster that had been left in boiling water too long, with the intensity of a thousand burning suns and a magnifying glass pointed right at him, I could only imagine how the INSIDE of his mouth, throat, sinuses, and neck must have felt. Raw hamburger meat, anyone?

His salivary glands were zapped and he can no longer produce saliva. Sucks if you’re trying to whistle. Or wet your lips. Or eat. Or swallow. Or sleep. Or breathe. He suffered at least a 10 percent permanent hearing loss. We’re hopeful that when he gets new tubes in his ears (what is he, four years old?) that he’ll be able to hear a little better. And then they’ll re-test him to see if it’s actually more than 10 percent, which I think it is, that or he’s perfected the art of ignoring me and pretending he just can’t hear what I’m saying, especially if I want to discuss anything earth-shattering like whether or not my new black dress makes my thighs look big or if he thinks Kate Hudson really left Chris Robinson for Owen Wilson. You know, important things like that. Any kind of spice or seasoning in his food or drinks had him reeling in pain. He pretty much lived on oatmeal and non-seasoned mashed potatoes for months. No coffee or soda, which was basically hell on earth in his opinion. His teeth are falling apart, a common after-effect of the radiation, but especially maddening to someone whose only goal in life the past three years has been to ACQUIRE teeth. The bald spot on the back of his head still hasn’t grown any hair. Ad nauseaum.

It’s been four months. We were told it takes four months for the full effects, and the success or failure, of the radiation to be known. I remember when he came home …. I thought four months sounded like a long time away. I thought things would be better by then. Things *are* better. They are still not great.

When he first came home he couldn’t sleep more than an hour at a stretch due to pain. Now he’s up to three or four hours in a row … but that’s all the sleep he gets at night. He’s exhausted. When he first came home, he would nap during the day because he was getting so little sleep at night. Then he started working half-days. Now he’s up to not-quite-full days. But at least he’s able to work. He still can’t have anything spicier than salt in his food, and he’s lost almost fifteen pounds, but he avoided a feeding tube, and best of all, he can drink coffee once again. He hasn’t had a beer in almost two years. Not that he was ever a big drinker, but it’s a little insulting to someone who named his dogs Fosters and Lager, that it’s painful to drink a beer.

Surprisingly, he is not bitter. I have never heard him ask, “Why me?” His faith is stronger than it has ever been. But he is discouraged. And tired. It has affected his self-esteem, his self-image, his psyche. It completely and totally de-railed his military career. It has affected his relationships with friends. With family. With me. Sometimes in a good way; sometimes not.

I admit to feeling frustrated. And a bit cheated. Ever since Kellen was born, one thing Blaine had looked forward to doing, as a previous baseball player himself, was coaching Kellen’s baseball teams. We couldn’t wait for t-ball; those adorable little kids with bats bigger than they are, hitting the ball and then running the bases backwards, or missing the balls in the outfield because they are too busy digging in the dirt. Blaine didn’t get to coach Kellen’s first year of t-ball in 2003; he had just been diagnosed with cancer and was recovering from his major resection surgery. Blaine didn’t get to coach Kellen’s second year of t-ball in 2004; Kendrie had been diagnosed and we didn’t feel he should commit to the responsibilities of being a coach with her still in the thick of harsh treatment. Blaine didn’t get to coach Kellen’s first year of coach-pitch in 2005; he was in Seattle having his free-flap procedure done, and all the lousy stuff that went along with that. Blaine didn’t get to coach Kellen’s second year of coach-pitch in 2006, he had just found out his cancer had returned and he was preparing for another surgery to have it removed, and then preparing for radiation when the surgery wasn’t successful.

Tonight, as I sat through Kellen’s first game of kid-pitch fall ball, I checked my watch to see if Blaine’s plane had landed yet in Seattle. He is returning for his four-month scans …. This week we find out if it worked. Once again, Blaine is not coaching.

Three and a half years since his original diagnosis. Remind me to tell you the story sometime of how he told me he had cancer. Funny, actually. But three and a half years …. I know people who don’t keep cars, houses, or jobs that long. It’s longer than some marriages last. He hasn't caught a break yet.

Best case scenario is the radiation got rid of all the cancer …. Then he can continue with the reconstruction work that was derailed when the cancer came back. It will be another big surgery in Seattle to fix the holes in this head (I know, that sounds so insensitive, but how else do I explain it?) and then give him some teeth. But maybe, just maybe, he could consider himself on the road to recovery at that point. Second best case scenario is that if the cancer isn’t all gone, it is at least shrunk enough that what is left can be removed surgically. Then the reconstruction would be pushed back -- again.

He just wants to finish. He wants to be done. Cancer-free. With a normal (or as close to normal as they can get) oral cavity. With teeth. With no holes in the roof of his mouth, so when he eats, food won’t come out his nose. One night he blew his nose and a piece of metal came out of it. If I hadn’t been so busy laughing I would have been totally grossed out. He would like to eat normal food. Drink a beer. Have teeth so he can feel comfortable smiling. Have normal speech patterns again. Sleep through the night. Get off the painkillers.

Coach his son’s baseball team.

Please pray for clear scan results tomorrow.

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