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Thanking him strikes me now as somewhat inappropriate, but my mother will be pleased to know that her indoctrination did not fail me even at this nadir. I left his office in a trance. I moved through a world in which I was in sharp focus and everything else appeared in fuzzy, slow motion.
I made it to my car -- I'm proud of that too -- before allowing my hysteria the expression it required. It was the mother of all crying jags and then, all of a sudden -- a minute later? an hour later? -- it was over. I began to drive home to Virginia-Highland but had to pull over for another sob.
"Pull yourself together, the good Leigh admonished. "Why bother? replied my lesser half.
I had managed a state of what felt like composure by the time I got home. Ian was still at school. Linda -- my amazing Linda -- was sitting on the back deck. She had wanted to come with me. I had said no. I braced myself, bravely walked up and ... threw myself upon her, sobbing. I have not the words to tell you more.
It has been five months since that awful day. A lot has happened.
Managing the unmanageable
Every time someone asks me how I'm doing, a voice inside my head shrieks, "I'm dying!"
I have had the repetitiously rotten experience of thoroughly bumming out everyone who is close to me. Next to Linda, the hardest to tell was my mother. No son should have to tell his 77-year-old mother that there's a very good chance she'll outlive him. No mother should have to hear it.
There was also to be enjoyed telling a young boy that his daddy is mighty sick. My first instinct was to say nothing to Ian. Why should he have to deal with this dread? Time enough for that ... after. But he knew something was up. He couldn't have failed to notice. Loved ones would greet me with unusually passionate and lugubrious embraces. There was a lot of crying going on. It is not, in any event, either Linda's or my inclination to tell Ian less than everything. So, a little while after I was diagnosed, and going light on the Angel of Death angle, we explained that Daddy had a very serious disease called cancer but that we were going to do everything we could to make it go away.
He listened solemnly. "Can cancer kill you?" he asked. We told him yes. He acknowledged, with a look I won't forget that he had registered the importance of this information. Within moments, he was a happy-go-lucky 8-year-old again.
Children have a gift for moving on. It's a gift I'm trying to stay in touch with. Ian continues to make occasional inquiries. Greeting me on a trip home from the M.D. Anderson cancer center in Houston, he asked, "Did they fix your cancer daddy?" Smiling the crooked smile of one losing a battle to control his tears, I replied, "No. But we're still working on it."
If you are by now thoroughly depressed, don't be. I am writing this to convey, with some surprise, what a positive stage this has been. I've been forced to confront my mortality, to take account, something we should all do anyway, but don't. And I have discovered that counting my blessings takes a little while.
There are cosmetic plusses. Having cancer means everyone tells you how swell you look. People say mostly nice things about you (indeed some launch into these kind of pre-eulogies), and it turns out I have a very high tolerance for that sort of behavior.
But, most delightfully, all this has brought me much closer to those I love. There's not much room for pettiness on a dying man's calendar (although from time to time I have managed to find some space on mine). There's a tendency to want to tell people all that you love about them and what it has meant to you to know them. I spend more time with the people I want to spend time with.
Today is a good example. I'm writing during a return flight from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. I commute there every two weeks to have an intravenous application of something called anti-VEG-F. It's supposed to cut off the blood supply to my tumors, and kill them or at least slow them down without killing me. At least, that's the theory for which I and some 60 others are playing lab mice.
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