Tonight, which is Father's Day in the U.S., we attended the graduation party of the son of dear friends. Last year, also on Father's Day, we attended a graduation party hosted by other dear friends. The difference is that after last year's party, Patrick and I headed straight to the airport. I would be inpatient at NIH starting that night for what would be a nearly month-long stay.
"No tears! No tears!" my friend had said as we left the party. She waved her hands in front of her eyes to keep them away. I did the same. We hugged and I almost made it out of there without crying. Then another friend joined us and I crumpled into a teary mess. We hugged as we cried. They promised me their prayers as I left the building.
My friend's husband called to me just as I reached the parking lot. "Come back! I didn't get to say good-bye!" I did, and cried some more. He promised to send me excruciatingly bad puns every day that I was away (and he did!). I told him that I loved his wife, and he said, "I do too!" and we laughed.
I got into the car then, and stared out the window, still crying. I have never felt so torn as I did that day, leaving my family and friends. Not only was I leaving the kids; I was also taking their Dad away. I felt tremendous guilt over that until I tried seeing the situation from his perspective. In his mind, being with me for as long as he could manage it was his duty, especially since the kids would have adult care-givers. "I have to take care of you," are the words he repeated so often, and always in a way that communicated, "I want to take care of you." He is a gift.
I thought about the risk involved in the clinical trial. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was my best option, but it made me sad to think that "coming back" might not be a part of this equation. I accepted the uncertainty, but I had to push thoughts of who I was leaving behind out of my mind and try to focus on what lie ahead.
A few days prior, Patrick and I had met with a lawyer to finally get a will in place. This was something we had planned on doing right after our wedding, but never did. As the years went by, one or the other of us would mention something like, "We should really make a will..." but that's as far as it went--just a suggestion. This time was different. This time the gravity of my health urgently demanded that we take action. Surprisingly, none of those preparations made me feel sad; instead I had a sense of well-being.
Driving away from that party though--that was hard.
By the time we arrived at the NIH that evening, it was pretty late. I met the night nurse, who smiled a lot and made sure every single thing was in order. She asked a bunch of questions, explained some of the mortifying practices I'd have to endure, and assured me that I would be well-cared for. Patrick left for the night. I tried to settle in. I had a big room facing the courtyard. I would have no roommate, unlike my previous visit. This was by design. Sharing a room could lead to sharing germs, and that is too big a risk for a neutropenic patient (which is what I'd be once the chemo did its thing).
It was Sunday, and the on-call immunotherapy fellow that night was the one who'd been assigned to my case from the beginning. I found this doctor to be a man of few words, but I was very happy to see a familiar face. I wished him a "Happy Father's Day", and asked how long he would remain on the service. I knew that the fellows were about to rotate out. He assured me that he'd be there on Cell Day. "What's the new guy like?" I wanted to know. He told me his name and instantly brightened. "You'll like him. He's a good guy." I knew that this was the extent of the information I'd be getting from him on that topic. I was uneasy with the knowledge that the one doctor that I was familiar with would be leaving so soon after I arrived. We discussed upcoming events briefly then said good-night.
Then--just as tonight--it was well past midnight by the time I got to bed. I was excited about finally being there, and almost couldn't believe that it was really happening. Monday morning would start early with scans and other procedures. I was on a carefully planned protocol now. I prayed that every step of the way would go as well as it possibly could.