Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Night Before

Geo is having his second surgery tomorrow. This is the pre-planned nose reconstruction, it shoudl go mostly as expected the docs say, but based on the pathology from the surgery 2 weeks ago, they're doing some more cutting also. I'm mostly focused, mostly calm, but with occasional brief episodes of completely freaking out. Geo cannot for the life of him understand how this works as a system for managing stress. He finds my ways quite peculiar, hilarious and endearing.

Geo is made of steader stuff; he is patient and he never complains. Never. Well, every once in a great while he explains to me why he doesn't believe in complaining, but he covers all the complaints when he does so. I cannot for the life of me understand how this works as a system for managing stress. I find his ways quite peculiar, hilarious and endearing.

Plus, we are both just so freakin' happy that he's no longer having the excrutiating tumor pain. We are relieved. We are thankful. We are so lucky, lucky in Geo's doctors and the care he's receiving, lucky in our wonderful family and our friends who soothe us along the way, lucky in love. We're good; we are at peace. We do not recommend cancer as an enjoyable couples pasttime, but there is a whole new level of love and intimacy that we've acheived through this experience that is quite a gift, quite a gift.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

We're Off

Today's the day. We leave at nine to drive into Seattle, are due to show up at the hospital at eleven.

Geo had a remarkably good day yesterday, with the pain at quite a managable level all day. I think I know why.


In response to an email I sent out yesterday, asking for light, for prayers, for blessings for Geo and for his surgeon, you emailed us dozens and dozens of good wishes, prayers and blessings. Messages arrived from friends near and far. From New York, Los Angeles, Milan, and Athens. From down the block, here in Port Townsend. They flowed into my inbox all day and into the evening.

And as I said, Geo barely noticed any pain yesterday. "Why do you think?" I asked him.

"No idea, but I'm not complaining," he replied.

So I handed him my laptop last night and told him to read his email. Sixty some messages full of love, hope and compassion. "No wonder I'm feeling good," was his response, "and now I'm feeling even better."

Right here is where we cue Bette Midler singing 'Wind Beneath My Wings'.

We're doing well this morning as we get ready to head for Seattle and surgery. We are grateful. We are hopeful. We are at peace.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Pendulum Swings in the Direction of Despair

Okay, so the other day when the surgeon said that the surgery itself is rather insignificant, it seems what he meant is that the surgery itself, i.e. him wielding scalpel and clamps, is easy-peasy, no big deal. All he has to do is just cut till the edges look clean enough for a frozen section. No big arteries to worry about, no extra-super-dooper surgical sleights of hand required to pull it off. In and out in sixty minutes. The surgeon said that it isn't a difficult surgery to perform and I heard that they would not cut off very much.

They're cutting off his nose. The resident who did the pre-op today said so. They are cutting off my husband's nose. At the very least they'll take the entire tip. Once they have their clean frozen section, the resident explained that they will cut off a couple of additional CENTIMETERS. Two and a half centimeters is an INCH! Hell, Geo's nose is just a cute little Irish type, miniscule by the standards of my Jewish family, there's just not that much of it for a lot of wild cutting off of centimeters.

The surgeon said it, too, on Wednesday, that they would need a couple of clean centimeters, and even though I heard him say it, centimeters, it was as if it wasn't said at all. I was hearing, I was nodding earnestly, but it seems that I wasn't listening.

Waiting for the ferry on the way home this afternoon, we said to each other, "it's just a nose." The clouds overhead were dismal gray. Hundreds of starlings flew above the beach. They moved in the sky as with one mind, soaring, tumbling, turning. We watched the starlings as the ferry docked. The sun burst through and for a moment everything was bathed in deep, golden light, the starlings, the ferry, the two of us.

Geo keeps reminding me that we really don't know how much they'll cut until they cut it and neither does the surgeon, Geo says he's glad not to know beforehand. How all this uncertainty is comfort to my husband is beyond me. And of course, the surgeon will give Geo a reasonable facsimile nose two weeks down the road; he'll only be noseless for two weeks.

I hope that the surgeon really does have some cool tricks up his sleeve for the the second surgery. I hope he makes a lovely, intelligent nose for the middle of Geo's lovely, intelligent face. Geo, of course, poo-poos the cosmetics -- 'just as long as it's a nose and I can breath through it', he insists.

All the way home I scrutinized Geo's dear, sweet nose. I want to be absolutely sure that I've got it memorized. I want to be absolutely sure that I'm listening, that I don't miss anything.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Nose Cancer

It sounds like a comedy disease, doesn't it? Nose Cancer. Something that might afflict the heroine's husband in a farce.

In the very first scene, Nose Cancer (an unassuming little trickster named Squamy) begins to whisper. At first only the husband and then the heroine can hear Squamy, but by the second act, Squamy has subsumed the husband and has become the loudest, biggest, meanest monster ever. No one in the village can escape its wrath as Squamy rampages across the countryside. In the final slapstick battle, booger jokes and mucus fly, and at last the heroine vanquishes the evil Squamy and reclaims her beloved husband. As the lights fade on the final scene, the husband and the heroine kiss and rejoice beside a receding lake of mucus, all that is left of their arch-nemisis, Squamy the Nose Cancer.

How many nose cancers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A nose cancer walks into a bar...

The famer's daughter opens the door and it's a traveling nose cancer.

I'm still working out the punchlines.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Back From the Brink

Here are the sweetest words that the surgeon said today: "The surgery itself is rather insignificant."

Last week at the check back appointment in Radiation Oncology, Upendra and Al looked so distressed. I knew they were bummed that their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but those looks on their faces, the way they both told me privately, out of earshot from Geo, how sorry they were... I've been pretending all week to be brave while thinking that their faces were a precursor to more disasaters. I've been picturing Geo with a Cat Balloo silver nose tied onto his face with strips of rawhide ...I've been imagining way worse that that.

But no! Even though the pain caused by the tumor is fierce, the surgery itself is rather insignificant. They're not even keeping Geo in the hospital -- he's going to the Day Surgery Unit. Next Wednesday they'll remove the outside bit between the nostrils and several centimeters of septum inside. Two weeks later he'll come back for a second day surgery, when they'll rotate the remaining septum downward and borrow a little cartilage from his ear to make him all pretty again.

The surgeon says he can't promise to remove the pain, but we're hopeful, as the pain hurts right where the tumor is attached. And while we're at it, we're really, really hoping that Geo is inished-fay with the umors-tay.

After our meeting at the hospital, we had champagne and lunch at Le Presse, bistro food, if only this place was in Port Townsend instead of Seattle. We shared raclette and roasted beets with roquefort and toasted pecans. The folks at the next table speak English, Spanish, and Portuguese. The guy in the leather jacket winks when he catches me eyeing his cream of cauliflower soup. "It's very good," he says. There's lots of lunch racket in the background and cheerful people all around us. We order dessert-- chocolat chaud, a cup of hot chocolate thick as pudding, bitter and sweet. We eat it slowly, without speaking, without looking up. We take turns scraping the cup with our spoons. When we're done, we get up and head for the ferry.

We're back home in Port Townsend now, with Geo resting. The bustle of the world tuckered him out and we were both grumpy all the way home -- we've been so tense!

Last week, we started talking about going somewhere. Somewhere warm, some beach in Mexico for a month, maybe, once he's on the mend. It's a good omen, I think, that we're talking about traveling.

The surgery itself is rather insignificant.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


I'm sitting at the Landfall, our go-to breakfast place in Port Townsend. They do yummy Eggs Benedict and excellent scrambles, but we come for the pancakes -- thin as crepes, big as dinner plates, and with super-crispy, lacy edges. We always head for one of the corner booths near the kitchen where the view out the window is of boats, water, islands, mountains and sky. We've been coming here ever since we moved to town, dawdling over late, mid-week breakfasts and endless cups of coffee as the lunch customers mosey in. Geo is too unwell for hanging out at the Landfall these days. I'm here by myself today and I'm practicing being alone.

Months ago, in the week before he started the radiation treatments, we talked about my potential widowhood. "I want you," said Geo, "to live well, to be grateful every day and to know peace of mind, just like you would want for me if the tumor was in the other nose." It's true. It's exactly what I would demand of him. It's what we've sought with each other from the very first day.

Six weeks of daily radiation to his nose in October and November and now there's another tumor growing in the radiation field. Tomorrow we go into Seattle to discuss with the surgeon last week's biopsy and to schedule Geo for surgery. The surgeon and the oncologists all say the next step is surgery. Tomorrow, we find how much of his nose they're cutting off and when it'll be. Soon, I hope, as the pain gets worse for him every day. Whatever comes, we've on the ride together. Whatever comes, we know that our last goodbye will arrive much too soon.

For today, I am practicing living an enjoyable, fulfilling life. I am practing having peace of mind at the Landfall. There's something I can't name that I need to learn and I need to learn it pronto. If I can make it through pancakes without falling apart, I will take it as a sign that I will make it through tomorrow and all of the tomorrows, whatever they are, for both our sakes.

I focus on the pancake, watch the knife cut off a bite, feel my arm bring the forkful to my mouth, taste the sweet syrup, hear the crisp, delicate edges of the Landfall pancake shatter between my molars. I practice peace of mind with this pancake, and for now it's okay, I suppose, the practice of standing this close to the abyss.

I call the waitress over and pay the bill. As soon as the to-go order is ready, I will race home to Geo, who is, thankfully, not too unwell to eat the Landfall's miraculous, delicious pancakes. They will still be warm and the edges will still be crispy when I hand him his plate.