Friday, May 29, 2009

Nothing Has Changed, Yet Everything Has Changed

My son chose to go back to class today, just about 48 hours after surgery. I drove him the ten miles back to campus. As we went to leave the house, I reached for his backpack.

"I can get it, Mom," he said. An indulgent smile, a slight roll of the eyes.

I hesitate. The doctor said he was not to lift more than ten pounds for the next month. On Wednesday, the backpack was definitely more than that. But he's since removed the laptop, so perhaps...

Still, I hesitate. This would be a kid who's carried his own backpack since kindergarten. He is strong, and independent. Nothing has changed...

Nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. Now, he is battling a life-threatening illness. But I sigh, and hand him the backpack.

This is a new dance we are doing now, he and my husband and me. We have suddenly, forcefully been reminded of the fragility of his life. And yet he, himself, has not changed. He has been living independently for two years now. It's important that this continue.

And yet... And yet... How can we let him go?

It's not so different from when he was a toddler. One second he is grasping your hand tightly, and the next he has released it. He turns to look at you, and his face is defiant, and frightened, and proud. You analyze the danger, and his need for independence... And you let him go.

It's frightening, and it hurts, but you let him go.

He is out with friends tonight. Just over 48 hours after the surgery. And he is planning to move back to the fraternity tomorrow. It's what he's done for the past two years. It's what he needs, right now, in his life.

You want to protest. You want to hold him close, for at least one more day.

But instead, you let him go.

It's frightening, and it hurts. But you let him go.

Nothing has changed. Yet everything has changed.

And still, with fear and pride, you let him go.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Power of Little Things

Tonight, several hours after his surgery, my son wanted sushi. Since there is not a good sushi place in our town, we traveled to the next town over to pick it up.

The waitress somehow picked up on my state of mind. (Perhaps it was the head buried in the hands.) She asked if I was okay. I mentioned that we had spent the morning in the hospital with our son as he had surgery. She said that if he was well enough to request sushi, he must be doing okay. She is probably right.

When I got home, I discovered a yellow sticky note on one of the takeout containers: "Feel better," with a smiley face.

It's these little things that I cling to.

The mayor's wife, a cancer survivor herself, made us a macaroni and cheese casserole for lunch today. Ham, salad, Girl Scout cookies.

A co-worker, survivor of multiple surgeries as an adolescent, offered up advice to me on the best things a mom can do. (Hint: orange popsicles, not red. And your own suffering, as a parent, really does take away some of the pain.)

My husband's Admin. Assistant sent an e-card, an animation of someone facing a deluge alone, until a friend shows up with a boat. I have watched it three times.

It is these things, these little things, that are getting me through. I have read every single comment and email from the last few days multiple times. Yes, they're that important.

I have offered up these things myself in the past, but I don't think I ever really understood what they mean. They mean a lot. They mean I am not alone.

My son is doing well. He is in our rec room right now, watching TV with my husband. The surgeon today would not even talk about negative outcomes. My son may be facing chemo, he may be facing more surgery, but he will survive. He will survive. "Twenty years down the road," said the surgeon, "he'll probably remember 2009 as not the best year."

Yes, he will. And so will I.

But I will also remember the little things. And be grateful.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Mother's Role in Dealing with Testicular Cancer, Part I

I slept about thirteen hours last night, from 4-ish in the afternoon, to 5-ish this morning. Partly because I'm still horrifically jet-lagged, and partly because I just didn't have the energy to deal with any more of life.

My older son, the sick one, wants to be at school this week as much as possible, both before the surgery and after. It's best for him to be there, attending classes and studying. Also odd, from my perspective, because he's only told a couple of people -- his girlfriend and his best female friend. I think maybe being at school means being able to continue to think that this isn't life-changing. And who am I to judge that? He needs to do whatever it takes for him to get through this.

And who knows, he may be right. Many of these cases end with surgery. No chemo, no radiation, just in and out, then up and about in a few days. I am hoping. Even as I worry.

But in the meantime, what do I do? What is my role? Where should I put my time, since worrying is hugely unproductive? I can't even pace around the house, my normal response to stress, since my feet are still so blistered from hiking all over Rome in new sandals that I pretty much can't do anything but hobble from room to room.

So instead I'm thinking about cancer. And specifically about testicular cancer.

Do you know that I don't even know which side of the body is involved? I mean, it's not as if it's come up in conversation. ("Honey, is it your right testicle, or your left testicle? Wait, where are you going? Come back! We're having a conversation!!")

I was thinking about this last night, when I was reflecting on the surgery and the fact that they say it's not a bad idea, if you're having something like a leg amputation, to write, "Not this leg!" on the unaffected side. Just in case. I mean, surgeons are human, right?

So I'm thinking, "Hmmm. Wonder how I'd bring up that topic with my quiet and undemonstrative son? Here, honey. Here's a sharpie marker. You know what to do."

I was also thinking, last night, (given the fact that when you sleep for thirteen hours, you don't actually sleep for thirteen hours) that I would give anything to spare him this. Anything. And wishing there was a place where you could go, as a mom, to offer up your own pain to spare your child. Or, if it were to come down to it, to trade in your own life to save his.

(Anybody remember those old S&H Greenstamps redemption centers? In my mind, it's something like that. Or maybe more like an auction house. What am I bid to save this testicle? One breast! One breast! Do I hear two? Two breasts! Two breasts for one testicle!)

Although now that I think of it, I could just offer up one of my husband's, because, y'know, we've got all our kids. So what does he need it for?

(I really shouldn't write before seven in the morning, jetlagged, after too much sleep, should I?)

Basically, I guess what I wish, (aside from wishing this wasn't happening) is that there were no stigma attached, and he felt comfortable telling people and accepting their support. (The only reason I'm writing this here is because not a lot of people from my real life read this blog. Otherwise I'd be keeping quiet, for his sake.)

Lance Armstrong, pr*ck that he is, took the disease a way towards mainstream acceptance, and for that I am grateful. I think eventually it will be like breast cancer, which used to be considered shameful. Back in the seventies, my grandmother went through her surgery entirely alone, with just my mom for support.

Now though, hell, they do walks with squads called "Teams in Training." (Oh! What does that abbreviate to!)

(For those of you who haven't had your caffeine yet, it's TIT, okay? T.I.T. How's that for taking the disease mainstream?)

I'm pretty sure that's what testicular cancer needs. LIVESTRONG, sure, but give us an acronym.

What catchphrase starts with the letters B.A.L.L.?

(Sorry, people. Humor is the only way to survive this.)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wishing I Could Wipe Away the Words, and the Disease

This post was going to be about fun and exciting words. Words like Roma, and Renaissance, and Michelangelo, and Italia. I just got back from a wonderful week in Rome, where my daughter is finishing her art history degree with a quarter abroad.

But instead this post is about words no mother wants to say, especially in relation to her child. Words like "chemotherapy" and "survival rate" and "probably not metastasized."

While I was gone, my twenty-year-old son went to the health center at the university with a question about a lump. He probably hoped he'd be told it was nothing. Instead he discovered that he has testicular cancer. In two days he went from healthy, athletic kid to cancer patient.

I want to be strong, for him, and for the rest of my family, but all I've been able to do is cry. I hope that strength can come with practice.

The good news is that if all of the doctor's optimistic assumptions are true, the prognosis is good. A 95% survival rate, and the possibility that he won't even need chemo or radiation therapy.

The bad news is that my son -- my smart, funny, good-looking 20-year-old, 3.9 gpa former class president son -- has cancer. This shouldn't happen to your kids. It just shouldn't @#$%ing happen to your kids!!!!!!

I didn't find out till I got off the plane. My husband has apologized for not telling me right away, but he and my son didn't find out till Thursday, and they didn't know the details till yesterday, just a few hours before my flight. So they decided it was best to wait, and told me only after we were done with greetings and baggage pickup and all the little things that go with the end of a trip.

We were loading the bags in the car. I ran over to the garbage can to spit out my stale gum, and when I came back all three of them -- my husband and both sons -- were sitting on the back bumper. My husband said that there had been some disturbing news, and I thought he was joking -- that maybe he'd locked his keys in the car.

Then he said that testicular cancer has a very high survival rate, and I was clueless. And I thought that he must be talking about my dad, who's seventy-five, and I wondered if he meant prostate cancer. And part of me wondered if he was talking about himself, except he's not much into doctors. And then he said it was Michael, my son, and everything imploded.

I cried the whole way home, and kept apologizing for crying when it's my son who needs the attention. And he kept saying it was okay, comforting me, even though he has to be terrified. My jetlagged self was pretty worthless as a mom, basically. I hope/plan to make it up to him.

So we came home and watched the Sounders on TV, and ate Chinese food together, and . Then, as planned, he drove back to his fraternity to spend time with his girlfriend, who's been wonderful.

His surgery is Wednesday. After that they perform the biopsy. And after that we know which direction his life, and our lives will go.

He's planning on this being a minor blip, one that won't affect his life much, or even his school quarter. He's planning on being back in class by next week at the latest. I would love for that to be the case.

If you're praying people, please pray for my son, and my family.