I’ve known D forever. Our brothers played on the same hockey team growing up and I lived at the rink so our paths crossed a lot. Then in high school we became good friends. So good that he first introduced me to gin & tonics. Apparently his motives were pure. The thing is he’s been stuck with me for a long time. Through the parties and the hospital gowns.
D was sports-guy at school although soccer was his main thing. Back before the drama and rolling around on the pitch for every stubbed toe. Guys you’re embarrassing yourselves. Take a page from the hockey player’s handbook and man up. Injuries inevitably happened. During a big game in D’s senior year he took an elbow to the collarbone and when the pain cloud cleared he couldn’t move his arm. Broken collarbone for sure, right?
A trip to emergency, several doctors’ visits, and countless specialists later and the diagnosis…it wasn’t a broken collar-bone. It was eosinophilic granuloma. Those are simply big words for benign bone tumours. Specifically occurring in children under 12 – not 18 year-olds – and so rare back then that the Docs had no idea what it was until biopsied tissue samples were sent to the Mayo Clinic for analysis.
Although these tumours are benign they cause extensive bone damage, can reoccur in the same area, and sometimes metastasize. The metastasis may be local, to other bones, or to organs, particularly the lungs. They show up in the mandible, spine, skull, and long bones. But they don’t always come alone. Nope, they bring friends. The Hand-Schuller-Christian disease (HSC) is a triad of diabetes insipidus, exophthalmos, and skull lesions (tumours). D took on 1 and 3. He’s tough, but not greedy. We lost count of how many tumours there have been somewhere around 17-20 and 14 years of treatments.
D has had lesions on his spine, long bones, and skull and been biopsied, operated on, and radiated. The surgeons have removed damaged bone and replaced it with bone grafts – apparently men can spare hip bones – and titanium plates. Yes, I’m married to the bionic man…without the sound effects. Before every treatment he had minute blue tattoos inked as a way to mark the spot. He practically camped out in the MRI and CAT Scan machines. And the guided tours of both Princess Margaret and Mount Sinai Hospitals he could give would be comprehensive. *happy wave* Thanks for taking such good care of him over there.
During radiation treatments, which are a bitch by the way, and can cause their own fallout, he wore a cold, lead jewel box strategically placed. Yes. Those jewels. He also lost all the hair on his head, but not his face, as well as on every other radiated body part and has probably been shaved smoother than a Tour de France cyclist.
What the what does this have to do with anything?
D knows cancer. As his wife I know cancer. I have never met anyone who has battled any illness with more humour or a positive outlook. No bitterness, no tantrums, never any woe-is-me, and always with the freaking kindness. How many could say that under such stresses?
Following radiation to his skull we woke up one morning to see patches of hair clumps on the pillow. That meant it was time for the clean shaved look; which left a perfect blank canvas for a (temporary) Harley Davidson eagle tattoo. To complete the picture a goatee was necessary. Days later we attended a Leafs-Canadians game at Maple Leaf Gardens — we’re that old — and behind us were a few rowdy, drunken spectators. At a hockey game. Go figure. When one of them accidentally bumped me, D casually glanced over his shoulder. One look at the bald, tattooed guy and those men were choirboys for the rest of the game.
You know what that is? Living with humour. Not feeling sorry for yourself and not allowing anyone to pity you. Never slowing down. Not missing any time at college and later work. Still travelling. Always socializing. I know not everyone’s deal is the same, but this worked for D. He needed positive vibes. It’s how he handled 14+ years of being in and out of the hospital. 14 years of never knowing just how bad it was going to be. 14 years of being told, “Maybe you can’t have kids.” 14 years of sometimes not telling anyone else when another tumour struck because he just couldn’t stand seeing the sadness and fear on the faces of his family.
It’s been years since the last tumour, but I admit to paranoia every time he has a headache or pain anywhere. The rational, positive side of my brain is taken over by the fear. Not again! I can’t lose him. What if? And I’m not nearly as good-natured about it as D. I’m a woman. We have moods. And like most people I know loss.
When my Mamie was diagnosed with lung and liver cancer the disease was so advanced it was only weeks before we lost her. I’ve never understood people saying they were numb with pain. There was no numbness, only a raw, gaping wound. From the moment we knew about Mamie’s condition I prayed to God, Buddha, anyone who would listen to me, to save her life. I begged for her life.
Although D lives a different set of circumstances my brain goes there. Then he acts his typical goofy self and I come back to earth and reality. Things are cool. He’s healthy. He reminds me to live with humour. Also to not be so dramatic.
He’s right, but don’t tell him I said so.