“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Welcome to my two cities, spring 2019.
First up, D.C.
David was supposed to go visit colleges with Oliver but he’s not currently able to travel. While last week’s original staging looks promising for him (cancer has spread to some of his lymph nodes but not to his liver or lungs), he now has a feeding tube (in the event he can no longer eat solids during treatment) and he now has to focus on chemo and radiation. So it was up to me to join Oliver to check out his favorite college acceptance — George Washington University (GW, for brevity’s purpose).
We had a blast. We checked out the campus on a day-long tour and Oliver was in his element.
We also spent a lot of time in the area surrounding the school, and visited the White House twice as it’s just a couple blocks away from his campus.
At my sister’s urging, we took a night walk to visit some of the memorials up close and lit up like beacons.
I was so moved by them, and Oliver was energized by it.
I hadn’t been to D.C. since I was a teenager so everything felt new
and it felt like the Lincoln Memorial in particular spoke to me.
I’m not sure where you all are on the political spectrum, but I was much comforted by the notion that unlike our current president, these buildings will stand the test of time and endure with dignity and gravitas.
I’ve always wanted to see the World War II Memorial and it was gorgeous, particularly at night.
I’ve always been somewhat obsessed with WWII (and the bravery displayed by so many) so to walk this memorial, quietly, with one of my most favorite people on earth meant the world.
Same so for the Washington Monument.
It was so wonderful to have had this brief time with Oliver, away from distractions and distress to really absorb new experiences and hopefulness.
We got amazing take out each night (yes, I brought my beloved vintage trays and papers with me)
and each time we curled up on our luxurious King bed to chow down and re-watch one of our favorite TV series of all time, West Wing.
It was so enjoyable to be in the heart of DC and watch this show taking place just down the street.
Eating burgers and sweet potato fries on a big cozy bed (and not worrying so much about spilling) is the best.
Oliver loves GW, its political science program (some rate its program #5 in the country) and even its unusual food plan; at GW they give you a certain amount of debit card money to use at various restaurants or stores as the downtown campus lacks a standard school cafeteria.
We gave the whole Foggy Bottom location a go, and bought snacks and grub from some of the places Oliver will often be frequenting starting next fall.
For me there was a variety of different snacks and drinks to go from Whole Foods,
fantastic offerings from a place called Modern Roti (I looooooved this place so much)
and because he’s a typical teenage guy, this was Oliver’s lunch one day.
So the whole college thing is a wrap — and I’m so glad Oliver is excited about his school next year.
I think this picture perfectly captures Oliver on the cusp of this next big step.
As a souvenir for the family, we picked up pastries at one of the branches of a favorite Paris bakery — Maison Kayser.
We salivated at the counters
and brought back a huge bag of treats to share with the crew waiting patiently at home for our return.
You guys, that chocolate croissant was off-the-charts delicious.
And now back in our home city, our new normal has begun.
Some days it’s a struggle. Docs appointments. Chemo infusions. Worries about plans and finances and more.
David was dealing with infections last week and now he’s dealing with nausea and fatigue as he’s just started the second week of chemo and radiation appointments.
It’s so hard to believe how much our world has changed in the four weeks since we were given the news that cancer had befallen us like an like a silent scourge, wreaking havoc and leaving us shell-shocked.
However, I’m in awe of how valiant my husband is right now now. He doesn’t complain or bemoan his fate and he tackles each new challenge with verve, stoicism and resolve. We talk about dying. We talk about living. And everything in between.
As everyone keeps telling, this is our new normal.
But for every disappointment, worry and fear there is another act or a gesture of support, love and kindness.
My girlfriends have been taking me out to lunch non-stop, lending an ear and feeding me deliciousness at every turn.
Every time I leave my house I find myself in the arms of someone who’s heard our news. Or read an IG post. Or talked to a neighbor, a friend, a teacher about the goings on here.
Thanks for all the hugs, Portlanders.
And it seems like every time I return to my sunny front porch I find yet another drop off waiting for me. A note. A pot of flowers. A bottle of wine. A jar of honey.
Some items don’t even come with a note — just anonymous drop-offs meant to surprise and add cheer.
There was that beautiful chocolate loaf dropped off by Brooke, my kid’s former art teacher.
A huge basket of gifts and diversions from my two Lisas and Chrissy.
Granola and a hand-drawn card from Ivy the cookbook writer.
Thoughtful little gifts from Karmen, another woman who has a husband with cancer.
And items keep arriving in the mail — from family and friends and lots of lovely people from Concord, Mass.
My sister lives there and some of her friends — whom I’ve met briefly over the years– have sent me packages, too.
Julia and Lori sent me amazing foodstuffs and coffee from specialty shops in the Boston area.
Hedi sent me a tray from Paris and a lovely pocket-sized wooden cross from Bethlehem.
Polly’s pal Sandy sent me a couple of her grandmother’s vintage aprons that she found recently discovered wrapped impeccably in her mother’s attic.
Thank you a million times over for all the kind words and prayers and thoughts and support you’ve all offered me here, privately, on Instagram, by mail, by phone or in person.
We’ve been the beneficiary of countless kindnesses and offers of support this past month and I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me — and to my entire family — to feel that level of support.
It’s like I’ve been bubble-wrapped by all this love and it gives me so much comfort and joy.
I’m happy to report that yesterday it was my turn to give back.
I outfitted a small suitcase-like box for others going through chemo and radiation.
I call it my LOVE box.
Here’s what it looked like inside.
As you can see, it’s filled with granola bars, pork jerky, candy, gum, lifesavers, mints and other assorted snacks as well as new packs of playing cards.
I carried this box and a tray of cookies around with me for the four hours while we were seeing various doctors and hanging out in waiting rooms and the infusion room. I walked up to strangers in chairs, in elevators, in hallways — and asked if they wanted a little treat. And then I’d open this unexpected box.
(Sometimes I’m really outgoing and sometimes I’m quite shy but I forced myself to approach everyone, no matter the expected outcome.)
It was wonderful.
I got hugs, smiles, and surprise giggles. A certain receptionist hooted. A guy in an elevator looked at me agape until he realized I was serious.
One woman was sitting alone in chemo waiting for a treatment and I invited her over to my chair (with tablecloth and open box) and asked her if she wanted a little something. She couldn’t make up her mind so I encouraged her to take everything that she wanted. She took Zebra Stripe gum and M&M’s and a Baby Ruth. One chemo nurse came by three times in an hour and a half and she helped herself to Pork Jerky, gum, ginger candy, a Clif Bar and a homemade cookie.
And all of D’s doctors helped themselves to homemade cookies.
I’ve asked for advice on Instagram for other suggestions for inclusion, and I can’t wait to incorporate those ideas.
Anything else come to mind? At Providence they have a stand with some nourishment — teas, graham crackers, saltines, etc.– but I’m looking for more esoteric treats. Unfortunately I’ve learned many that cycle through that room no longer eat solid foods. Fresh flowers next time, then?
So that’s my tale of two cities — and our new normal.
Last thing. I was sitting in a waiting room outside radiation Thursday and I was struck by what I saw.
As you can see there were dozens of jigsaw puzzles standing at the ready in a quiet room off the lobby.
There was one giant jigsaw puzzle left on a table, and it was halfway done. The puzzle was waiting, sitting idle until someone came along to add a piece.
And I stood there looking at that puzzle thinking about how many strangers had walked into that room, contributing to its finish, perhaps a little, perhaps a lot, (or perhaps not at all as not everyone has such patience). We’d never all meet, but we were all united in that room.
United in that feeling of waiting, and suspension. Of unknowing. And just a tiny glimmer of hope.
I looked around, thinking of all those who’d cycled through that room over the years. I felt the presence of the full range of emotions felt by the thousands who’d probably walked in my steps before me. Despair. Hope. Bewilderment. Loneliness. Rage. Resignation. It all felt so palpable. One puzzle. A hundred different emotions.
And that’s when I saw it.
The stack of blankets. The baskets of hats and caps. All sewed by strangers, anticipating some other stranger’s worst moments in illness (fear, cold, hairlessness) and wanting to leave a temporary solution.
And that’s when it dawned on me.
I’m learning cancer is not just an evil disease and a killer of dreams. It’s also an opportunity for focus and a laser-like reminder to make each day matter. It’s also a gateway to a an incredible community of caregivers and strangers and nurses and doctors and friends and acquaintances that are all in this fight with unknown outcomes.
We’re all looking for solace. For comfort. For health. For recovery. For love.