Monday, June 30, 2014

For the Birds

Cash & Dad's Sixth Year

The discovery of Rachel’s breast cancer came just two weeks ago. A routine mammogram raised read flags. Shortly thereafter, a talented radiologist, Dr. Linda Brem, probed deeply -- more than usual -- acting on a hunch. She discovered not just one but two cancers in Rachel’s right breast and an emerging spot in her left.

That discovery, born of an expert’s intuition, made Rachel’s path clear. The insides of Rachel’s breasts were to be removed in an operation known as a double mastectomy, a terribly invasive surgery. As horrible as that was, Dr. Brem’s correct diagnosis saved us from multiple cancer recurrences. We well could have taken a less invasive approach, one that missed other cancerous areas.

As I write this, Grandma and I are sitting in George Washington Hospital while your mom undergoes the surgery. The wait is torturous. World War II soldiers described sitting idle before the D-Day as hell before the firestorm. I get it. Its been four hours and we are still waiting word from Dr. Teal on Rachel's progress. God, I hope she is doing ok.

I can’t stop thinking about Rachel. She has feared cancer as long as I’ve known her. Its her worst nightmare come true. Over the last few days, she’s been asking herself over and over: How did this happen? What did she do to cause this? What could she have done to prevent it? Was it caused or determined?

She has researched, looked at genetic markers and so forth to see if she was somehow genetically predisposed. One thing is for sure in this day and age, we are at the very beginnings of understanding genetics. We see genes as individual components to be analyzed, like individual keys on a piano all laddered up in the double helix. If you have X gene in this location on the keyboard, you might have Y malady. Its a simple regression relating a disease to a specific gene.

This all seems too simple to me. Like keys on a piano, I bet groups of genes are somehow performed upon like music, in complex patterns with many genes working together producing life’s harmonies, and like music, somewhat ephemeral from the physical keys or genes themselves.

Consciousness is similar in that its clearly linked to the physical manifestation of the brain organ. You damage the brain, you change consciousness. Nonetheless, consciousness seems separate, ephemeral, emerged from the hardware but beyond it somehow.

But what do I know. I’m just worried about Rachel ...

So, Rachel’s initial surgery was successful and Dr. Teal doesn’t believe the cancer spread beyond where she treated Rachel. We won’t know for sure for a couple weeks, but Dr. Teel was very confident. Rachel now enters into the second phase of her surgery where they begin the reconstruction with Dr. Lambert. I'm thrilled though I know a long road is ahead.

Cancer is for the birds.

In all of this, Cash, you have been a rockstar. Since cancer's arrival in our family in mid-May, you sensed the tension and, unlike your father whose temper sharpens under duress, you've been a soft pillow emotionally for your mommy. You are frequently hugging her and you love "getting cozy" with her. You've eased her fear because she can't look at you without smiling.

I too have been delighted by you in a most unexpected way. You've become a studier of birds taken to calling yourself an ornithologist. I have no idea where the interest arose, but I know our Potomac house is a perfect perch. Luke bought a bird feeder from his allowance -- a contraption that thwarts the efforts of thieving squirrels -- plus the Potomac river below us attracts a great variety of birds both land-based and aquatic.

The fog of cancer is easily burned off by the sight of you running with a camera bigger than your head hanging from your neck to your knees as you chase, tripping all over, some poor sod red-headed woodpecker. The delight spreads to our neighborhood as well. An elderly gentleman in our neighborhood, Mr. XXXX, walks by our house interrupted one of your bird hunts to wish you happy birthday. He taught you this poem by A.A. Mine. Hearing you sing it makes us all forget about the cancer journey we will complete and defeat.
Now We Are Six
When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five, I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.