“They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn”

The header for today’s entry is a line from one of my favorite Dylan tunes called Meet Me in the Morning from Blood on the Tracks. It’s not an earthshattering tune or anything, but the line has popped up in my head these days, as I’ve been struggling through the worst the second cycle has dealt me over the last several days.

Let’s face it, I’ve been a bit emotional the past couple of days. I think I hit rock bottom yesterday during my chemo treatment. One of the nurses-in-training looked at me at one point, her eyes wide with disbelief, and said, “oh my, are you okay?” I’m sure she’ll learn not to alarm patients that way in the future, but suffice it to say I wasn’t doing well. They kept me in the chair over twice as long as they normally would for my second week, pumping me full of antidotes to the toxins they’d already filled me up with. My doctor even stopped by, with some words of encouragement: “Remember,” he said, “we’re going to cure you. Just keep your eye on the goal.”

But that can be very difficult to do. Last night the fever and chills set in as I was waiting for Dawn to come home, and as I lie in bed shaking more violently than I ever have, I wondered desperately if I would be headed to the hospital before the night was through. Fortunately, the fever never got out of hand, and we managed to rein it in, and I returned to my normal misery. At times like that the thing that strikes me most is how desperate I am for normalcy, and how much I (we) take it for granted in our day to day lives. It seems like such a given, but believe me when I’m in the throes of my own little chemo nightmare, it seems like heaven on earth.

I wonder sometimes how my superficial mentionings of hair loss and needle pokes and such must appear as what I think this cancer thing is all about. It isn’t. They are things to tell, things to share with all of you who aren’t here to see the day to day struggles and weirdnesses of life with cancer, life with chemotherapy.

But it isn’t the needles and the shedding of hair that keep me up at night. It isn’t such relatively small consequences of cancer treatment — not the nausea, the fatigue, or any of that. Those things may keep my body up at night, but they don’t weigh on my mind the way the much bigger questions do.

I suppose it is because in times like these, one wonders what he would most rather be doing in life. I suppose one could say, “well, just about anything,” but that’s not the nature of the exercise my mind is attempting to coax me into. It’s more along the lines of, “it looks like you’re going to luck out with this one, Lawler, but maybe next time you won’t — so, what is it you really want — what is it you really need — in life?” Such questions of the future have overtaken the silly but inevitable ones of the present, such as the classic, “why me?” — Tara’s pointed answer of “why not?” put an end to that one for me. Besides, if not me, than who? No, I’d just as soon it be me to endure this as anyone else. It’s fruitless to wonder if there was something I could have done differently, some meal I could have skipped (or added), some situation I should have avoided, in that I might have kept my cancer at bay. It’s too late for that, and only occasionally do I wonder if those around me who have not had cancer look at me as a bit of damaged goods, that must have missed something along the way that they managed to grasp. No, such musings are useless. And I’ve already staggered through them the best I could.

So, that leaves me with dreams of the future, and it gives the dreams an added shot of urgency that they perhaps have yet to contain. When my dad died, my mortality jumped up in front of me and began flailing its bony arms, forcing me to look the idea of death in the eye — or, at least as close to the eye as I could manage. But now, it’s come much closer to my own front door, invited itself in, and begun asking more personal questions.

I haven’t found the right answers to give yet. I’m not sure what they are. There are so many possibilities.


4 Responses to ““They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn””

  1. Way back when life was “normal,” I wrote one of my blunt little letters, and by blunt I mean blunt, and by little I mean way too many pages about me me me. In that letter, I told you I wasn’t that interested in meeting my friends’ kids. I mentioned those who have kids already, and indeed, I mentioned yours.

    When we found out it was in your lungs and I drove through the Carolinas and Georgia with a lot of crying, there were so many moments that I did not regret those words or take them back so much as I replaced them with a desperation to meet your children, or maybe just a longing or desire. To meet what should be so normal–to meet my best friend’s child/ren. Those are the possibilities I think about now.

    I look at the two of us, and the cancer, and you can see that we have made such different choices, and yet it got us. I can see the choices I made that were poor ones, diet or health-wise, but I see you making all the so-called right ones, and I can’t really say that avoiding the bad stuff would have helped. I do not see you as damaged. I see myself as a little less damaged. You help me accept the “Why not?” and there is some comfort in the random. Because it would be exhausting to try to make all the right choices.

    Which is to say that I hold onto so many possibilities, among them, your children. I celebrate them. When I listened to the familiar sound of that chemo machine, when I watched you sleep, I tried to imagine the sight of your children sleeping and the sound of them playing instead. Those are some of the possibilities that I cling to when I see my best friend so trapped in chemo world.

    I wish I could have alleviated some of the effects. I wish experience made me wise. Instead, it makes me hopeful. That’s all we’ve got for now, but oh, the hope–it’s endless. You and Dawn are in my strengthening prayers until you no longer need them, and even then you are both there in my hope.

  2. I should have mentioned in this latest post that Tara was here with us for the weekend. She drove up from Cincinnati to keep a trip we had planned before I was diagnosed, and I don’t know how Dawn and I would have made it through the weekend without her.

    I guess I was selfish or just not thinking when I failed to realize how difficult it might be for a former chemo patient to walk into a chemo ward and watch someone else receive chemo. Well, she did it, and she did it with dignity and grace, and even though she too can’t stand the thought of needles, she held my hand every time they poked (and unpoked) me. She was an advocate for me, and paid better attention to what the doctors and nurses were saying than I could have ever hoped to yesterday when I think I was suffering through the worst of it.

  3. Thanks for the reply up there. I’m glad I could do something.

    And I saw that sharp look come into your eye when you looked at me while Nettie was talking to me about how difficult it must have been. I saw you realize what else was going on in our little cubicle.

    Your more recent post, about avoiding the chemo ward, well, I suspect you understand a bit more. It was…easier than I thought it would be–mainly because I had you on which to focus. I almost wished Nettie hadn’t said anything, because I’d kind of been blocking where I was and what I was doing. She almost made me cry. Those sounds and those smells of alcohol. Well, I understand wanting to avoid it. It was certainly easier knowing I wasn’t doing it, but yeah, it was tough.

    Anyway, I hope you didn’t get a full on cold, or whatever. I think that other than waking up with the need for one good cough and a weak voice, I was pretty darn healthy. Since I got sick at the end of September, one would think the germs were not so prevalent. But I suppose you were bound to pick up something from someone. You’re almost done, Mr. Mike. Hang in there.

  4. Hello Mike, and good thoughts. Still following. And darn it, I have your package RIGHT HERE in my hot little hands and cannot find your address that you sent. Could you please send it again to rainbook101@yahoo.com.

    Your posts are hard to read as I hear your angst coming through, but it’s such an important thing to do both for your life and others. It sounds trite-but there are probably so many guys reading that you may actually help.

    Good vibes and thoughts to another person out there in blogger land.

    Even if you don’t really believe in prayer (or do you, it was a little hard to tell), believe in optimism and that you can focus your strength on what you need to do.

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