A week ago yesterday, Peg began having increasingly debilitating pain down her back, hip and left leg. We had no idea what was causing it or why it started, because she was recovering from surgery nicely. By the following Monday it was not tolerable any longer. I took her to an ER where eventually the pain was relieved somewhat with intravenous pain relief narcotic, and a new MRI scan was completed. Six hours later we came home with a new prescription and she went to bed. The next 24 hours were very difficult because the pain would not subside and finally when Peg told me she could not walk to the bathroom, I called 911 and had an ambulance take her to our local ER. Surprisingly, the ER doctor told us an ER should not be used for pain management and said she would prescribe Percocet and send us home. My verbal tone and body language let the good doctor know I did not agree and she eventually received the message that we were not leaving. I requested she call our oncologist, which she did, and ten hours later Peg left the ER to a hospital room. I ultimately succeeded in getting her admitted, but I can’t help feeling like we were penalized with the length of time it took. Such nonsense is yet another frustrating experience in an all-medical environment lately, but it also helps me remember another time…another place.
To celebrate my sixtieth birthday in 2005, Peg took me to Paris. I fell in love one more time in my life, this time with a city. By day or night, Paris was magical. The natives were especially nice to us, the food all superb, architecture to die for, the history unmatched. On my special day, we went for a cozy dinner at an out-of-the-way restaurant recommended by a book Peg had read as part of her Parisian research, The 18th century building was only a short walk to the Seine at the location where Notre Dame rests. Being fully satiated with food and drink. a long walk was needed, not only for digestive purposes but for poetic ones as well. We decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower and see it for the first time famously lit up in lights. As we walked arm in arm along the Seine, a mist gathered over the entire landscape providing the backdrop for a series of romantic moments. Light played off the buildings, trees and bridges to create mental images of our choosing that were mesmerizing. We raised an umbrella and walked whimsically, fully anticipating Gene Kelly to burst upon the scene at any moment and dance half on the sidewalk, and half on the street. In the distance we could see just the top of the Eiffel Tower, lit up as if to proclaim, “look at me…look at me, and marvel.” Not being on any type of schedule, we took our time and occasionally would take a mini side-tour over one of the many beautiful bridges. On the bridges were many young couples cuddling and embracing which to me was so symbolic of Paris, I literally pinched myself to take it all in. Eventually we would meander back to the Seine pathway still heading towards our main objective, the Eiffel Tower. If we walked directly to the Tower, a distance of less than three miles, it would have taken us a leisurely hour of strolling time. But we made many lazy side-trips which made our walk closer to two hours to reach just a few blocks short of our goal. The time was 1 a.m. The famous Eiffel Tower lights went dark. Oh no!!! We had come so close as to get a full view and then WHAM…darkness. Searching for a cab to take us back to the hotel, we wandered the streets until we found a cab queue outside the famous bistro Les Deux Magots. I was deeply disappointed about missing the lights, but Peg assured me there would be other nighttime opportunities to re-visit and see the full spectacle. And we did! And it was! And we were happy!
Peg was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in November 2011. After numerous surgeries including a double mastectomy, chemo, and radiation, treatments finally ended in January of 2013. Metaphorically, we were walking towards the light of freedom from medical treatments. We had a goal and we kept walking towards it. Unfortunately life’s clock struck 1 a.m. on April 17 of this year and all the lights associated with being cancer free went out with the news that not only had the cancer returned, but was located in multiple locations including both sides of her hip bone, left femur, a spot on her spine and another spot on her liver. Since then, a new secondary cancer was discovered in her uterus and consequently Peg needed a complete hysterectomy which was performed earlier this month. And all this after recovering from a previous operation to have a rod inserted in her left leg to stabilize it against the fear of the femur fracturing. I’m exhausted just writing about it, let alone having to watch Peg go through it.
So last Monday, after four days of misery, it was discovered that cancer had caused a small compression fracture on one of her spine’s vertebra. We were told this was probably the main cause of her pain. Two days ago, finally, radiation began which will cover numerous locations; chemo therapy will begin once radiation is completed in approximately three weeks. Where once we walked to see the spectacle of the Eiffel Tower, today we walk metaphorical distances in the hopes to turn a corner and see clearly an obstacle-free, brighter future. Maybe we will get there…maybe we will not, but we will try. In the radiologist’s office hangs the following sketch…
That’s Peg’s philosophy and I am by her side all the way. The doctor wears a lapel pin on his starched white jacket which thank goodness is not an American flag, but rather reads “Cancer Sucks”. It brings smiles to our faces. So as Peg once assured me while holding hands on Parisian streets so many years ago, that not seeing the lights on one day did not mean we wouldn’t see the lights at all, it is now my turn to assure her that life’s lights are still ours for the taking; we just have to keep walking…perhaps just around the next corner…perhaps just a little further.