March 22, 2015: Five days after reading Mikey’s email revealing the news about having pancreatic cancer, I was on my way to Calgary. Mikey had previously planned a family reunion for July. In February, I purchased my plane tickets, departure scheduled for July 7th, returning on July 14th, we looked forward to enjoying some of the Calgary Stampede events. Yet, life often smashes the best laid plans of mankind with dreadful surprise.
I contacted the airline and was able to switch my July 7th ticket to March 22nd with no additional cost due to the circumstances of my need to change the ticket.
I typed out a schedule for my husband to follow for the dogs and cat. Both dogs were diabetic, I left instructions on how much food to give them twice daily in addition to instructions for him to give Vayda, our female dog, her incontinence pills, 1/2 pill twice daily, no instructions needed for administering their twice-daily insulin injections, he already knew how to do those. I also demonstrated how to bandage Buddy’s paws and in bold print, reminded him to scoop out the kitty litter daily. Typically, prior to any trip, I would cook and freeze meals for my husband to eat during my absence. This absence, my husband would be on his own.
Buddy, one of our dogs, had been suffering from lesions on his paw pads since August of 2014. Every day, I would unwrap his rear paws of the previous day’s bandages, clean the wounds, apply antibiotic ointment, wrap and tape a gauze pad around the wound and tape two toddler socks over them. When it would be rainy, which we were having an incredibly rainy spring season this year, I would grab two plastic grocery bags, slip his bandaged paws into them and tape them on to keep the bandaging dry. This did not work so well, but, it was the best solution I had at the time. Sometimes the bandaging would be so soaked that I would re-clean and re-bandage his paws twice daily. I feared that Buddy would not survive during my absence, not due to being neglected, rather due to the unforgiving effects of diabetes. In a way, I had hoped that my husband would handle Buddy’s demise, I knew it was inevitable and I had enough to face without having to be the one to have Buddy euthanized.
The airport shuttle van arrived right on time, 5 a.m. My husband helped load my heavy luggage into the van while the driver asked him for directions to the airport. WHAT?
After leaving our neighborhood, the driver asked me, “Which way to go?”
“I have no idea! I have never driven to the airport. I don’t drive expressways! I’m a chicken driver!”
“Yah, yah, yah,” she smiled, “we git there ok, no worry.”
‘Holy shit,’ I thought to myself, ‘I hope this isn’t an omen of how this travel day is going to be.’
I recognized the interstate that she turned onto and sighed with relief, I knew we were headed in the right direction. We chatted friendly nothings the rest of the drive.
Going through security at the airport was quick, I had more than an hour to spare and found a coffee shop, grabbed something to eat then sat at my departure gate watching people pass by. I had hoped that whomever my seat-mates would be, would not be the chatty type, I was in no mood to chat and my characteristic friendly-nature had been replaced with anger and fear for my son.
The rest of the flight was unremarkable except for the brief layover in Salt Lake City, Utah. That airport was so damn busy and crowded, it was just awful. I was, however, able to grab a quick something to eat and barely made it to my gate, which kept changing, causing me to sprint from one gate to the newly assigned gate.
After clearing Canadian Customs, I walked through the exit doors and saw my daughter-in-law, her sister and my darling granddaughter and grandson. A smile lit up my face, hugs were shared and we headed to the parking garage where my daughter-in-law and I smoked a cigarette. I had quit smoking some time ago, but after receiving Mikey’s news, I grabbed a pack from my husband and smoked as if I had never quit.
“I thought we’d stop off at the hospital so you can see Mike before we go home. We can have lunch there too, with Mike.” My daughter-in-law is so organized in her thinking and planning.
“Ok,” I said, wondering how I would handle seeing my son. I had no idea what to expect.
At the hospital, we waited in the lobby for Mike to come down and we would walk to the cafeteria together. Mike wanted to do this. He wanted to BEAT this cancer, and if he couldn’t beat it, he wanted to make the best of the moments he had remaining in this life. He wanted to “do” whatever he was capable of doing. He was not a couch potato, he was a “doer” and this illness was as painful mentally, by restricting his ability to be active, as it was physically.
Michelle turned her head toward the other direction, I followed her line of site and there, I saw what appeared to be the deteriorating body of an advanced aids patient, worse than Matthew McConaughey’s appearance in Dallas Buyer’s Club, walking toward us with his robe hanging off his shoulders, pushing his mobile IV stand. I could not believe my eyes, could this tortured vision actually be my son?
When Mike was near, he reached out to hug me, “So, what do you think, Mom?”
Grasping any shred of bravery I might contain to hold back gushing tears, I whispered, to hide the shaking in my voice, “I wish I could take this from you. I wish it was me instead of you. I love you.”
Mike walked beside me on the way to the cafeteria. His pace was strained and slow, as that of an old, decrepit man.
The six of us sat at a table in the cafeteria. Everyone ordered the Poutine (French fries with brown gravy, smothered in cheese.) I ordered something else since I have never liked French fries. Mike couldn’t eat anything because of upcoming tests and constant vomiting.
Lunch lasted maybe 30 minutes and as we left the hospital cafeteria, Mike told us to go home, to leave him at the elevator, he would return to his room by himself. We hugged and followed Mikey’s request to leave him at the elevator while the rest of us headed toward the parking lot.
Michelle’s sister took the two little ones to the vehicle while Michelle and I stood at a resting spot provided for smokers. Her eyes searched mine. I did not think I could cry. I was in shock. It wasn’t until she hugged me that my tears began to flow and I knew this journey would be the most difficult of my life.