Of all the popular poisons, chemo is my favorite. The oddest of medicines, it beats you down as it fixes you up in hopes that it will eventually save your mortal soul.
Results are mixed. Prayer and single-malt Scotch might be more effective. Actually, you need a little of all three.
Greetings from chemo bay No. 8 in the cancer annex of a local hospital. We’re squeezed into a corner cubicle, about the size of your office’s coffee nook. I asked for the honeymoon suite and this is what we wound up with. Never had much luck with upgrades. Or honeymoons.
At least there’s a TV. Fussy nurses dart in and out like point guards. My wife, Posh, has a blanket, heated in some oven. I have lukewarm coffee. And her again.
I have not seen my spouse this much since the first week we dated. As then, she is tiny, maybe 95 pounds. Her chestnut hair is thinner now, but she still has those killer cheekbones and the cutest dimple — like an apostrophe — on just one side of her smile.
These days, we share every meal. I fear she will tire of me soon … her constant shadow, her pharmacist, her masseur, her own personal comedian/coach, whom she confessed isn’t particularly funny after all.
For now, she is stuck with me. Her fate rests, in part, in the hands of a wise guy who can barely work a digital thermometer. “What was so wrong with the old thermometers?!” I shout. (I find myself growing angry at a lot of stupid stuff.) Why does everything now need batteries? Or when did pills become “meds?”
That’s a tangent, sure, but the tangents save me. I talk of cancer so much that a brief conversation about the Lakers or the price of rib-eyes keeps me on the safer side of sane. Tuesday, I did a five-minute bit on how Meryl Streep movies always put me to sleep.
And what could be more all-consuming than this? We are in Week 2 of her chemo treatments. When finished, she’ll have had 18 total innings, at which time she will have won.
Or so we hope. At this moment, a bag of Benadryl hangs from a stainless steel hook to be followed by the special sauce: Taxol.
The Taxol, with a carboplatin boost, is supposed to rinse the lesions from her lungs and some post-surgical cancer lower in her hull. The specialists have high hopes, to be sure, though nothing with this type of cancer comes with guarantees. No refunds, no returns. You get more assurances when you buy a $30 toaster.
Meanwhile, Posh’s oncology nurse is the most important woman in her life since her mother. For these weekly sessions, her nurse (Kathy) greets her at the reception desk, and they go arm and arm down the hallway, old chums who have known each other all of two weeks.
I trail behind, carrying her Vogue and her slipper socks. I look like hell, not that it matters much. I need a haircut and a face-lift. In the mirror, Kurt Vonnegut stares back — bad mustache, worse hair. Pale and verklempt. Ice cubes have more color. “Hey, nurse, I might need a transfusion here.”
Now that I’m not funny anymore, appearance is more important than ever.
For humor, which everyone insists is so damn important, we’ve turned to other members of the comedy troupe. Posh laughs at how the blue-eyed Siberian, still a puppy, licks the sap off the firewood, or how our daughter arranged the avocados “chronologically, according to ripeness,” knowing we won’t eat all three of them the same day.
I’m just glad our daughter isn’t overthinking things.
At home, we fight the cancer with food. The nutritionist orders 65 grams of protein a day, which I believe is roughly equivalent to 10 sides of beef. Or, as I’ve always called it: lunch.
As I keep telling the kids, “If she opens her mouth to yawn, send in a slab of veal.”
The other day, a neighbor dropped off a fresh-baked pie so good Posh sighed, “Oh gawwwd!” at the first forkful. Equally divine, there have been stews and casseroles and Croatian brownies. Love may be the best bubble wrap, but ancient family recipes run a close second.
Then, one day: lasagna.
Half Sicilian, Posh has been cooking lasagna since she was 3. Her version is seven layers deep, thick as a good quilt and built with the same care craftsmen put into a Lamborghini.
Not knowing this, one friend delivered the large tray of lasagna. It would be like taking lilies to Monet.
Turns out, that lasagna was a terrific call. She jumped on it like a shark, as did the rest of her comedy troupe. Mussolini never ate so well.
One morsel at a time — a hearty pasta, a plate of steak — we are filling her out like this, making her robust again.
You know, she was always prettiest when she was pregnant.