Warning: if you don’t have time to cry with me, stop reading now.
The last test I had in August before starting the first chemo cycle was a CT series. That series was important to determine whether I had any lymph node involvement and to document any presence of lymphoma outside of my bone marrow prior to the start of any treatment. At USC Norris Cancer Hospital that afternoon, Friday, August 27, 2010, I was fine until the lab tech handed me a large container of barium contrast fluid and said, “Bottoms up.”
As I choked down the chalky stuff, thinking “berry flavoring” doesn’t fool anyone, I also choked back tears. I wasn’t afraid of the CT by any means; in fact, CT scans have become a far more pleasant experience than when I had the subdural hematoma 26 years ago. It was that I remembered afresh how Bing likewise struggled to get down the same fluid in his City of Hope room. When a nurse came in and chided him for not finishing his container, he light-heartedly offered to finish it if she’d drink some with him. Since he evoked a chuckle out of her, he later also invited Jeff Parkin to have the remainder of his “barium milkshake.”
Sitting by myself on that hallway bench, a wave of emotions crashed over me. Here I was, experiencing in some small measure what he had experienced, and remembering all over again how much he suffered. Bing showed such good humor and grace down to the bitter end; could I possibly do his example justice? And in a complex set of ironies, here I was facing yet another trial without him, and feeling very alone.
Something that I’ve learned in the eight years without him here, though, is that when I miss him the most and feel he is the farthest away, he actually is close at hand. I can imagine in the hereafter he is going to say, “BB, why did you cry every time I came to visit you?” My cell phone rang, and it was Janet. “How did she know I was at the hospital,” I wondered as I said hello. And later, I wondered how my cell phone worked at all, since I was in the radiology wing with thick concrete walls.
As it turned out, Janet wasn’t calling to check up on me, as she didn’t intend to call me at all. She accidentally dialed me while trying to call someone else. But since she had me on the phone, she asked me what was going on and how was I doing, and after a few words from me, said, “Are you okay?” recognizing that I wasn’t. Talking with her calmed me down and then I was fine continuing to wait for my CTs. Upon reflection, Janet’s call may have been accidental for her, but I don’t think it was accidental at all for me.
Not long after Bing died, a friend who was widowed in her 20s said to me, “It doesn’t get easier, but you just get used to it more.” I’ve found that to be the case. I process each January 21st anniversary of his death differently depending on where I am in life. Today, eight years later living with my own cancer questions, I know Bing would not want me bringing flowers to his grave when I should be resting after this morning’s chemo. My problematic platelets, although low, have held steady from last week. With the medical care, advice, and support I have, I am focusing on having many years of good health yet to enjoy. To honor the brave example Bing set for me, I am trying to live life to its fullest, which is exactly what Bing wanted me to do.
P.S. As I took this picture of Bing near the end of our wonderful Chesapeake Bay sailing trip the morning of August 24, 2002, the thought came to me, “This is exactly how you should remember him,” without any idea of what we would come home to find out, and that this would be the last picture I would take of him. And so this photo has a special place in my heart.