Tuesday, March 19, 2013

To remember. To forget.

March 19, 2003.

A young couple spends their lucky-number-13th dating anniversary in the chemo suite of an oncology office. He makes jokes with the nurse about the fact that his wife is quite high after the morning's dose of Ativan, given in preparation for the bone marrow biopsy which preceded this first chemotherapy treatment. She asks over and over again if the nurse has given her her Tylenol yet; she doesn't remember much about her visit with the doctor that morning, but she remembers that she could spike a fever and has to have Tylenol in her chemical cocktail. Even high, she is taking this all very seriously and wants to do it right.

Until it comes time to pee, and then she will miss the toilet completely and create a bio hazard since her urine is partly toxic Adriamycin. It will make a good story to tell their worried friends later.

Later that night over pizza and Gatorade, while watching news coverage of that day's invasion of Iraq, still groggy from the day's adventures, she will wonder what future March 19ths will look like. How many does she have left? Will she ever be healthy again? How does life possibly get back to normal after four more months of what she went through today? If there were any mystery left between her and her husband, the man she has loved since she was sixteen years old, it was surely destroyed today as he watched her very marrow being sucked out through a small incision in her hip. Once you've seen someone's bone marrow, a substance from just about as deep inside a person's body as you can get, what's left to see?

And also she peed toxic waste all over a bathroom floor. That's a romance-killer, for sure.

Where, she wonders, do we go from here?

March 19, 2013.

Same couple. A littler older. A little wiser. At times, a little sadder.

The cancer thing went fine, as it turns out. The young wife did become healthy again. People tell her all the time they can't believe she's a cancer survivor; her hair has grown back, the scars are barely visible, she could run a marathon if she wanted to. (Though she'll stick with a loosely-structured gym regimen and the occasional 5K, thank you very much.) The little daughter who was only an infant when her mom was diagnosed is now a pre-teen. Her goal was to live long enough to see her child's first day of school; she tries hard not to take for granted all the days after that.

As the couple sits down to a dinner of leftovers after a busy day working and running errands and managing all the distractions of their lives, they remember.

Happy anniversary, dear.
Happy anniversary to you, too.

They'll remember that not only has it been 23 years since they professed their more-than-friendly feelings for each other in their high-school band room, and thus became a couple at the tender age of sixteen/fifteen, but ten years since the cancer. But it's not the milestone it once was. In the ten springs since she was sick and fighting for her life, they've lost three parents. She has sat at the hospital bedside of two dying parents, battling cancer themselves, on two different March 19ths.

Spring has become a time to remember, but also a time to forget.

In my part of the world, March can be either a beautiful entry into spring or winter's last gasp. It can be warm enough to open all the windows, or there can be six inches of snow on the ground. Kentucky March, mid-March in particular, can be either bitter or sweet or both on the same day.

And that's just the weather. Throw college basketball into the equation, and March becomes even more volatile.

So it is with this one particular date. It has been a day of great joy and great sorrow. It has been a day where I've seen my life begin and a day where I can imagine how it ends. Sometimes it feels like something worth celebrating; sometimes it fails to register as a day of note.

Yet there is one constant.

On every March 19 since that fateful day way back in 1990, Jason has been there.

Here's hoping he's at my side for many more. 23 is not enough.

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