One of the up sides of having ADD is my capacity to scan for and process lots of information. When I drive I tend to have my eye two or three steps ahead of my car. The down side of course is that I can be an impatient driver and riding with me can be pretty annoying. The best way I've found to slow down my mind is to stop and regularly meditate - but that's not easy when I'm buzzing past huge rigs at 75 MPH.
For nine days in mid-October Tad and I drove nearly 2000 miles to visit family and friends, to take in the beauty of the autumnal desert and to simply get away for a much needed vacation in Southern California and Arizona. The hidden goal that gave birth to the trip however was for him to say good-bye to members of his family of origin for perhaps the last time.
If all goes well the next few months will present Tad with a bone-marrow transplant (more realistically called a stem cell transplant) which may or may not rid him of cancer and may also kill him by replacing his immune system with someone else's. It's the most promising procedure for a long-term cure and the most fatal due to the many possible complications; the ultimate eye of the needle.
As we put more and more miles between us and the Bay Area I watched Tad and myself loosen up, laugh more, become curious about things around us. I watched us release the cumulative fears and obsessions we'd been building up around this phase of his treatment. I observed us as we temporarily let fade from our awareness the crazy-making fact that the ONE hospital offering the most promising clinical trial doesn't like Tad's insurance - or to be more specific doesn't like Tad's secondary insurance - the part that covers the 20% his other insurance doesn't cover.
Unlike many of my friends Tad is not without insurance; he actually has three different kinds of coverage! But after telling us they simply needed to speak to the insurer, the folks from the Seattle Cancer Center have now announced that they do not bill that insurer, or rather that they once did but they had bad luck so they'd rather not for the moment - the perfect response to make any level-headed person go bonkers.
In my attempt to make this road trip as relaxing as possible I decided to resist the insistent pull of my mind toward what was happening 300 yards ahead of our car and devised strategies on how I might possibly get around it. I decided to stop wondering why the person driving the light blue Chevrolet with Nevada license plates thinks it's okay to set up residency in the left lane and drive ten miles under the speed limit, keeping gentle pace with an 18 wheeler full of chickens. I know that if I focus on these things long enough my mind gets jittery, I feel some kind of mis-placed rage and I ultimately stop enjoying the beauty of the landscape, the music from the Ipod and the pleasure of driving in the open desert with my beloved.
The strategy I used for myself was taking a deep breath and simply repeating in my mind: "Just this". Not the baby blue chevy, not the 18-wheeler, not the question of whether we will get through LA before the bewitching rush hour deadline of 2:30 PM but...
It reminded me of a time when I was attending a silent retreat in Northern Quebec with American Indians. I actually fasted for ten days, and remained silent for four of those ten days while participating in various native American rituals. One day I took off for a long hike in silence and discovered a gurgling mountain river. I walked along side it and became so fascinated by it that I lost the path home through the thick woods. But I knew that if I just followed the river downstream it would take me back to a road that would take me back to my camp. Standing on one of the giant boulders looking downstream my heart dropped since I could see no possible road map. Much to my chagrin the rocks were not scattered in a terribly organized fashion! Yet I had no choice.
What I discovered was that all I had to do was focus on getting to the next rock and once I got to there, the next one seemed obvious. One rock at a time I made way back home. That rock-jumping experience was one of the big take-aways from my tree-huggers, touchy-feely retreat: take life one stone at a time and don't get too obsessed about the big picture.
I don't know what the outcome of our present medico-insurance dilemma will be. I don't know if we'll get into the study in Seattle (we have an appointment on Friday to discuss it) or if we'll remain in San Francisco and get the less promising (but less fatal) autologous transplant in which the doctors will give Tad some of his own previously extracted immune stem cells.
When people or greeting cards tell me to "simply trust" - I admit that my first thought is "trust what?" or rather "Trust WHAT!?!?!?"
I can't really find the way to trust some benevolent god or angels or universal flow.
But what is clear to me is that I CAN trust "just this". I can trust that each day I have what it takes and Tad has what it takes to stay connected and remain hopeful for that day.
Not surprisingly our friends and family weren't really eager to say the ultimate good-bye to Tad, nor were we, truth be told. Instead of being a trip about sorrow it was a simple road trip about life, about saguaro cacti and giant orange boulders, about hummingbirds and mediocre novels, popcorn in front of the TV with family, barbecue ribs and apple orchard forays, chatting with friends and enjoying the journey.
It was a trip about just this.
[EPILOGUE: Since first posting this Tad had a bone marrow biopsy - a lovely procedure in which they bore a hole in his hip bone to take out a sample. It indicated some cancer activity in the blood meaning it's best that he get more chemo before getting a transplant. We called Seattle to see if we should come or stay and they recommended we come up after this next round of chemo. By then they will have had time to find a donor match as well. Deeeeeep breath....]