A Red Dragon in My Garden

June 25, 2009

I learned today that my chemo treatment has a street name. Patients call it the Red Dragon because of the bright red color of the medicine and its dragon-like side effects. I have also let myself imagine that it is because of two other common side effects, a red face and red pee. Yes, red pee. A few weeks ago when I had the mastectomy, the shots I received beforehand caused my urine to turn blue. Not just the Scrubbing Bubbles, clean-your-bathroom light blue, but good old American flag deep blue. First blue, now red; I am learning that cancer is very patriotic.

The Red Dragon

I like the name Red Dragon much better than the actual name, which is several syllables long and unspellable by anyone other than Kavya Shivashankar. Kavya is the 2009 National Spelling Bee champion. This was her fourth trip to the national spelling bee accompanied by her father who happens to be her spelling coach. This time she won. Kavya correctly spelled “Laodicean,” which means lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics. I’ll bet good money that Kavya could spell the proper name for all of my meds. I have read that she is an aspiring neurosurgeon. Perhaps someday Kavya will develop a drug to fight cancer. Although if she does find a cure and names it after herself, I wont know how to spell that either. Sorry Kavya, but please do try. It is the ingenuity of youth that will bring Spring to this Winter and new ideas and cures to those who wait.

I prayed about this first treatment. I prayed for strength and courage. I prayed so that I would be able to face the side-effects with humor and resilience. I prayed for my children, that they won’t worry too much about me and that they remain the happy, carefree children who work so hard to drive me crazy at times. I prayed for patience in case that last prayer came true. And each time I felt the pangs of fear knocking at my heart’s door, I prayed again.

Two days before my treatment, my mother came to spend the night. I was having the port that the chemo drugs get injected into put in my chest. I am now officially a human pin cushion. The drugs are so toxic that they can’t go in through an ordinary IV. The port is a required passage before meeting the dragon. As Kavya knows, there is nothing better than having a parent right there by your side, seeing you through to your end goal. Like Kavya’s father, my mom has been there for the entire journey. When I win this battle, my mother will share in my victory.

The night before my appointment with the Red Dragon, my girlfriend, Cecelia, came over to help and to hang out. We had wine and pizza, we laughed together like friends do. I let myself cry with Cece. I tell her my secrets. It is to her that I confess my fears, the lioness has found her thorn and all of this shit scares me. Cece understands. Blessed are those who decide to spend time with me when I am nervous and scared. The polite way to say it is “I am not an easy patient”. Cece does not always describe it in the polite way, but this time she spent the night calming me and comforting me.  She drove me to the treatment in the morning listening patiently as I practiced my civic duty as the official backseat driver. Everyone should be so lucky to have a true companion, a best friend, a shoulder to cry on, someone to keep your secrets.

My sister, Tracy, met me at the office and stayed with me during the procedure. Tracy knows the real names for the drugs I am taking and I’d bet on her to be able to spell them as well as Kavya Shivashankar. Tracy takes notes when we meet with the doctors. She is the one who asks all the questions I forget to ask or frankly, just don’t want to know. Before cancer invited us, Tracy and I had not really spent much time together, just her and I. This time we talked for two solid hours. She shared a song with me, Melissa Etheridge’s I Run For Life, which made me cry but also made me feel inspired and hopeful. I have always loved my sister, that is a given, but it is now more than just sisterly love. Tracy has become the anchoring root in the garden of those who have blossomed up to help and support me. I need her. She keeps me strong. It is with a grateful heart that I know she is there for me.

Kavya, I may not be able to spell it, but I am definitely not Laodicean when it comes to believing in the power of prayer. You see, I prayed for strength and courage. God responded and grew me a garden of friends and family who are here to support me, to give me strength, to remind me that I can do this. Not a day has gone by that someone hasn’t sent me a card or an email, a post on Facebook, a song, a care package, a meal. There is always someone to talk to, always someone to hold my hand. Among all of the many beautiful blooms in God’s garden he made for me, stand my Mom and Cece and Tracy.

I frequently grant myself an imaginative stroll though my garden of support. The path is warm and welcoming, more alluring than any oasis. My heart fills with true thankfulness and love for every kind soul I find there, Doug, Tami, Brenda, Kathy, Kate, all of the Heathers, Laurie, Jennifer, Janet and Laura, Bev and Barbara, Brad, Jay, Brian, Susan and Julie, Carrie, Kathleen, Katrina, Chris, Nancy, David, Deborah, Sharky and Dee, Desiree, Karen, Kris, Jacqui, Kim, Josh, Eric, Katy, Kendra and Keri, Shani, Randi, Scott, Terry and Todd and all those unnamed, but not unnoticed. Each of you are cherished more than you know.

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4 Responses to “A Red Dragon in My Garden”

  1. Laura Blair Says:

    You know Sparky, Melissa Etheridge might be a great place to find a theme song now. She battled breast cancer and kicked its ass! One of her recent albums…the one with I Run for Life…is a tribute to her battle.

    Love you!

  2. Mama Says:

    You give to much credit to those of us that are there to hold your hand and supply whatever support we can while you go on this journey. The person that is the strongest, the most courageous, and soon to be the winner in this battle, without a doubt, is YOU.

    Each of us know that you have what it takes to get through this. In those rare moments that you experience fear, concern, or just plain old depression all that we can do is offer you our hand to hold. But then you pull it all together and show all of us the true meaning of strength and courage. Then we all move forward to the next step but with the knowledge that you are going to win this. After all we won’t settle for anything less.

    I know that you are aware of this but I’ll say it anyway. If God brings you to it he will also bring you through it.

  3. Tamara DeLand Says:

    Beautiful. You continue to amaze me, Ronnie. We will meet again!

  4. Kim Eeftink Says:

    When I grow up one day, I would love to be like you and see things as you do. You are always in my thoughts and prayers. James and I think about you all the time and wish we could see more of you like we use to. We do love you very much.


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