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Childhood Cancer, Children's Hospital Colorado, Inpatient Cancer Treatment

(Home Away From Home) Coming

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Snow packed roads on Wolf Creek Pass made for challenging driving conditions.

I’m catching a few moments by myself here at the apartment, to recuperate after a long day’s drive. It is dumping snow here, and the Denver area is expecting 5 to 10″ of snow overnight. It was snowing in Durango this morning as well, although there was no accumulation. Jordan and I had a smooth but arduous drive today, as we encountered areas of heavy precipitation. The worst of it came over Wolf Creek Pass, which is the major east/west corridor to the front range from the southwest corner of the state. The pass tops out at 10,000 feet, and this morning the temperature at that elevation was a chilly 24 degrees. There was about 5″ of snow at the top, and it was unplowed, with whiteout conditions. We drove slowly, very slowly, and once we headed downhill I was thankful that my car, which has an automatic transmission, is capable of downshifting into first gear. I spent the first few miles of the steep, winding descent shifting between 1st and 2nd gears, crawling along at about 20 mph, in attempt to avoid having to hit the brakes (b/c then I would potentially slide out on the snow packed roads). Semi trucks, cars hauling trailers, and regular passenger cars were stopped everywhere, especially near the top, where one could not make out the lanes in the road. Thankfully, traffic wasn’t heavy, and we emerged unscathed, without even a scare (except for a venture or two into the opposite lane, because of the odd placement of the stopped cars and the inability to make out the lanes on the road). Several miles down the east side of the pass, the roads were clear and then dry until about 90 miles southwest of Denver, where we encountered heavy snow for about an hour, although it didn’t stick to the roads because the temperature stayed above freezing. On the descent into Denver the snow turned to a persistent rain. And now, as it cools off for the evening, it has all turned to snow and the wet, slushy stuff is starting to stick. I’m happy to be “in” for the night, and Craig and Jordan will take the shuttle home from hospital in a bit.

20150509_164003The reason I’m recording so much of our drive from today is because, our arrival in now familiar ol’ Aurora was like a homecoming for me. It brought unexpected comfort and joy, and it was a moment (or feeling, rather) that I never want to forget. After her third round of chemo, I was so wrung out and I needed a break. And Craig was eager to spend some time here with Chloe, so it worked out well for us to trade positions. May is one of my favorite months in Durango, so in theory I thought I’d be happy to stay home an extra week. I’m glad I did, but the weather was cooler and wetter than I had anticipated, so that threw me off a bit, as I had imagined myself relaxing outdoors in more comfortable temperatures.

I also got to discover how very out-of-synch I am from having any sort of routine or rhythm while I am there. I can’t get Jordan to preschool on time, I have trouble filling out his after school care form, and I can’t handle too many phone calls in one morning. I couldn’t dive into spring cleaning my house, either. All I could do was: exist. Decompress. Sit and stare at the fish tank. And enjoy the company of our dogs. That’s it! I did manage to sort through 3 and a half weeks of mail (both personal and work mail, the latter of which is now coming to my house) and school papers. Otherwise, I enjoyed NOT having to deal with nurses and constantly be ON all the time. But I noticed how little things really weighed on me a lot. Watching the neighbors walk, bike, and scooter by with their kids on their way to school in the mornings for what was for them a relatively “normal” morning always stings a little bit. (In my new perspective on life, any day that your kids are going to school in the morning is a “normal” day). Trying to make social plans sometimes wears me out. And at times even thinking about getting out the vacuum makes me want to go back to bed. (I did manage to cook one dinner! It was a delicious and cozy casserole with chicken, broccoli, and rice with a cream cheese sauce and topped with cheddar cheese and potato chips).

I also had some pretty big distractions keeping me from being present. I worried about Chloe. The last round she didn’t handle the chemo so well, and the whole 3-week hospital stay sort of traumatized me, on many levels. So I lay awake at night last week and worried. I missed not being intimately connected to the play-by-play of her somewhat precarious and unpredictable existence in hospital. I worried she might spike chemo fevers again (which can be high, and make her feel lousy). I even dreamed about chemo fevers. I would wake up with my heart racing from a stressful dream, and it would take me a few moments to assimilate a mental picture of where I was. Was I at the hospital? How could I possibly be at home?

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Chloe and Jordan together in the play room.

I worried that her cancer might recur! This fear was particularly pronounced after hearing some bad news about a family we know of here. How do we know this chemo is going to work? When cancer recurs, it comes back with an even more aggressive vengeance! I had recently encountered (at Brent’s Place) a couple of families who were both dealing with recurring cancers (neither was leukemia), but just hearing that people have to go through this more than once was enough to wonder if it was going to happen to us. It was enough to put the fear of God in me.

My body was in Durango last week, sleeping (sort of) in my own bed, but a piece of my heart was here, in Denver, getting chemo. Heavy doses of chemo. And, I was limited by time and space as to how in touch with Chloe’s reality I could be, because I was not physically present in Denver. This separation created a huge distraction from me being able to fully enjoy myself while at home. It is an odd feeling when you don’t feel so at home in your own home, or even in your own familiar town, struggling to go through motions that used to be so very mundane and routine. So I found myself counting down the days, really, until we could leave again. (I did get to have some fun with friends…. in fact, it was seeing friends that helped lift me out of my homebound “funk”).

 

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Comic relief with friends, out for a drink, while in Durango.

This evening, as Jordan and I exited the highway in Aurora, it wasn’t raining here at that moment, and I strangely felt a sense of home. I belong here. This is where my life is right now. Ahhh, the old familiar intersection of Colfax and Potomac (the nearest major intersection to the hospital). Ahhh, my favorite coffee shop on the corner, and the beauty of the hospital and medical complex, the two hospitals towering in the sky like glowing healing temples, taller than any other buildings for many miles. As we drove closer toward the hospital, Jordan and I both lit up with wonder and excitement. (He handled the drive very well… he did ask about 30 times if we were close to Denver yet, but he didn’t complain once. He spent most of his time eating, having taken over two hours to eat a breakfast burrito, and then he took a short nap at the very end). And I know that hospital life gets me down, for all of the reasons I’ve stated before. But this arrival was the warmest and most fulfilling homecoming I’ve felt. And the apartment at Brent’s Place is a godsend, to be able to “come home” to. The kitchen is stocked, the couch is comfy, and there’s beer in the fridge. I am reveling in every moment of getting to enjoy this homey space.

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Looking good with Grandma!

We stopped first at the hospital, where my mom is visiting, and said hello to Craig, Chloe, and my mom. Chloe of course was ecstatic that Jordan could come into her room. The first thing she did was take him to the playroom in her unit, and show him off to the nurses and staff in the halls. She also was very excited to gift me with a tote bag full of mother’s day gifts, which had been donated to me by the Child Life Department at hospital. I found out tonight that I had missed a Mother’s Day celebration here at Brent’s this morning. But when we arrived here (at the apartment) at dinnertime, there were two more tote bags full of gifts, including some goodies from Whole Foods, and also a tupperware container full of gifts. I was uplifted by it. I felt honored and humbled, that these organizations thought to reward the hard-working mothers of children with cancer. I’ve never had such an abundant mother’s day in my life. And….. I deserve it! This is the mother’s day of all mother’s days for me to celebrate. I’ve worked HARD. And there’s more hard work to come, as we re-assimilate our lives and help Chloe’s body to heal in the coming months. I also recognize how places like Brent’s Place and the Ronald McDonald House really do exist to hold families up through the hardest of times. I wish we had more time here at Brent’s. We might be here another month, still. So I need not mourn just yet. Knowing how attached and sentimental I can get about a place, I know I will grieve without the safety net of the hospital and the cocoon of Brent’s Place, just as much as I will rejoice this portion of her healing coming to an end. I get sentimental enough leaving a cabin after a weekend vacation; I am going to feel a big loss leaving this place and our now-normal routine at the hospital.

We are fortunate have a great community to go home to. While I was home (since January 20th, there have only been two occasions where I got to be home longer than one week), I did get to realize and take in more comprehensively just how much our community is behind us on this. The fundraisers continue to be organized. Meals and hugs are still being offered. I forget that while I’m here going through this, everyone at home is thinking about us on our journey. I can’t say “thank you” to all of the generosity, prayers, and other support enough. We are truly blessed to have such a great community, near and far. Because there are days when I can’t even walk my dog. I just can’t function in “normal” life right now. So I’m even thankful for my friends who step up to help my dog have a somewhat normal routine!

Okay, so that’s enough rambling. I wanted to note how uplifted I was by arriving back in the ol’ familiar hospital routine. For that is, after all, where my current routine is. It is not at home. I can accept that. After all, my smartphone, which follows my whereabouts, thinks I live at Brent’s place, and work at Children’s (it tells me the time it will take to drive to “work” and “home”, respectively, when I’m at one place or the other). And whenever I return here from Durango, it sums up my visit home with a “trip to Durango” photo collection. I have to laugh about that, because after all, my phone is pretty much telling the truth!

20150509_165406The only bummer about this weather is that I had planned on running a 10K race tomorrow in Boulder (that’s 6.1 miles). I had trained for it, as best I could under these circumstances, and I tapered for it this week. I was ready to go. But it was cancelled, due to these extreme weather conditions (it’s been rainy and wet here for days, and the race was mostly on unpaved trails around the Boulder Reservoir). It’s understandable. But I was looking forward to heading to Boulder with my mom. I wasn’t looking forward to racing in 30-something degree weather and snow. And I know my mom didn’t want to endure that as a spectator, either. So we will go and pick up my race packet, and grab a mother-daughter lunch together, weather permitting, tomorrow.

Chloe continues to to extremely well. She is happy and strong, and has resumed a more normal-looking weight. I am beyond grateful! Early tomorrow morning she gets her last chemo treatment, EVER!!! So we will be celebrating that, BIG time.

Love,
Steph and Family

Dr. Stephanie is a chiropractor, writer, mom, and wife who lives and plays in Durango, Colorado. Her passion is empowering people to discover their truth and express optimum health.

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