One year ago today, Matt woke up and his thinking seemed clearer. His logic and reasoning were easier to follow. And I remember beginning to believe that whole brain radiation was beginning to work. I believed if Matt was having a good day, then the treatment was beginning to fight back the tumor, lessen the symptoms.
In looking back, my logic wasn’t wholly irrational or based solely on hope. The possibility that three days of radiation could already be positively impacting Matt was steeped in previous experience. Radiation could work miracles on Matt. It had worked a miracle on Matt—an entire tumor had vanished within two weeks of treatment in September. That was the entire reason we’d agreed to undergo whole brain radiation despite all the possible side effects. We were gambling on another miracle. And a year ago today, I believed the gamble was paying off.
I wasn’t with Matt when he received his fourth dose of whole brain radiation. Months earlier, before I’d ever heard the term leptomeningeal disease or whole brain radiation, I’d signed up to volunteer at an event at G’s and H’s school. I’d missed events before. In recent weeks and days, I’d missed more of their events and activities than I wanted to admit. And that was beginning to wear on G and H, who were used to me coming to every school function that required, permitted, or tolerated parent participation. So on December 5th, to help me be in two places at once, Matt’s mom drove Matt to and from his radiation appointment. Whether they ran into traffic, struggled to find the radiation department (hidden within the bowels of an old building), or stopped for lunch afterward, I don’t remember. I hope it was all easy.
That night, Matt asked me to help him draft an email to a coworker who’d checked in on him. One of the cruelties of brain cancer was how difficult communication had become. The visual impairments on top of the cognition struggles made a simple text message or email a nearly impossible effort. He had half-finished lists all around the house of people who’d reached out to him and who he planned on reaching out to once he was better. The fact that on this night he wanted to try to reach out to someone on that list was more evidence pointing to his upswing.
Matt dictated his note and I typed it into the email message, correcting sentence structure wherever needed. I was happy to help, but even happier he’d acknowledged that he needed help, was willing to accept help.
He wrote about how much he’d enjoyed their working relationships, despite sometimes (often) butting heads over the last decade. He acknowledged how impossible it was to capture all he wanted to say in a short email. And then he ended the email by saying he looked forward to more great years working together and he’d see him back in the office soon. In rereading the email now, I see what I don’t think I saw before. The blend of hope and heartache, the reality and the wish, the infinite sadness and the ever-present graciousness.
December 5, 2017 marked a good day. The benefit of slowing down our year is that I can see that we were on an upswing. One that was all too brief, but immeasurably radiant, nonetheless. A true manifestation of a heart and soul that refused to surrender.