The Uninvited Travel Companion

Try as I might, I’ve learned that it is difficult to take a holiday from cancer.

This past Friday morning, I woke with a heightened air of optimism. The night before we had spent a wonderful evening at home with my very good friend from high school, Roseann, and her family who were visiting from New York. They were off to Legoland the next day and it was great to see the anticipation on their little girls’ faces. (Spending simple times catching up with good friends is indeed a treasure.)

On top of that, a three-day weekend was at hand and my wife and I were taking our two boys for three nights of camping at Silverwood Lake in the San Bernardino National Forest–yes, despite the looks of utter surprise and disbelief on the faces of many of our friends, we do go camping (once or twice a year). Our sons love being mountain men, building campfires, cooking outdoors, collecting and carving sticks and checking out the trails while collecting layer upon layer of dirt. What’s more, they don’t even notice the complete lack of electronics save for the cell phone for emergencies and my smuggled iPod Touch which remained un-i-Touched.

Dressing for work on Friday, I noticed thay my selected suit jacket was missing it’s blue prostate cancer lapel pin. Wearing the ribbon pin has been a fairly consistent practice since I started working at PCF and a strict habit since I was diagnosed. I reached for another jacket to take the pin from it but stopped: I decided to mark the holiday weekend and keep my spirits high by consciously taking a vacation from cancer.

I thought it would work. However, on my way to work, I reached into my jacket pocket and there was a ribbon pin. I managed a resigned smile. Half amused and half slapped back to reality, I pinned it tightly to my lapel and drove on.

Later that day, we discovered that our campsite was perfect and the stars and calling of the coyotes at night were terrific. We also enjoyed two days of boating on a beautiful, large lake with numerous coves and beaches that begged for exploration. Jordan, Aidan and our two dogs enjoyed plentiful random plunges in to the lake to beat the plentiful heat of the weekend.

Although I didn’t wear my cancer ribbon on my camping apparel, it lingered there just the same. Each day by about three in the afternoon, I would hit the same wall I’ve been running into for the past five weeks since my first Lupron injection. I would have to excuse myself, crawl into our tent and privately give into the effects of the treatment. A round of frisbee? No, not now… A search for the right branch for making dough boys? Sorry, can’t do it… My family was, of course, wonderfully supportive. I, however, was not pleased to be followed around by something that refused to take just a few days of vacation far away from me and my loved ones.

When we returned home on Monday a two hour mid-day nap was required as was an 8:40 pm bedtime. I will admit that I spent a few tearful minutes while sitting on our deck yesterday afternoon. I was exhasuted and had a heightened awareness that there is no escaping my current state of affairs. Intellectually, I understood that I am so much more fortunate than others who are currently facing life-threatening diseases. But physically, my hormones were on a seek and destroy mission for any outlook that appeared suspiciously positive. One reader wrote recently that because of the side effects of androgen deprivation therapy combined with other treatments, she and her husband have stopped planning (and in fact canceled) vacations because of his fatigue. Instead they just enjoy being together.

I write this as our dear friend in the Netherlands is in her final stages of her fight with glioblastoma. Her battle makes my objections sound like the whinings of a spoiled child. My intent here is not to whine. It is to demonstrate that cancer and the shadow it casts on its selected hosts and families is a long, albeit relative one. Now matter how we try to put it into perpsective, it remains with us each and every day. Even for those who are declared to be in remission, the spectre of recurrence is always hanging out in the wings.

Try as we may, cancer takes no holidays. It needs to be grabbed by the neck and thrown from the train.