Between the songs I posted on Fame Games (doing quite well, I might add), the gigs at Kimbro’s, the buying and selling of rare musical instruments on Ebay, I was keeping busy. The next mountain to climb was Daniel’s Bar Mitzvah slated for October 17, 2009—another year to go. His mother and I traded off taking him to Congregation Micah on Sundays and we knew he would do great when the time came for his torah portion. Morgan was anticipating the second ceremony knowing his would be not only the next Bar Mitzvah, but the last one. It must be hard being the youngest of three boys. Both of his brothers had a one-on-one experience with me on our trips to L.A., and soon it would be his turn. Unfortunately, with the expense of the Bar Mitzvah looming, it was going to be impossible to leave that summer, when he, as his brothers had been, ten years old. Little did I know, the ominous news I would soon receive would put a damper on everything.
In the middle of August 2009, Donna was lying in bed next to me with a worried look on her face. I asked her what was wrong and she said she wanted me to check something on her left breast she had noticed a week ago. She ran my hand over a lump the size of a half dollar and I screamed, “HOLY SHIT! How long has that been there?”
The next morning Donna made an appointment at her GYN, and the next thing we knew she had another appointment at a surgeon at Williamson Medical Center. Ironically she was recovering from chemotherapy from a stint with lymphoma herself and when we met her, she had a bandana covering her head. This damned disease is rampant! The doctor asked Donna if she was busy tomorrow since she wanted to bypass the biopsy and remove the lump. Benign or malignant, it would be best to get rid of the thing. On August 20th, my good friend, Doug Fieger’s birthday (who had been diagnosed with cancer some years earlier but seemed to be on the road to recovery) I was outside the hospital waiting on news from the surgeon. I was so nervous I was smoking a cigarette (a roll-your-own) when the phone rang, the surgeon told me in no uncertain terms that it was a tumor and was malignant. I looked at the cigarette in my hands and felt disgusted that I should be smoking when I heard the news that my wife had breast cancer. I tossed the ciggie down and crushed it under my boot. I wanted to cry but couldn’t—I guess I was in shock. I think I stayed that way for at least a year afterwards. The prognosis was scary since the tumor had gone beyond the margins which means that it was spreading and they had also found a second in the same breast. She had to have surgery to remove the breast—maybe both.
How could this be happening to her? There is no history of cancer in her family. If anyone should have it (knock on wood ten times) it should be me. My mother and father both had breast cancer, and my father had died from a sarcoma of the lungs in 1989, two months shy of his70th birthday. I tried to think of all the reasons why. Maybe it was in the plastic bottles she would drink from everyday? It couldn’t have been her diet, and she didn’t smoke. What the hell!
In a letter to her sister on September 1, Donna wrote: Saw the plastic surgeon today who will do the reconstruction. He spent a lot of time with us and explained the whole procedure and explained which option is best for me. It's going to be more lengthy than I thought as immediately after the mastectomy they have to put in an expander which stays in for about 4 months and is gradually inflated by injecting saline every week or two. They have to stretch the remaining skin and muscle to make room for the implant and then when it's the right size they remove the spacer and put in the permanent implant. It looks like the surgery will be Sept 16th or 17th as the 2 surgeons can't coordinate it until then. I see the oncologist on Fri so I won't have any more new information until then. I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact my hair's going to fall out but I've talked with a couple of people who have just gone through it and they said the chemo wasn't as bad as they thought it would be.
Donna was going to lose her hair from the chemotherapy (scheduled to begin after the surgery in late September), that was a given, so to lessen the shock I bought an auburn Joan Collins bob style wig on Ebay—not some cheap thing, but a nice one from real human hair. The plastic surgeon, Dr. Behar, was a guy from my neck of the woods, New York, and we hit it off right away. There were times when we were talking so much about the east coast, and what it was like being a Jew in the Bible-belt in his office, Donna had to interrupt while pointing to her chest, “Uh guys, I’m the patient here, remember?” We both looked sheepishly at each other with guilt. Want to know what kind of woman Donna is? She was planning on scheduling her chemo on Thursday afternoons so she could miss only one day of work (Friday) and be back at it by Monday. I don’t know how she could do it. I would tell her later, she didn’t have to go back until she felt better or until the chemo was over but she said, “I just want to go back to my normal routine, all of this cancer stuff will only get me down if I have to sit around the house all day dwelling on it. Plus, I hear working can be the best thing you can do to get on with things.” How could I argue with that? I mean, she has got to be the toughest person I’ve ever met in my life. I don’t think I could be that strong. What a hero! The hardest part for her was how she was going to tell the children. Before the surgery we sat the three boys down in the den and I said that there was some very upsetting news, but that everything was going to be okay. I can’t remember the exact words but we told them that their mother had cancer and that the doctor was going to cut out the bad stuff and would have medicine to fight anything that was left in her body so it wouldn’t spread. She has the best doctors we could find and they think your mom will be fine after awhile. “She is going to be very weak boys, so anything you can do to help out around the house will be appreciated. Please try not to worry.”
All three of their reactions were different. Jonathan became tearful since he was the oldest and knew the dangers of the dreaded disease. Daniel asked if all her hair was going to fall out with a concerned look on his face. Morgan, the stoic one, said nothing.
The surgery on the 17th went well and after a day in the hospital she was released. I tried the best I could to wait on her hand and foot while taking care of the boy’s needs. I had no idea she did so much and I was exhausted by bedtime and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
In a second letter to her best friend, Irene, on September 30, Donna wrote: Hi, here's the latest news on this weeks appt's. I'm feeling well and doing better every day. Beginning to work on getting my shoulder movement back and using it a bit more. It's amazing how much you use your shoulder and chest muscles for driving, especially parking. We went to a "College Night" at Jonathans high school last night and I drove there but had James drive back as I was a bit sore, probably from the doctor appt earlier that day and having drain removed and expanding process started.
Here's the plan:-
Wed 30... nothing except Bar Mitzvah work/planning.
Thurs 1... day surgery to have port placed under the collar bone and into a vein to have IV chemo through.
Fri 2...Daniel birthday, whole body PET scan, 2 soccer practices.
Sat 3... Haircuts for the boys, 2 soccer games (both at same place at 9am luckily).
Sun 4... Hebrew Sunday School.
Mon 5... nuclear medicine Heart scan at the hospital (I'm beginning to glow in the dark!!)
Tues 6th...plastic surgeon appt, school soccer tryouts for Daniel.
Wed 7th... Nothing as yet except Bar Mitzvah stuff.
Thurs 8th...Start chemotherapy.
Haven't anything else planned beyond that at this point except for the the Bar Mitzvah.
In between all this we (or rather James) is trying to paint, do some tiling, steam clean carpets and I'm trying to organise (she spells it the British way) a Bar Mitzvah and party for 100 people. The house is a wreck and my mum, dad and you arrive on the 13th, Susan on the 15th and Jonathan's friend Sam the 16th. Robbie and Carol are coming on the 14th but they're going straight to Memphis to do a little sightseeing and then back to Nashville. They're staying in a hotel and so are Max and his girlfriend and Emily. We're just trying to take it day by day just now and hoping everything falls into place.
Today is also Daniel's birthday. It's hard to believe he's 13 already but in some ways he seems very grown up. You wouldn't recognize him. When all 3 of the boys are together they are told that they are like the Jonas Brothers. (do you know them?). Of course they hate that as they say they are a girl band. They'd much rather look like Ozzie Osborne. YUCK.
Anyway, hope you booked enough time to read all this. Hope you're staying well, staying happy and staying busy. Too much time on your hands is dangerous and bad for you. At least that's what I tell James when I need him to do something!
Talk with you soon. Thanks again. Love you.
To be continued . . .