Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Return To Work--but only for an hour

A week on steroids and I'm feeling much better. My appetite is back and so is my energy level.

Finding myself with an hour to spare between a radiation treatment and an oncologist appointment, and with my work only a short streetcar ride away from the hospital, I decide to stop in for a brief visit. It has been two months already since my last day of work.

As I enter the office on the tenth floor, Cameron greets me at reception and does a surprised double take. Beyond not expecting me to walk in the door, I'm 40 lbs lighter and dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts instead of a business suit. He breaks into a broad smile and a offers me a hearty handshake. And tells me I look great.

"Its the steroids," I laugh.

"We've missed you," he says.

I go past reception into the office and the first person I encounter is Jill. Who also does a double take. Then she embraces me in a warm hug. She's been reading my blog and wants me to know how much it makes her cry. "I love your blog," she smiles.

Carol-Anne gives me a another big embrace and tells me I am a fantastic writer. "You've just got to write a book," she says seriously, making certain I know she means it.

Is everyone at work reading my blog? Good Lord!

Keith shakes my hand with a big grin and tells me how well he thinks I look. "You've got great colour in your face."

"It's the steroids," I tell him. "I like steroids."

Oksana's has been reading my blog too and is concerned about my weight loss. She tells me about the importance of ginger in preventing nausea and has even mailed me an article. When I was first getting ill and on a liquid diet, she had made me up several batches of delicious potato and leek soup.

The staff in the Contact Centre are delighted to see me and all crowd around. They all have been reading my blog and laughing and crying along with my adventures. "You've got to write a book," they say, happy to see me looking so well.

"Can you say Dexamethasone?" I smile. "Steroids are a wonderful thing. I almost feel normal."

Robin wants to tell me how touched she was by my story about my father on Father's Day. How it made her cry, and laugh.

Debbi also wanted a hug, then took two. "What a fantastic writer you are. You so made me cry, when you're not making me laugh. You've just got to turn your blog into a book."

I think of making a steroid joke, but suspect I've over done that already.

I leave to go back to the hospital filled to the brim with hugs and praise and good wishes. Maybe hugs and caring could replace steroids?


Outside the building the sky has turned ugly and as I leave to catch the streetcar back to Princess Margaret Hospital, a deluge of rain falls from the sky. On the streetcar it is standing room only and we all look in a amazement out the window at the sudden storm. Lightening flashes all around us. We are united in a single thought: I hope this is over before my stop.

In my head, my own private version of Mark's Butler and Bagman are deep in argument.

"Listen to those people at work! You've got to write a book!" Bagman is arguing. "You'll make a fortune. Become famous. Talk to literary societies, cancer conferences, maybe even get an appearance on Canada AM. Be interviewed on CBC Radio. Make a freaking fortune!"

"Oh please," Butler counters, "You're just not that good. There are a million writers out there with your talent. And another million who write better than you ever will. You've read their blogs. You've seen their skill with language. And they're struggling to get published."

I picture a discussion with a publisher. He sits in button down pin strip suit at a polished mahogany table, my book unread beneath dry, cold hands.

"Much of a market for books on esophageal cancer, do you think Barry?" he asks. "One of the rarest forms of cancer, isn't it? Rare as in not many people have it?"

"Yes but," I counter brightly, "They all have friends and family."

"Mmmmmm? And what percent of that tiny market actually read a book, do you think?"

The streetcar reaches my stop but the rain is still pelting down and thunder shakes the car to silence. There is a crowd at the backdoor waiting to exit but the people on the bottom step hesitate. Behind them the crowd forces them out into the storm and we all run for the subway entrance. I join them on unexpectedly wobbly legs, clumsily leaping the fast moving puddle at the curb, heavy rain slapping against my face. Then its down into the tunnel under the street. On the other side of College I enter the Hydro building and follow the food court as it stretches along University Avenue. At the end of the building I emerge only a block away from the hospital entrance.

After my radiation treatment, I still have half an hour to wait for my ride home with the Canadian Cancer Society volunteer. So I go to Druxy's for a bowl of soup. One of the few foods I know I can safely eat in public.

But as I take my first spoonful, my throat spasms with sharp pain as if I've just swallowed jagged pieces of glass. I'm stunned, my hand at my throat. Just as I've begun to put on weight this week, I've reached the time of agony. Until now my throat cancer has been a problem due to it blocking the passage of food. At worst, it has been an nagging ache, never sharp severe pain.

But I was told it was likely as the radiation progressed and now it's obviously here. Sadly, I dump the rest of the soup in the garbage. At home I have a prescription for codeine, in liquid form. But not here. Not with me.

No need when I've been having such a good week.

I sigh and trudge out to the lobby, my throat still on fire, to wait for my ride home and for the pain to pass.