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The background: Cheryl (known to many of you as my wife) had an MRI done recently due to chronic back pain.

– – –

It was one of those court days where several people needed to be escorted out of the building. A little conflict goes with the territory. Your agency sues someone, you expect a little hostility. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for both sides to leave with no love to spare for anyone in the room.

But this day was bad. One for the books bad.

Sometime past mid-day, my phone buzzed – vibrated really. I checked the number really quick, to make sure it wasn’t one of the kids’ schools. It wasn’t, but it was a local number, and I don’t get a lot of calls from local numbers. I handed off to my partner and stepped out of the room to answer.


“Mr Kauffman?”


“Is this John?”


“We have Mrs. Kauffman’s MRI results.”

Ah, ok. Why didn’t you call her?

“We have you down as her primary contact.”

That’s… odd.

“Well, we could call her if you like.”

That would probably be best.

“You should know we found something though. She’ll need to follow up with a specialist as soon as possible – in case I don’t get through to her.”

Somewhat alarmed, what kind of something?

“We found a solid mass.”

What does that mean?

“I don’t know, you’ll need to follow-up with the specialist.”

Can you give me a hint?

“You’ll need to follow-up with the specialist.”

Could it be cancer?

“You’ll need to follow-up with the specialist.”

It probably isn’t just a cyst, is it? They wouldn’t appear as a solid mass, would they?

“You’ll need to follow-up with the specialist.”

Can you tell me where it is?”

“You’ll need…”

I know, I know – follow up…

“… With the specialist, Mr Kauffman. It’s really important you do so as soon as possible.”

Ahh… alright… let me give you her number….
Listen, if you don’t get through to her, could you give me a call back. I’m in court today – I probably shouldn’t have been away this long – so I probably won’t answer; but could you leave the information about the specialist on my voicemail too, so I can make sure we follow-up?

“Sure Mr Kauffman. I’ll give Kathy a call right now.”

Did you say Kathy? Kathy is my mother not my wife.

“Yes, Kathryn Kauffman. It says here her primary contact is her son, John.”

Kathy! My mother?

Immediately I realized I said this with relief, and immediately I felt really guilty, followed by really worried… for my mother.

“You are her son, aren’t you?”

Yes, but I’m surprised you called me. I haven’t been the primary contact for any of my mother’s medical problems. I’m not sure I even have legal authority to handle her affairs. My father has been taking care of her. I have his number, but I’d be surprised if you don’t.

“Oh wait. Here it is. Sorry to bother you Mr Kauffman.”

Oh sure, no problem. You just made me pee my pants on possibly the worst day at work of my life. Just think of this as the gravy on the mashed potatoes my life has become.

I was talking to empty space though, the nurse making a hasty retreat.

From the frying pan to the fire then into a pre-heated oven for the rest of the day – yep, that was good eating.

– – –

On a related note, I get to have my first MRI next week – like, EVER!

How exciting is that?

Yep, it was just the other day (about four after the court day from the hot place) I was talking to my bran spankin’ new neurologist (new to me – he’s been practicing his craft on patients for 20 years now), when he mentioned my patern of gradually worse headaches, my history of leukemia, and how it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a few high tech images of the space between my ears.

I can’t wait – another opportunity to skip work!


When cells divide

My doctor says she found cancerous white blood cells floating around my body again. They appeared in a blood smear done back in August. She doesn’t plan to treat it until certain symptoms appear – which based on the slow, chronic nature of my disease, could still be a while. I was symptom free in August (besides the hairy traitors showing themselves in my blood), and I’m symptom free now, so we’re waiting. We’re looking. One day we’ll be seeing.

I got this news after my little nap in her lobby yesterday. Cheryl was pissed we didn’t find out sooner. “Why didn’t they at least call?!?” But it wouldn’t have changed anything, other than give me another six months to think about it. Personally, I’m glad they didn’t call. I’m thinking about it enough now to make up for lost time.

Please don’t let me mislead you. My life is not on the line. The form of Leukemia I have may be one of the rarest, but it’s also relatively easy to treat, and a high percentage of patients see remission after only one course of chemotherapy. It’s also like the turtle of all cancers. Early detection is not important. Plus, I knew it would probably come back. I just thought it would be fifteen years, not less than five.

I’m not afraid. I’ve done this before and I know, somewhere in this thick scull of mine, that everything will be ok. And yet, I feel a lot like I did almost three years ago. I’m depressed. I’m distracted. I thought I could make it through a day at work today, but I’m fragile. I didn’t make it to ten o’clock. I’m dreading the chemotherapy. If my last reaction is any indication, it will involve a couple weeks in the hospital with pain, puke, fever, chills, and a few things best left unsaid on a family web site.

Oh the hell with it. At times it kind of felt like a roto-rooter of my lower GI, someone fiddling with the insides of my bones, and a bad concussion.

I wait. Cheryl will worry over every sign of illness, discomfort, or fatigue. People will offer their prayers and I’ll feel unworthy. People will say they’re sorry and my mind will snap back “why, you didn’t do anything.” Luckily, the filter between my mind and my mouth will be in working order.

Most of the time.

Resigned, I’ll just brood a lot, which won’t be much different than normal.

I’m great at parties too.


Failing to prove a point

I’d planned this post as a bit of self-parody, after my “two thousand and something” entry last night. I was going to do one of those “a year ago on this date” posts, then admit I hadn’t posted anything a year ago.

Trouble is, I did. Damn. So I checked two years ago. Double damn. Not only did I find a post, I found a pretty significant one… the kind of thing you’d actually use in a “two years ago on this date” kind of post.

I can’t even pick on myself and get it right.


A year ago

“What did we do last year for our anniversary, Cheryl?”

“We didn’t do anything. You were about to start chemo and we were staying away from public places.”

Let me clear a few things up. My experience with cancer was much easier than most (as far as I’m concerned). Although I still think about it every day, it’s not something that causes me any fear or anxiety. My doctor assures me it could stay in remission for twenty years. Even when/if it comes back, it’ll be just as easy to treat as the first time.

Still… it was a year ago? How is that possible? (No, I’m not asking for any cracks about the Earth’s orbit around the sun.) It’s weird to think about the small ways my life has changed since then. It still scares me a little to be around sick people. It seems like I catch everything within a two mile radius, so it’s obvious my immune system is still a little outta whack. When people greet me with a “hey John, how are you doing?” they say it in their lower, “I really mean it, I’m not just being polite” voice – which is usually touching, but occasionally unnerving.

It’s one more thing that I think about every day, but I don’t know why. Or maybe I do know why (on some level), and it bothers me more than I’m willing to admit. It’s not like I have any symptoms. It’s not like life isn’t mostly back to normal – if you ignore the whiff of concern I pick up from passers by. You know what? I might be on to something there.

Reading a sign

A while back I was on my way home with Beth, after our biweekly flirtation with anaphylaxis (allergy shots). Something didn’t seem right. I began to feel a little uncomfortable. Between the traffic and a talkative child, I was a little preoccupied, but nothing obvious was causing my little burst of anxiety. And no, it wasn’t the shots. It was Beth’s day and she hasn’t had any problems.


We drove past a blue and white highway information sign and it hit me. It was a hospital sign. We were just up the street from my vacation home last spring.

I had this brief thought that I ought to write a letter to the hospital, to thank the staff that made my stay much easier than it could have been. I ended up not writing the letter though. Those warm feelings came from the second week of my stay, after I was transferred to the oncology floor. It was easy to see how good I had it after the first week in gen pop.

Maybe that just makes it more important I write a letter.

By the way, in case you didn’t already know – I like to kid the allergist. Allergy shots did do me some good. I would have kept taking them if I hadn’t fallen into that small percentage of folks who don’t take them well. You know, when the shots turn a perfectly good throat into a musical instrument. Speaking of musical instruments, where is my inhaler?

Kodak moments?

I started up the great scan project again this evening. After about four years of sporadic efforts, I figure I’ve got about eighty percent of our old school picts digitized.

I was just going through the old Conner album when a stray thought gave me a smack… I should have gotten some pictures at the hospital, and of my chemotherapy pump. You may think it’s a horrible idea, and I can assure you I would have scoffed at the idea while it was going on… but now? Now I’d like some proof it really happened. It’s only been a month, but it hardly seems real anymore.

The things you survive are supposed to make you stronger (or so “they” say), but is it still true if you’re rapidly repressing all of the memories?

Working stiff

My triumphant return to work yesterday was exhausting. I’m only working part-time this week in order to gradually work may way up to being a full-time, responsible, adult member of society. However, I learned a really important lesson on the first day back: I should have been slowly working my way up to getting up at 5:30 in the morning. Going from a month of getting up whenever I woke up (loosely translated as nine-thirty-ish), to five in the a.m. – cold turkey – was a real shock.

Now I feel cooked. No worries though… otherwise I’m taking it slow.

Shallow branch in the river

Cards. As children they were little more than a hinderance; one more thing between you and the gift in the wrapping. Your parents told you to read the card because someone wanted to speak to you through it, so you begrudgingly glanced at it, knowing exactly how long your parents expected you to look at it from years of trial and error.

Alright. Maybe you weren’t such an ungrateful shit as a kid. But me, I was just that shallow. I am ashamed to say that some of that shallowness carried over to my adulthood.

What’s so special about a card anyway? Someone went out and bought someone else’s words, signed their name to it, and gave it to you.

Being sick gave me a little different perspective on the whole greeting card phenomenon. I got cards in the mail. In hindsight, I suppose I kind of expected some of them, but when I received each card I was both touched and surprised. Each card seemed more than just a grocery store impulse buy. It represented a name and a person whom I hadn’t thought of in a while (feeling sick being foremost on my mind). It was a reminder that no matter how low of an opinion I had of myself, there was someone out there who was thinking of my well-being… if only for a moment. It reminded me of my friends.

Between the cards, the emails, the phone calls, the gifts, and the visits, there are a lot of people I need to thank. It all has meant more to me than they may know.

Trouser come lately

Today I reached another milestone on my road to recovery. Since coming home from the hospital, it was the first time I’d worn a belt.

That’s right friends, you now know more than you ever cared to know about my waistband. Well suited to the relaxed atmosphere here at recovery central… it’s been all elastics all the time.

Today, however, I laced up a pair of less casual pants with the leather and buckled down for my first follow-up with the oncologist. Even though I’ve lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 pounds in the last few weeks, it was still a surprise when the well worn groove no longer cued up the right hole on my belt.

Oh, there was one more thing I found out today: doc says I’m in full remission. As expected, I start back to work part time on Monday. I don’t know if I was just in some kind of denial, but I wasn’t even worried about it until I woke up this morning. I’d just taken it for granted that I would be in remission. Now it’s a load off… a big relief… I can officially start to get back to my normal life.