I've been wandering around Paris for the last few hours, and I desperately need a hug and a good cry. I've been getting the latter.
And of course I've been trying to figure out how to write all this, because, well, that's what I do.
My Dad used to buy a lottery ticket every week, actually, several of them: one with a set of numbers he had put together with our birthdates, and his wedding anniversary--numerology really, and then he'd get a few more where the computer picked numbers at random.
My Dad is a very smart man. Mechanically and mathematically inclined, if never scholastically--he was on both the high school chess and baseball teams (he was an excellent pitcher until a shoulder injury). He was a machinist and mechanic while in high school, and he even went to junior college, for about a semester--because he met Mom there, he always says, with a sort of sly grin.
In any case, he knew the odds of winning the lottery. I think he was even the first person to show me how to calculate them.
Today is my birthday. I'm 26 years old, exactly half his age. I found out today that he has a bone marrow cancer. One so rare that his doctor said, "You had a better chance of winning the lottery."
Why couldn't he have won the fucking lottery?
In some ways, though, this is a relief. He's been sick for several months, not working for 6 weeks. There's been a stream of doctors, and angry phone calls to the insurance company, trying to find the right person, the one who will say, "Yes, you can run that test."
He insisted that I go on my trip anyway. I'm on one of those proverbial backpacking trips in Europe--I had planned for 6 months, between finishing my master's degree and starting a doctoral program. 2 months on the train, then the rest finding a really cheap place in Germany and trying to learn to talk.
Its been really good so far, though I'm really struggling with Paris. I've actually managed a couple of transactions all in french, by memorizing phrases from my phrase book. I'm still terrified of actually going into a restaurant, because they might use words that aren't in my meagre vocabulary, and I might have to resort to, "Je ne comprends pas. Anglais?" which I've gotten _very_ good at, and of course they always do speak english. Which is both helpful and disappointing, I want to learn from them, and I'm woefully ignorant. Even the panhandlers in Europe seem to speak three languages.
But this is the sort of story Dad seems to enjoy hearing, and why he keeps telling me to stay, to continue. Despite my guilt. Despite my need to do _something_ that might help.
That was until today. When I talked to Mom, and she told me that they finally had a diagnosis, and a treatment plan. She actually apologized for asking, but she wants me to come home the last week of March, which is when they will do the third round of chemotherapy, and then the bone marrow transplant. The first round started yesterday, and will continue for 4 days, after which he gets to go home. She thinks I will be helpful around then, but that until then it will make him feel better for me to stay here.
He's at UCSF medical center, where the head of hematology has seen exactly three cases of this kind of cancer in her career. No one else there has ever seen one. They've actually given him a life expectancy, based on averages from their small sample:
- 1-2 years without treatment
- 8-10 years with.
Which is actually pretty good as rare cancers go, but its still stunning to have a number like that. I hope we can manage to not pay too much attention to it.
The reason its only 8-10 years with treatment is that they don't think they can reverse the damage that has already been done to his kidneys and liver. Nor are they completely confident in the bone marrow transplant, because they will have to use his marrow, harvested and treated just before they use radiation to kill all the rest of it. He'll be in the hospital for a month for that, in isolation for much of it because his immune system will be pretty much gone. It would work better if they could find someone with matching marrow to transplant, but, again the statistics, they think its impossible to find one except in a full-blooded sibling. Dad has a half-sister.
I don't know what else to say. They want me to stay over here for 2 more months, and I'm feeling really isolated. I need to do something, and there's nothing I can do--either here or there.
After I hung up the phone with Mom, I checked out of the hostel so I could move to a less crowded one, and walked to the Place Bastille, and sat and cried for a while. A piece of paper tumbled along the ground in front of me, kicking up then coming down, repeatedly, like that plastic bag in American Beauty. It flipped over and stopped in front of me for a second--would you believe that it was a fucking lottery ticket?