Taking the next step.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Those words from Chinese philosopher, Laozi, describe the process you get involved in when you, or someone close to you, is diagnosed with a serious medical issue, be it cancer, heart disease or any life threatening disease. What it tells you is that you can forget everything that has gone before, there is only the present and the future, and there is nothing that has prepared you for what you are about to face, either as a patient, or a caregiver. The only thing that matters now, is the next step.
However, you soon realize is that you are setting out on a journey in a fog of ignorance, confusion, anxiety and fear that threatens to consume you, even as you know you have no choice but take that first step in the hopes that what comes next will clear up the fog.
We were now on our way to see Dr. Linda Carson a gynecologist-oncologist at the Women’s Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota Hospital. Today, Dr. Carson is the Chair and Professor of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health at the U of M.
Minneapolis is about 420 miles, give or take a few, from our driveway in Bismarck, but on this day it seemed like it was twice that far. I think that even if the clinic we were going to were across town it would have seemed twice that far on the Monday morning we left the house.
One of the things I learned during the time of Joanie’s battle was that the stress of the situation, often, exaggerated time by slowing it down, or in other cases making it fly by at warp speed. Today, on this trip, it was slowing it down.
Joanie didn’t talk much on the ride down. After we picked up coffee and pulled out on I-94 headed east, she made a couple of calls back to the office to check on some detail or other about what business she thought she needed to attend to. This was a routine that repeated itself every time we left town. Her boss, Ed Schafer was running for re-election as governor, and she didn’t want to miss out on anything. Outside of that, she either dozed or read, and I was sure she was preoccupied with what was going on, and what lay in store for her.
Joanie and I had made many trips to Minneapolis dating back to the early 80’s, and we considered the Twin Cities one of our favorite places. This trip, however was different, but we kept our routine about the same, as if to deny that this trip wasn’t different. Our practice was to leave Bismarck, drive as far as Fergus Falls and stop at Mable Murphy’s for a break in the drive. The stop there put us about two and a half hours out of Minneapolis, and it made the trip seem shorter. The stop at Mable’s was one we made well over a hundred times, without fail, over the next 12 years, as if to not do so would bring some kind of bad luck.
She had brought along a supply of the books she like to read when we travelled. She was a voracious reader of romance novels, and whenever we would get ready to leave on another trip, we’d have to stop at Target and get a few new ones for the trip.
As we approached the Twin Cities, she began to talk to me a little bit about what was in store. As I had learned before, I let her guide the discussion to give her the opportunity to give a voice to her fears, rather than trying to drag them out of her. I think it served us both well over the years, and by doing so I was able to get a better picture of what she was thinking and feeling.
We talked about the coming appointment with Dr. Carson, whom we’d never met, and the surgery that she was about to endure. We both put a positive spin on the prospect of the radical hysterectomy putting the cancer to rest. In the mean time, I told her that we were going to check into the Radisson, clean up a bit and enjoy the evening.
We would meet with Dr. Carson on Tuesday, but we would have to wait until Thursday to find out if our hopes were realized, or we were disappointed, and there was little to be gained by obsessing about it.