“We’ve got a lot to do.”
She seemed less vulnerable the morning she told me she was going ahead with the surgery, stronger and more resolute. I could hear it in her voice, and I could see it in her face and demeanor. Now it was time to get down to business, and she said to me that morning, “This sucks, but we’ve got a lot to do to get ready.”
It was Wednesday, and we were to leave for Minneapolis the following Monday. There were people to talk to about what was going on, employers to talk to, and arrangements to made for the care of Muffin and Peaches. We would be gone a minimum of two weeks, and the care of her kitties was foremost in her mind. I think she was more concerned about them being alone for such a long time than she was about why we were going to be gone.
Joanie then told me it was my job to call Dr. Carson and tell her she had made a decision to go ahead with the surgery, and confirm everything. I did as I was told. Joanie was to check in at the University of Minnesota Hospital at 3:00 P.M. on Tuesday afternoon the 10th to begin preparation over the next day and a half for the operation of a lifetime.
She told me she would talk to her friends and others who needed to know about what was about to happen, and the first one she called was her boss, Governor Ed Schafer. Joanie was director of the Schafer Volunteer Committee, the governor’s political and fund-raising office. Ed told her, as he had in June of 1996, she could take whatever time she needed, and her job, and pay would continue on. That was something that took a load off of her shoulders, because she had wondered how we were going to get through this financially.
I talked with my employer, and told him I might need to be gone for at least two to three weeks, and he told me to just do what I had to do to see Joanie was taken care of, and getting what she needed. When I think of it now, I wonder if we’d been living somewhere else we would have had the kind of support and understanding from our employers that we had. I’m not so sure that would have been the case.
The news she broke to her close friends about the surgery she was facing, I think was as incomprehensible to most of them, as it was to her, but the way in which she approached it gave them reason to believe she would be okay. Joanie never presented herself as someone who they should feel sorry for, and even then, given what she was facing, no one could say she was looking for anything like that.
During all of the time she was dealing with this, she never, ever presented a poor me image. In fact, only once did she ever look at me and ask, “Why me.” The question came during one of the difficult times. It was rhetorical and she knew it and it went unanswered, because as I told her, I didn’t have an answer, but then, she already knew that when she posed the question. She was just looking for something to make some sense to her, and I felt badly that I couldn’t provide it. It was the only time in 12 years that I ever heard her utter those words, and it told me something profound about her spirit.
As for me for the next couple of days, my job was simply to make sure that everything was in order for our departure on Monday, and to make sure there were no surprises. I did call my friend, Wayne Tanous, to sit down with him and go over what was about to happen to his friend Joanie. Wayne and his wife Karen were our good friends, and Wayne is one of the closest friends I’ve ever had. He had been a corpsman in the Navy, and could understand some of the medical stuff surrounding Joanie’s treatment. He would be the friend I would rely on to keep people in Bismarck, who would want information on Joanie, or her condition, informed while we were in Minneapolis. It made it easier for me to be able to call him, and he could talk about it to whomever wanted to hear the latest news. I found, over the years it was also a good way to help keep inaccurate rumors about her condition to a minimum.
I learned during this time, while Joanie needed someone who was close to her to talk to besides me, it would be important for my own mental health, as her caregiver, to have someone to talk to as well, and for me that person was Wayne. I knew I could call him anytime, and he would be there, and I could talk to him about anything, including my own fears about what was going on with Joanie, and know those discussions would be held in confidence. I think any person who finds themselves in a caregiver role needs a person like that to talk to, just as much as the patient does.
All the details were handled, and by Saturday, everything was pretty much done that needed to be done in preparation for the trip. Knowing that, Joanie and I went for one of our long Saturday afternoon lunches at the Ground Round, and spent a couple of hours nibbling on appetizers, drinking wine and talking about what was to come. It was a bittersweet time, since we both knew it would be a long time until we would be able to do it again, and when we did, her life would have changed.
The evening was spent at a dinner party with two other couples, and Joanie was the center of attention, as you might imagine. We all talked about what she was facing, but she did her best to put everyone at ease, and after a little wine she was even able to make light of her situation. She continued to surprise me and delight me at times like that, and it would not be the last time she would do so. We stayed to long, probably had to much wine, but we didn’t care. She needed a night like that, and I was not going to deny her. We went home that night feeling good. The evening had been another example of how life with this disease, wasn’t all dark all the time, and there were good times to be had that made us appreciate them even more, even as we knew she was facing one of the darker periods of her young life.