It had been one helluva year.
Sunday, and it looked like maybe mid-week for a departure.
They were concerned about infection, and had her on two different drugs, and they took blood cultures and urine cultures as well as did chest x-rays. By Wednesday she had been clear for 48 hours, and was tolerating food. It was go for Thursday. We could take her home.
Her spirits improved every day, and when Dr. Carson said she could go home they really improved. She had had enough of 7C for one year, and was anxious to get out of there.
Joanie still had some healing to do, but at least now, she could focus on that in her own home. My job would be as it was before when we brought her home from the hospital, and that was to see to her getting some exercise, and watching for any signs of trouble.
The colostomy learning curve wasn’t much, since we had dealt with an ileostomy before, and in a few weeks, it had become routine, and it was easier to care for than the ileostomy. Joanie seemed to have accepted this was going to be a permanent part of her life, and it was made easier by the fact I did the changing for her.
It was now late September, and Joanie was getting anxious to get back to work, so in early October, she began going in part-time, just to get back in a routine. I think it helped speed up the healing process as well.
We weren’t scheduled for another clinic appointment until mid December, and by then she would be close to 100 per cent.
I began to see her character emerge during this period, and when she was stronger and able to go out again, and that she had a colostomy didn’t seem to bother her, in fact she was able to make light of it with friends who were aware of her situation. One night at Peacock Alley we were standing talking to one of our friends, Tom Woodmansee, and as he announced to us he had to go the bathroom, Joanie just looked at him, smiled and said, “I can do that right here.” She erased any doubt I might have had about how she was going to deal with her new reality.
There was never, a time when she was looking for sympathy, and over the years, people who would meet her for the first time when she was working for Ed Schafer and John Hoeven would not have a clue about her health situation. That was the way she wanted it.
For me during this time, I was just glad she was doing okay. I had already started my mental countdown to five years from now, the time when statistically she would be listed as “cancer free.”
As December arrived, and the Christmas Holidays were approaching, Joanie told me she was going to write a couple of letters, one to Dr. Carson and one to Dr. Cosin. I thought that was a grand idea, and here is what she wrote to the two major figures in her medical life since those first days in May, 1996:
December 7, 1998
Dear Dr. Carson,
The holiday season is upon us, and we just wanted to take this time to send you good wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Great New Year.
We also wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you for what you have done for me during this difficult time in my life.
Bob and I just can’t say enough about how you and your associates handled my situation, and the level of care I received from you and Dr. Cosin, Dr. Murray and the entire staff of interns, nurses, aides and others on 7C.
As you know, I would have like to have had a different outcome in September, but I want you to also know that I appreciate the good news regarding the cancer as being more important than anything else. I am adjusting, probably, I suppose, as you knew I would.
I am working almost full-time again, and do feel stronger every day. You will have a chance to assess that when we get down there on the 15th yourself.
I hope you pass along my thanks to the many nurses and others on 7C as well. They are an extremely capable group of professionals in a difficult job, and they do it well.
Again, my thanks for everything over the past couple of years.
Have a great Holiday, and we’ll see you on the 15th.
Joan Wigen and Bob Kallberg
She sent a similar letter to Dr. Cosin:
December 7, 1998
Dear Dr. Cosin,
The holiday season is here, and Bob and I just wanted to send you wishes for a great one, and to also send you a thank you.
We want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the past couple of years, and especially during the difficult days earlier this year.
We think you’re a good doctor, and the manner in which you addressed my situation really helped both of us understand, and deal with the medical realities that I faced back then and face now. Your kindness, compassion and understanding are rare qualities, and meant a lot to me during this time of my life.
You and Dr. Carson and the other professionals at the Center and up on 7C do a marvelous job under tough circumstances, and I was glad to see that you’ll be staying there for some time to come. The Center needs doctors like you.
We’ll be in on the 15th, and perhaps we’ll see you then.
If we should miss you, please accept our thanks again, and have a great holiday season.
She showed me the letters before she mailed them and asked me what I thought. All I could say to her was they were excellent, and I couldn’t improve on either one of them. These two people had become pretty important to her, and had taken damn good care of her.
When we went down for the appointment on the 15th, we took some boxes of her Christmas candy, the stuff I had been pressed into making, to drop off at the clinic for Marcia, Carson and Cosin, and a platter for the nursing staff there. Marcia was Carson’s gatekeeper, and there’ll be more about that later. The news from that appointment was all we hoped for, “no evidence of disease.”
After that meeting, we went straight to Sally’s and enjoyed ourselves there for the first time in a long time.
The rest of the holiday season was perfect. We enjoyed the parties, and the gifts we said we weren’t going to buy for each other, and being home on Christmas Eve, alone with the kitties.
On New Year’s Eve, we had stopped downtown early, but then went home. After we got comfortable, we broke out a bottle of her favorite wine, cut up some cheese, tore up some good bread for dipping in olive oil, and welcomed in the New Year, both of us glad this one was over.
It had been one helluva year, but she had survived, stronger than ever, and I loved her more than ever.