Hope is what Joanie breathes every day.
These are days I had wished not to see.These were days that presented an unwelcome challenge. This disease was persistent, and growing. It was as if Joanie’s body was under siege by an invading army, and all of the forces we had enlisted over the years to do battle with the barbarians at the gate were running out of food, fuel and ammunition to carry on the fight. The only thing left that presented hope was the spirit of Joanie herself. She was not giving up, and she expected no less of those who would help her. She knew, but did not say, it was not going to be easy, but there was no alternative but to fight.
We both knew what going back to Minneapolis for radiation meant. This was a major setback, and my job wasn’t just that of a caregiver now, but was also that of caretaker of her emotional health as well. The thought of spending three weeks away from home was something that really bothered her, probably more than the six weeks she had spent back in 1996, mostly because the stakes had been raised this time. I knew she was strong emotionally, stronger than she thought she was, but I also knew that this next phase would take a toll on her. All I could do right then was to be there for her.
The morning after we got back from Minneapolis, we talked about what we needed to do now. It was Wednesday, and Katie wanted to start the radiation on the following Monday. That meant Joanie would have to be back in Minneapolis on the Sunday prior.
At first we had talked about me being down there as well, but Joanie had already decided that we both couldn’t be gone for the three weeks required for the full treatment. She didn’t want the kitties left alone that long, and also it would be a lot more expensive with both of us being down there.
The question of where she would stay was answered, when Kristi Sagsveen graciously offered that Joanie could stay with her and Murray at their house just off Cretin in St. Paul. Kristi was a long time friend, and they were both members of the same Birthday Club. From their house it wouldn’t be but a short drive to the hospital for her daily treatment.
With housing arranged, the next issue was transportation. At first we had decided that she would drive down by herself on Sunday with our car. We had but one car then. The Volkswagen convertible had blown the transmission, and had since been towed back to Avon by my brother-in-law Joe Straley. He found a transmission later, and so my sister Joni had a convertible to run around in.
We decided to rent a car for me to use in Bismarck while she was down there. I knew that was not how she wanted to do it, but there didn’t seem to be any other way. Then, one of her long time friends came and offered us a free ticket on Northwest that I could use. That way I could drive her down to St. Paul, and then fly back to Bismarck. She would have a car down there, and I would have a car when I got home. Then, when Joanie was done with the radiation, I could fly down and drive her back. Patsy Thompson saved the day for us with that airline ticket. Our good friend Wayne Tanous also helped us out with this arrangement. This episode was another example of the generous and thoughtful contributions from friends of Joanies that helped us get through some of the troubling times she faced over the years.
The morning we were to leave for Minneapolis, as we were getting ready to leave, she cried. They weren’t tears of someone who thought she might not be back, but just the sad tears of someone who was being worn down by the relentless pursuit of this goddamn disease.
She stood there in the kitchen as she gave treats to Brandy and Bailey, scratched them, said good bye and told them she would be back. Tears streamed down her face. I didn’t say a word. No words were necessary.
The all to familiar miles lay ahead of us as we left Bismarck, and Joanie sat silently, shredding Kleenex, as she often did, staring out of the window. I could see her, from time to time, wiping her eyes, and lightly blowing her nose, and all I could do was keep my eyes on the road and say not a word.
There are times, as a caregiver, when you will find that it is better that you say nothing. For me this was one of them.
I knew there would be time for talk when she was ready, in the meantime, the hope she breathed filled the air in the car, and we drove on.