I can’t believe its been four weeks since Andy finished the PCT!
After his finish we decided on a more leisurely pace and visited Vancouver for a big city fix. It was great for Andy to have some “real food”. His big craving was for sushi and what better place than Asian-infused Vancouver to pacify his fixation? We ordered out for pick-up — more food than what four people could ever eat, when there was just two of us and somehow Andy polished it all off.
The stimulation of the city wore off quickly, so we decided to ditch the car and catch a ferry to the beautiful and quaint Victoria. On our way out of town Andy yelped a cute little vegetarian dive and we met up with an extraordinarily persistent fan. A young woman had been emailing me every couple of days since learning about Andy’s side trip to Yakima with offers of rides, housing and general support in the hopes of meeting Andy. Finally, I thought it must be fate, and suggested Andy call her. I guess it’s nice to meet with your fans now and then.
We had a quick visit to Victoria, cut short when we learned the Clipper (fancy boat that would take us to Seattle) only left port once a day and we’d need to leave the next night.
The clipper was a smooth ride into downtown Seattle, full of ease for crossing back into the states without the hassle of customs. Our hotel happened to be in the complex of a Whole Foods market, which was our first stop after checking in. We did a quick stock up on fresh fruit, veggies, gourmet cheese and of course, pizza. Pizza has turned out to be a constant craving since Andy’s gotten off the trail.
The next day, after a visit and lunch to Pike’s Market and the Space Needle, we were picked up by our favorite trail angel Deon who works for Seattle Genetics (Seagen). She had invited Andy on a tour of the bio-genetics company that makes the newly advanced chemo-drug for relapsed Hodgkin’s disease. Vidoten, the drug he had to walk all the way to Yakima (2,200 miles) to find out about. (I have a real bone to pick with City of Hope)
So, there we were at Seagen, Andy still scruffy from the trail with wild hair and an unruly beard, refusing to wear close-toed shoes, so in flip-flops with socks on. But at least Andy’s has his European flat cap that that gives him a little air of dignity. We’re feeling a bit awkward around a formal company who engineered a chemo-drug after we’d made an informal pact to shift gears from western medicine, its scare tactics and toxic chemicals and now coming full circle and meeting the two chemists who made vidoten. We were put at ease right away with the laid-atmosphere and friendliness of everyone.
Andy’s first question was did they have the ball and stick model of the components of the chemical configuration? Only Andy would ask that. We had a fun little tour of the lab and a historical prospective of the company and the 10 years plus it took to develop and get it FDA approved. The corporate employees made up an intimate little reception where Andy shared his story to a receptive group in awe of his journey. They were so happy to meet an ‘end user’, seems that Hodgkin’s Lymphoma patients don’t show up at corporate headquarters often.
Fast forward to home . . . two days after we got home it’s a trip to the oncologist to meet yet another new Doctor. Our criteria this time is a small office that is close to home, a Dr. who is accessible by phone and doesn’t have a barrage of staff protecting him/her and is open-minded to alternative therapies. It’s been such a long time since we were in a regular Dr.’s office. Those small little rooms where you sit there waiting, our eyes darting around the room, searching for something encouraging to say or looking for something to distract us from the reality of what is soon to come – a walk down a familiar path of getting treated for cancer. You can just feel the various emotions arise – fear and dread being uppermost on the list.
Three days later it’s infusion number two. The morning is tense with expectation and anxiety. Not this again. It seems as though Andy woke up that day nauseated. This is totally normal and predictable in all patients that have been treated with chemotherapy. The psyche is conditioned to remember the past trauma associated with what happens during an infusion – the unsettled stomach, the itchy skin, sometimes a hot flash or two and then . . .
We make it all a reality. Clearly we weren’t prepared. I blame myself for not insisting that Andy have a practical lunch, instead I rely on an inner mantra “he’s 23 and can make his own decisions”. What I come to realize later is that the fear of what is to come sort of paralyzes him from thinking rationally and taking care of lining his stomach with some good absorbing foods. He did not eat lunch.
We settle into the infusion room, get the chair to just the right angle and avoid eye contact or conversing with the other people nearby, one getting an infusion, the other there to support him. It appears to be a husband and wife and clearly they are not there to socialize. We can take our ques. Andy gets his first pre-med, dexamethazone (a steroid) and then some extra-strength Tylenol for good measure. Then we begin the vidoten. Shortly into it Andy begins to perspire, then the bright red hives begin to appear on his forehead. The room somehow gets smaller and feels a little intense with anticipation. Andy begins to get agitated and says he’s nauseated and going to throw-up. And before we know it he has. Stop the infusion; let’s get some benadryl.
The couple that was next to us has quietly moved to another part of the infusion room. Apparently no one wants to be so close to vomit – it’s so messy. Our little corner starts to settle down a little as the benadryl works its magic and we restart the vidoten.
Andy says it was much easier being on the PCT, surrounded by nature and wondering about where the next water source was, how many more miles to go and what am I going to eat at my next stop?