Since we are currently in the grip of March Madness, I thought it appropriate to start today’s blog entry with the words of an NCAA star of bygone days, Bill Walton. He says, “I believe in science and evolution. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon.” Yes, water is an incredible sculptor, carving incredible beauty out of rock over millions of years. The Canyon deserved more than a few hours of my attention and exploration, but my time and funds were limited, so I said goodbye to Arizona and pointed the car back toward New Mexico. No more Truth or Consequences for me, however. This time I was going to the sophisticated city of Santa Fe.
The drive from Williams to Santa Fe was only six hours, but “I pulled into” Santa Fe “just a feelin’ ’bout a half past dead.” It is the oldest capital city in North America, and I felt like one of its founders. Fatigued as I was I could not find my way through that city to Rod and Renee’s house even with Google Maps. That city is the most confounding maze of streets and alleyways I have ever tried to navigate. If Santa Fe had city planners as it was growing, they must have been devilish people who amused themselves watching tourists go mad traveling in circles searching in vain for their destinations. And the locals have little patience with slow out-of-town drivers. If impatient residents not been riding my bumper every second from the moment I drove into town and the roads were more than one lane wide, I might have had a chance at following the directions on my phone.
After my third time around the same loop of streets, I pulled into a parking lot in a little park and called Renee to tell her I was hopelessly lost. She laughed and then jumped into her car to rescue me. I followed her to a turnoff I had passed all three times I had looped around the neighborhood and up the rocky road to their mountainside home. Upon arrival, I parked my car and did not drive again until the day I left town. I didn’t need the frustration of figuring out a city more convoluted than my love life. Coping with FEAR, that passenger I had picked up in Hot Springs, was quite enough stress for me.
Rod emerged from the house with a hug and kiss and muscles to carry my bag. Renee and I hugged and laughed at my ineptitude (because she and I are a lot alike in that way) and she showed me to my bedroom. The first thing I did, as fun company will do, was promptly flop on the bed for a long afternoon nap. That evening we dined al fresco on their patio. Rod and Renee are gifted chefs, so we ate a scrumptious dinner while looking at a spectacular panoramic view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Once again, Nature managed to pry my mind away from my own weighty woes, for a while anyway. Hummingbirds buzzed around the feeders while Luna and Google, the dogs in residence, ran the perimeter of the property keeping intruders at bay. I wonder: if you wake each day to exquisite natural beauty, do you cease to see it? Do the cares of day-to-day life blind you to Nature’s glory just as living in urban blight can? Do people who live close to Nature suffer less depression than those surrounded by concrete, steel, and exhaust fumes? I’m guessing they do.
Central Illinois has its own kind of beauty: lush fields where cattle graze, seas of tasseled corn that wave in the breeze, 100 varieties of deciduous trees that mute the heat of the sun’s rays in sweating weather, and prairie grasses and sky blue chicory that line country roads and highways. It’s a simpler, less dramatic beauty in central Illinois than that of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains but no less deserving of wonder and admiration. When my spirit hurts and world-weariness threatens to overtake me, a walk in Washington Park soothes me. My favorite walking meditation involves a study of the park’s trees. As I walk along the pedestrian lane, I focus on the vast array of designs, textures, and colors of bark, notice the different shapes, sizes and colors of leaves, and look up into the branches that reach toward heaven. It never fails to take my mind off of whatever worries are plaguing me at that moment.
Ah, but I have drifted off topic. “What is the topic?” you ask. The BIG topic is my CML relapse, what the side effects of it were, and the meat of the story, why it happened. But as I tell my story, I find lots of subplots are popping up. Who knows – by the time I get to the end my story, my BIG topic might even change. For now it’s how I came to change doctors.
I believe I arrived in Santa Fe on Monday, and Holly, the nurse practitioner at Barnes, had promised to call me back on Tuesday. Waiting for that call was harder than waiting for the phone call a girlfriend had told me was coming from Carl Rosenberg in 9th grade. He was going to ask me to the spring dance, she said, and I was all ajitter waiting for that black rotary landline phone to ring. The difference between the two calls, besides the obvious ones, was that Carl’s call actually came, and we went to the dance together. Holly’s call never came – not Tuesday, not Wednesday, not ever. At least Carl had the courage to tell me when he was dumping me. He said he didn’t want to corrupt me (naturally he was kind of a bad boy), so I corrupted myself, but that is definitely a different story. Unlike Carl, Holly just abandoned me. I was in medical crisis, she knew it, and she did nothing to help me. To this day, I get a lump in my throat that acts as a cork for the primal rage that wants to scream in her face, “WHAT THE FUCK, HOLLY! HOW COULD YOU DO ME LIKE THAT?” Acting on that impulse would probably get me three hots and a cot in the South County jail though, so I will keep on stifling that anger.
That evening, when the workday was over and it was clear no one from Barnes was going to call me that day, Rod and Renee talked through my options with me. I certainly could call Holly and Dr. Cashen on Wednesday and ask what the game plan was, but my faith in their desire and ability to get my CML back under control without turning me into a giant burning hive was waning. Instead, I went online and did some research of other institutions’ blood cancer programs, chose two, Mayo Clinic and Northwestern, and submitted online requests for an appointment before I went to sleep Tuesday night. Mayo Clinic called me early Wednesday and scheduled an appointment for me only three weeks out. Northwestern called me on Thursday but I decided to stay with Mayo since I already had an appointment. With HOPE for a medical resolution fending off FEAR and the rash abating more with each Sprycel-free day, I relaxed a little. The question of what my cancer was doing while I was off the chemo niggled at me some, but I tried to stay away from that line of thought and embrace each moment.
On a sunny early summer morning the three of us took in the farmer’s market and a university art studio. Another day, Renee and I visited the International Museum of Folk Art, a museum I will never tire of, and ate lunch at a patio restaurant. Another morning we wandered around old Santa Fe and the Palace of the Governors where Native Americans sell their handmade jewelry. Then Rod went home, and Renee and I spent the afternoon taking in galleries, kitschy shops, and second-hand stores. One morning I woke to find Rod had stopped after his workout to pick up breakfast treats, blue corn blueberry lavender donuts from Whoo’s Donuts. They are bar none the best donuts in the world! I had a hard time being polite and eating only my share. Not once in the entire week did I eat average food, whether we were eating in or dining out. I imagine average restaurants, with the exception of ubiquitous chains like fast food restaurants, Red Lobster and Smoky Bones, die quickly in Santa Fe because there are so many exceptional places to eat. We ate homemade pizza, steamed artichoke hearts, and kale salad on the patio at sunset on the mountain. We ate a fabulous dinner at La Plazuela one night, and on another celebrated my cousin Cally’s birthday at Izanami, a Japanese restaurant on the property of Ten Thousand Waves resort. The setting was lovely, the food divine, and the company even better. I probably gained a few pounds eating my way around Santa Fe, but I don’t regret a single bite.
When I’d worn out my welcome, I climbed back aboard my CRV and headed for home, rather, the house I was living in. If “home is where the heart is,” then Rochester, IL certainly was not home. It was shelter from the elements, but some days a tent in a blizzard would have been warmer than that house in the summer of 2017.