CAUTION: These Pants Cause Cancer

Cancer pantsThese are the pants that I was wearing on June 30, 2004.  That was such a busy day, a Tuesday, I think.  Maybe a Wednesday.  Richard and I had returned home from our vacation in New England, first at Linekin Bay for sailing then on Cape Cod for his cousin’s wedding.

We had so much to do after two weeks away from home–laundry, cleaning, paying bills.  I went right back to work.  I was teaching a Microsoft Access class that day.  Richard spent the day trying to get seen by a doctor to see if anyone could figure out why his vision was going blurry.

The day before we left for vacation, he cut the backyard with a push mower.  When he came inside, I noticed that he had a big red spot in the corner of his eye.  I asked a nurse friend and she said it was probably a simple burst blood vessel.  A common instance when one overexerts oneself.  It would clear up in a few days.  But it didn’t.  Over the two weeks we were away, the eye stayed red.  By the end of our trip, his vision was so blurry that he had to pull over to the side of the highway and let me drive through Boston.

Richard got in quickly with Dr. Blue, the ophthalmologist.  Dr. Blue looked inside Richard’s eyes and found what he thought was a dangerous bleed.  We spent a few hours in a panic–what if Richard lost his sight?  How could our life work if he went blind?   There was talk of going to Atlanta the next day to see a retinal specialist.  Fortunately (I guess), Richard also mentioned to Dr. Blue that he hadn’t been feeling well for a while and Dr. Blue had the foresight to order a CBC.  While I taught Access, Richard had the blood test done.  By that afternoon, Dr. Blue had called to say that we must get Richard to a hematologist that day.  A normal white cell count is between 4,500-10,000.  Richard’s was over 70,000.

We didn’t know the specifics yet, only that the doctor would be waiting on us at Northeast Georgia Cancer Care.  There was that word.  The unimaginable prospect of Richard losing his vision melted away and was replaced by that word.  We sat in the waiting room there, among those people with cancer.  I couldn’t find a single thing to read on the coffee table that wasn’t about…that.

So.  Dr. Marrano brought us back.  Richard took my hand and told me to wait in another room, that he wanted to talk to the doctor alone.  Dr. Marrano was so gentle with us that my heart went hollow.  You don’t have to be that nice and careful with someone who has anemia or an infection.

I sat in an exam room by myself.  I was so afraid that I couldn’t raise my head up and look around.  All I could see was those ridiculous pants.  Orange jungle print.  Ludicrous pants that hadn’t a care in the world.  I sat there thinking, “He’s over there on the other side of this wall and the doctor is telling him that he has cancer and I am over here trapped in this room with these incredibly obnoxious pants!”  If only, if only, if only.  If only one thing could be different.  Staring at those pants as the knowledge sank in that our normal life was over.

Dr. Marrano tapped on the door and brought Richard back to me.  The door closed behind him–I didn’t get to talk to the doctor.  Richard held my hand again and told me how it was going to be.  Looked me right in the eye and said, “I have leukemia.”  How there were lots of treatments and he had youth on his side and he was heading to Johns Hopkins for the absolute best experts in the field.  

Maybe those pants held me up.  I remember wanting to fall down in a heap.

We drove home, like people do.  I started crying at the traffic light at Prince and Satula.  He patted my hand on the gearshift.   The light changed and we moved on.

That night, we tried to find a doctor to talk to, any doctor.  My sister wasn’t answering, so we called Richard’s college buddy, Eeric.  A giant Viking of an orthopedic surgeon, but he knew how to interpret a CBC.  Richard was on one phone breaking the news to his parents.  I walked out on the deck to read the numbers to Eeric.  When I read the hemoglobin score, he sucked in his breath and whispered, “Shit.”   Normal range is about 14-17.  Richard’s was 7.  Eeric made me promise that I wouldn’t let Richard so much as brush his teeth until he had had a transfusion, which was scheduled for the next morning.

At the end of that long day, I took off my jungle print pants.  Nine years later, and they’re still hanging in the closet, with a fine haze of dust over the hanger.  I never could bring myself to wear them again–those are the cancer pants.  Couldn’t give them away either–they are part of a day in my life that will always be vivid.  Livid.  Obnoxious.  That innocent woman who walked out into the world in her ridiculous pants.  She never came back.

What’s that crazy thing in the back of your closet that you can’t throw away?

23 thoughts on “CAUTION: These Pants Cause Cancer

  1. Michelle Chance-Sangthong

    A hospice quilt.

    For the prior five or six months Mom had been living with us, because it was closer to town for her chemotherapy treatments. When my Mom’s body finally succumbed to the Ovarian Cancer she started Hospice care. They gave her this lap quilt that was sewn by volunteers. I wasn’t much of a quilt girl back then, but there’s something about – something comforting for me. Even though that quilt was only with my Mom for a few short months, it reminds me of her courage, her strength, and her dignity.

    She worried about me, even though I was a “grown” 32 year old. She asked my aunt to be my God Mother and to look out for me. And while she could still walk and talk, she decided she didn’t want to die in my home – so arrangements were made, and we’d be ready when it was time. When the night came that we no longer could help her at home, we called and we were blessed with a room the same day. And the blanket went with her.

    When ever I pull something off my closet shelf, I see that blanket, and sometimes I smile, sometimes it brings a tear, but it always reminds me of my wonderful Mom.

  2. Heather Slutzky

    I have John’s “King of Hearts” bowling shirt from the fundraiser that The Studio did for him between when he came home and when he moved to Peoria.

    We had a really great time that night.

  3. Lisa Burke Allred

    I have a pink nightshirt that Evan gave me for Mother’s Day when he was three. It has a cat wearing a nightgown on it, and she’s holding a big cup of coffee. It says “World’s Best Mom”. It’s got holes in it. It’s barely pink anymore. I fear it may just disintegrate one day, but I love it. I can’t even think of getting rid of it.

  4. onetreenotaforest

    I have a long, “flow-y” dress that I wore to my uncle’s funeral in 1999. He always made me smile and believe I could do anything. When I open my closet and see that dress, I think of him and smile no matter what is going on in my crazy world. I just can’t seem to part with it.

  5. Lisa in Athens

    I have the silk nightgown from my grandmother’s honeymoon. It came with the cedar chest I received after she passed away at age 81 (three hours before my 31st birthday. I was with her that night.)
    Once I get into my own home, I have grandiose plans to put it in a shadow box, but then again, its home has been the cedar chest so I’m torn.

    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      that’s lovely! I’d leave it in the cedar chest. I was cleaning out a drawer of a cabinet that Richard’s grandparents bought for their 35th anniversary–about 1960. Found an old pack of red shoelaces! I left them there, even though I never met the people who owned that furniture. It’s just where they belong after all these years!

  6. Chris

    This one is too hard, Ashley, but I can tell you about a dress that’s hanging in the back of my closet. I bought it in Hawaii and it’s definitely Hawaiian, cotton with a pale–green background, flowers, of course, but tastefully placed. It had a long skirt with a ruffled hem and a ruffled boat neckline over an empire waist. I think I only wore it to one party that fall. You couldn’t pour me into it now, but every time I clean out that closet to collect stuff for Potters House, I look at it again, brush the dust off the shoulders, and make the same decision – maybe next time.

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  8. Heart To Harp

    It’s in my medicine chest, not my closet…I cannot get rid of my dad’s tacky plastic nail brush. He used it every day, and the connection to something he held in his hands is still important, 13 years later.

      1. Heart To Harp

        I still have his broom, too, for the same reason – he had his hands on it every day. Now I use it every evening to sweep up the cat litter in the bathroom I share with the felines. Strange continuity, but it works.

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  10. The Fearless Blogger (@faryl)

    Your story reminds me of the day my father passed away.

    I was wearing a bright red tshirt with a rainbow and Curious George on it – I remember wondering, as he was in & out of consciousness, if the shirt was something that caught his attention, and that one of the last things he saw as he died was our faces – and Curious George smiling at him.

    I was never able to bring myself to wear it again. I think I finally donated the shirt last year when I was decluttering with an organizer, so it’s not in the back of my closet (my dad’s oversized sweater is though).

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