I had to make a quick side trip up to Seattle this week. I had the opportunity to enjoy some rare Northwest December sunshine along with another round of goodbye meals with friends and coworkers. Jenna’s cousin Holly has moved into our house, and the place has never been so spectacularly clean. I even got to buy my friend Randy a genuine Buck Knife as a birthday present from REI, and received some salsa dancing lessons from Javier and a bottle of Enzo’s olive oil from Karl.
But the main reason for my visit was for a cancer screen at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA). Five years ago I was diagnosed with a sarcoma in my groin. I had surgery, 6 rounds of in-hospital chemo, and 38 radiation therapy sessions all within a few months of when we took delivery of Sophie and the birth of our daughter Hazel. The good news is that I have been cancer-free for five years, my CT scan and MRI this week were all clear, and I don’t need to have another screen until June 2014. So overall it was a pretty good week.
My return visits to the SCCA are always emotional times for me, though. The photo above is the view of Lake Union from the fourth floor waiting room at the Oncology clinics there. I used to spend a LOT of time in that room in 2008 during my cancer treatment, heading there 3-5 times a week for blood draws, Neulasta shots, and consults with my treatment team. I was really sick. And at the time I could actually see Sophie from that waiting room window. She was at the docks of YachtMasters on Lake Union for a couple of months being outfitted after the delivery from the factory in Bordeaux. I used to sit in that waiting room, look out across Lake Union at this new boat I had just bought, and wonder if I was going to die before I ever had a chance to sail her, before I had a chance to get to know my new baby daughter, before I had a chance to do all of the things I still wanted to do with my life in this world. I’d just sit there in that waiting room, look at the boat and wonder about all of these things.
I still can’t imagine what it was like for Jenna at the time. She was seven months pregnant when I was diagnosed. She had to deal with an infant and a three year-old as I shuttled back and forth to the hospital for my treatment. Most people I know who have had cancer and were in a relationship always said that they if they had a choice between having the disease vs. watching their loved one with the disease, they would pick the disease every time because as painful as the treatments were, it would be much easier dealing with them than watching their partner suffer. I was certainly that way. Jenna had wonderful support, and that helped a lot. But I am glad it was me and not her.
So when I go back to that waiting room 5 years later as a healthy person about to pursue his dreams, and I see the roomful of bald and neutropenic patients in the exact same place I used to be at, I feel like shouting “Look at me. I did it, you can too!” They can get up. Apparently my flavor of cancer had a 50% mortality rate. I ran into Leslie, the receptionist there who scheduled all of my appointments during my treatment, and when we saw each other we both started to cry. She grabbed me by the arm and showed me off to her co-workers, saying “Look, this is James, he used to be a patient here and now he is about to go sail around the world with his beautiful family.” Everyone smiled. Apparently there had been a need for some good news at the cancer clinic lately, and I was more than happy to provide some.
Why am I sharing all of this in a sailing blog? I guess it provides some context to better understand our family and this trip we are about to go on. Life is too short. Bad things do happen. We have a have a chance to do something wonderful and cool and creative, so here we go.