All of us: FH, me and both of our boys drive home to the Kootenays from Vancouver. My family is together. The trip takes about 8 hours. We stop often to get out and stretch. We use rest areas along the highway, pulling off and parking next to creeks and picnic tables. I pretend we are on a holiday. I’m even charmed by the outhouses. Nicholas doesn’t leap out of the vehicle like he used to, but he still throws rocks in the creek. Frankie goes where his little brother goes, keeping watch.
Home, lovely home. I tuck the boys into their beds and relish seeing them between familiar sheets. The house seems complete. I’m no longer torn in half because Nick was left behind in Vancouver. He can’t stop smiling. We all are smiling.
July 18 & 19, 1999
Family and friends are eager to see Nicholas. He’s been gone for six months! Frankie, Nick and the neighborhood children drive Gerry’s dune buggy. Nick climbs into Gerry’s backhoe and moves the boom and bucket.
Happy voices fill our yard and house. Nicholas is home from “Planet Strange.” He’s trying to fit everything into the few days we have. I’m adapted to his pale skin, his spiky new growth of hair, his skinniness, and awkward movement. The adults hug him gently and discreetly arrange their faces when their emotions get the best of them. I don’t recognize the usual pack of prepubescent boys. There is no leaping on one another and rolling around like young bear cubs. They are mindful of Nicholas, and strangely enough often motionless. They are curious and ask him questions and listen to him tell his stories.
Early this morning Nick was on my bed cuddling “Richard” the cat. The night we arrived home Nicholas called the cat’s name and a grey streak came galloping across the yard. From the bedroom came the sound of Nick’s voice and Richard purring like a small engine.
My sister Jenifer’s daughter Leah (9 years old) and Nick lay on their backs on a blanket under the big, leafy walnut tree in the back yard. They talk and laugh. Since their Grandmother died, Leah and her little brother Mathew ask if Nick will die too.
We take Nicholas to Trail to meet the pediatrician Dr. Ukpeh, who looks after children receiving maintenance chemo as out-patients. Nick’s blood is taken and then he is examined from head to toe. Dr Ukpeh declares that Nick’s relapse site is in his right testicle. (Note: Nicholas eventually receives radiation to his testes).
Blood tests show blasts (immature cancer cells) are 4% of his blood. It occurs to me that Nicholas will never have his own children. I’m sucker punched with deep grief – didn’t see that one coming. I mourn his future babies. No Nicholas Mini Me. No grand babies for me to hold and proudly exclaim, “… looks just like you!” No one will carry on his uniqueness, his kind and gentle spirit, his wild, charismatic ways. I’m crushed for his loss of fathering his own children.
It’s the end of my “mental” holiday from Nicholas having cancer. He doesn’t want to go back to the hospital. He’s run with these few days at home. He’s squeezed the life out of each minute.
We leave tomorrow.
Grandpa Len, while at St Paul having a clot removed from his leg, has had a stroke. My sister Jenifer is with him in Vancouver.
Tuesday, July 20
We are back in Vancouver having driven our old and tired Pontiac. I crossed my fingers it would run well and the air conditioning would work. The boys want to see their Grandpa and although Nicholas is at risk for picking up an infection we go quietly in the evening for a quick visit at St. Paul’s Hospital.
He hugs us with his right arm. He can’t move his left arm or leg and the left side of his face droops. Grandpa Len’s emotions flip like a branch in the wind. Fumbling for a tissue he cries out, “I’m useless!” Then he swipes angrily at the wetness on his cheeks and gives himself a pep talk declaring, “I’m going to beat this!” He lost his youngest son in an auto accident and his first wife from leukemia, then my Mom and now a stroke.
Nicholas will turn 12 years old on July 22.