Doctor: Uh, Mr. Griffin, I’m not quite sure how to say this…
[Peter and Lois boggle their eyes]
Doctor: … Kim ‘Baasenger’, ‘Baysenger’, ‘Basenjer’, ‘Bay-singer’? But now, on to the cancer…
[Peter and Lois gasp]
Doctor: You are a cancer, right? You were born in July? Now, on to these test results…
—Family Guy, “Fat Guy Strangler” (11/27/05)
I guess I can tell the whole story, now. If not, I’ll take the beating.
A few months ago, Wife’s father was diagnosed with cancer. It started as an odd lump on the side of his neck that would get alternately larger and smaller, until it stopped getting smaller. Finally he went to see someone, who fortunately turned out to have a medical degree. The doctor took a sample and had it biopsied, and it was sort of a good news/bad news situation. The bad news: duh, cancer. The good news: it’s a very treatable form that has a good survival rate.
[Incidentally, you know what they don’t do in Baltimore that they do in New York? They don’t modulate their voices when they say “cancer.” Around here, they’ll say, “Mr. Smith got cancer.”
On Long Island it’s more like this: “Did you hear about Mrs. Stine? Cancer.” As though saying it aloud will somehow summon it forth. Those wacky Northerners, they’re so superstitious.
For whatever reason, Father-In-Law didn’t want the word to get out about this, so he asked us to keep mum about it. Immediate family only, thanks. And, for the most part, we were pretty good about it.
Not long after the diagnosis and the beginning of The Cancer Omertà, Wife and I were out shopping and were finishing up rather late. We both realized that we hadn’t eaten lunch or dinner and here it was, about 8:30. So clearly we were addled by the hunger because we popped into the Bob Evans restaurant on Belair Road, near the BJ’s Warehouse store. Despite the hour, there was actually a bit of a wait. Wife and I were—despite my advanced age—clearly the youngest couple waiting for a table. I think the average age of everyone else in the waiting area was about 125.
So we gave up our seats in the waiting area and went over to that corner near the register that has all the little rustic (or, should I say, “rustic”) doodads and candles and whatever else. While we were looking, Wife took a good look at all these 125-year-old couples waiting to eat at the Bob Evans. And that’s when she started to cry.
She cried because it wasn’t fair, she cried because her father is younger than these people, she cried because maybe he’ll never get to be one of these 125-year-old people waiting to eat in the Bob Evans restaurant. I managed to get her settled down a little bit when someone called her name.
Wife turned around and it turned out to be an aunt of hers, who wasn’t in the restaurant a minute ago. But she did notice her niece in the corner and came over to say hello. That’s when she saw the red-rimmed eyes and runny nose and asked what was going on.
And, just like that, the code was broken. Well…Wife swore the aunt to secrecy, and that lasted for a few weeks. But here’s how it completely broke free:
Not long after Bob Evans, a co-worker of Wife’s announced that she was forming a team for the Relay For Life, which is an annual event to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. (On Long Island, of course, it’s the American Cancer Society. Heh.) This is a nationwide event, although it doesn’t take place on the same date everywhere. Wife agreed to join the team and set herself a fundraising goal of $200.
In the meantime, I said to her*, “What you SHOULD do, is set a higher goal and, if you make that goal, you can shave your head as a show of solidarity with your father.” She actually looked like she was pondering this idea and, sure enough, when she went back in and discovered that she couldn’t change her “official” goal, she let it be known that if the entire team raised $2000, she’d cut her hair off.
You’ll note, by the way, that great ideas like this are generally great ideas for OTHER people. I wasn’t going to do this craziness.
As the date for the Relay came closer, she and I started pushing the issue a little bit, using email at work and Facebook at home, and pretty soon it became known that Wife was working on this whole hair-cutting thing as a team goal. When her relatives started asking her why she would do such a thing, she finally told them that it was because of her father.
So the team reached its goal and, one fine evening a couple of nights before the Relay, Wife and I went up to her parents’ house. Her brother came by with electric clippers, and he and I went to work on cutting her hair down. That’s the first cut, to the left. Her mom, and her dad, and Wee One, and her brother’s two boys sat in rapt awe as we brought it down to about one inch, then did a second run at the 1/8” level. Wife didn’t want to go totally bald so that’s where we stopped. You can see, though, that she was quite hairless by the time we finished. Her mother just kept saying, “Oh, my” as the hair fell onto the sheet that was laid out. Her father watched but didn’t really say anything until it was done.
So at this point:
- I’ve got a wife who, at this point still endures the risk of sunburn to her scalp when she goes outside;
- her dad is, in fact, responding quite well to treatment. He finishes chemo in another couple of weeks, then they’ll put him through some tests to see what else might need to be done;
- and the ACS has another $4000 to work with thanks to her team and thanks especially to Wife, who raised over $700.
As for me? Well, it’s all blog fodder, isn’t it.
*For the record, pretty much anything related to our conversations is going to be a paraphrasing. I’m sure it was a series of exchanges that would bore you into blowing your brains out.