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May 29, 2010

Homecoming

Filed under: Chemotherapy,Local Color — Tags: — Mom @ 11:34 pm

On Wednesday, May 25, Colin boarded a plane in Memphis and finally made his way home. As I announced the impending plans around the hospital, I was greeted with well earned superstition from every quarter. Notably, on Tuesday, Dr. Gajjar asked what time his flight was the next day. “Three-fifteen,” I responded.

“Over 24 hours,” he commented skeptically, implying the vast possibility of medical mishaps that a day-plus could bring.

It had become the departure that dare not speak its name, but I was undeterred, citing Julius Caesar’s famous disregard of harbingers of his fate. That seems like a rather poor example, but the portents of his early life and career pointed at great success. He didn’t rely on good fortune and made little of positive signs, instead working hard (perhaps not hard enough) to make his own fate.

In Colin’s case, the disaster of the first week of erlotinib was enough to make anybody queasy about him going home as soon as possible. However, I decided that, if I knew how to handle grade 4 diarrhea, I was prepared for anything that the drug could dish out. We had been attempting to arrange our departure through the Corporate Angel Network, which hooks up cancer patients with empty seats on corporate jets. This afforded us with the only possible means of taking a direct flight between Memphis and Westchester County Airport, the most convenient regional airport to our house.

Monday was the fulcrum point for the continuation of therapy; if we were going to fly home, we would delay restarting chemo, and otherwise we would begin immediately to see how things would pan out. At five in the morning, Colin had a sloppy stool that nixed erlotinib in my mind, and, if I were inclined to take anything as a sign, that would have been it. As it turns out, there was a plane leaving on Wednesday afternoon, and we finally (really) prepared to clear out of Target House and head home.

After months of living in a place, it is hard to imagine living somewhere else. Our Target House apartment had become home, yet at this point I had emptied all the cabinets and left everything sitting out so I knew what we had to pack or dispose of. On Wednesday, I gave away all of our remaining food and other items that would be useful to other families (broom, mop, etc.) and, bravely, the last of our toilet paper.

As a woman, it is fair to say that this is where I defiantly threw the glove down in front of fate. You think you can keep us in Memphis? Pick your dueling weapon.

Emotionally exhausted, we had to get out of Dodge. Colin is a happy boy but rightfully missed the other half of his family. I’m not sure if he even believed the whole plane story any more and had long since stopped responding to my tale by looking in the sky and making hand gestures. This was just making me look bad, and our repeated cancellations were making the Corporate Angel Network a little nervous.

This time, I suffered no sentimentality about leaving Memphis. We had said goodbye (now, “see you later”) so many times that it became a redundant exercise robbed of its emotional juice. At any rate, we had already knocked off a good deal of the time between our intended departure and return for scans, so we will be back in Memphis in about six weeks.

We arrived at the hangar in good time, me not knowing what to expect at all. The company had a very nice and comfortable waiting area where we settled in until “the boss” arrived. The timing of the flight was based entirely on when he and his coterie pulled in. I chatted with the staff and the flight attendant told me how excited they were to see Colin’s name on the manifest again. They had become touchingly committed to the project of getting Colin home.

I met “the boss” and his wife on the tarmac, introduced under the whine of the jet engines. Colin and I sat in the back half of the plane and we taxied and took off with none of the formalities of commercial flights. Traveling in such luxury was new to us, yet the implicit comfort of the jet was also accompanied by an awkwardness. We were, in effect, sitting in these people’s living room. They were gracious and kind and showed interest in Colin. Fortunately, he warmed up and became playful and cute during one in-flight interaction.

I told them that we were grateful just to get from point A to point B. It almost felt illegitimate for me to use the bathroom and eat the catered food, though I did both.

At one point, I saw the look I sometimes see on the faces of people who know something of Colin’s situation. It is something between pity and awe, with a large shot of thankfulness thrown in. People want to help those in need, particularly the innocent. Children in tough situations engender more sympathy because they did not bring their fates upon their shoulders, whether they are the victims of famine, war, or disease. This boy needs to get home, and these plushly appointed leather seats can make it happen.

There is perhaps more of an even exchange in these seats on a plane than I had appreciated, and my sense of intrusion is largely an artifact of my own anxiety. That said, it helps if the kid is cute and he has a good story, and Colin is blessed with both.

Colin enjoyed a bit of a soft landing, and we surprised many people by showing up at his old school with him in a new lighter weight wheelchair (it looks more like a sturdy umbrella stroller). However, he has already seen family every day since returning and relished a busy day going to a (not exactly on) Memorial Day parade where his brother marched with his T-ball team; quad rides with Uncle Steve; more family; dogs, here and there.

We kept hearing that kids do better once they go home, which seemed hard to imagine in Colin’s case, yet that conventional wisdom appears to be true. We are up for visitors, especially visitors with dogs.

9 Comments »

  1. Dear Tamiko,
    Today is my birthday and you gave me the best present I could hope for. Thank you for this wonderful news.
    Christina

    Comment by Krysia — May 29, 2010 @ 11:59 pm

  2. Dear Tamiko,

    I can only imagine how wonderful it is to be home with Colin.
    Love to you all

    Karen Horton

    Comment by karenhorton28@gmail.com — May 30, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

  3. I am beyond happy for you guys! I’m excited that you finally made it home!! Their is nothing better than being home! I pray for you guys and hope that Colin does well. I know it must help him to see familiar faces again. Congrats on how far he has come, as he truly is a miracle child!

    Comment by lindsg — May 30, 2010 @ 3:42 pm

  4. YAY!!! Congrats on getting home finally!!! I wish you and your family nothing but the best.
    Laniesa

    Comment by MaisiesMom — May 30, 2010 @ 10:18 pm

  5. Wonderful news and photos – he really looks like he’s thriving. And I think if Aidan smiled any wider, his face would crack open.
    Love, Paul, Caitlin, & Matthias.

    Comment by Wark — May 30, 2010 @ 10:49 pm

  6. Tamiko, Ian, Aidan and Colin,

    Yahooo!!!!I am so happy that you made it home!

    love, Diana

    Comment by dinetzer — May 30, 2010 @ 11:18 pm

  7. I am so thankful that you are home. My prayers are with you for the rest of the journey.

    Comment by joan — May 31, 2010 @ 9:56 am

  8. We’re glad you and Colin are back. Sorry we missed the “almost Memorial Day” parade and we’ll have to bring Taylor over sometime soon to see him.
    Tracy

    Comment by kulikowski — May 31, 2010 @ 9:51 pm

  9. Congrats on making it home safe and sound!! Great to hear Colin is doing well – we can’t wait to see him.

    Comment by bjmeola@att.net — June 1, 2010 @ 7:55 am

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