Home Again

This morning Richard and I watched dawn come as we walked hand in hand through the Fitzsimmons Medical Campus on our way to his last radiation treatment; tonight we’re home in our very own house, six and a half weeks to the day after we left for Denver to begin his treatment for brain cancer.

There’s a fire in the woodstove, and the glorious acapella voices of Anonymous Four issue from the iPod speakers. I’m in my favorite place to write–our couch, and Richard is sitting next to me in the teak armchair he loves. Life is very, very good.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. We haven’t finished unpacking; there’s laundry to be done and the fridge is bare; the stack of mail to be dealt is so big it keeps sliding off the kitchen counter (I’ve picked it up twice); there are bills to pay and phone calls to return; the dust bunnies multiplied like, well, rabbits in our absence and are now forming herds to stampede across the floor; the deer got in the kitchen garden while we were gone and pulled up the last beets…. 

But we’re home. This morning when we saw Dr. Klein, the chief of Hematology and Oncology at the VA Medical Center, she was quietly delighted at how well Richard has weathered the rigorous combination of daily radiation and chemo. His blood
counts remained in her words “spot on” throughout, and he “sailed through” the treatment without horrible side effects. The fog of
fatigue that began clouding his days last week is positively normal, she said–“100 percent of patients experience that”–and will dissipate in the coming weeks, along with the radiation burn that reddens the right side of his head.

His reward for doing so well? A whole month to recover, to emerge from the fatigue and regain his appetite before he begins the next round of chemotherapy, which will last at least six months, longer if he tolerates it well. Best of all, said Dr. Klein with a smile, “You can go home.”

Sweet words. We were hoping she’d spring Richard, so we had packed the car the night before–the midden of clothes and other detritus of our residency at Fisher House was impressive, but our Subaru Forester swallowed it all capably. We walked out of the VA Medical Center holding hands, exhausted but eager to get on the road. Mindful of the quiet routine that’s been so sustaining through our time in Denver, we decided to make it a leisurely trip.

To that end, we spent an hour in a familiar coffee shop near the VA Medical Center, reading and writing and thinking. And then we headed west across Denver and followed the winding highway up into the mountains. Finally.

We stopped for lunch atop Kenosha Pass, the first of three mountain passes we cross on our drive between Denver and home. It was too snowy to eat outside, so Richard parked the car so to give a view across the white expanse of South Park, with the mountains that edge our valley on the far horizon many miles away. We watched two magpies foraging in the aspen grove at the edge of the parking lot. One hopped down on the pavement and strutted about, poking the melting snowbanks for food. When we finished our lunch, I left the quartered apple core in the snow nearby as an offering while the magpie watched, head cocked. “It’s for you,” I said, “It’s an organic Pink Lady–we thought it was quite flavorful.”

Coming down Trout Creek Pass, the third mountain divide we cross, we turned aside on a snow-covered county road. I wanted to shoot some photos for a talk I’m giving this weekend on the community of lives that make up the “polka-dot” woodlands of pinon pine and juniper that stud the lower mountainsides around our valley. Richard parked at a wide spot in the road and we wandered up a nearby hillside, delighting in the fresh air and warm sun, and in being in the familiar landscapes of our valley. 

I found plenty of good shots, like this close-up of new pinon pine cones forming at the end of a branch, and the bumpy lichen below colonizing the rocky soil, which reminds me of artist Sherrie York’s new “Underfoot” series of lino prints.


And this elegant clump of last season’s curling grama grass flower clusters in snow.

After a few minutes the sun disappeared behind a haze of high cloud, the air chilled, and we got back into the car and wound our way down into the valley, headed home.

And here we are, snug in our own living room with a fire in the woodstove and haunting medieval choral music in the background. Life is indeed very good.