Brain cancer: Seizing the moment

Thursday morning we were in Denver to meet with Richard’s oncologist. On our agenda: The Talk. After a Q&A about his symptoms, a bit of joking and some discussion of what we need to know in case something goes wrong while we’re on the road (we’re leaving in a few days for our “honeymoon” drive to the Pacific Coast), I asked,

“Can we talk about what to expect?”

She nodded and looked at Richard. “Is that okay?”

“Yes,” he said, and went on to say that we’ve discussed the prospect that his tumor is worse, and what would happen once it commandeers more of his right brain. “I imagine that if it grows into my brain stem,” he said, “I’ll wake up without a pulse.”

“In a way that would be convenient, wouldn’t it?” she said. “But it’s not likely to happen like that.”

I grabbed a tissue from the box on her desk to wipe my eyes.

“In my experience,” she continued, “what’s most likely is a long, gradual decline. Your brain function will continue to slowly diminish–you’ve seen some of that already with memory and spatial issues.” (He had gotten confused while walking from the parking garage to the VA Hospital that morning, following the same route we’ve taken dozens of times.)

“That will lead to physical decline–lack of nutrition and ability to take care of yourself. Eventually, you’ll succumb.”

Her eyes glistened with tears. I blew my nose and reached for his hand.

“I want to refer you to hospice in your area,” she said. “It’s early, but that way you’ll have a chance to meet with them and get to know them, and they can get to know you before it’s more difficult.”

We talked a bit more about the details, she hugged us and told us have a good trip, and then we went upstairs to the infusion center.

Two hours later, we were on the road over the mountains, heading home. I asked Richard how he felt about our talk.

“It’s not like it’s a surprise to either of us,” he said. “In a way, it’s a relief.”

“To know how she sees it?”

“That, and knowing that you’ll have help.”

“And you’ll get the care you need,” I added.

He nodded.

We drove on in silence, hand in hand, the car climbing up through evergreen forests studded here and there with houses. Green meadows flashed past, and pink cliffs shot through with massive quartz veins. After a while, Richard slept.


I watched the landscape pass as the highway climbed higher and higher, past aspen groves and beaver dams, along a foaming cascade of mountain creek, ascending the first of the three mountain passes we cross on our way home. Richard snored softly.

Just before the top of the pass, I looked idly at the pond I always check for interesting ducks–I usually just see coots, their heads “pumping” as they paddle along. And looked again. On the far side of the pond was something large, furry, and rich chocolate brown. A moose? A black bear? I couldn’t take my eyes off the curving highway at 65 miles per hour for long enough to distinguish what it was.

I turned off at the next pull-out, waking Richard. I told him I was pretty sure I’d seen something interesting at the pond, drove back, and pulled carefully off on the shoulder of the highway above the pond.


There it was: A young male moose, antlers in velvet, up to his shoulders in muck, seemingly happily grazing the long grass at the edge of the small pond. Richard pulled out the binoculars while I eased out of the car and shot a couple of photos.

Huh. We don’t have moose in our part of Colorado. Usually.

But then, nothing is “usual” about this journey. That moose reminds me that miracles happen. Not necessarily in the shape I would like them to take, but soul-nurturing events nonetheless, like the sight of that solitary bull moose, wandering the mountains in search of love and home.

Which is all any of us want really, isn’t it?