Making Tough Choices

Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be boarding a plane for Mexico, headed for Baja California. By this time on Monday, I’ll be sitting on a beach next to the Sea of Cortez, on Isla Espirtu Santo. The ocean there is turquoise, the cliffs encircling the beach rust-red, dolphins leap out of the water, and the late December sun will be warm.

It’s a wonderful place, except for one thing: Richard won’t be there with me.

He’ll stay behind in Denver, enduring daily doses of radiation, those lethal gamma rays enhanced by chemotherapy drugs.

Being in Baja when he isn’t may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

This was one of our dream trips, something made possible when I created a writing workshop to pay our way. I had signed up a small group, reserved the camp and guides, and had purchased our plane tickets when Richard was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Perhaps naively, we hoped he could take the Baja trip anyway during a break in his treatment. Richard’s radiation oncologist nixed that idea. The radiation, he explained, has to be done in a continuous chunk of time without substantial breaks. Why? Because cancer cells’ resistance to radiation varies just as the mutations in their DNA that make them cancer cells vary. 

The least resistant cells die off first, and as the dose of radiation accumulates, the more resistant cancer cells eventually die too. (So do some of the healthy cells, but not, we hope, too many.) If treatment is interrupted for any reason, the doctor explained, those more resistant cancer cells that have survived keep growing and dividing unchecked. That decreases the chances of successful treatment.

Richard asked the doc if he could wait to start the radiation and chemo until after the Baja trip.

“Maybe,” said his radiation oncologist. But sooner is better: the tumor could regrow during that time.


We looked at each other. Our choice was clear: Richard would start his treatment as soon as possible; we’d figure out what to do about the trip later. We left the clinic holding hands and headed his fitting with the radiation techs, talking about what to do. We continued that discussion–and the hand-holding–all the long drive home, across the city, up through the foothills, over Kenosha Pass, across South Park, and down into our own valley.

Finally, we decided: When the time came for the trip, Richard would stay in Denver to continue his radiation, and I would go to Baja.

It’s a tough choice for both of us. I want to be there to coddle him through this grueling treatment; he wants me to nurture myself. Sometimes taking care of each other means our paths diverge for a while.


When we’re apart, we have a ritual that reminds us that we’re still connected: we each look up the sky, search for the moon, and think of the other, seeing the same orb sailing across the heavens. This time, we’ll be watching the moon wax into a particularly special full moon: the last one of the year, on the last day of the year–New Year’s Eve–and, it’s also a Blue Moon, the second full moon of the month. By the time we’re together again, that full moon will be waning, December will have turned to January, and we’ll be several days into the new year of 2010. Over that time though, we’ll have shared the moon, each from our respective places, night after night.

Tonight, wherever you are, look for the moon and send your love out to someone special. Richard and I will be doing that too: one from Denver, one from Baja.

And forgive me if I don’t respond to comments in the next week. I’ll be away from internet access during my time in Baja California and won’t return until January 4th.

May this New Year bring us all new possibilities, much happiness, good health, and many blessings!