For some reason I’ve never finished the story I sketched out describing the three weeks in February 2014 when my dad had his stem cell transplant. I’m dusting this off and sharing it with you. It’s time.
Harold Allen Brown’s diagnosis went back to November 2012. At least that’s when he shared it. Dad was extremely private about the cancer diagnosis. Multiple Myeloma. Bone marrow cancer. He explained people look at and listen to you differently when they know you have cancer. Dad was never one for pity. He quickly grew tired of those types of reactions. I found out after he died that he’d declined to share his diagnosis with at least one close relative, one who thought they’d been close enough to know. I don’t think many folks these days could pull that off if they wanted to. Not saying it’s good. Don’t think it is necessarily. Rare for certain.
After the diagnosis I went out to visit him for a week, flew out as soon as I learned. He was extremely down but as the visit stretched on, he seemed to feel better, and our days and evenings were less consumed with screentime and more with talking.
In the days leading up to the transplant the plan was for his sister to come stay with him. I didn’t think that was likely due to her age and health. I suggested I might be able to come and take care of him. It was something part of me figured wouldn’t happen. The procedure was postponed a few times. The doctors kept saying they wanted dad to wait two weeks. At some point his sister admitted she wasn’t capable. He asked me. Linda agreed. Henrik wasn’t even a year old.
My flight to Nashville was on Sunday, February 16, 2014. If I recall correctly, this was also the first day of dad’s chemotherapy. My flight from Phoenix to Nashville left at 9:00 AM Arizona Time. Mine was seat B58, the middle seat. I ended up in the isle because a husband and wife wanted to sit together. She was one of the last people on the flight for some reason. Not sure why I took this note. I arrived without incident. Crystelle and Sol picked me up. We ate at Whole foods and did some grocery shopping and got dropped off at the hotel, the Residence Inn close to Vanderbilt. Dad seemed in a good mood all things considered. We visited, Crystell and Sol left. Took a while to get to sleep due to the jet lag. Not sure dad slept much at all.
Day two of chemo was on Monday February 17. We had a hospital appointment at 11:00 AM. We left the hotel via shuttle at 10:00 AM and arrived at 10:30. Dad got the rest of his chemo, sitting in a chair. Lunch was sandwiches. Dinner was potatoes and quinoa.
Tuesday was a “rest” day. At least for me. Not so much for dad. I was up and well rested at 6:00 AM. Larry Yarborough came over and took dad to the hospital. I went to the Kroger (grocery store) in Greenhills. Bought lots of groceries. Wasn’t sure how many days dad would have an appetite, but the plan was to eat while the eating was good.
Oh yeah, while running errands, I saw Eddie George out jogging on Belmont. Nashville is a nice town. It leaves its celebrities live in peace, or at least it used to.
Wednesday, February 19 was the big day. After chemo to obliterate his immune system back to the day of his birth, it was time to introduce new stem cells. Not so much new, but new to dad. They were his in fact his own stem cells. Donated to himself, scrubbed clean for lack of a more elegant scientific way of describing, and shot back into his body. On this day we walked Love Circle. Ran into some dogs that panicked dad. I didn’t understand his anger at first. Then in a flash I understood. This could be a matter of life and death for him. For the dogs, their owner, and me, it wasn’t immediately apparent. Probably never was to the dog owner.
Got to see Richtop. John either has an outsized ego, a great sense of humor, or both.
On Thursday, February 20, they pushed more stem cells. What a couple of days. Intense is an understatement.
Friday, February 21, was immune system day 1! A unique thing to celebrate. It’s literally like dad’s immune system had its second first birthday. We went for another walk. Looked at many older houses in the Vanderbilt area. Crystelle brought over dinner. It was a very good soup. Yum.
Weekends in this bubble were… different. Good, but sans work as a distraction. On Saturday, February 22 we went in for a hospital checkup. This was dad’s first day of Neuprogen, white blood cells. Tanya delivered a great big-old shot. Larry came back by and gave me the afternoon free. I got my things together and walked down to Centennial Park. Ran six miles in one-mile loops. It was a very nice day. Nicest weather-wise the entire visit, by far. It was sunny, full of families, dogs, people walking, cool breeze. I did some window shopping at Cumberland Transit. Looked in on a coffee shop but it was far too crowded. No good place to stop for a snack and no room on any patio, so I dropped by a running shop and bought some new shoes and a few assorted items.
Walking back, I dropped by the Outback on West End for lunch. Fun fact, the chain location, oldest in Nashville I’d guess, isn’t there anymore. It would close up shop at some point during the next week. I didn’t know this at the time. The waitress seemed a little out of it. Maybe she knew. Think the real reason was, she shared, her stepdad had a four-wheeler accident deep in the country, more than a mile from an actual road. He’d had three of his grandkids on the back of the machine. He got stuck in the mud but had the presence of mind to stop and let them off. He tried to get the four-wheeler out of the mud, but the process rolled the bike and broke most of the bones in his face and crushed many others. Her mom had come to the restaurant the previous evening looking for her, obviously frantic. Life-flight took two hours to get him to the road and onto the helicopter. He was in the intensive care unit (ICU) overnight and was in stable condition. That’s work ethic. She was back to work the next day.
It’s like the universe was telling me, hey, chin up, things can always be worse.
That night the neighbors were really loud. Believe they were there for a Vanderbilt basketball game. Lucky, they left in the morning because housekeeping was cleaning the room.
I slept-in on Sunday, February 23, all the way to 6:45 AM. I had a smoothie for breakfast. Dad had none. Nurse Anne suggested dad take anti-nausea meds every eight hours to head off nausea. Most folks are on their different meds at this point. When I got back from lunch dad had finished his IV of the drugs, and it was time to go back to the hotel. Dad had a lunch of butternut squash soup and half a grilled cheese, took a nap, while I watched some of the Olympics.
On Monday, February 24 dad had a smoothie for breakfast. It was also the last day for our 10:30 AM appointments. We had to be in a small room in the corner of the floor we were on. We had a really loud nurse, not the best of the bunch we encountered. All dad was able to eat all day ended up being that smoothie for breakfast. He did lots of napping and threw-up once that early evening. I recall we watched Letterman because he interviewed the lead blond female character from the Big Bang Theory.
Tuesday, February 25 marked our halfway point out of the darkness. It was a much better day. Dad ate a little apple sauce for breakfast and dinner. Ate a little yogurt for both as well. He had some chicken noodle soup for lunch at the clinic. He got platelets that seemed to make him feel better. He’d lost eight pounds over the past three or four days so got a large IV to hydrate. Found out he stopped taking the anti-nausea but talked him into taking that again and also got something for the in-between the 8 hours just in case. He didn’t nap as much today. We watched basketball on TV (Vandy v Floria).
Wednesday, February 26 was an earlier morning. We were up at 6:00 AM. Both sleepy. Thursday was a repeat. I found a place to swim laps on Friday and found a place to ride a stationary bike on Saturday, March 1. Dad’s white blood cell count had been down as low as .2 (200) but was up to 1.6 (1600) on this day. Dad got a haircut from Howard as a result of hair finally starting to fall out, in clumps. Those three days were intense. Leaving some of the less flattering parts out, but if you’ve been through it, you understand.
On Sunday, March 2 we watched the Abraham Lincon movie. We had another visit to the clinic. Larry came over again and gave me some free time. I tried to run in the park again, but it was raining. Not wanting to waste the free time, I went to the Greenhills Mall, back to Kroger, and grabbed a pizza at the Mellow Mushroom. I also dropped back by Cumberland Transit in West End to pick up a few gifts, and one for Linda. I got back to the hotel and Larry was asleep. The rain had started to freeze and the slow wasn’t far behind.
On Monday, March 3 schools closed all over town, and the news reported 18 wrecks on the roads. TDOT said “stay at home!” However, our shuttle was running. That brought back some memories, snow days, sledding, hot chocolate, and cabin fever.
On the shuttle that day, we met a heart patient who had been staying in a hotel in town for the last six months waiting for a procedure. A kidney transplant I believe. This was his first ride on the shuttle to the dialysis center. Seems his procedure was getting close. Silver linings are everywhere if you look. And you should look.
My memory of these three weeks is strong. Some days are clearer than others. Snips like from a movie. The last week went by the fastest. I’d slacked off taking notes and focused on being in the moment. I was feeling equal parts grateful for being there with my dad and being extremely eager to get home to Linda and Henrik. To be with my dad those three weeks, just him and me in a room most of the time, was a gift of immeasurable value. We watched television, read books, and talked. It was the most time I’d spent with him in my entire adult life. In fact, statistics tell us 90% of the time you will have spent with your parents was done from the ages of 0–18.
Saturday, March 8 was my last day. I can see the final moments in my mind’s eye like I’m there. My reliever was there. I said goodbye to my dad, walked down a few blocks, and did some window shopping in the Vanderbilt area. My Mom picked me up a little while later. We ate some lunch around Belmont, and she drove me to the airport. After days of rain and snow and cold, Saturday was somehow a warm sunny day. That’s how I remember it. I think maybe my memory is playing a trick on me. Check the weather report to be sure? Nashville that day, in a car on my way to the airport and home, it was a very warm sunny day indeed. Real or imagined.