Believe it or not, but Dan and I love our road trips to Boston every three, six, or eight weeks.
Ever since I moved out of the middle back seat (wedged between two grumpy siblings), I’ve loved road trips. My mother-in-law, daughter, and I went on countless trips: day trips, overnight trips, shopping trips, college trips. It didn’t matter to any of us the purpose, we just loved going together. Once we traveled across three mountain ranges in winter in a Geo Metro to visit colleges – now that was a trip. Dan and I always took the kids on a road trip somewhere in New England in April. Boston, Mystic, Sturbridge, Springfield, Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, CT – that was exciting to the young expert in the family.
Even before we got the cancer diagnosis, Dan and I knew that if ever we did hear those dreaded words, we would go to Dana Farber Cancer Institute, five hours away. Road trip! That would be the easy part – we know how to do this. Our first road trip to Dana Farber included Dan, me, and my sister – my other caregiver. We were on a mission, the only known was the destination. We booked a night that quickly became a few as we jumped on the train of the cancer journey. Since then there have been countless (not really true, but I haven’t counted them) road trips to Boston. Most of them are just the two of us (Dan and me), but some have included my sister or our son, and once we (my sister and I) made the trip without Dan. Early on, for some I was pretty sick and spent the drive sleeping, so I “missed” those trips. After trying a couple of routes and a couple of different hotels, we’ve settled on what works for us. We’re lucky that we’ve got a good car for traveling, and the funds for gas, an overnight stay, and meals.
Road trip! Let’s enjoy it. Enjoy it? Two days of being on the road and at the hospital? (We don’t feel we can take more time away and sightsee, etc. because our three little dachshunds and goats miss us!) But, enjoy it knowing that it’s traveling and a day of tests and appointments? Really? Well, why not? So we do! We’ve got it all down. My appointments are on a schedule (8 weeks, 3 weeks, or 6 weeks apart). Our suitcase stays packed with the extra change of clothes, travel toiletries, and coffee and tea supplies. I try to remember to book our room several weeks ahead. Our daughter is alerted of the dates for pet care. The day before the road trip I finish the packing. And then we’re off!
Just imagine having five hours of uninterrupted time with your best friend! Heavenly. What would it have been like years ago if someone had given the two of us “all expenses paid” trips every few weeks? Heavenly! Well, we have this road trip we have to do and pay for, so why not look beyond the reason? We spend the drive time talking, and even though we’ve been together over 40 years, we love to just talk, about anything and everything. When we feel like stopping to eat or take a break we do. Now that we have our favorite route, there’s always different animals, seasonal changes, and such to notice. Like turkeys in Brookline. True story. They live amongst the most beautiful homes, right in the city. And then there’s Dan’s favorite little school to look for, a childcare/preschool. Often the children will be out with Mr. Rope on the sidewalk in Boston, just like my daycare children when we walked around Blue Hill 30+ years ago. (Just like and so just not like!)
Then we arrive, usually mid to late afternoon. (Sometimes we leave really early for an afternoon appointment, but usually we get there one day for an early morning appointment the next day.) We park in the hotel parking garage, relieved to not have to take the car out again that day. We check in and have a cup of tea and a little rest. Pretty nice! Watch a little TV or watch the city streets out the window. Interesting. Then we decide where to eat dinner. Choices are numerous, especially with delivery, but we’re creatures of habit, so we choose between the hotel restaurant and the Italian restaurant near Children’s Hospital. Almost every time we go to the Italian restaurant we are seated in the same spot. No joke. Corner booth. What is it about us that makes this happen? Maybe we look like hicks from Maine. Or weary hospital visitors. But I prefer to think we look like lovers wanting to be left alone to stare dreamily into each other’s eyes. After dinner, on the walk back, is when we do our people-watching. It’s always interesting to see all the people rushing to their destination, never stopping to even nod a greeting to anyone. Such a different world. And then, after dinner we have until the next morning to enjoy our trip, pushing it’s true purpose from our minds.
The next morning the alarm goes off early enough for showers and packing up. Our appointments will last long beyond checkout time. Depending on how early we need to be at Dana Farber, we try to eat (or just Dan eats) at the food court or the cafeteria before heading to appointments. Here’s an example of a typical appointment schedule. First drive one block to Dana Farber and park underground usually at least four levels. 6:30 AM arrive at Dana Farber D3(3rd floor) for Brain MRI. This means taking of everything but my undies, putting on a johnny, having an IV put in that will stay in for a few hours. Then into the cold room, and getting up on the table in the right spot, cushions beside my ears, a “hockey mask” clamped over my face, and into the tube I slide. Halfway through I’m slid out to put the contrast dye in my IV. After listening to some pretty strange and very repetitive noises, I get out, dress, and go find Dan. Dan waits the 50 mins or so (reading, texting, looking up sports stuff on his phone). As soon as I’m out we rush to the elevator to head down to floor L1 (lower level, underground) for a 7:40 AM appointment. We are there for a while. That appointment starts with a blood draw (from the IV they put in for the Brain MRI), followed by a bottle of the most delicious drink that I must drink in 30 minutes. Wait for my turn. Then the CT scans of my chest and abdomen. As long as I wear no metal, I can keep my clothes on, no johnny! Those scans are quick. Lie on the table, a couple of scans, inject the contrast dye into my IV, two more scans, and off I go, with a reminder to drink lots of water. Dan, he’s been waiting. But during the time I’m drinking the stuff, we’re enjoying our time, talking about home, something in a magazine, just talking. (We’ve figured out that we both just want to be together, regardless of the circumstance or situation – whatever it is, we’re together!) After that appointment is done (takes 2 hours total sometimes), we check to see if there’s time to stop at the cafeteria on for a snack (I’ve probably not had breakfast) before heading to the 10th floor where thoracic oncology is. On this day we do! (This is for real in two days – we’ll see if I’m right!) 10th floor 11:00 AM EKG This has something to do with being in the Lorlatinib clinical trial. I can’t take my med on this day until after the EKG and Dr. appointment. For the EKG they stick electrodes all over you that read the electrical activity of your heart. The EKG is followed by “taking vitals” (blood pressure, temp, weight, O2, heart rate). Then we wait for the appointment with the doctor, research nurse, and program coordinator, scheduled for 11:30AM. We decided a long time ago that we would never grumble if appointments at DF didn’t happen when scheduled. It runs very efficiently compared to other medical facilities we’ve experienced. If our appointment is late we know it is because another patient or family needed their time. We can wait. We are grateful to be there. If all is well with the morning’s tests, the appointment is really just a check-in about side effects and symptoms. When it is over we have our last stop at the pharmacy on floor 2 to wait for the medication (one cycle/3 weeks’ worth only). Finally we’re on the parking elevator headed down to the floor that we now always remember we parked on. If lucky on this day that starts at 6:30 AM, we’ll be on the road again by 1:30 PM.
That was one long paragraph! Well I thought about writing it as one very long run on sentence. For me, that is how it feels. Nonstop. No time to take a breath, even with the waiting we might do.
And then Dan drives us home. Very long day for him.
Once out of the city we talk about the appointment and I send texts to let the “kids” know how it went. Then we decide when/where to stop to eat, fill up with gas, etc. I try to stay awake to keep Dan company – it’s the least I can do for my chauffeur/caregiver who won’t let me drive. Dan calls it Driving Miss Rinnie! All I know is that he must truly love me.
Five hours later we pull into the driveway, hearing a chorus from all sides of dachshund barks and howls mixed with the bleating of Naughty Dottie and her sidekick Matilda. Home. Together.
Three weeks later…