There and Back: The Trips to Atlanta

There and Back: The Trips to Atlanta

coping with cancerHey folks, its Ryan. I’m excited to tell you that I’m working on my book. Yep, a real-deal, full-length book.

Now, there is no telling how long it will take me to finish. However I’m shooting for spring of next year.

Anyway, I just wanted to share a bit from one of the chapters entitled, “There and Back: The Trips to Atlanta”. I hope you like it.

Thanks for reading!


There and Back: The Trips to Atlanta

The treatment of my cancer involved many road trips. Usually it was my mom and I going back and forth weekly to Egleston, now Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), and the Emory Clinic in Atlanta, Georgia for doctor’s appointments and regular chemotherapy treatments.

Lots of times my dad had to stay at home, work (Treatment ain’t cheap!) and hold down the fort. Although he would join us at the Ronald McDonald house from time to time. Like the one time when he shoveled a whole driveway of snow so that all of us snowed in the place could leave and go home.

If I had a surgery, or anything serious, my dad was always there. Actually, that’s how I learned what was and wasn’t serious. If dad showed up, I knew something out of the ordinary was about to take place… or had just taken place. If my dad wasn’t there, I figured everything was going as expected.

As time went by, these road trips evolved into, well not just any ol’ road trip. We had rituals like the “McDonalds egg McMuffin’” stop in the morning as we were headed out. For some reason we couldn’t eat or stop anywhere else. Over the years I’ve become very suspicious as to why.

Oh, and then we had the “McDonalds by Shannon Mall to pee” stop. Seriously, any other restroom would have worked perfectly fine, but for whatever reason we (mom, dad) always had to stop at the McDonalds by Shannon Mall.

These trips were like clockwork. Every week, same days, same times (same bat time, same bat channel)… and obviously the same McDonalds. – And if you are wondering, no we were not and are not sponsored by McDonalds. I think it’s the other way around actually.

As we would come into Atlanta, that is when my nerves would start going crazy. I knew what was coming up shortly. I remember that I played all kinds of weird games in my head. Sometimes I would think, “The next time I ride my skateboard I will have gone through my treatment… and everything that goes with it.” Or “The next time I see Jason and Dad…”

It was a hard thing to prepare yourself for the violent sickness that was to follow treatment. I remember my mom and I would often sit outside the clinic at a picnic table while waiting on my name to be called for treatment.

I remember sitting in the sun tearing up, being scared, dreading what was to come. I always hoped that somehow each treatment might just be different than the last.—That maybe this time I wouldn’t get sick.

On one of these times, I found a stick with the bark peeling off. It kind of looked like a flower but needed a little more work to actually look like a real flower.

I took out my pocket knife that I always carried with me and started carving the bark down off of the stick. Now it definitely looked like a flower with petals and everything… or it looked like a flower to me anyway.

Then I had an idea. Scary I know. There was a tree nearby that always had all sorts of crooks and crevices in it. Out of boredom I guess, I took the stick… flower… and I put the end of the stick into one of the crevices. “Mom, by time this tree grows up around this flower stem, I’ll be done with all of my treatment.” I said.

This became our new marker. Our gauge for how much time I had left for treatment. So every time I went for treatment, we’d check the stick. Thinking back, it was kind of ridiculous I guess, but for some reason it gave me something to look forward to. – And actually we checked on the stick… err flower long after my treatments were finished.

When my name was finally called, we would get up and slowly head back to the chemo room. Sometimes it was just my mom and I. Sometimes it was my mom, dad and myself.

When we reached the chemo room, usually a tall nurse by the name of CJ would meet us at the door. He was a super nice guy, and like Miss Cindy he would hug you and try to cheer you up, but there wasn’t any cheerin’ this fella up!

“This will be one more down Ryan… You are getting there. Next thing you know it will be over… Are you ready?” he would say.

You see, I had mixed feelings about this whole thing. Here was this guy CJ, a great guy, being as nice as he possibly could.—Trying to give me a pep talk and be my friend… but at times I felt like I was being coerced into a 3-hour stay in hell.—And I fell for the same trick every single time.—Smile. Hug. Vomit. Repeat.

As I entered the chemo room, I’d see all of the other kids going through chemo themselves. Some seemed to be doing better than others. It was just never anything that I got used to. I couldn’t help but find myself staring at other kids, wondering about their stories and how they felt at that moment. Were they scared? How did treatment make them feel?

CJ would lead me to a chair where he would start my IV and strap my wrist to an arm board. (No, I was not behind glass with a crowd of victims watching.) Then he would start the nasty stuff, chemo.

Treatments seemed to take forever… and the side effects (or maybe it was just my reaction) were awful, which is no secret. I’d get anxious, depressed… nauseated of course and impatient. This would go on all afternoon.

This is when my Walkman and tapes my brother and I recorded would come in handy. I’d listen to my favorite songs for some of the time, and that would help for some of the time… but not for the whole time unfortunately.

After a while, the calming ability of the music wore off. The ability to look ahead and be excited about a G.I. Joe would wear off. Miss Cindy dropping by with toys would have absolutely zero effect on me. I would just become indescribably sad and depressed.

This is when my mom would spend endless time coaching me through the rest of the treatment. It was that last bit of a struggle in any situation where you need a mental push from someone other than yourself. I was 9, but I knew this all had to be done. So I did it.

The whole process from leaving the house in the morning, to stopping at the gas station, to stopping at McDonalds and of course arriving at the clinic were just incremental steps of dread with a few glimpses of joy. – And it all came to its culmination in these last few moments of treatment with my mom sitting there with me holding my hand.

After finishing the day’s treatment. Miss Cindy and my mom would wheel me out to the car in a wheelchair. I was literally delirious and would tell every single person I passed on the way out either “Hi!” or “Bye!” It was actually kind of funny.

After I was buckled into the passenger’s seat with a pan for the unexpected (actually, expected) vomit, we would head straight over to the Ronald McDonald house… in a hurry! (Oh heck, it’s McDonalds again.) That place was pretty awesome.

The Ronald McDonald house in Atlanta was a cozy little house tucked away in a small patch of woods right around the corner from the clinic. It had everything that any other cozy house would have including a living room, kitchen and of course my favorite, the play room… which was usually totally freed up as most of the kids staying there were not up for playing or couldn’t be around others.

Often times we would just barely “land safely” in our room at the Ronald McDonald House before I started losing my lunch after chemo. – Luckily “lunch” was just made up of cheese crackers or something else on the lighter side.

I would lay in the bed from afternoon through the night and my whole body would shake as I heaved continuously. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t eat… and I could barely drink. Lucky for my mom, I couldn’t even complain. (But I am now!)

I remember just lying there being in and out of sleep, my mom wiping my mouth with a warm rag, the phone ringing with family checking in on me and a surreal feeling that never seemed to completely go away. Maybe it was the drugs, who knows. The weird thing is, it also felt normal to me.

The people who stayed in the house all had their own story. But we all had the same fight.—Getting through cancer.

In many ways we were like an actual family. Sometimes we’d eat together, everyone supported each other and I remember really feeling that while staying there. If a family in the house needed some help, or something picked up at the store, there was always someone there to help get it done.

Who knows, outside of the house, if some of us had met on the street, we may have totally overlooked each other. Some of us might have not wasted a minute giving the other directions to a destination. Outside of this little place, we might have ignored the other person in the kitchen who needed help changing their flat tire on the side of the road… But here, we all were gently forced to come together.—And we all fought together.

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