Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Long Drive Home

Or “There’s no place like home…”
Thursday, July 11, 2013

After a night of codeine enhanced dreams (like I was melting sand, and one time I dreamt I was in a Native American sweat lodge) I woke up at 5 am. Now normally that would seem early but having slept most of seven hours in a row for the first time since Saturday night, I felt almost human. I still had that post-hospital, highly medicated fog to my brain, and I was still walking like Tim Conway but clarity and consciousness was slowly re-entering my brain.

Danelle and I got up, got dressed and made our way to Panera Bread Company for breakfast. After getting a coffee infusion and Danelle receiving her minimum daily allowance of peanut butter and Diet Pepsi we got on the road. Since Danelle would be doing all of the driving, the goal for the day was to drive five or six of the almost eleven hour drive. We figured that would put us more than half way home but not wear her down any further than the hospital ordeal already had.

On a side note, this is really our story, not just my story. In these blogs you are really only getting 1/3 of the story because Danelle owns another part, as do my children, family and friends who had to receive the news that I was dying. I’m sure you will hear from them later.

You should also know that Danelle Cauley, the love of my life, is my hero. When you meet her she comes off as a high-energy bundle of joy but what you don’t see is the spiritual and emotional superhero that lies underneath. If my faith has stayed strong during this past week or so it’s because her spirit has reinforced me. When doubt has crept into my soul, she has held the candle of hope to help me find the ways back out. When I have been racked with sobs, she has held me and cried with me. When I was emotionally spent (being a true introvert when dealing with people one-on-one) after just three phone calls to explain the situation, she picked up the phone and called literally dozens of people. She has graciously handled calls from our beloved Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, spoke to my District Superintendent, fielded calls from friends, relatives, and church members. If SuperWoman has a secret identity I am sure it is Danelle Cauley. One of her sisters got it right when they told her that she was the “strongest of the bunch.” Were it not for her, there is a fair chance I’d be curled up in a corner and waiting to die. She gives me a million reasons to live!

Now, on with the journey. What can you say about a multi-hour car ride? Not much, we talked about everything and nothing. We skirted around the difficult stuff because we didn’t want to have to pull over on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and bawl our eyes out. I can just see it now, “No officer we are fine, we just needed to pull over and cry for a while. We are fine to continue on…” We talked about going to Disney, about getting some home projects done so they wouldn’t be hanging over my head, and about what to have for lunch. See, nothing exciting, but like I said yesterday, never undervalue the mundane; it gives you something to fall back on when your world falls apart.

We stopped for lunch at Bob Evans, not normally my pick but I knew they’d have comfort food. Sure enough, chicken potpie in the middle of summer was just what I needed to start putting some color back in my cheeks. Conversation was light over lunch, Danelle fielded another five or six phone calls I’m sure. At this time I was still not quite ready to talk to a lot of people. I did speak to my sister and a couple of others to just let them know we were in the car. Thank God for text messages that allow you to reach out and communicate without having to speak.

After lunch Danelle felt somewhat renewed and decided to drive a couple of more hours to get to somewhere nice to stay for the evening. For the second time in as many days, Bishop Ward called to let us know that she was lifting us up in prayer and that my United Methodist family would be with us throughout the whole of the journey. It’s funny, when the phone rang and she identified herself I simply said, “Hi Hope…” then I thought for a second and said, “I mean Bishop Hope, Bishop Ward, um,” she just laughed and said, “Marty we’ve known each other for a long time, you can call me whatever you like.”

Having abandoned the turnpike for the rolling hills of Virginia we were weaving our way through small towns, past vineyards, and across farm country when another number showed up on my phone. When I answered it was a physician’s liaison from the Duke Cancer Clinic. My primary care physician back home had finally seen all of my reports, and got on the phone to help us get seen as quickly as possible. The woman on the other end of the line asked “Can you make it to Duke tomorrow morning at 8 am?” Without hesitation Danelle said, “Tell her yes.”

I am not sure I realized what a “miracle moment” this was. This whole chaotic and difficult journey has been punctuated by “miracle moments.” I am becoming aware that our lives are filled with M2 (miracle moments) all the time that we just don’t take time to notice. This one was that it is virtually unheard of to get a diagnosis of cancer in one state and be seen in by a leading oncologist at a major cancer center 38 hours later. What I do know is that God worked through Dr. David Browder, his staff at the Boice-Willis Primary Care Clinic and the folks they use as physician’s liaison and pulled off a miracle that put me on the road to meeting Dr. Hope…but that's another story for another day.

In nearly seven years of marriage Danelle has never driven more than five hours, unassisted in a row. She has made the trip to our mountain home or back a time or two, but she avoided making the journey alone and having to drive the whole way at all cost. Now my SuperWoman wife was ready to finish out an eleven-hour trip and then turn around and drive another couple of hours in the morning to get me to the Duke Cancer Center.  We eventually pulled over and had a somewhat extensive conversation with the physician’s liaison laying out the types of tumors I had, how long I had had the diagnosis (20 hours at this point), and what I needed to bring with me the next day. Along with being a spiritual and emotional powerhouse, Danelle might be the most organized person I know. She made a list and checked it twice. She was going to get this whole treatment ball rolling if she had to push it herself. My discharge packet became precious cargo, and the DVD with all the pictures of my scans was treated like a top-secret package for the president. Her mission was clear and you bet she accepted it.

From this point on Danelle drove with one objective in mind, get us home. We stopped only to get out, re-caffeinate, go to the rest room, and walk around so she could wake back up from hours of highway driving on I-95. God was with us because there were no real significant tie-ups, not even around Richmond (yet another “miracle moment”). Finally we pulled off the highway and made our way home.

As we pulled into the driveway, all I could think of were the famous words of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, “There’s not place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” If you have ever been away from home for an extended period of time, you know there is something spiritual about opening the door and feeling like you are back in your “place.”

I have never been so happy to sit at my kitchen counter, eat take out and just be home. That night we spent time with Lydia, explained all we knew up to that point, cried some more (good thing we buy Kleenex at Sam’s Club), and laughed until our sides hurt. We made sarcastic cancer jokes. I decided I'm going to buy a t-shirt that says “I’m Not Dead Yet” (quote from Monty Python movie) to remind people that I’m not done. Never in my life has my bed felt so good, just to be home, in my place, somehow put the world back into some sense of order. Oh, don’t get me wrong, my pillow was wet with tears, but they were tears of both sadness and joy on that evening because I was back in my place.

It doesn’t really matter whether it's a shanty or a palace; your place restores your soul. Your place is where you can hide from the world. Your place is where there are people who love you, even if you leave laundry on the floor and haven’t shaved for days. I understood something that evening that I’ve known all along, but like so many of life lessons it became even more precious. We are a people who need a place. That’s why I like the translation of that famous text “My Father’s house has room to spare…I’m going to prepare a place for you…” (John 14, Common English Bible). We are a people who need a place.

Where is your place? Do you really value and appreciate your place or are you always dissatisfied and looking for the next place? Don’t get me wrong, I have a long list of things I’d like to do to my “place” but I also appreciate just having a place where I can hide from the world, where I can meet God and be angry with Him over the stupid cancer and give Him thanks for the joys of my life.

Gracious God I am ever thankful that you have given me this place with these people. Help me to remember to focus on how blessed I am, and to give you thanks for simple things, like having a place. In the name of the One who prepares my next place, Jesus, I pray, Amen

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