John, Sophie, Grant, and Jackie; May 2021
Home is where the heart is…held safely, lovingly, and earnestly. Home is where empathy and love flow.
One month from today, I will be Home for the first time in 6 months. I dreamed of returning fully well, triumphant, and free from the burden of future treatment. I won’t get all that, but…I am still alive, and I’ve earned and can afford a break.
There is also fun to have and work to do! Our son will graduate from high school on June 8th! And I’m still here, even though I wasn’t supposed to be. I’ll have the honor of delivering John Carroll University’s commencement address on May 22nd. And I’m still here, even though I was predicted to be dead months ago. Our daughter will be preparing for a semester abroad next fall, and our son will move into college. I’ll be here for that too. John and I will officially become empty-nesters in September, something we both dreamed about and kinda dreaded, the way most people do. But what is the “nest,” really? What is home?
I think a lot about home. Sometimes, I’m grateful to feel like a global citizen with “home inside.” I’ve always loved to travel and incorporate myself into other cultures. Home is wherever I am, from Detroit to Bilbao to Boston to Chicago to Shaker Heights. Lately, family and friends have visited Istanbul, connecting me to my American home, and we’ve made new Turkish friends we won’t ever forget.
Sometimes, I’m simply homesick for our kids, friends, house, kitchen, bed, and dog that have surrounded me for the better part of the last 2 decades. Always, I’m grateful to feel virtually held, by friends and family that connect me/us to that home at every turn. Photos and videos from a college visit or track meet we couldn’t attend. WhatsApp videos with our kids, sharing the details of their lives and occasionally pretending they still need our advice. Calls with Carnella, who is staying at our house, giving me the scoop on our son and the dog too. I’d like to think we were involved in our kids’ lives in the right way before I had to move to Istanbul, and that as much as I fantasize about family dinners, our son would be living his life very much as he is now…leaving us in the dust a lot of the time. It’s only natural at 18.
In May of last year, our little family (and dog) were all together, on the other side of one round of surgery/chemo and hoping I could keep this cancer at bay with natural treatments. Being altogether was, and continues to be, all I really need. What I dream most about being home is just being present with whoever is home, whenever they are. Family meals when we can. Just cooking favorite foods for the kids, John, and/or myself when we can’t. Being there for big events like graduation and also casual conversations that take place easily, without having to operate across a 7/8-hour time difference. Not just hearing about but also seeing our kids in action in their summer jobs and the fun they have planned with friends. I can tell a lot just by the way they walk in the door. That’s what I miss.
And the dog, Rocky! Will he even remember me after 6 months? I think so. How does he make sense of such a long absence? I’m pretty sure I’ll be forgiven (or it maybe will be forgotten). The good news is I can walk him around the block again…I couldn’t before we left. He’ll enjoy food scraps again…I couldn’t stand at the stove to cook before I left. Those little victories matter. I must count them, even as my body isn’t “fixed” yet. In any case, he sure is handsome, and I miss him a lot!
But, of course, I’d like to be…done.
I’d like to throw an “I’m-free-of-cancer-no-need-to-worry-about-me-anymore!” party and see everyone who supported us near and far. The truth is I can’t. Even though the pandemic is over for most everyone, I’m still immunocompromised, receiving chemo, and masked, and we’re not sure how much time I’ll really have at home. That will all be determined as I leave Istanbul, after getting scanned and measured in every way. Maybe I’ll have 20 days at home, then I have to come back. Maybe we can manage some bridging care in the US (a euphemism for fractionated IP chemo that mimics what I have been getting here). In any case, my carefree time at home is limited. That makes it both more enjoyable and urgent. Limits make meaning, but they can also be stressful. Living in the present, hoping for a future without limits will continue to be my work. Time is precious.
Luckily, I love international travel. I just don’t love being away from my family. Thank goodness our kids are old enough to have busy lives of their own now. I don’t take that for granted for a second. If I could just rest at home, maybe they’d be too busy for us anyway…
What’s surprising perhaps is that I will also miss Turkey because my hands and heart have been held here. Sure I’ve taken 18 chemos and as many full-body hyperthermia treatments, 44 local hyperthermia and hyperbaric oxygen treatments, sat through countless hours of nutritional infusions, been poked more days than not over 6 months (for a total of ~100 times, not counting the occasional double and triple redos). I’ve been in and, thank goodness, mostly out of pain, occupied a foreign body with a swollen abdomen and dresses I hope I’ll not need someday. I’ve struggled up and down Istanbul’s hills trying to build back my strength and my glutes…but I’ve also enjoyed delightful Turkish food, ancient sites, and breathtaking views, learned the culture from the inside out, including some beautiful language and made real friends along the way. From the people who work in our hotel and are caring friends, especially Suleyman and family, to the amazing people at Chemothermia (Dr. Slocum, Sirin, Noor, Halva, Ilena, Omar, Aran, Furkan, Ahmet, Eray, and Seren), it will be strange not to see them every day. Dr. Slocum likes to encouragingly say, “You’ll miss me!” when I get to remission. He’s right. I will. I won’t miss the treatments, but I’ll miss the people.
I’ve had unforgettable times with friends visiting Istanbul and conversations/emails/notes/messages with others rooting for me from afar. This little apartment is home too and, in many ways, all the space I really need. We cooked and ate here, worked here, talked, and watched too much Netflix. John and I have a lot of shared memories here too now. I’ll especially remember the fun times we were able to have on weeks off of chemo.
What’s not here always though… What is central to my idea of home… always, is our family: John, Sophie, and Grant. My heart is always with them. They are Home with a capital H. It’s time to reincorporate myself into their usual lives in the way I used to enjoy, at close range and uninterrupted by IVs and difficult chemo days, at least for a while. It’s time to remember something about what my own “usual life” was and imagine what it might be again. I hope someday for that life to resume, in whatever form it will take.
For now, I have to be satisfied with…and am quite excited by…the idea that I’ll be Home, at least for a while.