Andrew, last year: "Oh, you should come up here for this! You'd love every minute of it. You could come stay with us, and we'd love to have you visit. Why don't you try to arrange to come up here?" In the end, I didn't do it, and had good reasons for not doing so, but I spent the rest of 2001 doing two things: kicking myself for not going, and promising myself that I would go in 2002.
The event: Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival. Location: Champaign, Illinois. Date: late April, 2002.In 2001, I was too ill to attend. Realistically, I knew that I was capable of driving to Illinois, but that once I got there, I would be too exhausted to actually attend the event. So I bowed to the dry, spinsterish voice of reason, and stayed home.
Since missing last year's event I promised myself that I would find a way to be at this year's festival; that surely, nothing would come up that would mean that I would have to miss the festival yet again.
Nothing, I suppose, short of a family health crisis. It's the inherent nature of crises; they come up right when you think life's sailing along just fine, right about five minutes after you've decided to relax and enjoy life for the non-threatening entity that it is.
It's not even right to say that the plans to go to the festival were in jeopardy. Quite frankly, the plans didn't matter any more. It's trite to say that a medical diagnosis can change everything, but my father's being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this month has forced a radical shift in the priorities of every member of my family. My father, previously settling into a new (and quiet) retirement, is currently hospitalized and finishing up his first chemotherapy treatment. My mother is spending the overwhelming majority of her hours at the hospital.
We've called each other, family members and I, more in the past two weeks than we normally do in months.
Pancreatic cancer is vicious. The statistics are lousy at best; Dad's best hope at this point is that the combination of 5-fu, leucovorin, and gemzar going through his veins every twenty-eighth day will kill enough cancer cells in his bone marrow, chest cavity, and pancreas so that he will at least become a candidate for surgery.
I've been instructed by my mother to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. They want me to wait until we've got some information back on the effects of the chemotherapy before they decide when they want me to make the seven-hour drive to Arkansas. I've asked to come out there, repeatedly; my current situation means that I can stay for as long as Mom and Dad need me.
But Mom keeps saying, "Wait, hon. There's nothing you can do right now. I need you to be prepared for the possibility that I may need you more later. For now, what you've got to do is continue living your day-to-day life. I know it's hard. But it's the best you can do for us right now. I don't want to ask you to come out here to help until we really need you."
Mom knows me well; she asked if I had any travel plans lined up for the next few months. I've earned my nickname as the Queen of Road Trips; she was right to suspect that I might've had something planned. I told her about the festival, and that I've held off buying airfare for the time being, until we have a clearer picture of where we stand—where Dad stands.
"I remember you talking about this while you were here for Christmas," she said over the phone. "You were really excited about it. I'd really like for you to go ahead and book your tickets. I know you'll be worried about us. Just take your cell phone with you, and keep it charged, and make sure there's a way we can get in touch with you."
My sister, characteristically, was less circumspect—and more airline-savvy, having flown more than my mother. "Oh, I've got it. You're afraid you're going to fly up there for something you've been excited about for months, and that you'll get a call twenty-four hours later from either Mom or me to let you know that your father's gotten all contrary and gotten real sick the moment your flight took off, and you'll be stuck up there with no way to get home, since all the cheap tickets are non-transferable."
The way she put it sounded just like Dad. "Yeah—you think he'd mark it on the calendar?"
"Oh, probably. Seriously, though, you should go. I know it doesn't seem right, but you've got to get up each day with the knowledge that yeah, Dad's cancer could kill him, but you just can't stop your life to mourn that fact every single day."
I still haven't booked the tickets yet. I have a few more details to iron out—such as who I'm staying with when, and who's picking me up in Bloomington and taking me back there at the end of the festival—but those things are minor. Truthfully, I'm waiting to hear some preliminary results back from Dad's first round of chemo.
I want to go, but I want to go with a reasonably untroubled heart. I'm not sure I'll get that wish, but it can't hurt to ask.