You can read more about Marc’s life, heroically recounted and humbly submitted, here each month.
My brother-in-law Marc Rosenzweig was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2012 and Stage 4 lung cancer in 2013. Borrowed Time is a storytelling project about his journey to the present as told to me by him.
March 18, 2017
I’m standing in a small, dark room. I could not be more relieved.
First, just being upright feels like an act of defiance. I’ve spent so much of the last six months lying on my back. Last year, the doctors at the University of Michigan tumor board wouldn’t approve brain surgery because they thought it would leave me paralyzed. Turns out, they were only half right.
My new doctors at Karmanos Cancer Center removed the tumor from my brain in October, and what did I have to show for it? Twenty-six staples running the length of my skull, immobility on the left side of my body, 6,300 songs in my iTunes library and plenty of time to listen to them in my childhood bedroom.
Actually, the bedroom my brother and I shared 30 years ago now has an Airdyne bike and sewing machine. The cork-lined wall is gone, along with the Styx and Journey ticket stubs, the miraculous USA Hockey Sports Illustrated cover, the tasteful Farah Fawcett poster.
I moved into my sister’s old room, which still has the state-of-the-art 1973 Nutone intercom built into the wall. It doesn’t work anymore, so instead of my mom yelling into the mic (always yelling) for us to get up already and get to school, I’d call my parents upstairs when I needed their help in the middle of the night. Or, if I was too hoarse to speak, text with my good hand.
What’s that you say, iTunes shuffle play? I should take a road trip? Seems totally rational to usher in spring with a road trip. That would be the perfect way to trade the well-wishers and worriers at home for the freedom of the open road.
Back in November, I was dying. Chemotherapy had become too toxic. The next best option was to wait for a phase II clinical trial for a cancer inhibitor that might keep the irrepressible cancer cells from congregating into another tumor.
Once I was admitted to a drug trial in January and my fevers subsided in February, I didn’t feel like I was dying. But I definitely didn’t feel like I was living either.
Plus, I had a ’99 Corvette convertible parked 20 feet from my bed. All winter, my dad had been starting the car regularly to make sure it would run when I was cleared to drive. He was less confident in my ability to take it to Chicago and then Colorado, Phoenix and California.
The mechanic that I spoke to admired my ’Vette — and my drive — but expressed doubt about putting on a hitch to pull a wheelchair across the country.
If the roundabouts on Orchard Lake Road were any indication, 5,000 miles started to seem ambitious, even with designated drivers who had offered (or been offered) to drive and house me for different legs of the trip.
But I couldn’t get Chicago out of my head. The city, not the band. My son Sammy is a sophomore studying graphic design at Columbia College. I suggested that we go to the Art Institute, and he told me he’s been there “a number of times.” I had an old friend in Glencoe and a sense that Whitesnake was singing about me.
Here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known
Like a drifter, I was born to walk alone
And I’ve made up my mind
I ain’t wasting no more time.
So I’m relieved to be upright. I’m relieved to be in this unlit, unfamiliar room in Sammy’s South Loop apartment. Relieved for my time on the road, might as well have been a dog with his head stuck out the window. I didn’t even mind the looks I’d get — first indignant, then pitying — when I parked my fast car in a handicapped spot and then slowly hobbled out, as if the heavy plastic boot on my foot explained both.
I didn’t bring a wheelchair, but there was a hitch … my bladder hasn’t been the same since chemo.
From the suburbs, I had realized I was going to be cutting it close. I put my faith in Waze, braced myself for Chicago traffic and made sure Sammy had the garage door open so I could zip up the circular ramp.
I’m relieved to be relieving myself. Even if I didn’t make it down the hall to Sammy’s bathroom. I had to go. I went. I took no pleasure in the warm sensation of wetting myself and whatever I was standing on, but I feel no shame. ’Cause I know what it means … to walk along the lonely street of dreams.
“Sammy, I need to borrow a change of clothes. Where are your pants?”
“You’re standing on them.”