Get in the Damned Car and Drive to Tijuana

family story

I don’t know why I thought enormous stress, lack of sleep, and Terry’s health crisis would magically not impact my fear of flying. Yes I’d worked hard on dissipating my claustrophobia over the last few years, under normal circumstances I could fly alone. Normal got on a plane and left a few weeks ago.

At first I thought just talking to the stewardess would be enough, but it took so long for them to close the damned doors. Finally the panic crawled up my throat so far I just knew I had to leave.

“I’m getting off the plane.”
“What?” Apparently she had never seen a grown man flee a plane shortly before takeoff.
“I can’t fly, I’m having a panic attack.”

Terry really needed to see me. I really needed to see Terry. Shit, shit, SHIT! Its a short walk to long term parking from the Monterey airport gates, I stomped and trudged and cursed. Nothing to do but get in the car and drive to Tijuana. I’d done it a million times before (AKA never), I paid the extra insurance on the ticket to get a refund should I flee in panic (like I just did), the drive should be a breeze. Just 8 hours, like rolling down a really long hill. Mary was with the kids, they were over the moon about it, I could use the time to process, I would still see Terry today.

It took a while for the panic to dissipate. I felt horrible for subtracting hours from my time with her, causing her stress. I had slept poorly the night before, the panic was no big surprise. Usually the open road calms me, now the vast expanse of I5 horizon just brought the stress back. Time to call my support team, first Jan then Lora to get me down there. I knew Jan would have the sage wisdom of a cancer survivor and my soul-sister Lora would have the time and compassion to talk my ear off for four or five hours. Turns out she had wisdom to share too.

“What’s important is that you’re going, and you’re going to love and support Terry.”

Only Lora and I can make each other laugh in the middle of a category 5 shit-storm, she cheered me up as I blew past the endless industrial Ag before the LA grapevine cut us off for a time. I tried to imagine pulling up to the clinic not looking like I’d been sucked through a 450 mile long keyhole. Time to eat some bad road food.

It turns out I’m only a little bit better at crossing borders into other countries than I am at flying. My GPS got sluggish in Mexico, then stopped working. It takes 7 days for my carrier to turn on calling from Mexico, I was lost in about 2 min. Endless shanty town, endless traffic. Scared gringo has panic attack on freeway, after panic attack on plane, never heard from again. Turn on the radio, start singing, find the Pacific and you’ll find Terry. Eventually the GPS kicked in – sorta. It was a few roads behind, but I figured it out.

I pulled into a neighborhood that was a mixture of upcoming hip, and ancient crumbling. Organic coffee and elote from a cart, teens with iPhones stuck in their ears and toothless grandmothers knitting in the sun. The street was right, the ocean was just where she said it would be, I couldn’t find the clinic. “Yes yes, there is a hospital there. Just start walking and I’ll wave to you when you get there.” The bartender was sympathetic and kind to what must have been the third or fourth lost American to knock on his door that day. Sure enough, past the blue barrel, up the steps, softly embossed on polished glass: Hope For Cancer.

Open the door and you are at home.

Some of this you might not believe, because it sounds a bit like a fantasy. Please understand I’m very protective of Terry, I want her to be well cared for, really nothing is too good for her right now. I honestly cannot imagine more compassionate medical care. Terry may disagree, she’s there 24/7, but everyone I interacted with was kind, always kind, in every way. These are people who are somehow able to communicate that whether they’re administering a treatment, changing your sheets or arranging your schedule, they are happy to sit and hold your hand for a few minutes as well. You are being ministered to by people who’s hearts speak first. Perfect medicine.

The air is saturated day and night with fresh cut fruit and flowers that are somewhere between lilac and honeysuckle, a far cry from the cleansers, medicines and myriad off-gassing equipment typically found in hospitals. Still there are medical procedures underway, some surgical, sterile routines strictly followed, everything you would require from a hospital. I flashed back to our ER visit where doctors balanced glass jars of extracted fluids and bloodied syringes on the edge of the bed without warning Terry who’s feet might kick them over in a moment.

Navigating the halls takes practice, it is labyrinthian, but twists and turns open to a small garden solarium with a waterfall, overstuffed chairs to sit and visit, art, an open roof dining area, staff, patients and family everywhere. This is a social environment, nothing stops. This is a place for the living.

“Room 35?”
“Yes, let me take you up there.” Was he a doctor, a nurse, an administrator? It didn’t matter, he made it his job.

There she was, finally in my arms. Do you always inhale deeply when you embrace someone you love who has been gone too long? I do. Nuzzle her hair or shoulder and breathe in. She is safe, she is vital. I can feel her presence with my hands. I relax in a way I haven’t for weeks. The plane panic and drive became history, whatever it took to get here was worth it.

By the time I arrived several of Terry’s most stressful symptoms had either lessened or disappeared. She was able to rest more comfortably than she had in months, eat more and get out for walks by the ocean. She glowed in a way she hadn’t glowed for a long time. This is of course only the beginning of her journey, it may be more weeks before significant, measurable changes are assessed. This just a husband’s sense, the creature who lives with her and sometimes measures the day by her moods. When she hurts, my world changes. That’s just how it is.

Suddenly we are at home again. Isn’t it funny how couples can make homes wherever they go? We go deep for a few minutes, then we dither about. I talk about the kids, I fret, she accepts my attentions. We shuffle things around in the small, comfortable room. We get situated and marvel at time away from the kids.

After an hour or two we ventured out, introductions swarmed as we went downstairs. This Mother and Daughter team, this Father, Mother, Daughter team, a young husband and wife. You’ve only been here two days? Terry, you look so much happier now that Tim is here. Out the front door, down the road a block or two, we chose a stylish restaurant serving Italian for dinner. You could have hit the surf with a crouton we were so close to the beach. She had a Ceasar, I the pasta with wine. We dined like royalty for $20, my first taste of US currency imbalance. This was Terry’s cheat, a meal away with me, skipping an in-room therapy. After a walk we cuddled up in her room to watch Harry Potter DVD I’d brought.

I slept for ten hours straight. The last time I did that we had one kid.

Right about now this is starting to sound like a vacation for Tim, and that is kinda true. I got to see Terry through her myriad of healing treatments, some applied by her, some by staff. I got to see her getting stronger. The community there was so welcoming, I instantly felt a part of everything. But I also watched her struggling to catch up with the crisis that led her here, struggling with the weight of being her, of what was going on in her body. She opens up to me a little about that, but not a lot.

Breakfast was simple, delicious and light, like every meal. Fresh fruit and porridge, frittata with vegetables and fruit, lunch was salmon in mushroom sauce, dinner a salad with grated blanched zucchini smothered in fresh pesto. We could not have asked for more vital, satisfying food.

I got to experience some of the therapies first hand (I’ll skip the coffee enema and antigen vaccine thank you!) The electronic pulse therapy erased my driving back ache in under 3 minutes. I joined in on some of the emotional processing work, as its believed that the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of ones life are essential to address in order to support the body in healing from cancer. Her schedule is packed from morning to sleep, up to ten therapies a day, including consultation with her physician and the endless tracking of vitals. Clients call this cancer boot camp, they ain’t kidding.

On the second day Dr. Tony, who heads the clinic, came and talked to everyone for several hours. He answered every question with detailed medical expertise, compassion and humor. Antigen therapies, targeted viral therapies, how does cancer change its strategy to survive? How to keep ahead of its evolution. Cancer stem cells vs other types of cancer cells. Who to buy what home equipment from? Why the timing of this treatment? What is complimentary and conflicting? Diet, attitude, therapies designed to disrupt cancer, sugar vs protein, and on and on and on. God or spirit came up a few times. Its clear many people on staff understand a spiritual reckoning is part of any healing process.

That evening I stayed with Terry through several therapies, playing youtube videos, being entertaining (I know, hard to imagine but I can make her laugh). Such a short visit, I can tell she’s already getting upset that I’m leaving even though she tells me its time to go back to the kids. I am torn, I want to stay and take care of her until her time here is over, but the kids need me. I’m capable of deep caring, but splitting my attention over long periods of time – lets just say it doesn’t stay pretty long. I know she’ll be fine, but I want to help her be stronger, move faster. In the end I realize I need to get out of her way. She has to see all the way into this, into her own spirit. I can only hold her back right now.

It was a little cooler that morning, the coastal fog was in, but light. Terry walked me down the road to the organic coffee house before I left.

“Decaf?” I asked the woman opening up.
“No.” I’m given the smile saved for the painfully old, American and unhip.

The shop had organic food of all kinds, pancake mix good for diabetes, chocolate, honey and unlabeled wine. Raw wood crates had been artfully joined from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, achieving an elegant reclaimed feeling.

“The wine is organic, this one is not too sweet.” I managed to spend $35 dollars on a bag of food in TJ, not an easy thing to do.

We walked back to the car, then back to the clinic steps. No tears, work lays ahead for both of us. We’ll talk tonight, maybe from the road. One final nuzzled inhale. I headed for the border with wine, a pesto Panini and a heart filled with hope. These people know a lot about cancer, and quite a bit about providing care, Terry is strong, they work well together. The wine and Panini both turned out to be quite good (yes I saved the wine for home).

Terry’s first visit to the clinic is a three week intensive. She’ll return with equipment and treatments, have biweekly calls with her doctor and go back to Tijuana twice before the end of the initial year. She’ll consult again with her oncologist when she comes home, exploring additional therapies. If she keeps improving at this rate, her first return home could well be worthy of great celebration. The road is wide and well met.

Lora comforted me on the drive back. She’d had a rare night of ten hours sleep herself, was regally holding court from her bed as I battled the high winds just north of LA. The last hour home I road with just music, dreaming of the little ones I was about to submerge myself in.

That night I finally felt buoyant for them, like I had arrived at a strength in myself that could lift them. Not because I know the future for Terry or us, but because I know she is right where she needs to be, surrounded by people to support her in the way she needs to be supported. I believe in her so strongly, and I rest well knowing I have done my part for now.


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