Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words | Chapter 17 of 29 - Part: 1 of 3

Author: Michael Ausiello | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 4304 Views | Add a Review

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10.

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Michael Ausiello

June 29, 2014 • Image


On Friday, Kit completed his fourth week of radiation (that’s 20 sessions, one a day with weekends off). He has five sessions left, and then he rests/recovers for a few weeks before his doctors determine what’s next—a decision that will hinge on the results of his next scan at the end of July.

The very promising news: During the second week of radiation, Kit began experiencing a sharp decrease in symptoms. By the third week, the excruciating pain that was making it difficult for him to stand, let alone walk more than three steps, had largely vanished. He was still having discomfort, but for the first time in months it was manageable. Clearly, the radiation is decreasing the size of The Lurker, but, again, we won’t know how much the bastard has shrunk until scan-time.

Oh, and his hair is growing back. It’s approaching buzz-cut length, which is making for some VERY satisfying (for me, at least) head rubs.

Kit was officially on the rebound.

After enduring a demoralizing couple of months filled with intensifying pain and crushing setbacks, Kit—with twenty of twenty-five radiation treatments under his belt—had experienced a dramatic turnaround. The radiation oncologist overseeing his case expressed genuine surprise at how quickly he’d begun to feel relief in the rectal region (after just one week/five sessions).

Clearly, the radiation had succeeded where the chemo had failed, improving Kit’s quality of life in the process. The sharp, debilitating pain that had rendered him immobile had all but vanished. He was able to sit down like a normal human being again, albeit not for long periods and with the aid of a donut cushion. His appetite had returned, although he still remained somewhat skittish about eating constipation-causing foods like red meat and french fries because, frustratingly, bowel movements continued to be a challenge. (In a major can’t-win-for-losing type situation, the radiation had diminished the tumor, but it had left in its wake significant irritation.) All told, though, Kit was in a much better spot physically than he had been a month ago. We’d finally drawn a long straw!

Regrettably, none of this had officially changed the overall prognosis. Although Dr. Davis had not explicitly weighed in on this topic, my gut (and covert online research) told me that Davis had factored into her dire one-year forecast an initial positive response to treatment. As we’d been warned at the outset, one of the myriad difficulties with high-grade neuroendocrine cancer of the rectum was that these tumors were relentless fuckers; they tended to grow back quickly.

Kit’s upbeat attitude suggested that his focus was on winning this battle without worrying too much about its effect on the war at large, although he had heartbreakingly remarked to me yesterday while we were leaving radiation session No. 20, “Maybe I’ll get another five years out of this life.” Yep, the best-case scenario floating around in Kit’s head had him dead before he turned forty-six—and I couldn’t help but think even that outlook seemed extremely optimistic.

In the meantime, I felt a tremendous responsibility to make the most of this window of relief Kit found himself in before it closed, possibly for good. So I channeled my inner travel agent and started brainstorming ideas for a getaway that both incorporated another of Kit’s true loves (the ocean) while also taking into account some of his ongoing challenges (pooping and sitting down for prolonged periods).

Kit was not the least bit interested in assisting me with this travel project. I’d traditionally been the vacation planner in our relationship and—despite the decidedly higher stakes surrounding this excursion—he was in no rush to fix what wasn’t broken. And while I loved the trust he put in me to oversee such an important task, his seeming indifference only compounded my stress. If the final vacation of Kit’s life proved to be a bust, there would be no one to blame but me. On the bright side, if there was one thing I’d learned from my many years in the breaking TV news biz, it was that I worked well under pressure.

I suggested to Kit that we invite his parents along and he signed off on that proposal without hesitation. Bob and Marilyn had visited us over two long weekends since the beginning of Kit’s treatment, loading their SUV up with a variety of Kit’s rural Pennsylvania favorites (blueberry custard pie from the food auction, his mom’s homemade—I can’t even type this without wincing—stuffed pig’s stomach) in the hopes of jump-starting his then feeble appetite. They’d been crashing at the Jane Hotel, which was literally right up the street from our apartment. (Were a longer stay to be in their future—which seemed like an inevitability—Kit had already decided that he would give them the keys to his Brooklyn man cave, which had gone largely unused as of late; of course, first we would need to delicately explain to them why their now married son had felt the need to get his own apartment in a different borough, and then he—or I—would need to make a trip across the East River to safely stash Kit’s suitcase of sex toys.) I was sure they would have preferred to visit more often and stick around longer, but they’d been extremely respectful of Kit’s need for space, and his strong desire that they not have orchestra seats to his suffering.

To help mitigate their feeling of isolation, I’d been providing them daily briefings by phone. And if Kit was feeling strong enough to participate, I’d conduct the daily call via speakerphone. They always put up a strong front over the phone, but I could only imagine the hell they were going through. Now that his condition was improving, there was an opportunity for them to get some real quality time with their only child.

Needless to say, they were beyond grateful for the invitation. And ever since we’d told them that we were eyeing the weekend before the Fourth of July, a very eager Marilyn had been proactively emailing me Airbnb listings for super-cozy houses available for rent along the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

My heart, however, was set on finding something near—or along—the ocean. Preferably in the Hamptons, which ranked near the top of Kit’s list of happy places (right behind the riverfront in Millersburg and the backwoods Pennsylvania theme park time forgot, Knoebels). Wyeth had an outpost in the tony Southampton village of Sagaponack, and two summers ago, Kit and his work wife, Missi, had happily volunteered to work full-time in that location. (I spent a good chunk of every summer on the West Coast for business, including San Diego Comic-Con, so Kit’s extended Hamptons retreat worked out well with our schedules.)

It was, by Kit’s own account, the best summer of his life. When we’d catch up by phone or email or text, he’d regale me with stories of morning swims in the ocean, followed by seven-hour shifts at the store, then an evening swim in the ocean, and, lastly, dinner at his boss John’s nearby rental cabin. And unlike at home, where Kit’s pot consumption was fiercely judged and monitored by yours truly, I imagined the wacky tobacky restraints were off. Kit never outright confirmed this to me, but considering Missi was a fellow pot aficionado, it wasn’t a huge leap to take.

So dear to his heart was the summer of 2012—and so grateful was he to John for making it all possible—that for Christmas that year he sifted through the thousands of photos he’d taken during those three months, selected his fifty favorites, and after a diligent months-long retouching process, converted them into a professionally bound book. Gifts make John super-uncomfortable, so instead of handing it to him in person, Kit simply left it on the seat of his Range Rover.

The problem with the Hamptons, however, was that by June the summer housing rental stock was largely depleted. I called a few oceanfront resorts, like the ultra-swank Gurney’s in Montauk, but they were similarly booked up. And while John would’ve gladly let us all crash at his house, I was pretty sure if we stayed there, Kit—who had been on leave from Wyeth since starting treatment three months ago—would willingly, perhaps happily, get sucked into helping out at the store.

It was hard for me to adequately convey just how much Kit missed going to work every day at Wyeth, but this should paint a pretty accurate picture: When Dr. Davis broke the devastating news to us back in May that two cycles of chemo had failed to shrink Kit’s tumor, Kit fell apart in the exam room, and the first anguished words that left his mouth were “I just want to go back to work.

I so wanted that for him, too. But as far as this getaway was concerned, I wanted the four of us to have our own uninterrupted time in our own private space. I was happy to share him with his parents. But that was where I drew the line.

So I shifted my search to something smack in the middle of my retro wheelhouse: the Jersey Shore. Some of my earliest vacation memories were of my family (older brother Pete, younger brother David, Mom and Dad) renting a house just outside of Seaside Heights for two weeks every summer (long before the strip became stigmatized by a certain MTV reality show). More recently, Kit and I would occasionally escape the city on a Saturday or Sunday and drive to the Point Pleasant boardwalk with my maternal grandmother Ronnie and aunt Joan in tow. We’d spend a few hours playing Skee-Ball and coin-pusher (adding any points earned to our growing certificate of credits), followed by dinner at the nearby Shrimp Box. But Airbnb had sparse listings in both locales. And what was available required a minimum one-month stay, and Kit had another week of radiation to complete as well as more chemo on the horizon.

And that was when I had a childhood flashback. Or more like an epiphany. Call it a flashiphany.

The pink hotel in Ocean City, New Jersey.

I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of the place at which my family had vacationed some three decades ago, but I for sure remembered the color. Every inch of the ten-story structure’s art deco-y exterior was bathed in pink. And as the only high-rise building along the sleepy town’s coast, man, did it stand out. But it wasn’t the hotel’s distinctive rosy hue that triggered my brain rush. It was what was on the top floor. Actually, it was the top floor.

Resting atop this giant pink erection was a sprawling, three-thousand-square-foot penthouse apartment, featuring multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, a full-sized kitchen, a washer/dryer, and (the pièce de résistance) a massive wraparound terrace boasting unobstructed views of not just the Atlantic, but all of Ocean City. Did I mention the terrace also came with a private mini swimming pool? ’Cause it did.

I knew all of this because it was the penthouse where my parents had put us up in the summer of 1988. Mom and Dad’s successful mortgage company PMD Abstract (Peter, Michael, David, get it?) afforded us the opportunity to go on a number of fancy-schmancy family vacations during my high school years (St. Martin, Puerto Rico, Hawaii), but nothing could’ve prepared me—or my brothers—for what awaited us behind that space’s private, keyed elevator entrance.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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