Tuesday, December 4, 2012


"Something's on fire!"

Warren was out of his chair in a minute, as was I. Smoke was billowing up from the burners of the stove. Throwing open the oven door (more billowing smoke), I quickly assessed the situation.

Nothing was on fire, but bits of exploded batter had dropped down through the racks onto the heating element and had started to smolder.

Earlier that morning, I had carefully made a chocolate chiffon cake batter so I could later craft a dessert to take to our friends that night. The last step required whipping six egg whites until they stood in stiff peaks.

It was a great batter. It had a beautiful sheen and a nice heft.

In filling the cake pans, though, I should have known better. The 8 inch pans, the size called for by the recipe, were filled to the brim. Against my better judgment, I slid the pans into the oven.

Chaos followed. The batter rose. It rose some more. It began to quiver as it rose over the pans. And then the cake batter—both pans worth—exploded.

Once we cleared the kitchen of smoke and once I dumped the batter (which was not baking properly and indeed, could not bake properly), I thought through the situation. We were due at Margo and Gerald's at 7:00. It was still morning. Go to the store, get a box mix, and get it done.

I did. There were some later fluffs and tense moments, but it got done. Late that night, sitting around the fire ring, we laughed over the poor exploded cake while eating the end result.

Last night was another explosion. Not a cake this time, but a person. Me, in fact. Like the cake batter crammed into the 8 inch pans. there was too much of me in too small a container. I bubbled and churned and tried to rise above my discontent. But in the end, like that wayward batter last Saturday night, I exploded.

Warren has a very demanding job. He works very long hours with very little staff (albeit excellent, excellent staff) and not enough support. Concerts weeks, and this is one of them, mean even longer and later hours. This week, starting last night, Warren will be at a Symphony something—a committee meeting, a rehearsal, a board meeting—every single weeknight through next Monday. (The concert will take up much of Saturday and all of Sunday.) That includes Friday too.

Every. Single. Weeknight. Plus Saturday and Sunday.

At so many levels, starting with my love and support of Warren, I "get" it. I know the broad and deep reach of his position. I know his Board, made up of good, decent people, does not demand this of him out of callous disregard. I know Warren gives his heart to the Symphony and that a large part of its increasing stature in national orchestra circles is due to his vision, drive, blood, sweat, and tears.

I really do get that. And I am so proud of him and this Symphony.

But now I'm sick. Now. Not theoretically, not "oh, the myeloma will be back someday," but now. Now I'm in chemo. I have moved from the quiet countryside of Cancerland into a downtown apartment over the main drag, with cars going by at all hours and red flashing neon signs lighting up the walls in the still of the night.

Now I have needs which, for the first time since Warren and I became a couple, trump—at least in my mind—any card he may hold in the Symphony's hand. I have taken all the tricks, I have laid down four aces, I have shot the moon.

And this week it doesn't matter. I am sitting at the card table with my royal flush fanned out and the card game is already over.

When Warren walked in from his meeting last night, I asked to talk. I tried to stay calm. I "get" that this is not Warren's doing, that it is not personal, that it's not about me or even about us.

I said all those things and then I burst into chunks of raw batter, just like the cake. I held the winning hand and I wept because I could not rake in the pot.

Warren quietly sat through my outburst, holding me close while I wound up and then wound down. He sat quietly while I ranted about having to act more "normal" than I am feeling so as not to worry him while he worries about the Symphony. He squeezed my hand while I gave voice to my fears and my dismay about the myeloma.

My game face is good. The chemo I am taking is not that bad. I won't lose my hair. I'm not that nauseated. My energy has already started to rise. My colleagues at work are supportive beyond words, as are my friends. My children (Ben, Sam, Alise, David) are there for me. Warren has not flinched in the face of what I am facing.

I am blessed blessed blessed and I know so every single day when I awake and every night when I fall asleep.

Yet the cancer takes a toll—physical, emotional, mental—on me. Myeloma is demanding. It wears you down with its slow relentlessness. There is no winnable war here. (Yes, you win the battles, but ultimately myeloma wins the war.) And last night I was battle sore and weary, and Warren bore the brunt of it.

When we got around to dessert last Saturday night, everyone oohed and awed. Despite the failed batter and the substitute box mix, and despite the haste in the later afternoon (shaving those dark chocolate curls and willing the glaze to set), the cake was finished. The mousse hid the smaller layers, some of which had cracked in assembly, and patched the pieces together well. The cake platter was large enough that the glaze did not pool onto the table. We all savored each bite. When the evening ended, I left half of the remains with Margo and Gerald and the other half came home with us.

When I was done exploding last night, Warren patched me together much like Saturday's dessert. He patched me with thoughtful listening and quiet love. He poured a glaze of understanding and comfort over my bruised spirits.

And then he served me the very last piece of the chocolate mousse cake.


Sharon said...

I love the analogy, April, but I do hope Warren will be more available for you. Even when I have a cold, or am laid up in bed, I want my husband near. I can only imagine the magnitude of your situation. I hope you start feeling better soon, and Cancerland will once again be out in the country.

see you there! said...

You put things into words so well. I am happy to hear that you have a good man and supportive friends so that when things "boil over" there is someone there to help clean up the mess. This has to be very hard.


Jenny Woolf said...

I'm so glad that you and Warren can work through this difficult time with love and understanding, April. The support of family and friends does make such a difference.