I want to start our holiday letter with the highlight of the year: Mimi and I made it to Maryland in October for Tom and Ashley’s wedding. We’ll get eventually to the story that dominated the year, my lymphoma treatment (which is part of the wedding story anyway).
The wedding would have been a highlight of any year under any circumstances. It was a lovely day and a beautiful ceremony, presided over by Mary and Jim Head, Mimi’s sister and brother-in-law. All branches of both Mimi’s and my families were represented (30, including some boyfriends who accompanied nieces), and we just lapped up the time with them all before, during and after the wedding. Most important, we had our full family there: sons Mike, Joe and Tom, their wives Susie, Kim and Ashley, and granddaughters Julia and Madeline.
I also managed to work in a lovely lunch with some cherished Washington friends the day before the wedding.
Of course, the story that dominated the year also made the highlight more special. At one point, it looked as though my treatment for lymphoma could conflict with the wedding. Tom and Ashley discussed changing the date, but eventually stayed the course (at our urging). And the wedding actually came at a perfect time in my treatment. I was nearly full strength and not vulnerable to infections from flying (as I was for much of the year).
When I announced my diagnosis last December, I promised to dance at Tom and Ashley’s wedding, and I did. (Here’s hoping there’s no video.) I had saved a childhood treasure of Tom’s for more than 25 years, to give to his bride someday, and I’d worked all year on my toast. Delivering both, and seeing so many family there so full of joy, made 2015 a really special year.
The wedding was very much a family project: Mike was the best man and Joe a groom’s man (each of our sons was the best man at a brother’s wedding). Joe and Kim set up spectacular lighting for the reception at Rockwood Manor. When planning the rehearsal dinner became a burden for Mimi at a tough time in my treatment, Mike, Susie, Kim and Joe just took it all over. They did a spectacular job (especially deciding to go with the tent, since we had a downpour during the dinner, on a lovely patio outside the Angler’s Inn). Julia and Madeline led the way down the aisle, shooting bubbles from guns.
A Royal October
I’ll get to the cancer, but one more highlight first: The Buttry boys, lifelong fans of the Kansas City Royals, and their Yankee-fan Dad (who also loves the Royals) celebrated a wonderful October that delivered the Royals’ first world championship in 30 years. You might recall that I took the boys to Game Two of last year’s World Series. Well, that wasn’t possible this year, because the World Series came during my second stem-cell harvest.
But Mike made it to Game Two in Kansas City, Tom made it to Game Four in New York and all four of us texted like crazy through all five games and beyond. It was a wonderful culmination of many nights spent at the ballpark in Kansas City with one or all three of my sons. For many years, it seemed as though making them Royals fans might have been some form of child abuse. (In my defense, I tried to make them Yankee fans, but they fell in love with the team they were watching on the field, not the team Dad was prattling on about between innings.) But this year’s joy was worth the wait.
So let’s deal with the cancer. Treatment has been grueling: Six rounds of chemotherapy, each involving five days in the hospital followed by several days feeling like crap. Low platelet counts, caused by the previous round’s treatment, delayed at least a couple of treatments. Two infections (chemo damaged my immune system) caused further delays, one of them during the final round of chemo and one causing a nine-day hospitalization and later an outpatient surgery.
Treatment is concluding with a stem-cell transplant, which started Dec. 1 with high-dose chemotherapy to kill what was left of my bone marrow. Then I received my stem cells back and after a couple weeks of bedridden misery, I started my recovery. My white cells are almost back to normal, but my platelets have dropped the last two days. So I’m still in the hospital on Christmas Eve. I may get out sometime this weekend.
The stem-cell transplant was originally supposed to happen in June. Dec. 1 was my sixth scheduled start date. In between I had two stem-cell harvests (each a week of full-day outpatient treatment) and a brain surgery (because of my low platelets, a bump on the head caused a brain bleed that needed to be drained in August).
If that all sounds pretty awful, it has been. But even lymphoma treatment turned out in many ways to be a wonderful experience:
I’m cancer-free and almost ready to get on with life.
- I love Mimi even more than I thought was possible. Her patience, prodding, humor, determination and love got me through the year. I think the year was harder on her than on me, but she was a rock.
- We had amazing family support. All of Mimi’s siblings and mine visited at least once, three of them with spouses. Each of our sons visited multiple times and each of their wives once. All were helpful beyond belief.
- I had wonderful health care. My oncologists, Dr. Vince Cataldo and Dr, Patrick Stagg, were outstanding in handling the many twists and turns of this case, confident they would get me to the finish line (almost there). Other doctors, dozens of nurses and technicians at Baton Rouge General Hospital, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and the NeuroMedical Center tended to my needs with great skill, patience and care.
- I was honored, humbled and amazed by the outpouring of support from friends, family and strangers on social media, CaringBridge and a delightful stream of gifts (mostly hats to cover my frequently bare or shedding head).
We had some other memorable developments this year:
We moved into a new home (I was actually doing pretty well that week, and we had lots of family help). We love it: 7326 Sasanqua Ct., Baton Rouge, LA 70808. A sasanqua, by the way, is a lovely camellia, and Mimi has one in a pot on our patio. It blooms in December and the blossoms came out during the stem-cell transplant. Looks like I’m going to miss the blooms, though. Duffy likes to bark at the feral cats on the other side of one fence (he has a fenced yard to romp in, for the first time). And his first armadillo encounter while walking the neighborhood was most puzzling. Lots of barking and sniffing was involved.
- I took a new job as LSU’s Director of Student Media, turning my one-year visiting gig into a permanent job with the Manship School of Mass Communication. I enjoy my students and colleagues here, and they could not have been more supportive in working through the disruptions that my treatment caused to my teaching duties.
- Mimi found needlepoint to be a helpful way of handling the stress and tedium of my health care. And now she just loves doing it. She’s made lovely gifts for our granddaughters and my doctors, as well as some pieces we’ll hang on our walls.
- The American Copy Editors Society presented me with the Glamann Award for my “contributions to our craft and our colleagues.” I was scheduled to speak at the Pittsburgh conference, one of several speaking engagements I had to cancel because of the unpredictability of my treatment schedule and condition. ACES had planned to surprise me with the award there, but President Teresa Schmedding and Mimi conspired for a Skype presentation that surprised me even more (less than half an hour after I got out of the hospital; Mimi was sweating the timing).
- Mimi has enjoyed visiting Mike the tiger, the live Bengal/Siberian tiger that prowls in a large enclosure just a block or two from my office. When she was driving me to campus daily after my brain surgery, she would go by in the morning when he was usually active. She would talk to Mike and he would come over and look at her. She thought they might be bonding a little. Well, the weekend before the wedding, she went back with me. Mike was up and prowling around and waded through his pool, lapping up some huge drinks of water. Then he came out and peed a couple places and headed our way as Mimi chatted him up. He came up to the double fence, looked right at us, then turned around and peed on me. I was wiping off my glasses and Mimi said my hair was glistening. It made a good story for the many wedding-weekend conversations.
We don’t have quite as many friends visiting as when we were in Washington, but Baton Rouge is still a good place to visit or to catch others passing through. In addition to all the siblings who visited, we enjoyed many other visits during the year:
We were pleased that longtime friend Tom O’Donnell’s trip to New Orleans (with son Tommy, visiting son Tony) came when I was strong enough that we could meet them there for lunch.
- Viktoria Sundkvist and Albie Yuravich were making an east-to-west cross-country trip that took them through Baton Rouge, so they visited me in the hospital.
- Greg Linch and Mollie Ann met us for coffee on a break from their west-to-east cross-country trip.
- I had nice visits with old friend Dan Gillmor and new friend Dean Baquet when they visited the Manship School.
- Daniel Victor subbed for me at an APME NewsTrain program in Monroe, La., that I had to back out on because of my unpredictable treatment schedule. It turned out, though that I was feeling OK that weekend and was able to tailgate with Dan before the LSU game.
- Niece Meg Head flew down here in June, to help her mother Mary drive Duffy north to Iowa for my stem-cell transplant, long before it actually happened.
- We also had visits from two-thirds of my brother Dan’s grown children and their spouses: Janelle and Greg Walker visiting in October for the LSU/Florida game (my first Tiger game, a 35-28 win) at the tail end of their honeymoon and Jonathan and Jamie Mayo Buttry visiting in November, also passing through.
If you’re crossing the country on Interstate 10, visiting New Orleans or Baton Rouge or just coming to see us, we’d love to see you in 2016. Our Sasanqua home has a nice guest room (and a den with a pullout couch).
We wish you happiness in whatever holidays you celebrate and look forward to crossing paths in 2016.