Tuesday, April 09, 2013

In My Time of Dying

I knew exactly how I was going to pull it off. While Ann was gone to her rehearsal, I was going to duct tape the garden hose to the car exhaust, turn on the engine, get inside and go peacefully to sleep. I couldn't bear the chemo, radiation, the five pills in the morning, five pills at night and most importantly, the interferon, anymore.

It was about eleven years ago to this day that it almost happened. It had been the longest winter in my life, as I started my regimen right after 9/11 and swore to God it would never end. The funny thing about it was, it was almost over. My Independence Day was also to be Cinco De Mayo of that year.
I was diagnosed in late July and given the harshest news of my life shorty thereafter.

"If your condition doesn't kill you, the treatment just might, I advise you to go on anti-depressants before you start the treatment because what you are about to go through will test you beyond your wildest dreams." Well, I did tell my doctor to shoot it to me straight. And he did.

Starting in October, I jumped into my treatment without the anti-depressants because I was bigger than this, I was ready and I was sure of the manliness of my manhood. What a mistake that was. The treatments consisted of weekly chemo, radiation, the ten pills a day and the injections of interferon that took place every Friday night, so I could shake it off before Monday morning. By the way, I still cannot grow hair on the inside of my thigh where I injected myself. Talk about poison. I had just been fired from my job at the smooth jazz station in St. Louis two weeks before I started my treatments.  By the grace of God, a very good friend of mine put me to work at his mortgage company. He would close some deals for me and allow me to make just enough money to pay for my insurance there. Without him, I would have had to file bankruptcy and have something else to get depressed about.

After the first week of treatments, I knew I was in trouble. The first Friday night after injecting myself and mixing the interferon with the other cocktail of drugs it made me throw up with a violence I had never experienced before. My stomach was turning inside out and depositing anything in it into the toilet, again and again all night long. The rash started in the first week and ended up extending from the top of my toes to just above my nipples. It didn't leave till it was over. The hallucinations came not long after, my hair started falling out in clumps and my appetite disappeared. I lost all my hair. My head, arms, eyebrows, legs. I looked awful. There was a picture taken of me at that time. It was burned long ago.

I had six more months to go.

I could only stomach peanut butter for some reason. I ate peanut butter on toast, with my fingers, in broth, anything I could do to keep the protein in me. My weight dropped to 148 pounds before it was over and my mind was the worst part of it. I couldn't shake the deep, dark hallucinations that played with my head. We lived next door to a nice couple named Pete and Amy. They had no kids and were great neighbors. I remember going over there, banging on their front door and wanting to fight Pete because I knew he was having an affair with Ann. I recall going to the store for two steaks and coming back with two pounds of meat. I drove downtown to buy Bonnie Raitt tickets and did not remember what I went down there for.

It was the endless loop of a bad movie that replayed itself every night to the whine of the ceiling fan. Sweating and cold at the same time, I couldn't sleep at night and couldn't keep my eyes open during the day. The physical sickness betrayed the fact that when I started this regime, I was in the best shape of my life. There were days I felt good enough to go to the gym, but when I would start to play basketball, my body wouldn't take the running, I would get disappointed and cry in the locker room. When it came to my emotions, I couldn't keep them in line. George Harrison died during my treatment, I cried for three days. I just knew that Al Queda was getting ready to  bomb all the cities with Saint in the title. I was certain they were going to fly a plane into the Poplar Street bridge which would have messed up the whole shipping scene in the country. I couldn't stop. It wouldn't stop.

Fall morphed into winter and I kept remembering what my dad said concerning times like these..." keep walking into the swamp, even though your boots get filled with more mud and it makes the walk tougher...know that one day will come when you are no longer walking into the swamp, but walking OUT of it." I tried, dad, I did. I watched the movie "Saving Silverman" at least ten times, because there were days I was so weak, I couldn't get out of bed to change the channel. When I would 'shoot up" my drugs on Friday night, I'd wake up on Saturday morning, walk outside and visualize the haze I saw and felt. I still cannot stand the smell of Pantene shampoo. The smell of certain other things make me gag.

This cocktail of drugs messed with my body and as badly as my body would handle it, my mind was worse. I danced with, played cards with and dined with the devil. As winter wore on, I would now start to plan my own death. I couldn't take it anymore. I was paralyzed with fear and had the "deathbed conversation with God." "Please God, help me get through this. I'll never doubt your existence again. I'll tell everyone, I swear." I didn't hear much from Him. Every once in a while, The sun would come out, I would feel better for a day or two and then, wham, I couldn't find the strength to move. I shit and pissed the bed.

When winter moved into spring, I knew I was closer to the end of the ordeal than the beginning. It didn't matter. I knew how I was going to do it. It would be painless, not messy and quick. It was the weekend of the final four, 2002. I was out in the yard, trying to do some menial yard work when Ann came out to see how I was. "Fine," I said. "You sure? I'm going to rehearsal and I don't like what I've been hearing from you." "You have kids that depend on you", I said.

She drove away on that sunny Sunday afternoon (Sunday afternoon has always been the toughest time of my week for some reason, and to this day, it still is, not sure why), and my plan was enacted. I got the duct tape and the garden hose and taped the hose to the exhaust, making sure not to let the air seep out. I closed the garage door, got in my car and...what a chicken shit. I didn't have the guts to do it. I sat there and started thinking about what a selfish and stupid thing it would be to check out now. How would the kids take it? Ann? Would they understand...could they? Then I realized two things...I didn't have any life insurance and I had to get the hell out of there and fast.

I had to go someplace that had people. Lots of them. It was too early for church so I drove to the grocery store. A shopping cart saved my life. I grabbed a cart, pushed it up one aisle and down the next, all through the store. I reached over, put food in my cart, then would put the food back. I just had to be someplace where I wasn't alone. I think I stayed in the store for a couple of hours. Some of the employees were probably wondering what was up. All I know is the store, the ambiance, the people milling about and the cart saved my life that day.

What is the moral of the story? This. The very next day after this scenario did NOT play out, I got a call from a good friend of mine telling me about an opening at a local St. Louis radio station. I needed an aircheck of me doing oldies. I didn't have one so I called my good friend in Warrensberg Missouri who helmed the college radio station there and he opened his studio up for me so I could "fake" the aircheck. The drive was brutal, but I did it. I set up an appointment with the PD for Wednesday and I went in to talk to her. There were no full time openings but there was a part time gig I could apply for. She seemed unimpressed but on the way home, she must have listened to my aircheck as there was a message on my home phone to call her when I got home. I started doing the midday show at KLOU that week. THAT week.

That opening allowed me to do afternoons when another PD came in and then go to KCFX in Kansas City that November to do mornings at the flag ship station of the Chiefs. Without that devine intervention (or whatever it was), I would not have had a chance to get back on my feet and continue my life, see my kids grow up, or do any of the things I enjoy from that moment forward. Whenever I talk with someone about ending their life, I try to remind them that had I not held on to one last strand that didn't break, I would have never experienced all of this. What a hole I would have left in my family's life, what a coward I would have been.

The thing about life is there is something just around the corner, just over the hill, just out of reach. Something good.You never know what that could be and if you give up now, you'll never know.

After all this time, with all my trials and tribulations, life is good.
Sometimes we have to stare death in the face to realize it.

As it says on the top of the blog, true wisdom only comes from pain.


Rhonda Pierce said...

Thank you for holding on Randy!

Anonymous said...

You, sir, are no coward. You are a strong, strong man and the life you are leading is touching many, many lives. Thank you for sharing your life with all of us.

Rink's Ramblings said...

Powerful story Randy. Thanks for sharing.

Riley Pierce said...

Randy - knew you had been ill in the past from other items you had alluded to in posts/comments. I've know others that have fought cancer, some successfully, others not so. One guy I knew did take the "easy way out" as he called it in his suicide note - your comments on the hole that would have been left with your loved ones is very true. His family was devastated to the point his wife crawled inside a bottle and never came out - that is until the day she wrapped her car around a tree & killed herself. Will never know if it was just a DWI accident or her own easy way out - one of those things the Almighty will have to judge. Takes a lot og balls to write a story like yours - but at least they're cleaner than the Iowa rest stop! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow! I had no fucking idea Randy. Great story! Thanks for sharing. Please post more often. There is an honest rawness in your writing that I find uplifting.

rusheddoc said...

Funny Interesting Cool
I can't pick one of these. We need to add Touching Insightful Deep. I could live with those choices. Thanks so much for sharing, Randy. I've got tears. You never know what a person you meet is up against, even down to their last straw. Thank you and thank God for holding you close. I think that was His presence telling you not to stay in that car. Hadn't checked your blog for awhile...so glad I just did. - Matt

Anonymous said...

Wow. I just happened upon your words, words that have moved me to hug someone. Thank you for being strong throughout your ordeal because I am privileged to have heard your words and felt them emotionally.

Honor Freeman said...

Thank you for sharing your story. You reminded me of how important it is to be grateful for what we have and to never give up. Great post!

Mason Duede said...

Having just discovered your Blog, Mr. Raley, I can say that I find it fascinating and well written. I just hoping you will publishing these pieces and contributing to excellence in writing and commentary on the web. Kind regards, Mason Duede

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