(May 2, 2015) Each Veterans Affairs Medical Center has a different air about it. Some are dour and cold, others bright and positive, but for the most part they all encourage their patients to look forward and not back. The manner in which the various medical centers handle their patients can vary from department to department.
Yesterday I 'graduated' from a six week concurrent radiation and chemotherapy schedule at VAMC Durham. I even received a diploma . . . a piece of paper decorated with a photo of the facility and text that recognized I had completed the process with "courage, determination, and good nature."
I don't know that there was much courage involved in my situation, or even determination. I simply showed up for each appointment and got on the table for about 15 minutes of whirring, buzzing, and clicking as the radiation head swiveled around my body, tossing gamma rays toward what is left of my pancreas. There wasn't any undue pain. Although the chemo did cause some stomach upset at times, but there were drugs to offset the nausea, and I never once vomited because of the treatments. So how am I to be credited with courage? Little determination was involved. Sure, I was tired most of the time, but if I missed an appointment it would simply have been tacked onto the far end of the schedule - there was no reasonable way to avoid the treatment session.
I'll admit to good nature. I've accepted the fact that this story doesn't end well. In fact, just two days prior to the last appointment one of my oncologists told me this is a very persistent form of cancer. A return of the active, malignant, cancer cells isn't a question of if, only of when. It could be six months; a year, or two, but it WILL return. That bit of fatalistic news jolts the mind and twists the psyche. The only way to survive that jolt is to start looking for the fun of life and not to dwell upon the facts of impending demise. I've got a good friend that does this and he has survived some serious issues far longer than most could have imagined.
My way of looking forward is to begin again, looking at maps and trying to determine the best route from one county to the next as I work toward my goal of visiting monuments and memorials in all 3,059 counties of the lower 48 states. Will I be able to make it? The oncologist says, "Let's do the math."
I've got about 2,250 counties to go, mostly everything west of Arkansas and some corners of the eastern seaboard. The eastern sections are the most numerous. Generally it's less than 30 miles between county seats in the east. One good long summer of riding can put most of the east into the finished column, except for plugging the photos and notes into the web site and researching names of the fallen.
The western states are a new ballgame - there are usually fewer counties within each state but they are often 75 miles apart. Where I could easily ride to as many as fourteen or fifteen memorials a day in the east, the western states might cut the daily visits to as few as three. I'm fairly sure the lower number will offset the distance and time traveled, but I just can't be certain. The only way to find out is to return to the road and make the trips.
Knowing the number of counties I have been able to visit so far, the doctor and I estimate 75 travel weeks are needed to complete the mission. And there arises the problems. Even with camping out, my daily costs of the ride add up quickly. Fuel is the largest steady expense - about $100 weekly. Then comes food and lodging/camping fees, which can be as little as $85 or as much as $200 a week. Weather is the deciding factor on this item. It's difficult to stay healthy when camping in rain so I have to find a dry spot for me and the tent, or rent a motel room.
Motorcycle maintenance is the next big item. Fortunately my Honda is very reliable and the only thing I really consume is tires. I need a new front tire every three months and, because I have a car tire on the back, the rear tire needs replacement every five months. That adds another $20 weekly to the required budget. The weekly total is now about $320 and that's bare bones.
Obviously I can't afford this on my VA pension.
I must rely upon the assistance of strangers. No, let's say that I have to look to fellow citizens that want to help me honor our military veterans. I'm having a four inch embroidered patch made as a thank you to those that pitch in $20 or more. Sew it onto your vest and, if you have the opportunity, ride along with me to a memorial or two. Take pride in the service and sacrifices of our veterans, help me tell the younger generation what was done by those named on so many monuments around the United States. Remember and honor those that served and those that did not return home.
Do you have a back yard where I may pitch my tent for the night? Or, maybe, do you have an empty couch to sleep upon?
Whatever you can do to help is appreciated. I hope to see you along the way and that you can ride a few miles with me.