Ironic. Nearly a decade after the Hubs (my boyfriend then) accidentally broke my nose showing me one of his signature wrestling moves, Mom tripped over the vacuum cleaner cord upstairs-in the dark-smacked her face on the edge of the footboard of Dad’s twin bed-and broke her nose. A decade before she had researched where to have repair work done on my schnoz and chose Mayo Clinic, so it was a no brainer she’d have her beak tweaked at Mayo too. Awww. Mother/daughter share rhinoplasty stories.
It was several years later as we were getting ready to move from Davenport (350 miles from Mom and Dad) to Jackson, Michigan (750 miles away) when Mom started experiencing a few disturbing symptoms. Itchy patches on her arms, bottom, stomach and legs. Small painful cracks on her hands and feet. She went to her primary care guy who sent her to a skin specialist in Sioux Falls. He and Mom talked it over and decided Mayo Clinic would likely come up with the right diagnosis and treatment plan for whatever this was.
Mom drove to Rochester after being referred to a dermatologist at Mayo. After running some tests, the results came back with a diagnosis of Mycosis Fungoides (my-koe-sis fun-goy-deez). A T-cell lymphoma caused when white blood cells grow out of control and move from the blood to the skin. Mom would need to stay while they came up with a treatment plan.
About the same time we were gearing up for the Michigan move, we had a friend with a serious health issue. He lived on the Illinois side of the Mississippi and did business with JI Case selling coolant. His name was Creigh and he was a little older than us. He was an ardent Los Angeles Dodger fan and gave me boatloads of static about my Cubbies. When the Cubs were on a road trip on the west Coast, the games started about 10 pm Iowa time. If (when) the Dodgers went ahead, he’d call me to brag, harass and gloat. We were like the only 2 people still awake at 1 am, watching baseball. When Creigh was about 45, he was suddenly diagnosed with acute leukemia. He would spend many weeks at Mayo Clinic researching any options to slow down his cancer.
I really dropped the ball here, no excuse. Mom was going through something traumatic and I just wasn’t around enough. Hubs had a new job, we had just moved to a new house, in a new town and state. Three kids, 16, 12 and 8, I was busy and overwhelmed. But I should have paid more attention to what was going on with Mom.
Over the span several months, there would be more trips to Mayo for Mom, and her Mycosis Fungoides, most of them by herself which was a couple hundred miles away. At the most serious, there were black tar treatments which is exactly like it sounds. They used copious amounts, slavering all the bumpy patches and cracks with stinky stuff that smelled like pitch and was as black as onyx. Mom was bedridden at times. The tiny cracks had morphed into huge fissures on her feet which were so painful she crawled around the house until they healed. Just awful.
One of the trips I made to Mayo with Mom was while Creigh was hospitalized there too. I wanted to visit and maybe watch part of a baseball game with him. (Mom was a Mets fan. What’s with these folks from the Midwest who like teams on either coast? How about supporting the Cubs, Twins, Cardinals (ick) or the Royals? Dad was even worse. He was a Yankee fan) But Creigh was experiencing terrible side effects from the chemo and wasn’t allowed visitors besides immediate family. Creigh’s leukemia journey lasted only a matter of weeks before he passed away. Never got another phone call rubbing it in how well his Dodgers were doing compared to Chicago. I missed my avid baseball buddy, even if he rooted for the wrong team.
After more than a year of misery, the tar treatments had eradicated the worst of the Mycosis Fungoides (MF, appropriate enough don’t ‘cha think?) and no longer needed. Now Mom was able to be treated in Sioux Falls with checkups every few months at Mayo. The new treatments were similar to standing in a tanning bed for 3 minutes. She went a couple times a weeks for several months. But it was definitely radiation and took a toll on her skin (burned) which was ironic. She was trying to heal her skin.
So they prescribed this skin cream called Vanicream. I’ll never forget this side story of Mom’s illness. Mom was so impressed with the doctor’s pitch for the use of Vanicream. It had been developed by 2 pharmacists-working at Mayo Clinic in the mid 70’s! They were searching for a better lotion than what was available. (It looked like Crisco and had no smell-weird). Since Vanicream was more than regular old Jergens Lotion it was a prescription. Mom got it in small tubs. I tell you it was a cure-all. I can remember a dozen times when she’d scoop up a dollop of Vanicream and put it in an old pill bottle for me and my ultra dry face or itchy patches. (Imagine my shock a few years ago as I was wandering around a Walgreens and spotted a tub of Vanicream! No longer a prescription and now had several products in their line. I’ve been using Vanicream as my face moisturizer ever since).
Mom continued to get regular checkups at Mayo Clinic after her bout with Mycosis Fungoides through the 90’s. In fact she’d been given a clear bill of health a few months before she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in the late 90’s. A fast growing cancer in her chest that responded well to chemotherapy. After a few treatments though she suffered a stroke. Not totally debilitating but she would never walk alone again. The lumps on her arms and head subsided and for a couple years she did pretty well, then the lumps returned. A couple more treatments held them at bay for a bit. When the massive lumps reappeared with a vengeance for a third time, she said, “no more chemo,” and lasted less than a year. I’ve often wondered if Mom’s Mycosis Fungoides was a precursor for the non-Hodgkins she suffered a decade later…