Thursday, December 27, 2012

The First Christmas of Overtime

Most mornings as a lung cancer survivor I wake up more like an older version of Springsteen’s proverbial traveler of New Jersey Highway 9
I’m just a scared and lonely rider
But I gotta find out how it feels”

Maybe it’s just a guy thing but for me trying to actually ‘survive’ or ‘outlive’ lung cancer, well … to me it’s more like ‘overtime’ in a playoff sporting event.

I am damn grateful I am even in the playoffs – way too many are not, but in overtime I can’t leave anything on the field I may not get another chance. 

Sooo following Thanksgiving holidays I resolved to change. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” is never truer than dealing with dementia. My wife Patti’s Multiple Sclerosis disabilities, specifically dementia, is never going to allow her to remember any family holiday gathering no matter how hard I try over and over again to involve her and it does get harder holiday after holiday. 

… On the other hand I will remember and more importantly our daughter will remember. … Rather than ‘expect’ different results it was time to ‘create’ different results.

I’ve been planning for weeks for this First Christmas of Overtime to be different. Then as if by fate the unbelievable happens and it snows on Christmas Eve?  After shoveling sidewalks and driveway I settled down for a short winter's nap.

Sooo with Patti safely asleep and cared for in her care facility, our adult daughter joined me taking turns driving and storm running through the night with the Christmas Eve winter storm for 200 miles arriving in New York City shortly after dawn.

Insanity? Not counting snow plows or Santa’s sled we saw four other vehicles out on the roads with us for the majority of our drive.

My first Christmas gift was early bird parking in midtown Manhattan for only $16 for all day.

First on my quest list was a bag of roasted chestnuts which I enjoyed in Central Park while watching a doggie fashion parade of early morning dog walkers. Did every dog in Manhattan get a new sweater for Christmas?

Drifting down 5th Avenue we checked out the holiday window displays. They are sadly not what I remember from days of yore when it was all such a part of making Christmas before malls, and Internet and what not.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral took a moment to recognize ‘gift wrapped’ in construction scaffolding for repairs and restoration. We stepped inside for a bit of Sunday Mass after all Christmas Day is about Christ … plus truth be told, I wanted to say thank you.

It was mesmerizing to see every street vendor and most stores and restaurants open for business on Christmas Day. Then again it is NYC and we were right there at Christmas central - Rockefeller Center!

The genesis of this trip was to create a memory for my daughter and myself, part Christmas present part first Lung Cancerversary present. Skating became an unexpected pre-school bond between us twenty years ago. Patti who could previously skate was neutralized by MS progression. Megan’s interest quickly developed into a knack rising to free style and I abruptly at age 40 had to learn to skate quickly and advanced (yes, I even earned an ISI Delta patch :) ) to keep up with her. Ice skating on Christmas Day at the Rink at Rockefeller Center seemed a 'jump the shark' memory. She is the unseen better skater videotaping me while skating.
Originally I had agonized over making VIP Express Skating Reservations, but ohhh it was worth it. Neither a single moment of anxiety nor time was involved in waiting to skate. We maximized every minute of our morning in NYC and then just showed up to skate at the Rink on Rockefeller Center. The VIP tent was an absolute treat with unlimited hot chocolate, bottled water, candy canes, fresh baked cookies, and candy cane bark. While we sat down on padded benches in the warming tent to enjoy the amenities our skate concierge brought our skates, secured our shoes and bags bringing us a claim check. … Skating in and out of the VIP igloo tent for hot chocolate breaks during the 90 minute skate was luxurious!!!  

The bottom line is that memories of a fun time together are priceless in a year that included 20 seconds flat-lined, diagnosis of lung cancer, and successful lung cancer surgery.  IMHO ‘lung cancer survivors’ are not just the person with the diagnosis.

Leaving Christmas Central it was time for the epicenter of tacky - Times Square, and it did not disappoint. Costumed characters from Spongebob to Elmo abounded for Christmas Day photo ops. However I was lured to Hyndai’s interactive digital Billboard that projects you onto a Times Square Billboard. While I charged up, jostling and shoving my way forward and up the steps through an absolute Tower of Babble of foreign visitors, unbeknownst to me Megan using her brain stalked the edges of the crowd – so as I prepared to snap my picture of me on a Times Square Billboard there suddenly was Megan (who had been dodging photos all day) looming larger and clearer than me – priceless. 

This called for some fine NYC street cuisine – a hot dog with onions, sauerkraut, and hot deli mustard!

Before heading home we had the chance to just drop in and surprise cousins in Northern New Jersey on Christmas Day.  Surviving sure feels different when you visit with a breast cancer and liver cancer survivor and their families ... more like surviving cancer "r" us. The gods were with us as we arrived just before the arrival of the youngest and that absolutely quintessential moment of Christmas the wide eyed opening of presents.

Patrick Leer
Health Activist:
Caregivingly Yours, MS Caregiver @


  1. Sounded like a great getaway for you and your daughter, Patrick! A wonderful adventure you both will remember for a very long time! While it is sad to put aside the thought to make sure Patti remembers family gatherings, it was wise of you to look beyond that and re-think how you do certain things and celebrate certain things! Very wise indeed!

    Looked like a lot of fun!


    1. Hi Betty! For what it's worth when I picked up Patti for an outing after Christmas. I gave her the hints of month, date, and even pushed her past mounds of shoveled snow before asking her did she know what holiday just happened? She thought a moment and answered Halloween. Dementia is about 'now' not memories.

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