Last October, I went for my semi-annual check up with my oncologist. I was expecting good things.
First of all, the type of leukemia that I dealt with two years earlier has an extremely low recurrence rate, so other than natural mild paranoia, I wasn't too concerned about getting some bad news. Additionally, at the last appointment, my doctor told me that he would be moving to annual visits if I got the "all clear."
Not that I minded the blood draws twice a year. After going through chemo in 2013, I'm pretty used to needles. Moving to a once-a-year visit is more of a symbolic thing, really. It kind of signals that the doctor thinks you are sufficiently out of the woods that he doesn't need to keep such a close eye on you.
As expected, my reports were good. As promised, my doctor told me that I wouldn't have to come back for another year.
Before I left, he asked me if I'd had my flu shot yet. I hadn't. He recommended I get that taken care of while I was there. No problem. Like I said, I had no problem with needles.
At my oncologist's office, there are three sections for patients: the waiting room, the lab and the treatment center. The treatment center is where I'd gone for chemo. I hadn't been back there since I'd rung the bell on October 28, 2013. That's where they sent me for my flu shot.
I was kind of glad to go back there. I wanted to say hello to some of the nurses that had worked with me. I particularly wanted to say hello to Kathy, who had been my "main nurse" during the chemo days.
She was busy when I went back there. I could see her tending to another patient who was getting chemo. It wasn't lost on me that while I was just getting a flu shot, every other patient in the treatment center was receiving chemotherapy. As much as I wanted to say hello, it was better to get my shot and go on without bothering anybody.
I had to wait a while for the shot. I didn't mind. Any time you walk out of an oncologist's office without bad news is a good day. After a wait, I got my flu shot and I got ready to leave. I could see Kathy was talking to a patient and I tried to catch her eye just to wave to her.
When I did move around to wave, I saw the patient she was treating and my heart sank.
The patient in the chair was a friend.
A friend and fellow defense attorney who I had known since my prosecutor days. A guy with a perpetual smile who was always ready to laugh with you at even the slightest joke. Not someone that I was particularly close with, but someone that I would always stop and talk to when I saw him. I had last seen him a month earlier, when I was driving with my 10-year-old and he was out jogging around 610 and Shepherd. We had pulled over and talked to him, and I told him that my son had asked if he was homeless -- which had cracked him up.
We looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, "What are YOU doing here?"
We talked for a second and he smiled the whole time. Then, his smile faded a little and he said he had pancreatic cancer and it had metastasized. When someone tells you that, there isn't much else to say other than "oh shit."
So, I said, "Oh shit," and he chuckled.
"Well, you're in good hands," I said. "Kathy is the best."
He nodded and said he was staying upbeat. He told me about the different things the doctor said were treatment possibilities. I gave him my card and cell phone number and told him if he needed ANYTHING to call me. He said he appreciated it, and he asked me not to say anything about it at the courthouse.
And I didn't.
I saw him at the courthouse a few weeks later. He was still upbeat. He said that he and his wife had driven to Austin to tell his daughter the news. He said that in a way, he was glad for the excuse to go see his daughter and spend some time with her. He asked me for Johnny Bonds' phone number, because he knew Johnny and knew about Johnny's own battles with cancer.
He laughed as he told me that the doctors wanted to continue with his course of treatment for a year to see if it was working. If not, they would change it.
"So I told them, 'So you're saying I've at least got a year!'" he laughed.
I saw him a month or two ago at the courthouse. He had lost some weight but still seemed relatively upbeat. He said the cancer treatment wasn't going that great but he was still plugging along.
Today, I was sitting down to lunch with some friends, one of them asked me, "Did you know Robin Mitchell?"
Again, my heart sank. I knew what was coming next.
Yes, I knew Robin Mitchell, and I was lucky to. If you're reading this, I hope you knew him too.
He was a tall, gangly guy with prematurely white hair, who always had a smile on his face. Despite the depressing place that the CJC can so often be, he always seemed happy. Even when he was going through such a tremendous struggle.
I thought about Robin a lot ever since I saw him at the oncologist's office. I think the part that made it so sad to me was the fact that Robin always was so happy when I saw him. There is just something that makes you feel better when you hang around somebody that is always on the cusp of that next laugh. He brightened up a normally dark place.
My heart goes out to his family. I will truly miss seeing his smile around the courthouse.