It was hot yesterday. Not enough to force me to put the air conditioners in, but hot. I’d just spent a wonderful afternoon with Lez and Lauren and now they were off doing their thing, and I was home doing mine. It’s nice to not have to think about that thing we’ve been thinking about since February. Really nice.
I spent half an hour planting sunflowers… because I can’t forget to plant the sunflowers. Various projects have been sucking every bit of life out of me this last week and will continue to suck more in the coming weeks. But they’re in.
The plan was to clean up, check my news feed quick and hit the drawing board for a few hours. The Yankee game started at 7:15 p.m.
It’s sad to say but true: I’ve grown accustomed to hearing that Apollo era astronauts have passed. But Beano’s passing hit me like a truck. He was my guy.
It’s no secret that I’ve been a space geek since elementary school. I’ve been reading about the U.S. space program since I was 9 or 10 years old. Of all the astronauts, Alan Bean was the one I gravitated towards. Selected in 1963, Alan Bean was just a regular guy. He didn’t have the bravado of Gene Cernan. He wasn’t quiet and aloof like Neil Armstrong or John Young. He wasn’t a wise-ass like Pete Conrad. He was just regular dude who worked hard. And he was an artist. A damn good one.
Imagine being one of only 12 human beings in the history of human being to do something. He walked on the moon. It didn’t matter to him that he was the 4th or the 400th to do it. He was just happy to be there. Now imagine putting that experience into art. Expressing that and sharing that with the world. Anyone can get the data and the science… but having the ability to show how it FELT to be there… wow. Yeah, I want to be that guy. Beano was my guy.
I’d bet if I were the first cartoonist to walk on the moon, getting a syndication deal wouldn’t be that hard.
In 2016, an opportunity to be in the same room with Capt. Bean through Project Fibonacci came, and I jumped at the chance. I had all kinds of questions I wanted to ask him… but then I realized that my questions were the same questions he’s been answering since he left the Ocean of Storms in 1969. So, I tossed the questions and drew him a picture. I was just happy to spend a few moments with my hero. My guy.
He didn’t want to take the drawing (I framed it) with him on the plane so he asked If I could mail it to him. Which I did. I included some Bob stuff in the package I sent… because, why not?
I took Lauren to Bean’s lecture… she loved it. He was funny, self-deprecating and uniquely human. It was a talk he’d probably given a thousand times. If it was, you wouldn’t know it.
A few weeks later, I got a call. The number came up as “Houston, TX” on my phone. I don’t know anyone from Texas that would call me. I let it ring. Probably a robo call.
Wait. No. There’s no way it could be… could it? I slide to answer.
“Hi, is this Frank Page?”
I knew almost immediately who was calling. Years of that voice I’d only heard watching space program documentaries was in my ear. That unmistakable Texas drawl…
Holy crap! Alan Bean was calling to thank me for the drawing and the package!
I probably stuttered through the whole conversation. He was as nice as could be. We talked about art for about 15 minutes… what else would you talk to an astronaut about, right? He told me to call him whenever I wanted…thanked me again and that was it.
I never called him again.
And now I can’t.
Alan Bean was (is) my hero. All my heroes are dying and it’s getting harder and harder to find new ones.
It’s been 11 days since the last treatment now. I’m still trying to process what do do next. Appreciate. Yes. We need to get back to the not-so-real world. The world of doctor appointments and treatments is TOO real. (We’ll always have a toe in that world…)
Everything Bob related, with the exception of the daily stuff, was put on hold… for good reason. But, I had some plans… it’s what you do in January, right?
So… trying to get back I wonder… Do I really want to go forward with anything I planned? Seems, I don’t know… not silly, not ridiculous (those would be GOOD things anyway). It’s cliche to say I’m different now… but it’s true.
It feels like there’s more at stake now. Does that make it better or worse?
Lez called me from the doctor’s office. She called there earlier to maybe get the results over the phone. We hadn’t heard anything for a few days and were obviously concerned. The office told her to come in for a face-to-face… never a good sign.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma; moderately differentiated… Breast Cancer.
My first reaction: “F-ck!” My second reaction: “What are we going to do now?” My third reaction: “Why wasn’t I there with her when she got this news?”
Lez tells me what the doctor said and my head is spinning. I can only imagine what her head is doing.
The call ends. I go shovel the driveway… snow came down pretty heavy all day. The parade of questions and emotions continued in my head. What about Lauren? How are we going to do this? What if Lez is out of work for a long period of time? How much time can I take off if she needs me? Can I carry the household bills by myself?
The one question that NEVER entered my mind was: What if she dies?
Because …the FIRST thing the doctor said to her (after delivering the results) was: “You are not going to die.”
I finish the driveway and immediately do what the doctor told Lez NOT to do (at least not that day)… I researched her results. What Lez has is what 80% of diagnosed cases are. Caught early, elimination and recovery is extremely probable. Still, I’m not feeling at ease.
Lez comes home. I give her the biggest hug ever. I tell her we have 24 hours to feel like shit and wallow… then, it’s nothing but optimism. We’re going to beat this… I keep saying “we” . If I could I’d take on those cells myself and leave her out of it… but I can’t. I remind Lez that she’s descended from a long like of tough chicks… which manages to get a small laugh out of her. One of my main jobs from that day forward was/is to make sure she continued laughing.
Lauren was at Lez’s parents’ house. Lez went there and told them… with predictable reactions. I talked to Lauren shortly after that… telling her that the best thing we can do is treat Mom as we normally would. Lez is going to beat the hell of this… and before we know it, it will just be a story we tell at picnics and on holidays.
Later that night, I ask Lez if it’d be okay to put this in the strip. If she gave me “the look” or told me where to go and how to get there, the conversation would be over. She say’s no…it’s a no. She didn’t say no… but she didn’t want me jumping into it that night. There were people she wanted to tell first. No problem.
Her fight is our fight. Her challenge is our challenge. It’s our life…it would have been difficult NOT to include this in the strip.
That night I wrote this in my journal…
…referring not to the story… but to the word: cancer. I still can’t.
From this moment on:
Bob the Squirrelisn’t going to turn into the “Cancer Strip”. The thing I’ve learned so far is that there’s a LOT of life to live in-between the medical stuff. Life is just life… boring, exciting, challenging, normal, daily life. The next few months will be sprinkled with appointments, tests, procedures and treatments. We’ll have good days and bad days… laughs and tears… you know, life.
In some way I think… if I put this in the strip, I can control the story and make it a happy ending. Silly, but it keeps me strong.
Lez’s surgery is later this week. After a few weeks of healing, her course of (radiation) treatment will begin. Her mass is classified as Stage 1. It was caught early.
The ass of the mass will be thoroughly kicked.
Thanks for coming along on this journey with us.
Sometimes life is nuts… it’s good to have a squirrel around.
See this picture? This is a picture of me on a Saturday night. But, it could just as easily be a picture of me on the other six nights. Or mornings. Or a really weird and dark afternoon. If you were standing in my backyard (hope you called first… just standing there without me knowing is trespassing) this is what you’d see.
This stuff is hard. And parts of it never get any easier.
Mechanics get easier: the prepping, the inking, the scanning…I’m damn near robotic when it comes to that. Getting to the mechanics… that the bit that never gets easier. The staring at a notebook. The premise that doesn’t fit the characters. The paralyzing fear that I’m going to plagiarize myself (also known as repeating myself). That dialog that is not good. That idea that, even with adrenaline needles stuck in it, just doesn’t want to live.
I’m not stating that to get credit or sympathy… but it’s true.
I took this picture because I wanted to see what the hard part looked like.
I’m not a fan of recaps… maybe I was at one time, but not anymore. Traditionally, I’d take a moment at the end of the year to reflect on what I’ve done, what I haven’t done and look ahead to what I’m going to do.
So, Bob turned 15, I hit 5,000 strips. Are those really accomplishments? maybe. The 15 years happened because that’s what time does… it happens. And, if you’re in that time, then eventually 5,000 happens. So, it wasn’t a result of any pushing or striving, or new developments… it happened because time happened. I found a groove and kept the needle in it…
It happened because I’m stubborn. It happened because I believe in the character. It happened because people are comforted by knowing Bob will always be there. It happened because when you find a good friend, you want that friend with you. Always.
I don’t know what tomorrow will be like. For over a year I’ve lived in constant worry about something I have no control over. Something that will happen no matter what I say, what I do, what I save, what I draw, what I spend. I don’t want to worry… who does? I’ve lost comfort in what I thought were constants. I get it. Nothing lasts forever. Evolution changes things…theoretically for the better and in response to the environment around it. Evolving is adapting to the changing space… that sucks. That’s life.
Over the past year I’ve changed the way I eat. I didn’t realize that the weight I carried held me down. It was the small changes… changes that were not extreme. Changes that were manageable. Changes, that when paired up with patience, just plain worked. I think the greatest thing I got from losing almost 50lbs. was gaining the ability to permanently change something for the better.
Who knows what the next year will bring. I’ll plan stuff. I’ll make stuff. I’ll win. I’ll lose. I’ll even probably crash and burn (several times). But I’ll be here.
And so will Bob.
Thank you all for your continued support. Happy Holidays.