A vacation delayed by cancer surgery finally happens, as USA TODAY‘s Nashville music critic keeps a promise to his daughter to take her to New York when she’s 10.
6:23AM EDT October 13. 2012 – When USA TODAY’s Nashville music critic Brian Mansfield was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 48, he figured that a lifetime of Southern-fried foods, extra-large sodas and stress eating on deadline had brought it on. Turned out he had a genetic syndrome that gave him an 80% chance of developing colon cancer. He’ll chronicle his life with the disease — and with only a small part of his colon — in a series of weekly installments.
The “color mood analyzer” at M&M’s World Times Square had me pegged. “You put your worries aside and had time to laugh today,” the machine told me, after it said my mood color was orange. “You deserve a treat!”
No amount of chocolate, though, could have been a better treat than my trip to New York this past week with my wife, Nancy, and 10-year-old daughter Gracelyn.
This was a trip six years, then another three months, in the making.
When Gracelyn was 4, she started pestering us to take her to New York. Gracelyn is the kind of child who, when her friends’ mothers would tell her, “We should get you two together for a playdate some time,” would look them straight in the eye and say, “Great. When?” We hadn’t yet realized this when she started asking about New York, so, just to put the conversation to rest, we eventually told her we’d take her when she was 10.
She’s been planning this trip ever since.
COLUMN: Last week’s installment
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Finally, Gracelyn turned 10. We picked a date and put it on our calendar. We priced hotels and prepared to book flights. Then I got cancer. The doctor scheduled my surgery for the day before we were supposed to leave.
When Nancy and I broke the news of my illness to our kids, Gracelyn processed the information by asking a series of questions to determine what impact this development would have on her life. Finally, she got to the one we were dreading: “Will this affect my trip to New York?” That’s when she cried.
Gracelyn’s like me, in that she likes to figure the angles, work through all possible scenarios in her head so she’s ready for any eventuality. She didn’t talk much about New York after we postponed the trip, but I knew it was never far from her mind. It hadn’t been for years.
I agonized about delaying the trip. Worries about surgery and chemotherapy paled next to breaking a 6-year-old promise to a 10-year-old girl. The idea of moving the trip to her fall break introduced too many variables that I had no way to control. Would I survive surgery? (Dying wasn’t a big statistical risk, but one thinks about these things.) Would I be in the middle of chemotherapy? Would I be well enough to travel? Would I have the energy to keep up with her?
As things turned out, the delay might have been the best thing that could have happened. July was miserably hot in New York, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees during the time we’d initially planned to be there. Though she’s normally full of chatty enthusiasm, Gracelyn wilts quickly in the heat. I hate to think how she would’ve handled a sweltering subway platform or a seven-block walk then.
Even better, by the time we finally got to go, I’d been given the all-clear by my doctors. If we’d squeezed in a summer trip, the cancer would’ve shadowed us the entire time. As it was, we barely gave it a thought.
Instead, we set down our bags in our hotel room last Saturday and immediately set off for Coney Island, where Gracelyn wanted to eat a hot dog at Nathan’s (her No. 1 goal, believe it or not, ranking slightly ahead of visiting the American Girl store). She waded in the chilly October surf, swung in a car on Deno’s Wonder Wheel and shrieked her way through the drops and curves of the Cyclone.
During our five days in New York, Gracelyn marveled at dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History and picked out skyscrapers from the observation decks of the Empire State Building. She brunched at Cafe Lalo, listened to the waitstaff sing at Ellen’s Stardust Diner and ordered lamb and noodle soup from Chinatown’s Xi’an Famous Foods. She shopped at Macy’s and posed between the lions at the public library. She ate pizza in Greenwich Village and sipped frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3.
She also hunted down locations from two of her current favorite movies, Enchanted and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She rode in a boat on the lake in Central Park, just like Amy Adams’ Giselle, even going under the Bow Bridge. She looked in Tiffany’s display window, just like Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly, but without the pastry.
The entire time, Gracelyn caromed from childhood glee to almost-teenage cool, never more so than on Tuesday. That day, a morning that began with picking out a doll and lunching at the American Girl store gave way to an afternoon in Chelsea getting her ears pierced at Studio 28 Tattoos. That night, she attended her first Broadway play, The Phantom of the Opera, then headed to M&M’s World, where I got my mood read and she picked out a pound of pink and purple and silver and aqua candies.
Eventually, we got so busy experiencing our New York trip that we started forgetting to document it. Neither Nancy nor I got out the camera for what might have been Gracelyn’s favorite moment, at least until she got her ears pierced — successfully hailing a cab near Herald Square. We were having too much fun watching her step out onto the edge of Sixth Avenue with her hand stretched above her head, staring down an approaching taxi driver. We don’t have a picture, but we’ll never forget what she looked like.
I don’t know that this trip felt sweeter for having come on the other side of my cancer journey. I’m sure it would’ve felt bittersweet had we taken it this summer before the surgery. But it did feel like the last piece of unfinished business from this summer. Now it’s time to start looking toward the future. What a treat.
Music that makes me want to live
Cancer has changed the way I hear music, more than any other life event except marriage. Songs I once appreciated only on a surface level now strike deep at the core of my soul. Some inspire me; some terrify me. Others that I might have liked before I’ve got no use for now. I’ve also got more time to listen, whether it’s during my morning exercise time or while lying in a hospital bed. These songs form part of the soundtrack to my cancer story.
1. The Prettiest Girl in the World, Michael McDermott
2. A Little Biblical, Band of Horses
3. Like Ice Cream, Divine Fits
4. Au Cinema, Lianne La Havas
5. Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, Jeff Lynne
Next week: Ready to run
- My Semicolon Life: After cancer, New York beckons (usatoday.com)
- My Semicolon Life: Good news on the cancer front (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- My Semicolon Life: Putting cancer in context (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)
- My Semicolon Life: Tracing my family’s cancer history – by Brian Mansfield (familyhistorybowelcancer.wordpress.com)