ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD

A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg

The Spam Hits the Fan

 

On the afternoon of August 17th, I sat at a little desk in a vacation rental on Deer Isle. As I dialed our doctor’s office in Boston to get the lab results of Dan’s last blood test, I looked through a big picture window at pine trees and the placid cove beyond. My heart was pounding like crazy and my whole body felt like one long, stretched nerve. The news would either slingshot my spirit into the sky or rip me apart. 

     The day before, we had decided that Dan should sail north. We were both feeling punchy and needed a few days of alone-time. Two weeks earlier, we found out that Dan’s PSA had dropped from 364 to 164, and we were ecstatic. But with each day that passed, as we got closer to the next test result, ecstasy slowly turned to trepidation. It didn’t matter how good Dan felt or looked; we were obsessed with the numbers, our only true indicator of what was going on inside him. By August 16th we were both a bundle of nerves and worn out from pretending otherwise.

     The morning of a test-result day was super intense, as we watched the clock and waited to make the call. The stress was especially detrimental for Dan, so the plan was for him to get out on the water and relax. I would call him with the results, then drive up to meet him later.

 

     During those first days after the diagnosis, when I was in full defender mode, I used a visualization that revitalized me when I was feeling tired and afraid. In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, there’s a scene in “The Return of the King” where Eowyn meets the Witch King of Angmar during the battle of the Pelennor Fields.  Her beloved uncle, King Théoden, lies wounded and trapped beneath his horse as the leader of the Nazgûl approaches on his Fellbeast to finish the king off. Eowyn steps between them with her sword and shield and warns the Witch King, “I will kill you if you touch him!” That scene became my buttress on the hardest days. Merry was the drugs and together we attacked, then watched the cancer king shrivel in on himself and die.

 

     I envisioned the Shieldmaiden of Rohan now, as I picked up the phone and dialed Boston. The results were fantastic: Dan’s PSA level had dropped from 164 to 60.5! I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, and lightheaded fireflies began floating before me. Putting my head between my knees, I breathed slowly until the dizziness passed, then went to the couch and opened my cell phone. 

     Dan could hear the good news in my voice before I even gave him the number, and his whoops of relief and happiness made all the waiting and nerves worthwhile. We rejoiced together and then agreed to celebrate in two days, over dinner at Northeast Harbor. Within fifteen minutes of hanging up, I was fast asleep on the couch, secure in the belief that we had a whole month of peace and recuperation ahead of us.

     Unbeknownst to us, a brief blurb in Billboard Magazine mentioned the tour cancellation and the cancer:

 

BILLBOARD

August 17

 

Singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg has scrapped his fall solo acoustic tour after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. The trek was due to kick off Oct. 16 in Coral Springs, Fla., and wrap Nov. 7 in Greensburg, Pa. A management spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

 

Fogelberg has begun unspecified treatment for the disease. "Dan is confident he will be able to fight this illness," reads a note on his official Web site. "Your prayers, good wishes and positive thoughts will be very much appreciated."

 

The artist scored seven top-20 albums on the Billboard pop album chart in the '70s and '80s, thanks to such hits as "Longer," "Run for the Roses" and "Same Old Lang Syne."

 

     Irving emailed us:

Wednesday, August 18, 2004, Irving Azoff wrote: 
So, it’s in billboard that the tour is cancelled so you can battle cancer.  I am getting a lot of calls.  Joe Walsh, Don, Glenn, send their best and want to call you. When do you next go to Boston for treatment. Jimmy Buffett called too. He will be in Maine and would love to see you.  Please check in. Miss you. Irving

 

 

From:  Jean and Dan 

Thursday, August 19, 2004 6:01 AM 

To:     Irving Azoff

Irving, we are staying in rentals, and have spotty cell coverage - will you pass our email address along to those friends?  Dan would love to hear from them (and it would be so good for him) we should be in our house by the middle of September and will have our home number then, but until then email is the best way to reach us.  Dan would love to see Jimmy - let's try to work it out. 


I'm driving to Northeast Harbor to meet him today (it's a rainy stormy day - not good sailing weather) and we'll wander about. I think this is one of the few places he actually gets a cell signal, if you want to try calling him to tell him about these friends calling you. I think he'll be turning his cell phone on @ 1:00.

Our good news - the latest PSA test has come back - Dan's PSA level is 60.  So that's 346 down to 164 down to 60. Astounding. We are rockin'!
Love, 

Jean

 

Wednesday, August 19, 2004, Irving Azoff wrote: 

Thanks Jean. I just called the cell but it didn't go through. Will try again later.  That’s great news, keep the psa comin down. You guys are doing it right. I need to hear his voice to know he is hanging in there. Thanks, Irving

 

     That afternoon, I showered and got all gussied up to meet Dan in Northeast Harbor for our celebratory dinner. It was a 90-minute drive but I wanted to give myself extra time for summer traffic. I was just about to leave when my cell phone jingled. I thought it might be Dan, wanting me to bring something to the marina with me, but it was his mom. This was unusual, since Margaret always called Dan’s cell phone to talk to us.

     She sounded upset, and started out by saying she had done something, “really, really, stupid.” A reporter from the Peoria Journal Star had called her and asked about Dan’s cancer. She said she told him she couldn’t talk about it, but he said that this was her chance to set the record straight, before other outlets got hold of the story and started printing untrue articles. 

 

     For years, Dan had asked Margaret to get an unlisted number and to stop opening her door to strangers. But she was understandably proud to be Mrs. Fogelberg, wife of beloved bandleader Lawrence Fogelberg and mother of Dan Fogelberg, famous musician. Dan’s two brothers had moved away, and all the boys would talk to her at one point or another about moving from the old brick house to a retirement village, as many of her friends were doing. She refused to budge, though, and continued taking phone calls, corresponding with fans, and welcoming the ones she felt she knew, into her home. 

     Dan called her “The Queen of Peoria,” and I saw why for myself when I sat with her in the audience during one of Dan’s Peoria concerts. As we made our way to the center stage seats, people were calling out, “Hi Margaret!” or “Margaret, hi, it’s Sally from the hair salon!” She would pause briefly to reply, or give a little queenly wave, cupping her hand into a C shape and jiggling it, like a quivering leaf at the end of a branch.

 

     Now she was telling me she “knew” the reporter, because she’d given him statements in the past. From what he’d said, she had expected a small, unobtrusive article in the back of the newspaper. Instead, she had opened her morning paper to a full-blown story. "It almost gave me a heart attack,” she said. As she talked, I opened our laptop on the kitchen counter bar and did an internet search for the story. 

 

Luciano: Ex-Peoria pop singer Fogelberg faces fight with cancer 

Posted Aug 19, 2004

 

Dan Fogelberg, the Peoria-born pop singer who has sold more than 20 million albums over the past four decades, is undergoing experimental medical treatment to combat advanced prostate cancer.

 

“We’re all very hopeful,” said his mother, Margaret Fogelberg of Peoria. “But we’re also a bit leery.”

 

     The "experimental treatment," was completely wrong, but for some reason, I found the word “leery” very funny.

 

Fogelberg this week canceled a 16-city solo acoustic tour of the East Coast and Florida. His Web site, DanFogelberg.com, has issued a short statement that says in part:

 

“Dan has been recently diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and has entered treatment. He apologizes for any inconvenience the cancellation of the concerts may cause his fans. Dan is confident he will be able to fight this illness. Your prayers, good wishes and positive thoughts will be very much appreciated.”

 

Fogelberg, who turned 53 last week, was tested for prostate cancer two years ago during a routine checkup, and the results were negative, his mother says. Two months ago, in gearing up for the planned tour, he underwent another checkup, during which the cancer was detected.

 

     This is probably why, for years, people said that Dan had “left it too late,” leading others to think he’d been careless.

 

Fogelberg, who has lived in Colorado for more than two decades, shared the results with his mother and his wife, Jean - but almost no one else. At the time, he told his mother, “I’ve had a lot of wonderful fans. I don’t want to alarm them until I have more information.”

 

Further testing showed the cancer has spread to his bones, his mother said. So Fogelberg and his wife headed to Harvard Medical School, where doctors have embarked on an experimental regimen.

 

     We went to Massachusetts General Hospital, and although the two are affiliated, Harvard Medical School did not treat patients at the school. Dan immediately started on the standard treatment for advanced prostate cancer; there was nothing experimental about it. This was not good.

 

Margaret Fogelberg said she did not know the technical particulars of his treatment. But she did say he first was put on hormone therapy and a nutrition program.

 

Recently, he started a new form of chemotherapy: “It’s not the kind that tears you up,” his mother said.

 

     Oh my gosh, I thought, he’s going to HATE this.

 

So far, the results have been positive, and he has felt good enough to go sailing with his wife near his second home in Maine, his mother said. However, the stress of the treatment and the uncertainty of his prognosis prompted him to cancel the fall tour.

 

“The doctors told him he won’t be a victim or a survivor. They won’t classify people as that,” his mother said. “He’ll be a patient, and he’ll have a good quality of life.

 

″ ... He’s handling it. He has bad days and good days. I’m sure there are days he’s scared half to death.”

 

     Now, everyone would know we were in Maine. I had no idea where she got the victim vs. survivor vs. patient idea; it was obviously nervous chatting at this point. Dan was going to be so MAD.

 

In the wake of his diagnosis, Fogelberg and his wife hope to raise money for cancer research. As for plans to perform again, he has made no decision.

 

“He has relatives saying he’s got to perform one more time, we need to hear him one more time,” Margaret Fogelberg said. “So, with that kind of pressure, maybe he will.”

 

     Our only plans at that time were to fight the cancer, not to raise money. This was the first I’d heard of “relatives” saying they needed to hear him “one more time.” It made it sound like he was definitely going to die, and soon. I felt like throwing up. The whole article was a hodgepodge of Margaret's confused information and disjointed comments.

     “Oh, Margaret,” I said.

     “I know,” she replied, “he’s going to be very upset with me.” I couldn’t disagree.

     “Will you tell him for me?” she asked.

    “Me?!” I said, an octave higher. I felt like she had dropped the headmaster’s antique vase, and now she wanted me to take the pieces to him and convince him not to expel her. 

     Of course, I said I would do it. The last thing I wanted was for him to stumble upon the article while surfing the web in some internet cafe. Knowing he would want to see it for himself, I left the browser window open and closed the laptop. I didn’t want him doing a search for it, as I had. He would see that it was already rippling throughout the web, with headlines like, “Dan Fogelberg Dying of Cancer.” 

     We had worked so hard to build ourselves a fortress of hope and positive attitudes. It was as delicate as a sandcastle, though, and I was afraid a wave of negativity like this would undo all our efforts. The closer I got to Northeast Harbor, the more I dreaded giving Dan this bad news, on the very day we were supposed to be celebrating our second PSA-level victory. 

     Our plan had been a month of rest and recuperation, but even a week would have done me a world of good. Now we would be wading into another battle, unsure of who the enemy was, or where they would attack from.

     It was still raining as I arrived at the Northeast Harbor Marina at three o’clock. Normally, I’d stand on the dock and watch Dan motor in from the boat in the inflatable dinghy. Since it was raining, though, I parked the car and hurried into the Yachtsmen’s Building, a small Cape Cod building with showers and a reading room with wifi. A few minutes later, I saw Dan walking up from the dock. He was so handsome, and his gait was that of a man who had started the day with a song in his heart. 

     I had so looked forward to this rendezvous. All day yesterday, my mind kept imagining Dan’s happy smile and wave; the kiss; the tight, lingering hug of shared pain and victory. When I first shared the results with him over the phone, we had felt an unspoken thrill of portent. In July, flush with the thrill of a PSA of 164, we had set ourselves a goal: Dan’s 60th birthday. We would reach that milestone and then create another. When the new PSA number turned out to be 60, it seemed like an omen. I’d pictured us wandering through the village and then, over dinner, toasting, “To 60!”

 

     As he approached the reading room he saw me. He smiled and waved, and I felt miserable, knowing I was about to shatter his happy day. Memory has robbed me of the kiss and hug, but spared me from the relaying of the news. What I do remember is him saying he wanted to see the article for himself. A small table with a power strip and modem on it sat between the front door and a window. I set the laptop on the table and Dan sat in the folding chair to read. I didn’t want to read over his shoulder so I walked from window to window in the small room, watching the rain but listening as Dan’s exclamations turned from sharp exhalations to outbursts of disbelief.

     The more he read, the madder he got, until he was shouting at the laptop, cursing the reporter and sputtering about Margaret in shock and confusion. I had expected anger, but not this hurt rage, not over a newspaper article. Mood swings are a common side effect of hormone therapy, and we may have been experiencing a spike, but I think it was more about betrayal, and frustration that so many parts of our life were spinning out of our control. 

     The sound of water running off the roof and splattering on the wet walkways outside, combined with Dan’s angry voice, sent me right back to the night the ceiling collapsed in the pool room. I remembered thinking, as he railed against George, that he was going to hurt himself if he didn’t calm down. Right after that, we got those first two PSA levels, 151 to 364, and I found myself wondering if that sudden spike of anger, adrenaline and testosterone had fueled the wildfire cancer. Now it was happening again, and I begged him to calm down.

     “What was she thinking?!” he asked, angrily, but I had no answers for him. He stood up and fished his cell phone out of his rain jacket. I worried he was going to call Margaret but, instead, he dialed Irving, and I was incredibly relieved when his old friend picked up. Dan visibly relaxed as they discussed the situation. I’d been running on adrenaline for hours. Now that the crisis was past, I collapsed, exhausted, into the folding chair. 

     Nothing could be done about the print version of the article, but Irving said he’d see if the Journal Star would take down the internet version, with all its inaccurate statements. We all knew it was unlikely, but Dan felt much better after their conversation.

     Thanking Irving, he hung up, and we talked about the article for a little longer. Then we discussed salvaging what we could of the rest of the day. I got up to put the computer in my carrying case, and those lightheaded fireflies surrounded my head again. Sitting back down, I put my head in my lap. Dan put his hand on my shoulder. “Are you okay?” he asked. I opened my mouth to say, “I just need a minute,” but instead, I burst into tears. What the hell?! 

     I tried to stop the deluge, but didn’t know where it was coming from. We went to the car for some privacy and still I cried. This isn’t me, I thought, I'm no cry baby! When Dan said he was going to drive me home, I hated myself for ruining the rest of our day. He went to close up the boat and I sat there, bewildered and sobbing helplessly. In an effort to gain some control before Dan returned, I called my friend Rebecca, in Santa Fe. Through the tears, I told her what was happening. When I’d finished, I waited for her advice. With a voice full of compassion, she asked, “Who is this?” Even she didn’t recognize this Me. 

     Halfway home, the waterworks finally stopped, to be followed by ten minutes of loud, obnoxious hiccups. Back at the rental, Dan made gin and tonics, set them on the breakfast bar, and took the stool next to me. “Well,” he said, lifting the glass toward his mouth, “aren’t we the pair?” That started a pedal-to-the-metal laughing fit that just about did me in.

      While Dan made salads and heated some left-over pizza for dinner, I set the laptop on the bar and together we composed an email to our friends, referencing the Monty Python “Spam” sketch:

 

August 19, 2004

Subject: Spam spam spam spam

 

Dear friends,

 

First of all thank you so much for your wonderful emails of the last week - your love and support are very important to us, and your loving and humorous e-mails lift us immeasurably.  We will keep you informed about our progress.

 

Secondly, we want to alert you that the spam has hit the fan.  A reporter called Dan's mom a couple of days ago and got her to make a few statements, which he then spun into a whole article of misinformation, and other websites are posting erroneous articles as well. We want you to be aware of our increased need for privacy in this, and, just so we are all on the same page, the official line that we have posted on the website and through management basically says: Yes, Dan has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, yes he is being treated (in an UNDISCLOSED location), and yes, he is so far responding well to treatment.

 

We are sorry to burden you with this.

 

Love,

Dan and Jean

 

     Later, we dropped some Ambien and went to bed early. I slept for eleven hours and woke feeling like the entire previous day had been a bizarre dream. Checking our inbox, we were surprised to see responses to our “Spam” email, from friends we hadn’t sent the email to. After lunch, Dan wrote a new email:

 

August 20, 2004

Subject: maintaining our privacy

Dear friends,

 

It has come to our attention that some of our emails regarding our treatment have been forwarded to other people.  We know you are doing this with the best of intentions, but we ask that you please stop.  We are only giving this personal information to our closest circle of friends.  If we want someone else to have this information we will email them ourselves.  Due to a momentary lack of  judgment by someone close to us, some of our private news has reached the press and internet.  This is adding incredible additional stress to what is already a very stressful time in our lives, and stress is counterproductive to our treatment and recovery. Please do not forward our emails or in any way give the information we give you to any other person, no matter how close to us you think they are. And if you have forwarded our email to someone, please contact them and make sure they understand our need for privacy.

 

Thank you,

Dan and Jean

 

     We drove back to Northeast Harbor and wandered through our favorite shops and galleries. The storm had passed, so we had coffee and pastries outside and then I sat on the warm dock as Dan pumped a few inches of water from the dinghy. I kissed him goodbye then watched him motor out to Minstrel. He would sail for a few days and I would move our things to the next rental. I hoped it had a good bed, because I still felt like I could sleep for days.

 

After we’d posted our tour cancellation notice on danfogelberg.com, Deb Jelinek of The Living Legacy set up a page on her website where fans could write to Dan. Messages poured in, and the words of love and encouragement, from people all over the world, touched him deeply. Deb sent us a big binder album she titled “Hope,” and every few months she’d print a new stack of letters and send them to us, to add to the album. Dan kept the album in his office, and now and then he’d open it at random and read about the positive effect his music had had in all these people’s lives.

     The press quickly lost interest, to our great relief. There was a brief flurry of emails and phone calls from big-name musicians he had known, but that ended after a few weeks. It was the fans, the boys in the band, and his old friends who would continue to let him know they were thinking of him.

 

On September 27, Dan’s PSA level dropped from 60 to 51. We moved into the new house on October 1st. It wasn’t finished, and we rose each morning to the sounds of construction, but we woke in our own bed. The crew helped us move furniture into the house from our storage unit. One day we asked one of them to help us find a wall stud so we could hang a heavy mirror in the guest bedroom. The poor guy. 

     This was the one thing Dan and I could not see eye-to-eye on: how high to hang things on walls. It was an antique, full-length mirror with a decorative frame that we had picked up during our travels, and it was heavy. As the carpenter held it in place, Dan said it looked good to him. I said it should be ten inches lower, since the whole point of a full-length mirror in a bedroom was to be able to see what you were wearing. The crewman lowered it. Dan said it didn’t look right, and had him raise it eight inches. I said I should at least be able to see a few inches below my waist, and he lowered it. Dan said it didn’t look right, and, in exasperation, the carpenter set the mirror down and walked away.

     Later on, I found myself wondering if that member of the crew thought it was mean of me, to have disagreed with Dan. He had cancer, after all, surely I should let him do whatever he wanted to, in whatever time he had left. But Dan didn’t want people to pity him. That would have killed him as surely as the cancer. For most of his adult life, people had admired him; venerated him; declared him a master of his craft. He was still that proud, talented man; he didn’t want the cancer to re-label him; to eclipse everything he’d achieved in life, and he sure didn’t want people agreeing with him because they felt sorry for him.

For a few weeks, I’d been putting food out for the calico cat hanging around the house. She had begun taking food from my hand so, one evening I took a container of crab meat out the side door to her. I gave her a few bites then went inside, leaving the door open. I sat on the living room floor, talking softly to Dan, who sat on the couch. 

     Soon she walked past us, touching her nose to all the new things we’d added to the structure she’d considered her own for the last year. The couch, chairs, and master bed were new; everything else had either been in the little captain’s house, or  bought in local antique stores. She looked most of the main floor over and then returned to the living room. We talked quietly to her, and she began rubbing up against us. When it was quite dark outside I slowly closed the door, and she didn’t object. She slept on the bed that night, and Dan named her Abigail Squibnocket Marbles, or “Abbie.” 

     It took her a while to get used to the popping of the wood in the fireplace. Once she did, though, she would sit next to Dan in the evenings on his office couch while he read and stared into the flames. In the mornings they'd sit together on the back porch and soak up the sun. “We’re both fire cats,” he’d say.

Minstrel went into storage for the winter, and on November 8th, Dan’s PSA level fell from 51 to 33. In December we bought a Christmas tree and some bulbs, but it all seemed sparse without Dan’s big collection of ornaments, stockings hanging on the mantle, and plastic garlands with chili lights. All of that was in the basement at the ranch. 

     The new house was sweet, but I felt like we weren’t all the way there; like particles of our matter were swirling on teleportation pads at both the ranch and in Maine, waiting to fully materialize in one place or the other. My heart was still in Colorado, with all the wonderful memories of carefree days past, but my head was in Maine, with our goals for Dan’s health and the new house ahead of us.

     I gave Dan a beautiful sextant I’d seen him admiring in his favorite maritime antique store, and he gave me lights and backdrops for the photography studio I was creating in the basement. Abbie turned out to be a wandering cat, like Buckaroo, following us down to the beach for walks.

Dan wanted to return to Colorado for a couple of months. He enjoyed skiing at Sugarloaf in Maine, but missed the powder of Wolf Creek near Pagosa Springs. He wanted to touch base with George about the ranch, sort through some files and tapes, do some skiing, and work on a CD project. All of that would be good medicine for him, but there was still work to be done on the new house. We knew from experience how sideways things could go when long-distance decisions were made, so I said I’d stay. I felt confident about overseeing the remaining construction on my own, and Dan was doing well and felt strong. We conferred with Dr. Kaufman, who said it was doable, so we made travel arrangements. Dan would fly out of Boston after our next MGH appointment.

     It was hard to imagine being apart for nine weeks. We’d talk every night, though, just as we had in 1996, when Dan was in Los Angeles working on the “Portrait” box set. Eight years had passed, but it seemed like a lifetime since that first handshake over my guitar amp at Cafe Romana. Twice-divorced, and in our forties, we had still believed in "true love."

 

     We were only just learning what that really meant.

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Posted March 13th. 2021 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2021

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