ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD

A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg

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Vagabonds

In late June we arrived in Maine, knowing we’d be driving back down to Boston on July 6th so Dan could get his first shot of Lupron. Construction on the new house had come a long way, but the completion date kept getting moved back. 

     A master carpenter had been hired to do the stairs, trim, and wood panels, and when we first walked into the house we were shocked to see the wood that he had already installed. For months, stained samples had been FedEx’d back and forth between Maine and Colorado to get just the right shade of warm honey. Now we entered the front door to find wood trim, stairs, panels and bannisters that looked like they’d been stained with espresso. We’d been shopping online for wallpaper and fabrics for months, and everything had been chosen with a warm gold trim in mind. 

     If there was one thing Dan could not tolerate, it was a professional being sloppy or unprepared. When he was in his thirties and forties, he would have hit the ceiling, demanding that the espresso wood be torn out and replaced with the warm honey color he’d asked for. Now he just growled. 

     There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to put things into perspective. One minute you’re tubing down a river, swatting and cursing the mosquitoes; the next minute you hear the roar of a waterfall up ahead and insects become a tiny distraction.

     We were very unhappy about the wood stain, but we didn’t want to do anything to slow down the construction, so we let it be. Anything that hampered the work infuriated me. I wanted to shout that we didn’t know how much time Dan had; we needed to get into our house NOW. But the crew didn’t know about the cancer. None of our friends in Maine knew; not even our friend and builder, Bryan. It was maddening sometimes, trying to act “normal” while shouting over the sound of an approaching waterfall that no one else could hear.

 

     Until the house was finished, we needed a place to stay. Dan would have been perfectly happy to live on his boat, Minstrel, the whole time, but after a few weeks my sense of adventure was covered in bruises. I craved a bathtub; a bed; a kitchen with a counter that didn’t double as an icebox lid. Finding vacation rentals on Deer Isle in the summer and fall would be next to impossible, but Dan agreed that we would take whatever we could find.

     Incorporated in 1789, the island of Deer Isle consists of two towns: Deer Isle and Stonington, and a few scattered villages. In Maine, the “warm season” lasts from June to September, leading some Mainers to joke that the state has only two seasons: “Winter and the 4th of July.” Afternoon temperatures of 9ºF aren’t unusual in the “cold season,” which discourages many people from living there year-round.

     On Deer Isle, the winter population of 2,000 swells to 4,000 in the glorious summer and fall months, with part-time residents and tourists taking up any available accommodations.

      Luckily, I’d created a website the previous year for a lovely woman named Jean Ford, who ran Sargent’s Rentals. Jean drove me all over the island that fall so I could photograph the thirty-two rental properties she managed. I did the website as a favor to her, so now she was happy to give us any cancelled rentals that came up. Our neighbor, Pauline, rented her cottage out in the summer and she had a week open, so she held it for us. When we stayed on the boat, we rented moorings at Buck’s Harbor Marina in South Brooksville. They had nice big showers next to the office, and there was a market and a restaurant just up the hill in the village.

     So, we would be vagabonds for a while, living a week here, two weeks there, packing and unpacking our clothes, toiletries, and the blender and juicer.

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Taking turns with the camera onboard Minstrel, in Buck's Harbor Marina.

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      Dan had stopped shaving and there were streaks of gray in his beard now; it was very Captain Nemo. When we were on the boat it wasn’t always possible to complete all the sections of our smoothie/nutrition/super food routine. I didn’t make a big deal of it, though; Dan was happiest while sailing on the open sea and between the hundreds of off-shore islands. Standing at the helm of Minstrel, the wind in her sails, he radiated joy. Surely, I thought, joy radiation is more powerful than any nutrient or drug.

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Dan got the first shot of Lupron at MGH on July 7th. We hadn’t realized it would be injected into the muscle of his buttock, and this resulted in an awkward moment when a very nice nurse asked him to drop his pants. Dan didn’t wear underwear beneath his jeans or cargo pants. And there it was: the reason our mothers always told us to wear clean underwear in case of an emergency. 

     The nurse was very understanding, Dan was very embarrassed, and from then on he wore briefs under loose pants to all of our appointments. 

 

     On August 4th we were back at MGH for our monthly appointment, and to learn the results of the last blood test. We desperately hoped that the shot of Lupron, plus a month of daily Casodex pills, were working to slow or halt the progression of the cancer.

     That night, I sent an update to our families and closest friends:

 

From: jean and dan

Date: Wed, 4 Aug 2004 20:45:27

Subject: Some good news from Boston

 

Dear all,

 

Well, we had our doctor's appointment today and had our first good news in two months. When we were here a month ago for the first shot of Lupron, they took blood for a PSA level. The doctor told us not to expect to see much of a change from the 364 level (at that point Dan had been taking Casodex for two weeks). We were hoping for a drop in the level, but we would have been happy just to hear that the level had not increased. Today he gave us the results of that blood test - Dan's PSA level was down to 164 - a drop of over half!  This is still a very high level and we know that we have a long way to go to beat this, but we are very happy tonight and wanted to share the good news with you.

 

Love,

Jean and Dan

 

     We got back to the island just in time for the annual Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, when more than a hundred wooden boats come from as far away as Europe to sail the fifteen mile course down and back on the Reach. It was a fun day to be on the water with a picnic and some friends. Later we danced at the after-party, to the music of a local pan band that Bryan played percussion in. We bobbed and laughed, shoulder to shoulder with the other dancers on the crowded lawn. It was the most "normal" day we'd had in ages, it seemed.

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     On Dan’s birthday, August 13th, emails with cheerful birthday wishes came in from friends who didn’t know about the diagnosis. It was time to expand the circle. 

 

August 15, 2004

To my very beloved friends,

 

First, let me apologize for being out of touch for so long. Jean’s and my life has been extremely tumultuous for the past few months and we have been withholding communications purposefully so as not to add worry and stress to your lives until we necessarily had to. I hate being the bearer of bad news but I feel it is better you should be told by us before you hear second hand.

 

There’s no real way to sugar coat this, so I might as well tell you straight out. At the end of May, I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. Tests determined that it had spread to my bones and lymph nodes and was very aggressive. Apparently, it has been active for quite a few years. We immediately began researching our options and decided to enter treatment in Boston. We flew to Boston middle of June and I am currently in treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the finest and most advanced cancer treatment centers in America. The doctors that are treating me are some of the most prestigious and leading specialists in the field of urology/oncology.

 

We have been commuting back and forth from Maine and have been living for the last three weeks or so on the boat while we wait for the new house to be ready. Looks like we’ll be moving in sometime around the middle of September. We have a nice waterfront rental on the island for the rest of August. It’s a joy to see the new house getting so near to completion day by day.

 

Jean has been an absolute angel. I couldn’t be in better or more healing hands. We have completely converted our diet and living habits to be a powerful combination of pure nutrition and anti-cancer supplements. I’ve already shed over ten pounds and am preparing to enter a sound fitness program once we have settled in. We both know that my body must be in the best shape it can be in order to fight this disease. Our outlook is very good and positive and our love has deepened to a place that neither of us could have expected. I have for the foreseeable future given up any thoughts of performing or recording (the fall tour we had booked is being canceled) and now will dedicate myself to beating this thing and returning to wellness. I know that I’m facing a tough, uphill battle, but we’re continually reading about, hearing of, or meeting survivors. Research is evolving and improving every day practically, and so we live in hope.

 

I know you’ll want to get in touch with us but at this point we would prefer it to be by e-mail. It is just too emotionally taxing for us to discuss all this again and again. I swear the hardest part of this so far has been trying to comfort our families and business associates and getting them past the shock and fear and realize that we’re O.K. After two insane months even beyond description, we are at last finding some rest and peace on the sea .We will, of course, give you each a call at some point in the late summer or fall when things have finally leveled a bit. For now, please try not to worry too much.Your love is much cherished and your friendship and humor are so important to me now. I can assure you I’m doing fine and am the same frickin’ loony I’ve always been. There are tough days, for sure, but most days Jeanie and I are living and loving and laughing and looking towards a future that we refuse to allow this shit to darken.

 

Know that you are in my heart and thoughts and the love I feel for you strengthens me every day.

 

Dan

 

     Jon Asher, Dan’s band mate from the Coachmen and the New Coachmen, sent him a beautiful reply:

 

August 15, 2004

Subject: LOVE IS STRANGE

 

Dear Dan and Jean,

   All Summer long I have been thinking about my own mortality and occasionally Yours. I had thoughts that came from out of nowhere about you. I guess now I know why. There was something I felt compelled to tell you the other day, on your birthday, about your music. I have known this for many years even when I first interviewed you for a job with the Coachmen. 

   As I recall, we were at the Walters residence and harmonizing Beatle tunes on that cheesy organ in the living room. There was something in your voice that almost knocked me off the bench. During your rise to fame, when I was backstage watching you there were times that your voice sent shockwaves of emotional electricity right through my very being. 

   I have never taken this for granted and of course how do you say this without sounding weird. The few glimpses into your soul that I have had remind me that even as our bodies fall apart our spirits are eternal. 

    I am sure that your angel, Jean, who showed up for this job to help you, is the best medicine available. I am however at your beck and call because nothing in my life is so important that I wouldn’t drop everything and come see you. 

Love you! 

Jon

 

See attached ridiculous photo.  

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     His childhood friend and first band mate, David Backstrom, wrote:

 

August 16, 2004

Dear Dan & Jean;

I just returned from a trip and got your email 10 minutes ago.  What can I say I'm speechless.  My heart feels like it's cracking and my eyes are flowing.  I'm not going to relate a lot of my sorrow and emotional feelings as I will deal with that on my own.  I can say how sorry I am and I know how you feel but I really can't imagine. I can't help but think of all our great memories as kids and consider them some of the best times of my life and will always cherish them WEASEL---!!! I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH.

 

There followed an explanation of David’s company, which created products from a Hawaiian fruit called “Noni.” He had begun supplying universities and research scientists with the raw fruit, for cancer research.

 

Enough of the science bullshit and on to the mushy stuff.  I think of you often way before this news and always wanted to spend more time with you, sing with you, laugh with you, get drunk with you, go sailing with you, ride horses with you, eat your cooking and the next thing you know we get approval for AARP (whatever that is) for the old folks home. You are in my daily prayers and daily meditations.  Let me know when I can see you I'll fly out tomorrow.  You mean so much to me and now I gotta go.

 

Call Me,

David

 

     The outpouring of love from his oldest friends and the boys in the band was a beautiful thing and Dan was buoyed by their concern. Each of them had their own way of lending their support: some forwarded information about new drugs and treatments, while others sent amusing news or anecdotes to make Dan laugh.

     I asked Dan if I could share the diagnosis with one island friend and he said I could. In all the years he’d lived in Maine, Dan hadn’t socialized much with his neighbor, Pauline. But I took a shine to her right away, with her British accent, no-nonsense attitude, and gap-toothed smile. She raised sheep, spun their wool, and tended a vegetable garden on a piece of land that looked like someone had cut a slice out of Northern Ireland and placed by the road just down from our house. I wanted to be friends with this person. 

     As she remembers it, she looked up from her garden to see a woman with long blonde hair walking through the apple orchard wearing dungarees and carrying a plastic bag. My friendship offering was meat scraps for her big black dog, Bear. It was an unconventional overture, but Pauline invited me in for tea and biscuits. 

     One day she spoke with a man who rented out his island house in the summer and fall for extra income. His only advertising was a personal website. She wanted to rent her cottage as well, to supplement her income as a personal caregiver. We took a look at the man’s site, and it was a dismal little thing. I said we could do much better for her cottage, and we did, growing closer in the process. The following year, at the end of a lucrative summer and fall, she showed up at the old captain’s house with a thank-you gift: a green pottery vase decorated with a dragonfly. 

     We had become good friends, and now I was walking the half-mile to her house to tell her about the diagnosis. I sat in a chair beside her little kitchen table while she busied herself making tea. When she asked how things were coming along at the house, I said I had something to tell her. At my tone, she said, “You’re pregnant!” and turned to laugh with me. I smiled ruefully: I’d been carrying this secret for three and a half months, and now I was going to deliver it, all over her clean wood floor. 

     As she opened the tea tin, I quietly said, “Dan has cancer.” Her head jerked around to look at me, her smile turning to disbelief. Setting the tin down, she rushed over and embraced me, pulling my head into her belly and holding me tight. Everyone else had been told via email and phone calls; this was my first post-diagnosis condolence hug, and it was wonderful. Pauline was only twelve years my senior, but it was a protective mother-hug, and I could have stayed there, with my face pressed to her wool-scented womb, for an hour. I didn’t cry, I just absorbed the comfort. Then, over tea and McVitie's Digestive Biscuits, I told her what had happened. She and Dan had grown close over the last few years as well, and it would take her some time to absorb the news.

 

     Through Pauline, I met our artist neighbor, Persis Clayton Weirs. Persis did paintings of cats that were featured in Lang’s annual Love of Cats wall calendars, and she was always looking for photos of cats to paint from. Over the winter I had emailed her an old photo I’d taken of Buckaroo, and she asked to use it. When we arrived in Maine, she let me have the original painting, to give to Dan on his birthday.

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Dear Persis,

 

I want to thank you so much for your wonderful portrait of Buckaroo. You have touched me deeply. It is a very fine work and you captured him perfectly. As you know, special animals can be some our most loved and cherished companions, and Buckaroo was my dearest friend for 17 years and was a truly unique and incomparable character. To have this beautiful remembrance of him means so much to me and will always hold an honored place in my home.

Our new home is coming along well and Jean and I would love to have you over to show it to you once we've gotten settled in. Bryan et al are doing a magnificent job and we're very pleased and excited.

 

Dan F.

 

     The fall tour was not going to be possible, so the management office in L.A. began informing the venues. We put a simple notice on the website for the fans, saying, “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.”

 

     It had been just three months since Dan went to town with a sore back and ended up with a cancer diagnosis, but it felt like ages. The stress and vagabond existence had begun wearing me down, but Dan was doing remarkably well. He’d lost some weight and looked great. The drugs alleviated the symptoms he’d been enduring for a while, assuming they were a natural part of becoming “an old guy.” 

     On August 17th we would call the doctor’s office for the latest PSA numbers and, after that, we’d have a whole month to relax and recharge. I was looking forward to lazy summer days spent walking on the beach, eating at our favorite island eatery, The Fisherman’s Friend, and taking long, deep naps, wherever we happened to be resting our heads that day.

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Posted March 6th. 2021 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2021

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