Looking For Deena

Hollis stood in his parents' driveway hugging them goodbye. It had been a long four years but - at thirty - he was ready to leave home (again).

"You know you're welcomed back anytime," his teary eyed mother told him as she squeezed him hard.

"I know, Mom," Hollis said, returning her meaningful embrace.

"I hope you find what you're looking for," Hollis' Dad said, shaking his son's hand and patting him on the shoulder when Hollis was done with his mother's hold.

It was actually 'who' he was looking for but Hollis hadn't told his parents about the mysterious Deena - no point involving them in his weird fantasies and obsessions.

Hollis nodded his head with affection before climbing into his used car that had barely been driven in the past four years, now filled with several pieces of luggage, boxes of belongings, and his lap top.

"Text us," his mother ordered.

"I will, Mom," Hollis promised from the driver's seat, glancing out the window and smiling with appreciation. "I never would have made it without you two," he told them.

His mother put her hand to her mouth to stifle her sobs.

"Go forth and discover the unknown," His father smiled.

Hollis sucked in his breath, put the car in reverse and slowly backed out of the driveway. His parents walked to the edge of the curb with their arms wrapped around each other's waist waving him off. Hollis kept them in his rear view mirror sight until they disappeared from his view.

A wave of sad emptiness momentarily overtook him but Hollis saw the road ahead of him and he thought about what could be waiting for him and he felt hopeful.

Hollis had left home before, of course, off to college where he earned his teaching degree before returning to his home town, renting an apartment, and landing a good teaching job that included coaching gigs. The kids liked Coach Holton because he worked out and ran with the team and he was an inspiration as an "old man" (he was twenty four!). But a few years later, living with Bridgette and having just bought a condo, Hollis started feeling run down and de-energized. He went to the doctor and he was found to be severely anemic. The Doc was stunned that Hollis was physically active as a coach.

"Most people I know who are anemic can't walk up a flight of stairs," the Doctor commented.

When Hollis didn't bounce back after treatment, more tests were run and it was discovered that Coach had colon cancer, a rare prognosis for a man of his young age. Hollis refused to accept the diagnosis or to be beaten by the fears and statistics of cancer. He underwent surgery to remove a piece of his colon and more than three dozen lymph nodes, followed by chemotherapy.

Coach made it a point to show his players his scar with pride whenever they whined about too many laps or hard practices. But Coach Holton was forced to cut back and hand off some of his coaching responsibilities to his assistants as he slowly recovered and got back to his regular routine following surgery. He lost significant weight because he could only eat gentle foods that wouldn't upset his system and it took more than four months before he was finally able to get back to his normal coaching routine.

A year later. Hollis began experiencing symptoms again, including blood in his stool. Doctors ran tests, discovered the cancer had returned and that Hollis was bleeding internally which explained most of his symptoms including exhaustion. More of his colon was removed and he underwent radiation treatment.

The second bout was much more emotionally challenging and his illness began taking a financial toll. Hollis used up all his vacation and sick time and he was forced to take a medical leave of absence when doctors found a golf ball-sized tumor in his colon that required additional surgery and six months of chemotherapy. Bridgette left him, unable to deal with the emotional baggage of his ongoing illness and uncertain future. Hollis sold his condo and moved home to live with his parents, substitute teaching when he felt up to it but he was having a hard time keeping his health insurance up to date.

It took a good year for Hollis to start feeling like himself again and to appreciate the new normal while dealing with the side effects of his chemotherapy, including peripheral neuropathy which was nerve damage to the hands and feet. Hollis easily lost his balance or tripped while walking. He also developed degenerative arthritis in his hip, neck, and back.

Hollis suffered another setback when he had to undergo an emergency bowel resection when a portion of his small bowel got stuck with his colon after he had a tumor removed.

His parents worried about Hollis' emotional strength just as much as his physical challenges battling the disease. They saw how the cancer had changed him, sapping his spirit and testing his limits. Even his parents became disillusioned when the cancer spread to Hollis' liver which required more surgery (removing part of his liver) and more chemotherapy, leaving him bald once again.

Hollis didn't leave the house much, struggling with bathroom accidents and other physical challenges, including being diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) caused by the radiation. He battled depression and became defeated by the many health scares despite the encouragement and emotional support from his parents and a handful of friends who stood by him, including former students and players who stopped by to check in on him.

Hollis' mom and sister were his primary health aides, driving him to his various appointments and sitting with him during his chemo sessions. Boredom was the enemy for Hollis as he remained housebound and physically limited during his ongoing illness. He preferred avoiding people and being a hermit as he dealt with his various issues. His computer became his best companion and one day Hollis stumbled across a web site that perked his interest and probably saved him from going off the emotional deep end during his long and arduous ordeal.