By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
He's more afraid, he admits, of what happens before death. He doesn't remember much of the summer of 2009, but he's horrified to hear that he was angry, and violent. When Tashi notes that, during those dark days, Kevin was abusive, his eyes are sad. "I'm sorry," he whispers.
That's what he's most afraid of: Not death, not pain, but becoming a monster.
"If it" — meaning the tumor — "comes back, the personality changes come back too," he says. "To me, it's the zombie dilemma. If your best friend gets bitten by a zombie, do you shoot them — as a favor to them?
"I will make arguments to end this early rather than become the horrible person that I was. I don't want to hurt the people I love most on the way out."
For now, though, that's not the question. Kevin is still Kevin. And so, for now, things are a little bit simpler.
"At the end of the day, is my heart still beating? Yes. Am I still with my wife? Yes," Kevin says. "Then that's a good day."
In June, Kevin had another CAT scan. And in June, once again, he was clean: no tumors, no resurgence of the cancer.
It doesn't mean he's out of the woods. But it's the best of all possible outcomes at this stage of treatment.
And Tashi had good news, too — kind of.
On June 9, two letters arrived from the Arizona Department of Economic Security. The first letter was one she's been waiting for. The state of Arizona decreed that, since she left her job to take care of a family member, she "left work for a compelling personal reason not attributable to your employer."
What that means, in non-bureaucratese? She's eligible for unemployment benefits.
But then she opened the second envelope.
"I bet you $10 that it says I'm not eligible," she jokes.
"Oh, I'm sure it's just more information now that you do qualify," Kevin says hopefully.
The second letter has the same date, and comes from the same branch of state government.
"You are not eligible for unemployment insurance . . . unless eligibility conditions are met," it says.
A week later, Tashi is still stewing.
"Can you at least tell me if I'm going to get it or not?" she says, exasperated. "What the state of Arizona has told me so far, they seem to be wanting me to move and be somebody else's problem."
It's a blazingly hot day, and the first week of Kevin's chemo cycle. That means he takes the little poison pill every night. It also means, twice a week, Tashi drives him to Barrow for Aloxi, an anti-nausea infusion from an IV.
"It keeps him feeling almost human," Tashi explains. "We have two categories during chemo week. If I ask, 'How are you?' and he says, 'I'm still alive' — oh, that's not good. If he says, 'Almost human,' that's success."
Kevin is looking even paler than usual. He's moving very slowly as he slides on his Crocs and gets ready to go.
"I can keep up an act and pass as a normal human being for a couple hours," he says grimly.
They take the 202 into Phoenix. Traffic is light, but the heat is stifling. The air conditioner in their old Chevy Blazer is on the fritz, and even though they're moving quickly, 110 degrees is still 110 degrees.
"I consider being there 15 minutes early being on time," Tashi says cheerfully. The heat seems not to affect her. "It's a question of, 'Do I consider my time more valuable than their time?'" She pauses for a second. "I do occasionally consider his time more valuable, but he's got less of it."
"Scarcity does drive up demand," Kevin says.
Upstairs in the IV suite, nurse Maureen Boyle is handling Kevin's infusion. She's handled infusions for Kevin before, and she greets him warmly.
"Did you do the stand-up thing?" she asks.
"Oh, yeah," Tashi answers for him. "We've got the link up on YouTube. It went off great! Everybody laughed at the right place."
"That's a good thing," Kevin says.
"Some people there were heckling half the guys who went on before him," Tashi says. "They made not a peep during Kevin's routine."
Boyle ties a blue band around Kevin's upper arm. "Are you feeling good?"
"Well, I'm on chemo," Kevin says, "so feeling good is relative."
"Are you alive or almost human?" Tashi asks softly. She's not looking for an answer, and he doesn't give one.
At the end of the 20-minute infusion, Kevin sits quietly, sipping his can of lemon-lime sparking water. He's always a little dizzy after an infusion, and today is no exception.
But all things considered, this is a good day. The Aloxi helps. And there's still no recurrence of the cancer that will, in the end, probably kill him. He's got his wife. He's got his sense of humor, and he's got his marriage.
He does not look upset, sitting there in the chair. And when he stands up, Kevin Pratt does not stumble.
Boyle bids him goodbye for the day, promising to look up his comedy routine online. "I love YouTubes," she says. "It'll be fun." Then, ever the nurse, she asks, "Are you feeling okay?"
"As okay as I can," Kevin says. He and Tashi head to the elevator, holding hands.