I read stories about cancer survivors and they sound like they've received some great philosophical insight, have been given some great gift that have changed their lives for the better. Well, I wish I had their kind of cancer. And at some level, I think that anyone that says that is totally full of shit and is putting on some lame ass marketing program so the rest of the world can see how cool they've become. I don't believe it, to be honest with you. For me, the whole experience has been one I would never, ever wish on another person and I'd be extremely happy to have never had. Oh, sure, I've learned some things about the world that maybe I didn't really understand before. Here's the list of things I've learned:
- Love is important. Without it, life is pretty shitty. With it, life is pretty awesome.
- Family is important. Probably a repeat of the previous item but worth its own bullet point. As rough as things have been over the last two years, without family it would have been way worse.
- I'm tough. Stubborn, courageous, tenacious as well. And oh yeah. I've been plenty scared, angry, worried, anxious, depressed and beaten down over the last two years.
- I'm sad that my body has been damaged by this process. I've always liked my body and it's enabled me to do a bunch of fun things in the world. Here is the list of things that have gone wrong with my plumbing:
- blood clot in my left arm, probably from the power port I had inserted into my left pectoral area in the spring of 2010. But perhaps from all the blood draws I had in my left arm in 2010. I can't swim more than about 200 yards of freestyle without my left hand turning purple from lack of blood return flow in my left arm.
- Fractured T7 vertebrae in my back from low bone density caused by prednisone.
- Lung damage from bleomycin toxicity
- Peripheral neuropathy in my toes
- Various skin sores, rashes
- Scar tissue in my left neck area from the cancer in my lymph nodes
- Reduce aerobic capacity caused by the anemia which in turn is being caused by the SGN-35 chemo I'm getting.
- Have lost my taste for most fish, can't eat red meat, don't like cheese any more, beer and alcohol are less fun
- I'm either a very spiritually advanced person or a complete rookie. I've though a lot about dying and what's next. I believe there is something next but I don't have a strong idea of what it's like. I'm scared that what's next might mean being separated from my family forever. That would suck. But the whole thought exercise of dying hasn't driven me towards any need for more organized religion or some great epiphany about how I should live my life. Maybe those insights are still to come.
- Life is good. Like, really good. And precious, Oh, so precious.
- I am not ready to die. Not by a long shot. Maybe when I'm 85 and my body is really broken down I'll be ready for the next thing. But not now.
- I can understand how people give up on living. I think if your body is f__ked up enough, for long enough, and you hurt for long enough, I can see how you'd be ready to let go of this existence and move on to the next thing, whatever that might be. Especially if people that you really love (aka your spouse) has already moved on. My mom lived for 13 years after my dad died and she thought about him every day and missed him every day. I get that. At some point, I think my mom was happy to die because she really believed that she would get to be back with my dad. I hope that's true and that they are in some existence right now, surf fishing together. Minus the part where my mom hooks my dad in the nose with a big ass lure because of an errant cast. True story. Or perhaps she's busy hooking a seagull with an errant cast. Another true story. And my dad gets to capture the seagull, wrap it in a jacket (hard to do, but important when the seagull is struggling) and uses his needle nose pliers to cut the barb off the hook. This is a reminder that you should always, always have your multi-tool with you. In this life or any other existence you might be in.
- Having people die that you know is bad. Really bad. The closer they are to you, the worse it is. But really, it doesn't take much for you to feel close enough to someone that when they die, it feels like someone has punched you in your private parts, puked down your shirt and thrown broken glass into your eyes. Yeah, it's that bad. I've known a couple of people with cancer that have died. And perhaps a 3rd one that I've lost track of. Which begs the question, what is the social etiquette of trying to track someone down just so you can find out if they're dead (yet)? I haven't figured that one out yet so I haven't tried to figure out what's going on with Reuben. But I think about him a lot and hope he's OK and wonder if I'm a chicken shit because I'm not tracking him down or just being respectful of his family's privacy. More the former than the latter, I think.
- I like to exercise. I need to exercise. When I can't exercise, life is harder. And exercise can just mean walking down the hallway a few times. Movement is fundamental to how I live.
- Compassion. Feel like I've maybe got some more of it for people that have cancer. Still need to work on this. Feel less compassionate towards people that worry about problems that don't seem very important to me.
So have I been changed by the process? Absolutely. For the better? Physically, definitely not. Emotionally? Probably a toss up. Maybe I've got some more wisdom but I've also had a lot more sadness and loss.
But the big, big lesson that I'm enjoying today is that I'm still here. I love my family, I have a great circle of friends, my health seems to be improving and I can visualize a reality in which I'm here in this existence for many years. I still have many things to do in this world and I'm not anywhere near ready to go on. So today I'm happy. Happy to be here, happy to be more or less healthy, happy to be typing this note to you, whenever you read it.
Sometimes I feel like closing with some advice, or some pithy comment. Not tonight. I'll just end here and tell you that I've got another blog coming tomorrow that is a great example of some of the great, wonderful things I have in my life. Bonsoir!