Saturday, August 9, 2008

Live Or Survive

Everything changes when you have cancer. The way you think. The way you look at your family. The way you look at yourself. You came face to face with mortality. The invinciblity you had as a kid, the craziness of your 20's and the live-and-let-die attitude that got you through the day are mere fleeting moments that never seem real. Is it time to live or time to survive?

There's an extremely fine line between living and survival. Do we survive to live another day? Do we live to survive another day? I've never been a soldier at war or been under attack––unless you consider growing-up between two gangs and getting your ass beat every now and then being under attack––but I would imagine you survive to live. cancer messes with your head and makes you figure it out yourself. cancer has no concious.

When I was going through chemo and radiation, there were days I was surviving to live. Fridays. I got the one-two punch on Fridays and by 5PM I was toast. I was in survival mode. I brought out all the survival tactics I could, talking to myself, keeping my mind strong and resting my body. I would remember what John had told me, "there will be days when you think you can't take it any more. Days where you think you can't make it to tomorrow. But you will. You will find it." 

I never met John in person. I got his phone number from my Dad, who got it from a friend of a friend whose Son––John––had head & neck cancer just like me. Talk about a blessing. John's words gave me strength on those days when I would look in the mirror and will myself to feel better. To forget that I'm throwing-up and can't get my ass off the toilet at the same time. To not give in. But you will. You will find it.

And when I was feeling better after the treatments, I was thankful for being alive. For being able to talk to my family with renewed purpose, with a passion to live and see them live with me.

Live or survive? I choose to live.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Happy cancerversary

It wasn't enough that yesterday was the "anniversary" of my diagnosis of cancer. I'll never forget 8/7/07, 2:30PM. "I wish I had better news, but" and that's when things got fuzzy.

No, it wasn't enough that I was starting to feel good about things, when WHAM. It felt like The Alien was going to fly through my stomach and Sigourney Weaver would be running down the hall at work any second now. I started to sweat profusely from my forehead. I was having trouble following my conversation with Aimee. What the hell is going on in my stomach?

This wasn't the first time it happened. It happened last week when I was in Rehoboth Beach on vacation. I just thought my stomach felt like it was going to explode because I tried to eat everything they were cooking on the Boardwalk. I mean EVERYTHING. I was trying to see what I could taste, swallow and get down my throat––my taste buds were getting tastier and I really thought my saliva was coming back a little––and I was full. Hadn't been that way in a while. But after 3 sleepless nights, the pain went away. OK. No more Boardwalk Fries, ice creams as big as my head and coconut fried shrimp.

The look on Aimee's face went from intent on making her point to one of "I don't think anyone's supposed to be that shade of pale." I was trying to gain my composure so I could tell her I wasn't feeling too good all of a sudden. But all I could do was wipe my forehead and try to remember to breathe because the Alien was about ready to hatch. "Are you OK?" "No, my stomach is killing me." "We can do this another time." "Yeah, that would be good." "Can I get anything for you?" "No. I think I'll go to the bathroom."

I wasn't in there long. Maybe a minute. Just enough time for the word to spread that I was in pain and hopefully not on the bathroom room floor squirming like a worm or even worse, passed out. Leah gave me the "you aren't driving anywhere, we'll get you a cab" directive and everyone else was trying to help me. But my mind was made up. I need to get myself the fuck outta here, because Sigourney Weaver was nowhere in sight.

I called Teresa, who called the doctor––our offices are closed between 12 noon and 1 PM––and as I found out when I got home, wasn't feeling so hot herself. Finally, as I was getting into more comfortable clothes, Teresa gets hold of the Doctor's office––but half the Doctors are on vacation. Perfect. "We'll ask our Nurse and she'll call back." (They called back @ 3:32 PM––26 hours later.) Teresa said the nurse could call back in 10 minutes or an hour. We'll give them 10 minutes, then it would be off to Reston Hospital Center.

Thank God I didn't wait. I was in the ER and in a bed with an needle in my arm by 2:30. Exactly one year to the day of my diagnosis. As I looked at the clock in the hospital, I had a hardy chuckle. This is unfuckingbelievable! After an ultra sound and x-rays and some kick-ass pain medication, the verdict was in: gallbladder disease, with gall stones. And for the coup de grau, the PA comes in and says, "oh, they also found a 4 mm cyst on your left kidney." OK, where's the hidden camera. Who's really trying to mess with me here? I'm on some good shit, but this is really giving me a buzz kill.

I looked at Teresa, Adam and Ryan––my two oldest boys who rushed to the hospital to be with me and their Mom––and said, "can you believe this shit?" They had that "Dad's in the hospital again and I'm really trying to be cool here, but this sucks" look in their eyes. Teresa was trying to be comforting and positive but I could see deep down she was worried for me. (I always tell her not to worry and she tells me she'll worry about what she wants to worry about. That's one of the reasons why I love her. She's no pushover.) But hey, I'm still here and I'll get this taken care of just like the head & neck cancer and the skin cancer. Out. Over. Done. This was just my body's way of giving me a "present" on my cancerversary.

Gee, thanks. Rat bastard.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Don't Know What To Say

What do you say to someone with cancer? Hello works great. Pretty simple, huh?

Once I told people I had cancer, I noticed there were quite a few people who didn't know what to say to me. There would be an uncomfortable look or an awkward "how you doing. I mean, I know how you're doing. But not really. You doing OK? I mean, what's OK, right?" Someone actually said that to me. I felt really bad for them.

Kaity had referred a book to Teresa and I. Crazy Sexy cancer Tips, Kris Carr. Foreword by Sheryl Crow. My favorite part of the book is Chapter Two. Chapter Two contains tips #2 thru #14 and those tips deal with the beginning of cancer. In her book she really goes into some great detail, a lot of it about communication, expression and connections. She helped me be able to talk about cancer, my cancer. Kris, if you ever read this, thank you for the life preserver.

One of the strange things that happened to me during my cancer––and there are many strange things that happened––is I felt I had a big neon sign on my head that flashed "cancer here". Or I would feel like I had this great big secret that I was carrying with me everywhere I went. I would go to the grocery store and walk around thinking these people in here have no idea I have cancer. They don't care. They can't see it. Do any of them have it?

With head & neck cancer, the outer portion of my body didn't reveal I had cancer. No visable signs, unless you knew that I was in the midst of losing 30 pounds, knew I always had a ton of hair on my face but now shaved twice a week and knew that under my shirt I had a cable stuffed into my stomach. Most of my physical damage was on the inside––no more tonsils, missing part of my tounge from surgery, no saliva, jaw not opening all the way, no energy, chemo brain––and I tried to keep it that way. I felt being the Dad and being the Boss at work, I had to keep a smile on my face so they would be comforted. Don't let them worry. Don't let them know you're hurting 24/7. Don't let them down. Don't give cancer a chance.

Then again, that's what I saw and experienced. I sure people would tell me otherwise. Tell me things I didn't see or hear. Tell me how glad they are I'm still here. Tell me hello.

Hello has never sounded so good. I never get tired of hearing it.