I'm putting work ahead of everything else. Last time I worked this hard for this long, I started to feel bad. Really bad. It was cancer. And it was only 6 years ago.
Now I'm not throwing myself a pity party here. But I am trying to take a step back and look at what I can do differently. Because I am the problem AND the solution. I need to say no more often. I need to delegate. I need to stop trying to "fix" everything. I am worried.
I have to remind myself that I can always get another job. I can't get another life. This is the only one I have. And after surviving cancer twice, I actually feel like I'm in the bonus round of life. (As if working 6-7 days a week, 10+ hours a day is a "bonus").
Last night as I was turning off the lights and locking the doors downstairs, something on the fridge caught my eye––or maybe it was calling my name. Like, "hey fuckhead. You trying to kill yourself." It was a picture of My Brother From Another Mother, Larry. There he was, with his arms stretched out wide and a huge smile on his face. It's a picture from his memorial service announcement. Larry passed away from cancer––three weeks from diagnosis to death––a year-and-a-half ago. He was my "heat check", as Larry worked in the same business as I do. This was after my Wife had told me to never skip lunch again. Later on in the middle of the night, I woke up thinking about what I could do to get myself to change.
I received a comment on one of my posts a while back that hit home. It was from Susan Vento, Wife of former U.S. House Representative, Bruce Vento.
Unfortunately, on October 10th, 2000, Mr. Vento died of pleural
mesothelioma—a rare disease caused by asbestos exposure that kills 90-95% of
those who have it. Not many people know about this terrible disease, which lead
Susan to reach out to me. Susan is the spokesperson for a great online resource called the Cancer Victim's Right Campaign (cancervictimsrights.org)
that fights to protect cancer victims and their families. She wrote a blog piece
(http://cancervictimsrights.org/my-story-opposition-to-the-fact-act-susan-vento/) that you need to read. Please share it after you read it.
I ask you this because cancer will not "just go away." And more importantly, I created this blog to help others in any way, big or small. It's one reason my blog title is Other Side Of Cancer. I'm still learning to this day, 6 years after my diagnosis, how my cancer effected my family members and friends. I just had a drink with a friend on Wednesday who asked me, "you're cancer free, right?" I said, "yeah but the side effects are killing me." He said, "all that matters is you're alive and we're here talking about it over a whiskey. I saw you go through some shit and I know."
Help Susan to help others. It might even help you.
About this time 31 years ago, I was waking up (West Coast Time) to get ready for a big day. I wasn't hungover or waking up in Tijuana on a bus with only my underwear on and a dime taped to my forehead. (Another story for another time). I was alone in my 2 bedroom duplex that I shared with my Girlfriend and a 2-year-old.
It was my wedding day. I was adamant about not getting married since the time I was 10, having watched my parents get divorced from each other and both going through another divorce with their current partners. So marriage was not for me. Until I met the kindest, genuine, caring, most grounded, beautiful and fun woman in the world. When I met her in March of 1981, I was homeless (living out of a friend's VW bug with bad breaks and having to pop the clutch often to get it started), working in the mailroom at Chiat/Day making $800/month and living life one day at a time. Not quite "the catch". I still remember laying in bed wondering why this woman would want to spend the rest of her life with me––hell, I didn't even want to spend the rest of my life with me.
Our ceremony started at 7pm. Or was supposed to. My Mother was late––as usual––so we held up the ceremony for 30 minutes until she arrived. My poor soon-to-be Brother-In-Law was singing before the ceremony as guests arrived. Thank God he was a professional and knew how to extend the show. I had not seen Teresa yet. I even thought maybe she said "forget it" and left the church.
After witnessing my Mother being seated in the church, it was time to go wait at the alter. As the music played, I got to see Teresa for the first time in over 24 hours. She glowed. She was nervous. She was stunning. She was going to be my Wife. As I read my written vows to her, I had this extereme sense of hope, calm, belonging and most importantly a love that was so deep it hurt. In a great way.
Happy Anniversary to Teresa, the love of my life. My best friend ever. I still get excited coming home to see her every night. I still can't believe she sleeps with me every night––and that she puts up with my craziness and bullshit. And I love her infinitely more today than I did 31 years ago. I hope we have 31 more years together.
It's been awhile since I've posted. The reason? I've been searching for some answers and inspiration, quite honestly.
I had surgery June 25. It was for a hernia and I'm still recovering from the ordeal. I took for granted all the little things I could not do once I went under the knife and came home for recovery––it hurts to sneeze, cough, laugh, burp, fart, spit (brushing my teeth and rinsing) and talk loudly. It took me 4 days to finally be able to lift my leg high enough so I could put my pants on.
Since I could not do much but sit & think for the last three weeks, I've had a lot of time to think things over and do some personal inventory. It got me thinking about the side effects from the cancer and more specifically, the radiation, chemo and the anesthesia from the surgeries. Since my diagnosis August 7, 2007, I have had a few things happen to my body beyond the initial recovery from the treatments––my gall bladder had to be removed, my blood pressure has been up and down which it never was before and now a hernia that required surgery.
Doctors tell me they are not "related". Oh really? So you pump my body with enough shit to literally kill me––and it almost did––and you think that NONE OF IT IS RELATED. Yes, I am older. Yes, I have not been a saint in my actions and choices in all my years. But I was an athlete at one time and I have always thought that way––keeping my body in shape and watching my weight.
Now I can't prove that any of this IS related because I'm not a Scientist or Doctor. And I don't have the time or money to find out. I'm too busy living one day at a time and enjoying the moment. I have my annual physical in August––that's how I "discovered" I possibly had cancer––so I'll ask the question I always like to ask because I can hear Bugs Bunny ask it so clearly.
As my Daughter was telling me about another person with cancer that she knew, my mind started to think about my own mortality and battle. And how I wanted to help.
I've always been one to share. My Mom used to tell me even when I was a "big boy" as I am now, how I would always make sure whatever I had, I share it with my Sister. Or a neighbor. Or somone who didn't have as much as we did. (And we didn't have a lot). As a so-called adult, I've continued to share my stories and events of my life. Some would say too much and too often :)
Then I thought about this little blog I started 5 years ago. It was actually 6 years ago this month when I started to realize something was not right with me––I was always tired, always cranky and felt like I was in the worse physical shape of my life. I started banging on the keyboards for myself, to get my exact thoughts on everything I was going through mentally & physically in a place so I could review. Or someone else should I not make it. It was important to me and hopefully to my family and close friends that they had a little understanding of what people with cancer experience––without ever having to go through the disease themselves. What I found was that I actually learned more about myself than anything else. I wouldn't say everything was a great find––but it was and is honest, pure and true.
I learned that I was much stronger mentally than I originally thought. That I had an extremely high tolerance for pain––which is good and bad. I learned that my family was more afraid of me dying than I was. That I had fallen into a bad attitude that pervaded my entire life––and was mainly driven by the fact I was miserable at my job. I learned that I needed help. And accepting help was not a sign of weakness but a sign of loving and caring. I learned who my real friends were. And disappointed in those who used my illness against me. But the most important lesson I learned out of all the shit I went through, takes the smallest amount of effort.
Right after Christmas––ok, not RIGHT after Christmas but close enough––the race for your attention is front and center with Valentine's Day.
Valentine's Day has become an angst filled moment for millions of Americans, trying to show their love for one another on this special day. Candy. Flowers. Teddy bears with clothes on and supposedly cute sweet sayings attached. Bling. Rings and all kinds of special things for this special day.
Now I'm all for romance––no really, you can ask my Wife––but I have a simple question: what happens after the "love day"? Do we just stop loving? Stop showing our love to those who we love every day? We are loving people every day, aren't we? It's not "I REALLY, REALLY love you today on Valentine's Day. Tomorrow we'll go back to being our normal, take-you-for-granted selves, OK?
I don't profess to have all the answers. Hell if I did, I wouldn't be sitting here blogging about it I'd be making big $$$. But I don know one thing I'll do today that I did this past Valentine's Day. Tell those who I love, "I love you." Without any pretense or presents.
Why? As I wrote in an earlier post, since clearing the 5-year cancer-free mark I've been searching internally for a spark, reason, cause in order to keep this blog going. The conclusion? Shut-up and write already.
I was thinking about how we as a society treat our discussions when it come to cancer. There is the reverent, hushed tones so as not to offend anyone. There's what I call the "cancer grab", as we have efforts against breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer which causes us to compartmentalize cancer as if it were a department store? Breast cancer? That's on the 1st floor, right before you get to gynecological cancer. The 2nd floor is where you'll find prostate cancer and lung cancer. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. After all, cancer is cancer no matter where, how or why it decides to take over your life. We all have a stake in the cure.
Which brings me to the somewhat innocuous headline of "TV Imitates Life." There is a fantastically written TV show on NBC, "Parenthood." As I was watching this show, one of the lead characters is diagnosed with breast cancer. The depiction, acting, story and emotions that come from this group of people is spot on. I kept telling my Wife, "whoever wrote this must have gone through the cancer battle. This shit is almost too real for me to watch." But I did watch. Every week. And every week I cried like a baby when it came to the cancer story arc and the performances of the actors. One of the main reasons I started this blog in 2008 was to chronicle the emotions, actions and situations that arise every day in the lives of people around me. (Hence the title, Other Side Of Cancer).
Thank you NBC. Thank you David Hudgins (Executive Producer) for telling the story so honestly. Thank you to the cast of "Parenthood", who have made me realize how precious each moment we live and how if effects others. Now there's only one thing left to do.
Take it from TV and let's talk more openly about this stuff.
I'm your average person. I'm married, with four children and five grandchildren. I get up every day and go to work just like millions of other people. I do want to end cancer in my lifetime. By sharing my experiences, thoughts and relationships I hope in some small way that others may benefit.