Thursday January 24, 2013
In 2006, I first started getting a pain in my groin area when I lay down, I thought I was just doing to much sport, hockey, football, running and had just started climbing. I went to my family doctor. After a routine examination, she said she was not sure, but to go away for the long weekend ice climbing anyway. Terrific, just a strain! Whilst I was away my doctor left me a voice mail to say she had booked a scan, just a precaution.
“Yes,” the lady scanning me said, “something’s not quite right”. She showed me on the monitor one testicle was just black.
She said to wait there whilst she would see if the Urologist was around, he could see me straight away, I was starting to worry now. I sat in his office as he looked at the scans, he turned round and said you’ve got Cancer.
Bollocks!!!!! (hey but not much longer)
But I don’t feel ill, I’m not sick and I’ve got no lumps or bumps and I’m only 35 years old. I have never done drugs or smoked, ok I like a drink or two with my mates, “are you sure” I think I asked, although some how I already knew, he was just confirming it.
What now? Getting good medical treatment is only the first part of the secret. The other part, the personal part, can be much more agonizing. It means getting your head on straight and preparing yourself to deal with some very critical emotional problems.
I knew that, win or lose, I was in for a heavy emotional trip. But I decided that, win or lose, it was going to be a meaningful and beautiful trip. I’m still working on it, and I’m doing the best I can, but it’s not easy. I’m learning how to live, and I wasn’t prepared for the hard work of living.
First comes the bad news, then the good news.
The Bad News:
Fear of Dying
Death is unknown by the living. There’s no one around who can tell you what being dead feels like, so you’re not so worried about that. The real bummer is to die without having experienced what living feels like. That’s the real cheat. Most people suffer from the fear of living. Don’t do this, don’t do that; it might involve pain, it’s too risky, it’s too chancy. Not too much pain, not too much joy, just keep to the middle road with your head down to miss the flak.
Then you get slapped with the message that says: You have cancer. You make a quick choice. Fold or go for it, back off or make that move, have your last swing on the merry-go-round. It’s very tempting to cash in your chips and tear up your membership card in the human race.
You might voice your fear of dying by wondering, “What if I gave a funeral and nobody came?” Self-doubts begin to play tricks with your head, like, “Does anyone give a damn whether I live or die?” You begin to see and hear evidence that nobody does. No one else seems panicky, just you.
The doctor is cool, scientific. Your mates and parents are cool, sad-looking. Your work mates are cool and have a few sad, sympathetic words that sound like “have a good trip” (to wherever), “or hang in there mate” (you fucking bet).
Maybe you pick on God. “Why me, you son of a bitch? What did I do so bad you want to kill me, you God-creature who decides who gets the short end of the stick?” Punishment for dimly perceived wrongs? Gray, lurking sins from memory past?
No you’ve got to focus, I’m only 35.
Fear means “they” have suddenly caught up with you.
Time of Death:
The emotional strain begins with “Am I going to die right now? This week?” Then it becomes “When will I die?” The how-long-do-I-have-before-I-die refrain goes on and on till the end comes. This strain is sometimes unbearable when overlaid with other, preexisting emotional problems. All your self-doubts or long-suppressed fears then become major complications. The uncertainty of your personal time of death forces upon you a unique philosophical dilemma: What do you do in the time you have between now and the time you die? And you don’t know exactly when that will be. You have to be prepared to go at any time-and on short notice.
Time begins to have a different meaning for you. Time begins to mean now. Even this breath, this heartbeat. Life becomes a numbers game. Without treatment, a 99.999 percent chance of dying. This year’s treatment is better than last year’s by X percent. Brand X cancer has a 90 percent death rate. Brand Y cancer has a 10 percent death rate (providing Z circumstances are the same). If you live 6 months after apparent remission, odds improve that you’ll live for 2 more years; 5 years clean, odds are good for a go at 15. Everything you do, everything the doctor does, everything in your emotional outlook and your environment changes the odds on your living or dying.
Some of you will say, “I could get hit by a truck and die tomorrow!” Yes, but if you never step in front of a truck, you can affect the odds greatly in favour of your living. Once you have cancer, you have bad numbers to work with and you still have those damned trucks to worry about.
(For all this I get a “hang in there, baby”?)
Relating to Others
Because you have cancer, you will have problems relating to others-family, friends, people at work, in groups. You feel different about yourself and feel that others are treating you strangely now. You speak the word “cancer” and people step back from your breath. It’s frightening because nobody knows what it is, what causes it, where it comes from, or how you catch it.
It’s unpredictable. You can have it and not know it. You can live with it for twenty or thirty years. Or you can die from it next week. You may get it, be treated, feel fine, and die sixteen years, six years, or six months later. There are no guarantees available for any of it.
Work becomes a problem. Six months lost in a Chemo haze. Ten days lost with surgery. It is still a fight to keep the business going. Company’s insurance premiums increase. Mine cancelled, you’re too much risk, but you don’t know what I do in my spare time, climb rock and bloody large mountains, sod the cancer.
You are the one who has to bring home the beastly news that cancer has struck. You say the word: cancer. Tears. Crying. Grim fright. Controlled terror.
Helplessness. What would you say to someone you love who has just told you, “I could be dying”?
“When are you going to die?”
“How can you do this to me?
You search for some way to express your love, but words stick in your throat. Trying to breathe is more important than saying everything that is rushing through your head. The best that you can do is tell them how much you love them, but wishing you had someone to hold you and tell you its going to be ok. Your aging parents are fearful of their own deaths. They can’t bring themselves to even mention the word “cancer.” They don’t mention it . (Are they the ones who don’t come to the funeral you give?)
Needing love and wanting to give out all the love in your body and heart before it’s too late. (Last chance before dying.)
All of a sudden I have this desperate urge to see all of my old friends, all of my old places. Where I was born. Milestones in my history to date. Tell old friends in faraway places that I love them. Let them know they made me happy. Thank them for caring. Maybe they’ll let me know they care too.
Please tell me I left a shadow.
New friends withdraw. Why risk sorrow and pain by caring, getting involved, investing in someone who will leave you? You die, they cared, they hurt. You hurt them. So you withdraw like a wretched mongrel. You don’t fit in. You’re only temporary. You go out or meet people, they say you look well considering, but looks aren’t everything
“Hang in there, baby”?
For those people who didn’t have unusual discomfort before their cancer was discovered, the treatment becomes the disease by association-the trauma of surgery that leaves you disfigured or missing a limb, an eye, a tongue, a testicle, or a breast. Half a face. Not quite human.
But I’m only going to be sitting in a chair while they pump some chemo into me, how hard can that be! Ok I can’t sit still for two minutes let alone a whole day or week.
The hair-raising ( or should that be hair losing) drama of chemo. Lets find a real bad concoction of drugs and chemicals, but don’t worry it should work, it has on some others already. The eerie, but kind of comforting beat of the pump that doesn’t leave your side for weeks on end. Getting sick to your stomach and throwing up, you thought a hang over was bad, but hey this is some session! Chemotherapy injections three times a day, preceded by a shot in the arm or butt that knocks you out for hours so you won’t know about the searing agony your blood and veins are going through.
Then there are the little things listed under “side effects of medication and treatment,” such as loss of hearing, feeling, taste, coordination, hair, or teeth. Inability to chew, swallow, speak. Sterilization or reduced potency/fertility. Arthritis symptoms, rashes, the biggest spots you’ve ever seen, getting fat, loss of muscle and cartilage.
I leave hospital between chemo cycles, “see you next week”, more like one or two days, I can’t stay well, fevers, high temperatures, sickness and lack of red blood cells, “inject yourself with this, it boost the manufacture of red cells, oh it may hurt but at least we will be able to keep to the chemo regime”, later on no red blood cells, “ can’t stop the chemo now, so we will have to give you transfusions”, “OK what ever”, I’m passed caring they could stick what ever they like in me now. .
I used to be fit, I can hardly walk and the stairs are really hard work, will I get fit again?
Cancer? The treatment was the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life.
Living with Cancer
“The prognosis is good,” says the doctor. Evidence of remission. Blood count rising again. Weight stable. Drop plans for chemistry maintenance program-not needed. Life signs good. Normal recovery from surgery. Scar tissue normal for surgical operation.
Now you are faced with the problem of living with, or at least adjusting to, the side effects of cancer treatment. The doctors don’t worry too much about the side effects. They’re more concerned about keeping you alive. They consult with each other out of your earshot, they think.
“Massive totalbody chemo!”
“Latest drugs, superstrength!”
“Kill that cancer now!”
“Save this person’s life!”
Okay, doctors, you saved my life. Thanks. But how do I live with what life I’ve got left? Even if the cancer threat is reduced or removed and the patient survives the threat of death from cancer, the person must adjust emotionally and physically to disfigurement, dismemberment, sterilization, or other side effects of the treatment. What say you now, cosmic counselor:”
I remember as a kid checking for monsters every night under my bed, now this monster has me checking every night again and it visits me most nights too.
Hang in there, baby”?
The Good News:
A Philosophy for Living
Not wishing cancer on any living thing, I must confess it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m glad it happened, because now I know what living means. I was forced to come to terms with the concept of death, with heavy questions like: What is the value of death? What is the purpose of living? How do I live the lifetime I have left? The prospect of death forced me to look at the quality, value, and purpose of my life. I had to come up with some quick answers and now there are still more answers needed if I want to use the time allotted to me. Some answers came, without my asking and lots are still unanswered.
I had spent months alone with my worry and anxiety, wondering how I got picked for this death number. I remembered stories about a God. Somebody in power who could make deals. The really important deals. I planned my case. I worked up my brief for the judge. If there was a God, I figured, and if this God had something to do with this bad rap, maybe this God would buy my deal. Maybe this God wasn’t merciful, but maybe this God would be susceptible to a good trade. The bargaining began.
I laid out what I had to offer, going through the details of my life–good points, bad points, the potential in me. I was asking for a future. Some time to be in. Let death pass me by this time, God. What do you want of me, God? What price life, God?
The answers came one Saturday morning when I arose early, fixed a cup of coffee, and waited for the sunrise to come to my tent in the Peaks. I was wrapped in a warm sleeping bag, thinking about this world I share with everyone. The conditions must have been right for a proper meditation, for my mind was free of my body, of the world, to roam over vast stretches of the universe in search of the answers.
I perceived answers to questions I didn’t even know I had asked. A feeling of understanding and unity came to me. I felt at peace with all things living or having energy. That tree, that sparrow, that flower, that rock and I were one. Equal. You are you, and I am I. Each of us has a meaning, a purpose, a shared existence.
Some of the answers came.
The purpose of despair is to make us hope. The purpose of pain is to give joy its desirability. The purpose of death is to give life its value. Death offers nothing; living includes everything. Living is experiencing all the feelings a human existence offers. Accept what comes; good and bad are equal in value.
Risk. Risk asking yourself for all the strength within you. Risk disappointment in order to achieve a greater sense of participating in life. Risk loving someone as much as you can.
Do. Do as if you will achieve everything. Accept the pain when it comes. Accept the fear when it comes. Suffer the suffering. Accept the joy, the excitement, the peace, the tranquility, the love that comes from others and from yourself. Use the negative to direct you to the positive. Walk through the valley of the shadow of death; there is a better you on the other side. The sun is warmer, the people are friendlier, life is sweeter. Your vision is sharper. You can see and hear, with your mind and imagination, things you could not perceive before.
“You don’t need eyes to see you need vision” Faithless
You will have understanding. The benefits of a full life, but no guarantee on the life span.
I accepted. The bargain was struck.
There are still many unanswered questions, but hey that’s my life now, today is always better than yesterday.
What I have learned
At any moment that you find yourself hesitating or if at any moment you find yourself putting off something until tomorrow that you could do today, then all you need to do is glance over your left shoulder and there will be a fleeting shadow. That shadow represents death, and at any moment it might step forward, place its hand on your shoulder and take you. So that act that you are presently engaged in might be your very last act and therefore fully representative of your last act on this planet. When you hesitate or wait for tomorrow, you are acting as if you are immortal.
Most people have been affected by cancer in one way or another. Whether it’s through a family or friend, or even a personal battle. Share your story here and let others know they’re not alone in the climb against cancer.Share