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Friday, January 8, 2016

The Antihero's Guide to Cancer

Antihero (n) : a central character in a

story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.

I'm not an author, but if I were going to collect up all my stories, experiences, and accumulated wisdom related to my own Multiple Myeloma, I might call it, "The Antihero's Guide to Cancer".

When I was first grasping for something to hold on to at the beginning, I recalled Jimmy V's famous speech. I have an NC State University baseball jersey I bought at a charity auction some years ago; it's framed in my office, in view every day when I come downstairs: Don't Ever Give Up is the inscription on the back. And I remember some friends I knew that fought, or are fighting, this fight. These gave me inspiration to fight on.

Keeping up with the heroes is tiring, though. And guess what: I find it impossible.

We're not asked to be heroes. But maybe the encouragement to be one is in fact subtly there. Keep fighting; stay strong; you can beat this; never give up. So we try to be the strong ones, the find-a-way ones, the never-give-up ones. But this is difficult, extremely difficult sometimes. Most times I just want to be me, a plain, regular guy, not the guy.

Don't get me wrong, the messages are good and necessary: keep fighting, stay positive, never give up. I've heard them, and I've said them. But, I'm no hero, and some days I really feel like it. Some days the fight just isn't there, or the negativity, pain, and fear pile up; and these are the days no-one sees, except for those closest to you.
it's times like these you learn to live again
it's times like these you give and give again
it's times like these you learn to love again
it's times like these time and time again

-- Foo Fighters

This is the low place I repeatedly find myself falling into, and climbing out of. Cancer is a real battle, and it fights on many levels. Maybe with time I'll learn how to avoid falling, but for now I fall down and fight back up. Cancer tries to wrest from you your identity, your sense of control; it limits choices. I wrote earlier about this fallacy of control; you can't lose what you didn't first have. It's unsettling, however, to have yourself remade. And let's face it: cancer still carries a stigma even despite its prevalence. Meaning: it's embarrassing to say I have it. It instantly changes things between me and most everyone.

Nowadays mere day-to-day life seems so hectic, almost overwhelmingly so. Balancing work and the active lives of 3 teens is hard enough; then add in two major health maladies and their associated doctors visits, chemo, etc. Most days I feel like I'm running to stand still, even though I think my wife does most of the work. My dialysis takes about 10 hours, and while done overnight, takes a huge chunk of time out of my day. Used to be I'd sleep 6-7 hours, so that's 3-4 hours per day lost. Give that a try for about a week. So between that, ongoing doctors appointments, and working full time, I'm always squeezed for time. Precious time.

Our Cancer Heroes

I remember, too, that the real heroes had "those" days, also. Those days are the source of the messages, really, and it makes it that much more inspiring to me. We see the speeches, but we should be careful to not miss the monumental effort and courage it took to give it. Thank God they had courage, creativity, and energy to spare: for me.

It all leaves me seeming, well, like an antihero. But I accept their gift, they sacrificed much to give it. I try to see it as a gift, an ideal, the pinnacle of human spirit. If I can't reach it sometimes, that's OK. There perhaps will be days I can inspire someone else.

Here are glimpses of two of my heroes who happened to have cancer, too.

Our Caregivers

Finally, often overlooked are the other true heroes of the story: the caregivers. They play such a vital role in coping with the disease, and they are affected by it as much. They more than deserve their own speeches, but off hand I don't know of any dedicated to them. Here is a video, though, that I thought captures the dedication of caregivers, and celebrates them. Cancer is a equal opportunity abuser. It affects not only the patient, but also close family and friends. Being the patient is hard, but you really have no choice about it. Choosing to stand with someone, being there for them is hard, very hard. It's heroic.

I am thankful for my family and friends who have stood by me, and looked past the maladies, and found me.


  1. Thanks for giving kudos to the caregivers. They certainly are heroes!

  2. […] been considering what I wrote earlier, and I think it bears some […]