Follow by Email

Thursday, February 16, 2017


It's the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine
-- REM

I found moving from actively battling cancer to survivor-ship has been surprisingly difficult. Imagine picking up the pieces of your life after the "C" word has been dropped on you. This moment is forever etched in your memory, available for playing back any time you want; and sometimes when you don't want.

Like learning to walk again, you're not quite sure when you're really ready. It takes active thought to do, it's not a natural involuntary action. It seems strange at first, like you're walking some kind of tightrope, just waiting to fall off. But eventually you begin to trust again. The shock knocked you back, but hey, you man up, put this stuff in the back of your mind and move on. You move on, but like someone shell-shocked, it would be a bad idea to sneak up behind and clap your hands.

I've never been a 'hooray for everything' kind of person, and I find it hard to delude myself this way. I'm not a negative person; I am as realistic as I can allow myself to be. I like a positive, can-do-ish attitude, but some people have the needle pushed a little too far to the right.

One of the bothersome things about kidney cancer is its tendency to spread, usually first to your lungs. My kidney cancer ("the easy one") was removed along with my left kidney and the tumor was fully contained within, no evidence it had spread. Chance of recurrence in the other kidney? About 2 percent after 2 years, and I've gone past that so far so good. Easy. Right? Done and gone. One cancer beat. But, that dark possibility sort of tick-tocks in the back of your head, even after you say you've moved on.

The "other" REM

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

-- Paul Simon

Several days ago I woke up in one of those moods. I had chemo the day before. It sometimes gives me horrible nightmares and other weird dreams. This night it did, it was particularly bad, and it left me in a real mood. You know the feeling: dreams are sometimes easy to forget even though they leave their emotional footprint behind.

I was in near breakdown mode, but my wife helped me, as usual. Negativity sometimes tries to creep in, but usually I can avert it by re-focusing on positive things. Sometimes, though, I can feel the mood slipping over to the dark side, and I can't stop it. This is another learned skill, but it doesn't always work. This time I couldn't stop it; like a car trying to get up an icy hill, it didn't work. Finally I settled down and I began my routine to go to work, but I was still brooding.

Panic at the Sink

While brushing my teeth I began to cough a bit, and what comes up is a shot of wet, coagulated blood. Scary looking. Then more coughing and more blood, now mixed with some that was quite bright red.

With the powder keg set and the fuse short, it suddenly struck me again:

it's spread to my lungs. And
this is the beginning of the end for me.

At this point my life began to flash by in mental images, like some stop-action movie, each image landing with a forceful punch, sadness and downright panic. Mostly I saw my kids having to grow up without me, one of the worst feelings I have as a parent. Like the floor just opened up and you're falling down. All over again.

But recovering from such terror is a learned skill, recovering enough to function in the moment. We had some mad scrambling around, but I got in touch with one of my oncology nurses and explained what happened. Not too much longer and we were heading to the radiologist for a chest x-ray. Just to see if there's anything "going on" in there.

After an hour or so, we found out it was something going on in there: just a touch of pneumonia. Thank goodness it's only pneumonia.

You're in a weird place when pneumonia is the good news.

But in the end, that's all it was. I never felt bad; I hadn't really noticed, other than a bit of coughing. So here we are, moving on again....

Even though you tell yourself (or others) you've moved on, sometimes you really haven't. But these shocks can help you see that. So, while it can be ugly or scary, I try to make it useful, too. I have to turn these bad things to good to cope and improve my overall state. It is hard sometimes, that is the reality, but I am winning. Like any fight you’re going to take a few punches that hurt. You have to turn them around is all.