Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of my last chemo and radiation treatment for an aggressive cancer that had taken up residence in my throat. I’m not a smoker, not a user of tobacco, so the diagnosis was one whopper of a surprise. I’ve lived through the ‘80’s crack wars, the first few terrifying months of the AIDS epidemic, two shootings, a river that tried to swallow me, two emergency helicopter landings, and a handful of high-speed pursuits, but now the possibility of a quarter-sized tumor was threatening to do me in. Ain’t that a kick in the peanuts.
Spoiler: With the love of a good family, the skills of an always-smiling surgeon, some lucky timing and a bit of moxie, we curb-stomped the little bastard into oblivion.
The bear you see pictured here was my mortal enemy when I first started chemo/radiation. He was always there, every day of treatment, and for too long I thought he was mocking my weakness and confusion. At long last I came to realize him for the symbol of strength he was meant to impart. I was an English major, wired for metaphor, so perhaps I should’ve caught on sooner. I asked for a photo with him on my last day at the clinic.
During the treatment I came to feel a renewed sense of pride in my parents. I suppose they were quickened against worry all those years I worked the streets, but I imagine this latest escapade was pretty miserable. Good for them and their courage. It meant very much to me. I also came to joyfully embrace the fact that my boys, who have become extraordinary men, would be just fine without me. Thankfully, they’d prefer I stick around for a while. And Melissa and I learned what “in sickness and in health” really means. We’re now more than husband and wife—we are comrades in arms.
I realized other things during the last year as well: Tough guys can ask for extra blankets; comfortable shoes are a thing, and tomatoes aren’t so bad after all; Subaru commercials and Sarah McLaughlin songs make my eyes leak. Well…
I continued to write during treatment, finishing a second draft of a novel and converting my master’s thesis on preventing school shootings into a non-fiction commercial project I hope to see out in 2019. Writing is an alone-only endeavor, but I was never lonely. My critique partners hung in there with me, cheering me on even as they respected my work and me enough to tell me when I’d flubbed a passage or chapter. My driving motivation was to finish, oh please let me finish before…which has a way of removing all fear and sending one into literary overdrive.
Life is good. I smell more vividly and observe more closely. For some weird reason I get lost driving more often, which I kind of love because getting lost always means you see new stuff. I lost some weight, which I needed to do, though I wouldn’t recommend the method. I started film school because I’d long wanted to, and I remember every twinkling light, hug, song, adventure and dessert from this holiday season. My relationships are strong and my hope runs high. Yep, pretty dang good.
I got my first survivor pin a few weeks ago at a cancer bicycle challenge fundraiser. I hadn’t even realized I was due to receive one until a nice lady pinned it on my collar, the label “survivor” having not yet occurred to me. But I am—a survivor—after all. Things will never be the same because of it…and isn’t that wonderful?