What I Would Have Done Differently When I Had Cancer


They say hindsight is 20/20. They mean that once you look back at something you can finally see it clearly. They… are liar holes.

It has been 12 years since I battled cancer, and when I look back at the whole sordid affair I still have questions I have not been able to answer. Part of that comes from the sheer amount of time that has elapsed since my diagnosis and treatment. Clearly I remember something 12 years ago that happened in a fog?

Pfft.

And that is part of my problem. Many of the stories I share with you in this blog were the biggies… the cathartic moments, or the milestones, or the moments I’d like to forget. Curse you spank bank failure! And your crappy magazines!

But for the day-to-day survival I have fleeting glimpses of what happened. The reason is simple: I never created a history of anything that happened. It is one of the greatest mistakes of my life, though it didn’t seem so at the time. Because you see, when I was going through my battle, all I wanted to do was forget I was going through my battle. I had the clear mindset that once my fight was over cancer would never enter my life again.

I could not have been more wrong.

So with that in mind, and with hindsight being… well… you know, I have come up with a list to share with you so you will at least have the choice I no longer have.

1. Take pictures.

When I was asked to give a TEDx talk last year I thought it would be easy to find some pictures that would tell my story. Yet when I went to go find some I was all but shut out. I ended up finding a total of three. And of the three only one was taken of me without a baseball cap.

And then I remembered I refused to let anyone take my picture. At the time I thought I was being smart by not giving the cancer any power, especially with my memories.

The reality is that while I was in the fight of my life, some very wonderful things happened, and I have almost nothing but my thoughts by which to remember them.

Now in fairness, these were also the days before everyone had a 500 megapixel camera in their pocket, but for me, that would be a cop-out. As it turns out I was pretty vain, and I always had been. In high school I had the kind of braces that went all the way around my teeth and I wore glasses. I so despised having my picture taken looking like that. In fact, I didn’t even bother getting a copy of my Junior year yearbook. I don’t have a clue of how my picture even turned out.

Looking back I don’t know which was more destructive — my delusions with cancer or my delusions with vanity.

2. Write stuff down.

Now when I had cancer back in ’02 the word “blog” didn’t even exist. In fact, if you wanted to write anything, there were two ways: journaling or keeping a diary. I hated the word journal, as it reminded me too much of high school.

And a diary? As a 29-year-old boy? I can see it now…

Dear Diary,

Today my entire future lineage was on the line as I went to my local sperm bank. When I arrived Nurse Ratched walked me into a room with a cup, a chest-of-drawers filled with sub-optimal filth and a couch with more human fluid than a Huggies convention. A circus monkey could not have met the requirements to seal the deal. Needless to say, I ended up with scorch marks and an empty cup. Will try again tomorrow. Maybe I’ll use my left hand so it feels like someone else is pulling it off — no pun intended.

Sincerely,
Useless

It is only now as a blogger that I realize the importance of writing things down for several reasons. One, it’s been cathartic for me to remember this stuff. If anything, it allows me to see the humor and ludicrous nature of battling cancer.

Second, as I’ve said a million times, it’s imperative we tell our stories. If just one guy on the “Physically Unable to Perform” list reads I was unable to “perform” at the Hotel Spankifornia, it will help him feel not only that is he not alone, but it also happens way more than anyone will ever say.

And lastly, it’s easy. Anyone can write a blog. Anyone can publish a blog. All you have to do is be willing to put yourself out there and then take the time to write a few words. And trust me, those few words don’t have to be brilliant; they just have to be you. You don’t have to be Shakespeare or Joyce or Grisham. All you have to be is Smith or Kurumochi or Patel.

Just don’t write like that Duffy bloke. He’s not as good as he thinks he is.

3. If you have an itch, scratch it.

There are many times during my little skirmish with cancer I gave in to the physical beating. Friends would call and ask me to do things, and while my heart wanted to say yes, my brain would say, “No. I’m too sick.”

I’m not saying my heart was more intelligent than my brain. There are times when you just have to say, “No,” but more often than not, when I told my brain to back off, I made memories to last a lifetime.

I will never forget one Sunday afternoon. My now wife/then fiancé Stephanie had some friends in from out of town. They were going to a now defunct place called S&P Oyster Company to drink a few drinks, eat a few appetizers and have a few laughs. Steph asked if I wanted to go and I politely declined. “I just feel like crap.”

As I laid in bed, succumbing to my nausea, I realized what I was doing was not helping my situation in the least. Whether I sat in the sun or slept in a cool, dark bedroom, I was still going to feel like crap. So I put my big boy pants on, grabbed a cap and drove out to meet her. This was at 2 p.m.

So at 1 a.m. was it the smartest thing I ever did? On the surface, no… but in the deeper meaning of what life is really all about I could not have made a better decision.

I just wish I had done it more often.

***

When I look back I realize I made a lot of silly mistakes on my journey. I could cop-out and say no one told me any of these things, but I’m not sure I would have listened anyway. As a 29-year-old boy going through this only my doctor and I knew best (or so I thought).

I thought wrong. Don’t be ashamed of being bald. If you are, blog about it. And a few beers are awfully good for nausea.

Oysters on the other hand…

This post was originally published on HuffPost.

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Thinkstock photo by asmakar


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