The Long Road... #2014reboot

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

#292: Come a Long Way in 2010


You talking to me?

I just reread my New Year's post for 2010. What a long, strange trip it's been. There are parts of last year's Pennsy that I hardly recognize. At the same time, I can see how the events of '09 were preparing me for a new adventure in ways I could never have anticipated.

The year started out with a new job. I was working at the service desk at Meijer. That's a place I never imagined myself, but much to my surprise, it was a real source of peace for me. I worked with lots of young people who had big plans, full of hope and promise. They worked hard, (most of them) and treated me like a strange, funny old man. I enjoyed being there, even if I was making minimum wage and spending most of my earnings on pain killers for my aching back and feet.

I was still bitterly angry at all the people who had "slighted" me over the years. I think that shows up in my New Year's meditations. I still hadn't recovered emotionally from the lay-off in '08, and I had failed at two sales jobs in '09. I felt as if I had been abandoned by people I cared about. I also felt as if I had abandoned myself. I wanted to die, and spent about a month of '09 in a mental health hospital as an in-patient and a daily out-patient. The year used up nearly all of my retirement savings. Mrs P and I were in financial trouble and our marriage was growing more and more distant. As icing on the cake, the theatre company for whom I had moved to Lexington, the one I had given so much and made so many mistakes lost it's funding from the local arts council and seemed on the brink of disappearing. I had no present, no future, and no legacy. Depression and self-pity were my closest friends.


Honey? Does this look strange to you?
 Then one day in March, I noticed a swelling on the right side of my neck. It was a long time before I said anything to anyone about it. I expected it to go away. When it didn't, I finally asked Mrs P to feel it and tell me what she thought. I always trust her judgement in health matters because she spent a decade working in a small animal hospital and while I am a decidedly big animal, she is usually right about these things. She didn't know what the mass was, (I still remember the first time somebody called it a "mass" instead of a "bump",) but she knew it was serious. She made me promise to call the doctor, and eventually I did.

Why so many men hate going to the doctor, I can't explain. Me, I like suffering because I enjoy the pity of others, but I don't like being so sick that I need professional help. I suppose that in itself is a sign that I need professional help, but I'm getting off topic here. I finally made the appointment with a doc in our neighborhood, one I had only visited once before for an ear infection. It was a pretty short visit. She looked in my mouth and ears, felt my neck, and scheduled a CT scan. She also said she wanted to do a needle biopsy. Alarm bells went off in my head when I heard that. I was expecting to hear that I had mono. I had been sleeping a lot and was doing very little besides my job at the store. You don't test for mono with a biopsy.


Waaah! I have caaaan-cerrrr!
After the CT scan, there was a visit to the ENT, (ear, nose, and throat doc) who poked with his fingers, peeked with his flashlight, and shoved a fiber optic camera up my nose and down my throat. He didn't like what he saw. We cancelled the biopsy and scheduled a PET scan. Another test that has nothing to do with mono. The day we sat in the exam room with him and reviewed the images from that second scan was one that changed my life. Though it took me a long time to admit it, I think I knew that day what the real diagnosis was. Mrs P certainly did. The doc said we needed to get the mass out immediately. It had surrounded my jugular vein, was pinching my carotid artery, and had shoved my larynx almost an inch to the left. My "bump" was killing me. Two days later, I went into the operating room. Six hours after that, I woke up in recovery and out of the post-anesthetic fog I heard the doc telling me that they had found cancer. The cut out a tonsil. some, nerves, a chunk of my jugular vein, the muscle that helps you lift your arm straight up, and a cancerous mass the size of my fist. The cancer had metastasized from my tonsil into my lymph nodes. The doc said that they got all they could see, but that the tests showed that they did not get it all. I had cancer.

I found out that battling cancer is more than just fighting a disease. We had hospital billing offices to navigate. Insurance companies who didn't want to help. Collections agencies who thought we should care more about our credit cards than about my life. Mum drove down and set up camp on the futon. Mrs P started collecting notes and paperwork. We were a lonely little team dreading each phone call and the new bad tidings it would bring.

And then the most remarkable thing started happening.


Yippee! More company!
 There would be a knock at the door, and an old friend would be standing there with a bag of potatoes. Or the bell would ring and there would be a book to read or some music to listen too. The mail would come filled with cards and letters from family. They told me stories about my dad and how strong and kind he was. They shared things we had done together and how much they loved me, even though I hadn't been home to Pittsburgh for years. People called, just to talk. They had funny stories and gossip to share. They listened to me tell the same tales of woe over and over. They told me about their own battles with cancer and how they had won them. They prayed with me and for me.


Once more unto the breach...

I decided to start writing about what was happening. This blog had been around for a while. It started out as a place for me to write long, boring essays about religion, but whose real subject was how smart I was. A while later, I used it to tell the story of my journey from fat to fit. I blogged a lot then, sharing news of the gym and the road. Writing became as important a part of my exercise regimen as the treadmill or the bench press. I kept it up until the day I lost my job. In a panic, I turned all my energy toward finding a new income, a new career. Selling insurance didn't make me feel much like writing or working out. But when I realized that I was sick, that I might die, I decided to write it all down. I wanted there to be a record. If I was going to disappear from the earth, I wanted there to be something I could leave behind so people would remember me. Later, I came to understand that writing was a way I could help other people. Lots of folks are scared of cancer, and lots of them feel lost and alone. Telling my story was a way to show people some of the things I found during my journey through that dark cave.



Say hello to my
little friend.
 I learned a lot about the world in the next few months. There is more love and compassion and inspiration to be found in other people than I ever imagined. We really do heal one another, as much as the most wonderful drug or the most expensive radiology gizmo. We may go through our daily lives with blinders on, but when one of us is in real trouble, there are some folks who will go to great lengths to give comfort and friendship. God is present among us in the love of our friends, our neighbors, even the strangers we meet. No matter how much we may think otherwise, we are never alone in this life. Never.

So, how to wrap up this remarkable year? Well, the docs tell me that there are no signs of cancer left in my body. The shrink seems to believe that there is hope for me. Mrs P and I are preparing a new life as the bank takes our house. The mortgage did not survive the last two years, but after all we've been through, it seems much smaller a problem that it did a few months ago. My wife and I love one another more than either of us realized. I got to spend more time with my mother than I have since I left her house thirty years ago. And I'll be acting in front of an audience again in January. Against all reason, I have to say that 2010 has been a wonderful year.


Happy New Year!

I'm not glad I had cancer, not by a long shot. But I'm grateful for the lessons cancer has taught me. I won't forget them. And I'm grateful for the time and kindness that folks have given to this blog over the months. I look forward to spending many more years together as we share our stories. We have much to learn from one another.

God bless you and the ones you love in 2011, and always.

Peace,
Pennsy

2 comments:

  1. The phrase, "That which doesn't kill us..." doesn't even begin to cover the power of your message. Your insights, wisdom, and perspective are beautiful beyond words, and I am blessed to know you.

    May God's peace and eternal blessings be with you today ... and every day of your life.

    Alex

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've never been happier to read your blog than today, friend. Congratulations for not only making it through 2010, but for doing so with such grace and gleaning such wisdom from the journey.

    Peace to you and your lovely Mrs. P. You two are never far from my thoughts.

    ReplyDelete

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