If I think carefully enough I can almost completely reconstruct June 17, 2014, in my mind. Conversations may not be strictly verbatim and the mileage may vary but I definitely remember going to get an ultrasound, something I’d been through before, although this time instead of examining my back I got a lot of goop smeared between my legs before a technician started shoving a large plastic scanner up there, which isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds even though we did have a pleasant chat about Minnesota, where she was from. And then I went in for a CT scan. Being shoved through a large metal doughnut while getting a warm feeling in my groin that made me think I’d lost all bladder control and being told by an automated voice to hold my breath was exactly as much fun as it sounds. And then my wife and I got in the car and headed home. I seriously underestimated the speed of current medical technology and figured it would be a week or two before we got the results, and if it was really bad news I assumed in a week or two my doctor would call me into his office for a somber, private chat which, as I’ve said, is how he and I both would have preferred it happen.
On the way home I worked to file all the day’s experiences away into my memory and trying to think of how to turn it into a funny story. It didn’t seem all that funny but I remembered the words of Steve Allen who said, “A comedian is not someone to whom funny things happen. A comedian is someone who sees things in a funny way.” And he even had an exercise for aspiring comedians: while driving keep up a running funny commentary of everything you see. I think that sounds like a great setup for a joke starting with, “So the officer asked me why I was driving through a hotel lobby”, but that’s another story.
And then, just a few blocks from home, my wife’s phone rang. She answered it and, although I try not to eavesdrop on other peoples’ phone conversations even when they’re in the same car with me, I could tell it was pretty serious. I was sweating even as my body went cold. I was on the verge of tears. That’s when she, on the verge of tears, told me I’d been diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Oh, I thought, what a relief. She’d been to the vet a couple of days earlier and I thought something was wrong with one of the dogs.
And the doctor had told her I had a blood clot in my leg and we needed to go to the emergency room immediately which is why he was delivering this news over the phone rather than in person.
That was the start of a long and strange trip that included the discovery that I did not have a blood clot after all. And it’s a trip that hasn’t ended yet but has helped me get reacquainted with my regular doctor whom I hadn’t seen for about three years before I went to see him about the pain in my leg. Before that if someone had asked me to describe him the best I could manage would be, “I think he’s tall.” He could have been in a lineup and the only one wearing a doctor’s coat and I’d still have had trouble picking him out. Now I’d recognize him if I just saw him out on the street as I walked by, babbling, “And there’s my regular doctor. Funny thing about him…” It’s also been a chance to meet a lot of nurses as well as an absolutely fantastic set of specialists: an oncologist, a cardiologist, most recently an endocrinologist, and just for fun I’m going to add an ichthyologist, a scatologist, and an exobiologist.
I’d been so certain that the tests wouldn’t show anything, or at least not anything major because I never get sick. Let me rephrase that: I never got sick. Before that day I had never taken more than two consecutive sick days at work and had approximately 57.9 years of sick leave banked, which was a good thing because I would spend most of the next five months out of work only to return for a brief spell and then have to spend six weeks out of work following major follow-up surgery.
I’ve told and retold this story and I keep retelling it because every day that passes makes it a little different. Every day that passes puts the day I was diagnosed, what my wife lovingly calls The Day From Hell, a little farther behind me. Technically I won’t be able to celebrate another year of being cancer free until September 22nd—but I can remember June 17, 2014, as the day when it all started. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact day when cancer decided I looked like an easy mark, but I know when the fight started, when I stepped into the ring for ninety-seven days of tests, surgery, chemotherapy, hair loss, weight gain, nausea—and that’s just the fun stuff.
This is something I can’t ever forget. It’s with me every day, but every day is another day that I’m alive and another chance to see things in a funny way.