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.
It’s another day, Chris, and we’re both still here! Yay!!!!!!!!!!
Yes! It’s another day to celebrate. The future may hold difficulties ahead but at least there’s today. And tomorrow.
Here’s to another cancer-free year, and many more!
Thank you, and here’s to you getting better too.
Nailed it. I don’t know how you managed it, but you actually had me laughing out loud during parts of your horrific tale. Well done, sir.
It helps that I was making jokes and laughing about the whole thing in the middle of it. Okay, it wasn’t always funny, but even as I was being wheeled through the hospital at 11pm that first night I was singing “Only When I Laugh”.
I’ll celebrate my 3rd lung cancer free year on October 31st. You. Keep up the good work!
Fantastic! And lucky you, getting to make Halloween a double holiday.
You never want to be in the recovery ICU on Halloween eve! The candy high around the nurses desk is unbelievable!
Your courage and strength are worthy of much admiration! Too many more years!
Thank you so much. I look forward to many more years. Cancer is a terrible disease but for those who are facing it I hope my story will serve as one of many that shows that it can be overcome.
What a powerful post, Chris! I have to agree with what another commenter said–you had me smiling even as you described what must have been the most agonizing day of your life. I can’t even begin to imagine what that day must have been like. (Well, actually I can, seeing how eloquently you described it.) I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this–I really, really am. I definitely admire how you’re bringing humor to the story (such a sign of courage! But so necessary to make it through all of this, I’m sure.) Thank you for being so open and sharing your story. I like what you said about humor and the quote about doing a running commentary about what you see. It’s an exercise I might just take on! I also thought that detail about not being able to pick your doctor out of a lineup vs. now knowing everything about him was poignant. That’s one of those details you don’t hear often–i.e. it’s unique to your experience and yet really let me feel what you’ve gone through. (Another detail like that was when you felt relief for the dogs.) Your post really let me feel the humanity of what you’ve been through. It touched me a lot–thanks again for sharing. And, I’ll be looking forward to reading your work throughout the years and celebrating the cancer free landmarks to come!
The best part is I could make you laugh. Laughter may not be the best medicine (actually medicine is the best medicine) but it is very therapeutic. I keep coming back to the comedian Robert Schimmel who, when his doctor told him he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, replied, “Just my luck. I get the one that’s not named after the guy.” I heard that story many years before my own experience but at the time I thought, if I ever get cancer that’s how I want to respond. It was never something I hoped for but I feel like years of fine-tuning my sense of humor prepared me for it.
I’m the Scatologist, right? I’m glad your walnut is behaving.
Seriously though, you wonder about these things. I always hope if I went through something like this I would be poised and keep a sense of humor and not whine — all the things you are 🙂
Yeah, you’re the Scatologist. Or one of them. Hopefully you’ll never go through what I’ve been through but if you do I’m sure your sense of humor will pull you through.
Living to laugh another day!
Chris, how on earth do you manage to make a post about a cancer diagnosis funny? Never mind keep your sense of humour through something like that. Like Huffy I hope I would somehow find it in me to keep my chin up and be strong but… I dunno. But I hope.
I knew you’d had cancer but I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t been right back through your post archives yet – I can barely keep up with everyone’s current ones! So I’m really glad you wrote this post. And I’m even gladder that when I do read your old posts I’ll be safe in the knowledge that you are currently safe and sound!
I wasn’t prepared for a cancer diagnosis but I did take inspiration from comedians who’d been through it and who, being comedians, responded with humor. And really finding things to laugh about all through my treatment was part of what kept me going.
Ditto Michelle above. You managed to make me smile with this even though I felt guilty – but I was laughing WITH you. 🙂 You must live to write another day!!!
There’s always another day. Don’t feel guilty for smiling or even laughing–it’s what I was hoping for.
This is definitely something we can celebrate many times a year, hopefully for many many years to come.
We don’t know what the future holds but for now I’m keeping it in mind that every day is an anniversary.