I wasn't even going to write anything about starting radiation today. I briefly thought about it, but then I went to the gym. And I had a lot of e-mails to respond to, so I did that instead. And then I listened to some new music for a bit. It wasn't until 1am when I was bored and still awake that I decided that maybe I would write something. Fortunately, I had an easy time figuring out the title and picture. If it would have been any more difficult, I probably would have just gone to sleep.
But then I thought about the situation for a second: I wasn't going to mention starting radiation treatment on my cancer blog because I didn't think it was that newsworthy. How messed up is that? How much does that say about where I was and where I am now? How much does that say about the current state of my life?
I remember hearing the word "radiation" on the phone when I spoke with Dr. Houin back on July 30. It was thrown in there amongst the words "surgery" and "chemotherapy." I didn't really understand what everything meant at the time; my head was spinning too fast to really comprehend anything. All I know is that doctors weren't sure if I had B-Cell or Burkitt's lymphoma. I'm glad we got that straightened out.
I've mentioned before that cancer takes your entire worldview and pile-drives it into the ground. This is an example of that. I'm looking at radiation treatment as some minor annoyance that I have to tend to at 11am every weekday for the next couple weeks. Sort of like going to the bank or the post office. For anybody else, the mere mention of radiation might invoke terror. For me, and compared to chemo, it's something I either barely think about or sort of look forward to. Chemo is done. There's not much that could derail my joy at that fact right now.
Cancer is odd. If you're "lucky" enough to catch things early, the only pain, misery, and irritation you will feel will be treatment-induced. You don't feel sick at all, but then "getting better" feels like a trip through hell. It really makes it hard to grasp just how serious the disease is. You know it in your mind, but you're not sure you actually believe it.
Treatment is weirder. You get all amped up to "fight cancer"...and then you sit in a chair for six hours, lose your hair, lay around, feel tired, take pills, and just try to outlast the mutated cells in your body. You don't fight anything. You just buckle down and try to endure. And at the end, you emerge from your bunker, let your eyes adjust to the light, take a look around, and hope to god nothing else survived.
Sometimes, songs remind me of different periods or events in my life. A song will remind me of "Sophomore year homecoming" or "Junior year of college" or "Spring 2009" or something like that. If you play that particular song, your mind wanders back to the people and places you encountered at that specific time in your life. You think about yourself, where you were, what you were dealing with at the time. Often, you look back on those moments more favorably than they actually were in real life, since the human mind has a tendency to remember the good and overlook the bad.
This phenomenon is very different for me now. Normally, songs take a while to become associated with an event or time period. Now, I can listen to a song that I associate with last month, and it seems like a different decade. I'll listen to a song that I first heard in August, and it seems so long ago. My time periods are all screwed up. Chemotherapy is dead to me. November 2nd was another century. I hear a song from August and think, "Oh wow. This reminds me of the time I had cancer." I'm looking forward to more songs reminding me of that one time I had cancer.
Somebody asked me the other day if cancer makes time fly by or drag slowly. I answered, in lawyerly fashion, "both." But it's true. On one hand, everything is a blur. You live hospital visit to hospital visit. You are either in "treatment week" or "recovery week." You bounce from one doctor's appointment to another. On the other hand, you feel every moment of every day, from the time you get out of bed to the time you go to sleep. The experience just grinds you into the ground. Nothing happens fast enough. If it's cycle 3, you're wondering why it isn't cycle 4. If you get a test, the results are never processed quick enough. And in the end, you want nothing more to be done with everything, every day drags on, you hate every moment of it...and the next thing you know, you're in remission and forgetting about radiation appointments because it's not that important. You hate cancer with a passion. But you think it would die with more bravado.
I lifted for the first time in a long time on Tuesday night. It was a pretty emasculating experience. I've never been a gym rat, but I've always played enough sports to stay in pretty decent shape. Needless to say, I haven't been doing much lately that would seem to improve my physical condition.
And it got me thinking about my current situation in general. I just finished six cycles of chemotherapy. I've got dings and weird things going on all over my body. I haven't been able to do much of anything physically for the past several months, either out of precaution or out of impossibility. I get 3-4 minutes of constant running on a treadmill these days. I figure I've lost 60% of my hair. I forgot what it's like to feel my fingers. I've heard about this alcohol substance and I think it's pretty good and I vaguely remember drinking it once, but I'm not entirely sure I remember. Part of the reason I'm so upbeat about my condition is because I no longer remember what normal feels like. It's pretty obvious that, all things considered, I'm in the worst shape of my adult life. And I look at all this - I look at what this god-awful disease has done to me and my life - and I wonder how the hell I'm going to get it all back.
But I'm also as happy as I've been in a long time. Because the worst is over. Because as much as cancer might not want to surrender, it isn't going to survive one more blast of radiation. Because cancer so alters your way of thinking and your view of life that you can stand amongst the rubble and smile, because you know that while so much around you didn't make it, you did. And that's the most important thing. Because you can rebuild. The rest of the stuff...well that's just stuff. You can deal with that.
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;
And lose, and start again at your beginningsIt's hard to describe cancer. I'm up to about 115 posts on here, 80-90 of which are about cancer, and I still don't think I even come close to adequately describing the experience. It's an absolute bundle of paradoxes. It's simultaneously far-and-away the worst thing that's happened to me and something that I've been able to handle like every other obstacle in my life, as you've witnessed here.
And never breath a word about your loss;
But there's no doubt that this damn thing comes along and stomps on the sandcastle that you've spent 25 years or so building. It's brutal. Unforgiving. Indiscriminate. It doesn't care who you are, where you're from, what you've done in life, how much money you have, who you know, what you had planned. It doesn't care in the slightest. It comes along and completely messes up everything for no particular reason. And it gives you two options: go through hell to live, or die. No in between. That decision wasn't difficult.
But damn, does it make you grateful. When I hear those songs that remind me of some random night in the past ten years, I think, "Oh my God, that was the greatest time ever!" It probably wasn't, but it was a time when cancer wasn't even a thought, let alone a possibility, let alone a fear, let alone a reality. And that elevates it to "greatest time ever" status by my new life standard.
And it also elevates my current state - not dead but bald, battered, with bloodshot eyes, probably cancer-free, and waiting to deliver the death blow to deadly disease - to "pretty damn good." And each day, as I piece things back together, as I get healthier, things get a little bit better. Until I get to a point where I work an 80 hour week and say, "Wow, that was the greatest week ever!" Because I know how horrible things can be. And I know how quickly things can get that horrible. So every day things are not horrible...well that day is a blessing. This is my new standard, standing amongst the rubble.