Thursday, October 28, 2010


“Electric word life

It means forever and that's a mighty long time” – Let’s Go Crazy

Let’s face it. No matter the location, be it playground, school, rest stop, or hospital, all kids want to make friends.

His name was Paul. All I knew was that he walked funny and had no hair. His parents would speak with mother and father daily. They all got along. It was a long hospital stay.

The memories flash like a bad super eight film that was spliced all wrong. My dad wanted my first ray gun and emphatically asked that I lend it to a younger boy who was across the hall in the only room with a closed door. This was unacceptable to me at the time. And no respectable Italian father ever emphatically asks either. They demand.

I was approaching seven years of age and most adults were giving me everything I asked for within reason of course. So why should I part with my toy now?

I lost the ray gun.

I didn’t understand.

I didn’t have the capacity to comprehend what my father was attempting to do – comfort a boy who was in desperate need of it. I don’t remember his name. He had chubby cheeks and kinky curls for hair. I never knew what happened to him.

As for Paul, he needed help just to walk down the hallway. I remember his mother being kind and his father having a beard with no mustache. He always looked like the old maritime sailors coming in from trading in Asia. Their son needed help with all phases of life. I recollect a nurse giving him his meds ground up in applesauce. It seemed like he was swallowing razors.

I didn’t understand.

I was in an offbeat dormitory. A prison for children where oddball pajamas, strange lighting and singsong nurses all were commonplace. The children were measured by how much energy they had. The more the better. That meant you were on the mend.

One of the final memories was of me going home. I am told it had been four weeks. I was anxious. I had cried myself to sleep as the last of my dorm mates left with his family. I think his name was Kevin. He was in the same room with me for over a week due to a spinal injury when he fell off a swing. I watched from the third story window as he piled into a lime green station wagon with his brothers and mom.

When the day came that I could go home, I could taste the electricity. I could don my own clothes that didn’t smell rubbing alcohol or stale mothballs. I could leave the dingy yellows of the hallways that I often caused mischief in. I didn’t need to ask permission to be ‘let out’ to the concrete playground that some of the children would visit on the sunny days.

I was going home.

Some time after, I don’t recall how much had passed; I realized that some children never make it out of the prison. That moment defined mortality for me. Children are often sheltered from such things as death, more so their own. There is too much life to be had when you are young.

I wonder how many children from my floor actually left with their families. I’ve always fancied them as lost souls - ones that I will meet again someday simply by crossing the street.

Paul wasn’t one of those children. He passed away. From the boy I barely knew, he taught me so much. What it is to overcome struggles in life. How to define a ‘bad day’. How to actually live.

Decades later, I understand it now.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


An eye for an eye

A tooth for a tooth

Blood for blood

- Five Finger Death Punch

The chain in those handcuffs

is high-tensile steel.

It'd take you ten minutes

to hack through it with this. (Brandishes saw)

Now, if you're could hack through your ankle

in five minutes…


- Mad Max

As Survivors, we are sometimes faced with forced splits in the road. Paths, which are tempting. Paths that play the odds, the percentages and the statistics. Eve had her devil and so do we.

Nothing is guaranteed. Doctors will ask you to put your chips on an uncertain future. It’s a simple two-step scientific formula – remove the disease and remove where the disease lives.

Take out a lung for you have two. Take away more of the leg than needed just to be sure.

It’s a sort of macabre laboratory that we live in. The microscope light is white hot.

Perhaps a mole doesn’t look quite right. A scan shows a shadow. A cough has lingered a few weeks too long.

Every grain of sand can’t be counted yet every grain must be looked at.

Then the devil smiles with a deal. We are told that certain percentages go up if we commit ourselves to the invasive. It may be a stronger, longer dose of drug therapy, or a more potent barrage of radiation. It could be a removal of a limb, an organ or for some, a soul.

Whatever the devil calls it, we consider it. Many shake their heads in wonder, but many, thankfully don’t have to choose.

The key here is that Survivors are never quite in control from Day 1. Once a door is ajar, even for a moment, we leap at the chance to take back what was stolen from us. Even if that means being subjected to science experiments.

As a child, my parents were faced with a decision. To use a war analogy, it would be akin to using a precise minimal strike strategy or simply laying waste to the land.

Somewhere in there, madness and reason battle with our lives as the prize.

It is our roulette. Hit the right number and perhaps you win another day.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I lace up like usual. It is always quietest just before I go in motion.

This is also one of the times invading thoughts are always waiting for me in ambush.

Today, though, I wanted to work on my running technique. Stand up straighter, get more air, and shorten my steps on hills.

I kept repeating – elbows back, elbows back.

I finished an annual 5k. Kudos came for doing so but I have it in my head that being healthy isn’t just finishing, it is to own it. Own it. Drill it. Do it. Just own it.

I play ice hockey and my body, though not old, is telling me to change routines as it heals from Sunday morning skating as a goaltender. I moved my weight routine and in its place another running day.

I listen to my body as I pound out each step on a newly paved road. That inner voice sometimes fades and other voices take over. I call them my demons.

There is no evil connotation to them. They are simple shadows of the past and fears of the future. It is an effort to keep them at bay. They are powerful and they have years of fuel to feed on.

They come rather abruptly.

A bit of dialogue from last year creeps in.

Elbows back. Elbows back. Keep breathing.

“If you were 80 we wouldn’t bother with the resection…”

A carving of my liver was all that stood in the way of me surviving or not. I am young and that counted for me.

Another demon counter speaks. But what if you were 80? You would have been dismissed. Thrown aside. You’ve lived long enough now let someone else take your place.

I turn up my iPod. The music can help drown out an imp’s statement. Sometimes.

Elbows back.

Another jolt from a year ago edges in.

“If we find any cancer elsewhere, we will end the operation…”

I take deep breathes through my nose and huff out of my mouth. I squeeze all of the air I can into my lungs and proceed to squeeze all of it out again. Over and over.

Elbows back.

I am suddenly at the foot of a hill. My steps are shorter and I lean into the hill with power. My left knee protests but only for a moment. A small adjustment quiets that voice.

A future in question.

I am at the top of the hill and I begin my circle back. I catch myself slumping forward slightly again. A bad habit. I am at once erect and looking at the tree line. My arms are still cranking to the rhythm of the road.

Still a future in question?

No. I will it away. The demons’ remonstration tells me that I am winning even just for the moment.

I am healthy, damn it all. At this moment, this very moment, I am and I will own it, drill it and do it until I cannot do it any longer. When I sit in the waiting room, people will believe I am waiting on someone. I am not a patient. Doctors will shake their heads. Nurses will smile – I am the easy one. He’s in and he’s out. Decades of the same routine and I will keep doing what I am doing because I can.

I barely realize that I am home again. The demons have gone. They always leave a slime trail. A bitter aftertaste, but that is a small price to pay.

It’s over. Another battle complete. It is an endless mind war and the darkness will come again. We’re human after all. We get tired. We surrender a few inches but we will never say, “Come get me”. I won’t do it.

My heart eases down. I have strength. I am breathing. I am excited and angry all at once. A house of cards, I am. My demons will be back.

I finished my run rather fast today. They were right. It’s elbows back from now on.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Testing. 1..2...3....


Let’s face it. As much as we strive to be ‘normal’, Survivors are not. There are no normal doctor visits. No normal, standard checkups. Hell, we can’t even go to the dentist without a conversation about our medical past.

Whether we are on a scheduled scan or a meeting with our Primary, every visit holds gravity.

Will white counts be high?

Will that scan show a shadow that can’t be explained?

I can literally quote one of my oncologists.

“You are compromised.”

The simple fact that we are Survivor’s lends itself to a new life. We shouldn’t be dwelling, but the question always in the background is “What’s next?”

Indeed. What is next?

It sometimes takes decades to figure that out and I am thankful for those decades. Still, the energy needed to live hour to hour, day to day, can be draining.

There is joy. We are alive. We have survived. There is air to breathe. Wine to drink. Colors to see. Hands to hold. Silence to listen to.

There is fear. Sure we are alive but what if the affliction comes back? We had no control before and who says we have any control now?

There is pain. We live in a new century yet we are still reduced to knives, swords and probes where no one should ever go. It isn't discomfort. It is pain.

There is depression. Why not? One Thousand years from now cancer may be nothing more than a head cold but for now, we still have to sit though charity TV shows dedicated to eradicating the disease. Don’t sing for me. Fix it, please.

There is guilt. To those who have passed, why are we alive? As a child, my friend across the hall didn’t make it. Explain that to a six year old.

There is perspective. Heavy, hard to focus, perspective. Why is tuning a widget of any importance any longer? Focus on everyday tasks, like your job, or cutting the grass, can be likened to running a marathon. Focus too much on normal life and you leave yourself wide open to another total shock by an unemotional doctor.

When you are diagnosed, you step onto the wildest roller coaster there is. The heights are the highest. The depths can be unfathomable. The lights are white hot and always on you. Alien faces poke, prod, stab and cajole you to walk along the very edge of a jagged cliff.

Then there is silence. As fast as the chemicals and science was upon you, it is now gone. You are alone. Sure there is family. There may have even been some friends who stuck around. You are still alone now. Alone to take the next step.

We aren’t normal any longer.

And for that, we are constantly being tested.