I’ve been having good days and bad days. This probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, and even the bad days haven’t been too bad. I’ve mostly managed to wind up in the right buildings at the right times without being arrestably naked and I haven’t been fired, incarcerated or savagely beaten in quite some time.

But they were bugging me a lot. I talked about it last post quite a bit.

Then I had a conversation with a close, somewhat disreputable friend (that actually covers quite a few of my friends, but you know who you are). He told me that the person that I had been pre-cancer is gone, and that can be hard to accept. NO matter I do there’s nothing I can do to go back to being that guy. There’s no getting back to normal; now is normal.

It sounds depressing but it made me feel better. Instead of trying to match up to some half remembered vision of what I used to be like, I’m instead building towards being better than I am right now. Again, things aren’t too bad at all, but I do have a way to go before I’m where I want to be. Somehow thinking of it that way instead of trying to get back to an old normal makes me feel less guilty about the bad moments I still get from time to time.

I did a bit of reading, and it seems quite common amongst survivors of major trauma and illness to go hunting for what we were (or we thought we were) before existence kicked us in the shins. It was a major mental step to let go of that, but I’m feeling good about it.

The cat just celebrated my breakthrough by being heartily sick under my desk.

And on my foot. Second time in two weeks.

It’s nice to know my place in the grand scheme of things, which apparently is smelling faintly of Hill Science Diet for Cats.

 

 

 

I realized today that there are certain aspects of my health that I really have to get under control, or I am going to end up dying in a way that makes my cancer treatment look like a terrible waste of public health resources. In fact there are a few ongoing major threats to my survival: cancer, depression, high blood pressure, poor diet and horrific yet somehow hilarious accidents.

It was a tragic art installation accident officer. We told him not to mix with abstract concepts and farm machinery but he wouldn't listen!

It was a tragic art installation accident officer. We told him not to mix abstract concepts and farm machinery but he wouldn’t listen!

Cancer I can’t really do much about, if it comes back I’ll have another go at poisoning seven different types of crap out of it.

The same with depression. I’ll treat it as well as I possibly can with every (medically proven) technique at my disposal.

However I should probably do something about the fact that my body is starting to look like a garbage bag full of melted cheese. I wasn’t in great shape prior to the whole cancer business but semi-regular gym sessions and occasional MMA and Jiu Jitsu sessions kept me in reasonable trim even if I did sometimes commit crimes against entire carbohydrate groups.

The croissant people know and fear me. To them, I am DEATH.

The croissant people know and fear me. To them, I am DEATH.

Then when I was in chemo I gave myself some doctor sanctioned permission to eat whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it. It was important according to my oncologist that I not lose too much weight.

Not a problem doc.

Actually I did lose weight during the month of vomiting, but when I could eat I absolutely went for it. I didn’t just eat my feelings, I ate my sense of abstract thought too.

It was delicious.

However now that I am sort of back to what I call real life, I find I need to get back to looking after my health. I’m not up for martial arts quite yet, although I do look forward to sweaty hugs from my Jiu Jitsu friends when I am.

I do more or less know what I’m doing exercise wise. I’ve had some excellent (if frequently exasperated) trainers in my lifetime and the things they taught me stuck. Most of the things they taught me stuck.

Some of the things.

I probably won’t catch fire if I go to the gym.

 

This post doesn’t have a point, except to say that if you see something shambling down the street that looks like someone shaved a bear and then made it go jogging, that’s probably me.

You want me to run how far?

You want me to run how far?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve noticed something about people who go through cancer, at least the ones I’ve met. We all go groping for answers, sometimes literally.

I checked my nuts before all of this happened. Just gave them a solid non-entertainment based fondle. I can’t remember how often I did it, but I did.

You’d better believe I check my remaining ball every damn day now.

smiley-535286_1920

As much as that’s a solid self care plan, I don’t think I need to check every day. But in the absence of any real answers as to why I got cancer (official word on it is that I was unlucky and I can accept that), I feel like checking myself is one small piece of control I can have over it. Once I accepted I had been unlucky and that there was no reason for my cancer any more than anyone else who draws the short biological straw, I started noticing that a lot of people have a hard time accepting that things happen without a reason. There was no split between people who were normally on the hard science of things and people who were already into alternative medicine…pretty much everyone went looking for reasons.

Sometimes they found them. Sometimes those reasons were real, and sometimes they were just the first, easiest thing they could latch onto.

I’ve heard about everything from ‘sugar caused/fed my cancer’! (no it didn’t).

to ‘my relationship with X/Y or Z caused my cancer’ (it was rogue cell division).

to ‘I didn’t smoke enough weed’ (I feel like inhaling anything other than air might not help lung cancer).

and my personal favorite because it was about my cancer, not the speaker’s: ‘God gave you cancer’ (dick move God). Although come to think of it she didn’t specify which god…

ANUBIS: MY BAD BRO.

I initially reacted badly to all of these. I hated the idea that people I knew and in some cases were very close to couldn’t just accept that cancer is an awful, painful and yet often utterly random thing. Yes there are cancer causes out there (stopping smoking is a super good idea), but so often there just isn’t a clear reason and I think that’s OK…

Doesn’t stop me checking myself every day. Doesn’t stop my from reading up on cancer research, because it makes me feel better.

I think we all try to find comfort where we can, and I’ve softened on people who reach for that comfort outside of my own point of view. Cancer is scary. We all deal with it a little differently, and while I find the blatant misinformation of alternative medicine extremely frustrating, I don’t blame someone who is suffering to seek answers outside of what their Doctors tell them. I still love me some Western style peer reviewed medicine and that’s always going to be where I go for my answers, but if you seek answers elsewhere then I hope they bring you some comfort. Still: don’t buy anything from anyone, don’t trust something someone says just because it agrees with your worldview and always check with your doctor before taking anything.

And don’t try and force your weird turmeric drink down my throat, I will punch you in the dick.

 

 

 

 

I’ve got my last major scan on Monday. After that I wait for another week and then I see my oncologist and hopefully find out my cancer has been thoroughly stomped. If that’s the case then they put me onto surveillance…which sounds rather like my oncologist is going to take up residence in the bushes outside my house.

The problem is that waiting part. Even if it’s bad news and I need more treatment, I can handle it, but hanging around waiting for the news is hard.

In the immortal words of Homer Simpson:  The waiting game sucks! Let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippos!

 

I got locked in a toilet today.

My brother came around and we decided between us I had been inside my house for way too long, so he took me to cafe and all was well. Until I needed to go to the bathroom and I discovered that this particular cafe kept its bathroom next to the area everyone waits to order food, and that it was the smallest freaking bathroom in the world.

Not actual bathroom though. I have limits.

ACTUAL GODDAMN SIZE

I don’t like tight spaces much, I’m not a small human and this bathroom was clearly designed to accommodate people one limb at a time. I had to go into it sideways, more or less orient myself and then close the door.

Which locked itself.

I didn’t realize what had happened until I tried to leave the microbathroom and the door wouldn’t open. My first, primitive brain thought was “door won’t open? I WILL OPEN IT HARDER!”

My primitive brain is not made for tiny bathrooms.

This thoroughly buggered the locking mechanism on the door which was already hanging on by a thread. By the time the rest of my brain kicked in and I decided to investigate the handle/lock/sadness hybrid that was keeping me in the Febreeze scented oubliette the lock itself was jammed.

I was unhappy about this.

A lot of thoughts went through my brain. First and foremost was it would be deeply ironic if I died in here after everything that’s happened. 

I don’t want to have an ironic death. If I’m going to make the papers passing away I either want it to be because I’ve done something heroically amazingly or heroically strange enough to make everyone who reads it laugh.

There was a tiny little window. I considered climbing out of it despite the fact that it would have accommodated my head and that’s about it. I wasn’t getting out the window without dismantling myself with a chainsaw first. I considered calling for help.

I decided I would give myself five minutes and if I was still stuck I would call my brother and get him to see if he could help. It was a great plan hampered only by the fact that I had left my cellphone in the cafe. Maybe that’s why everyone takes their phone into the bathroom…subconscious fear of getting trapped.

So, thus abandoned by both my primitive brain and my subconscious I was left with modern humanity’s only option: push all the buttons.

I mean this metaphorically, there was only one actual button and I’d already broken it.

At a lot of jobs I’ve worked I’ve ended up with the title of unofficial IT guy because of this willingness to push buttons until something works. It’s actually pretty hard to permanently break a computer these days so I’m perfectly OK with trying any and all solutions I find on Google and then accepting the credit when one of them works.

In the tiny bathroom this meant jiggling the handle, rattling the door and repeatedly twisting the locking mechanism.

There was a pop.

The door creaked open. The line of people who had been waiting to place their order who had been wondering what personal dragon I had been trying to slay in the restroom all looked away suddenly. With as much dignity as I could muster (none) I walked back to the table my brother was at. He was engrossed in his cellphone and didn’t seem to realize how long I’d been gone for.

“You OK?”  he asked.

“Sure,” I said. I am full of lies.

If he noticed the rest of the cafe was still looking at me, he was too nice to say anything.

It occurs to me now that I should have told someone who worked there that the lock was broken…

If you are stuck in there now and are reading this on your cellphone, PUSH ALL THE BUTTONS.

It might even work.

 

 

I’ve said before that I never got a big epiphany from my cancer, but I did pick one up from someone else’s emergency.

It didn't look anything like this. I just like this photo.

The moment didn’t look anything like this, I just like this photo.

 

One of the many people who’ve taught me Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a man named John Will, had a heart attack. John is quite simply one of the best teachers in the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s a complex technique or a life lesson, he can bring it across to a room full of beginners and experts alike. His particular gift seems to be imparting lessons that will hang around until the student is ready. More than once he taught me something in a seminar I thought I hadn’t understood, and yet once I’d progressed in BJJ enough, the technique slotted itself into my repertoire like I’d be taught the day before.

John is also the person I think best exemplifies the idea of living life fully. He does more with his days than any other five people I know, and he’s one of the fittest people I’ve ever met.

 

This is John. I always assumed when death showed up for him he'd break its legs.

This is John. I always assumed when death showed up for him he’d break its legs.

 

He still had a heart attack.

Fortunately his wife made him go to the hospital and he’s well into recovery now. The lesson I got came when John mentioned that a lot of people had said that his heart attack was a reminder of how precious life was, to live life to the fullest. The thing is, John knew. He really, really already knew. As I said above no one I know lives their life more. John didn’t need the reminder that life is precious…

But I did.

Cancer should have been one heck of a reminder. I would have preferred a short note.

It doesn’t matter, I didn’t get it. Not really.

I was too caught up in the process of surgery/chemo/recovery to really notice that the lesson I’d been hanging around waiting for was right there. It took John’s medical emergency (and subsequent Facebook post advising the world he was OK) for me to pay attention. It’s a cliche, but life is precious. I just didn’t realize it. Not just as a whole, but in the specific too:

I didn’t realize what a blessing being able to eat more or less what I wanted was until I couldn’t for weeks on end.

I didn’t get how big a deal keeping myself fit was until I couldn’t walk to the end of my driveway.

I didn’t understand how loved I was by my friends and family until they all stepped up to the plate AT ONCE to help me. I sort of knew, but I didn’t understand it. I have an army of people right there, ready to fight for me, and the idea of that is so overwhelming I have no idea how to process it.

I didn’t realize how much time I was wasting until there was a chance I didn’t have any left.

That last one is the one I want to unpack. I want to make it clear that I don’t regret one second that I spent intentionally. If I lay down on the couch to watch something with my awesome wife and a bowl of popcorn, I don’t consider that time wasted, because that’s one of life’s great pleasures. Similarly I don’t consider any time spent writing to be wasted even if it’s writing I don’t end up using 1I wrote three different versions of this article for example. The unused versions aren’t waste, even if they are unused.

The time wasted I’m talking about is the time I didn’t intend to waste. Time I spent aimless online, or channel surfing. The decade I spent miserable in jobs I could have quit. Time I knew was wasted and time I just let slip by. So often I was too caught up in doing what I was doing to notice the wider picture.

I spent a lot of time daydreaming. Not the good daydreaming that makes for new stories, the kind where I dream about winning the lottery. Or about having superpowers. Or about spending my time productively.

Maybe the most honest I’ve ever been with myself was at the beginning of last week where I admitted I’d given up on my dream of being a writer, at least as far as novels and scripts went. I was enjoying my job writing for radio, and the idea of pursuing being a novelist seemed too much. Because I was scared it wouldn’t work. Because the idea of going through so much for possibly no result was terrifying.

It wasn’t just that though. For a while there in my early twenties I trained hard at jiu jitsu, I even had an MMA fight 2Which I lost. and had always wanted to get back to competition of some kind. But I didn’t, and I was kidding myself that I ever would.

Because I was scared. I never really learned how to handle competition, and I hated to lose, especially in front of my friends. So I found reasons not to compete.

That pattern has been there for a long time and a part of it is the lie I always told myself: I’ll do it later. 

You would think that getting cancer would have snapped me out of it, but it didn’t. As I said above I was too busy running through the process of getting well to really get any epiphanies, so instead I’m going to steal the one that John didn’t need. I needed a reminder that no matter where you are in life there might not be a later. 

I wish I could make some grand announcement that from this moment forward I wouldn’t waste any more time, that I would achieve X, Y or Z. Life doesn’t work like that. I can’t make any promises to you or to anyone else. There are no promises to make, all I can say for sure is that it took me seeing someone else’s epiphany for me to get my own lesson.

As I’m finishing this off it occurs to me that maybe there’s another lesson there that I’m not ready for yet, and that will slot itself into my repertoire when I’m ready.

I hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I wrote three different versions of this article for example. The unused versions aren’t waste, even if they are unused.
2. Which I lost.

Yesterday afternoon I felt a tiny tickle on the top of my head and I reached up to brush off what I thought was a leaf. At that same moment my cat Connie launched herself at my head.

A moment later she ran away carrying a very large spider in her mouth, which she crunched up under the dinner table. Since then she’s been watching me to see if more gigantic, delicious arachnids turn up on my head.

Apparently delicious.

I AM LESS DELICIOUS THAN YOU MAY HAVE BEEN LED TO BELIEVE.

 

I also managed to punch myself in the face.

I’d fallen asleep on my right arm and woke up when a fly landed on me. Half asleep I went to slap the fly away, but my arm was no longer my own and instead I belted myself solidly in the eye.

I really wish I could say that that is the first time I’ve done that, but a few years ago I managed to break my own nose doing almost the same thing. I’ve endured a broken nose a lot of times over my life so it’s not as bad as it sounds, but it was embarrassing to have to say ‘I did’ when he asked me ‘who did this to you?’.

I am clearly no danger to insects and arachnids of all shapes and sizes but if you need to get rid of me then I’m your man.