Cancer–probably the scariest word in the English language beginning with C. Now that I’m living with it, I realize it brings a host of other words with it that start with C. So, at the risk of sounding like a Sesame Street lesson that didn’t make it past Final Edit, I present my Comprehensive Compilation of Cancer-Centric C’s. It’s a mixture of things you’ll need and things that just come with the territory.
Chemotherapy. Short for “chemical therapy,” it’s a planned attack on the tumor by using strong–and I mean serious ass-kicking powerful–chemicals. They’re toxic to even the strongest, otherwise healthy bodies and can cause nausea, diarrhea, constipation, mouth sores, anemia, fatigue, loss of appetite and hair, and a long list of other gruesome party favors. One of the meds in my arsenal is Platinum. While it may be a benchmark in CD sales, it’s a heavy metal. The week I have this drug, there is a nasty metallic taste in my mouth that won’t go away. Even my sweat and urine have the bitter aroma of it.
Some people with a severe case of cancer opt to quit doing “chemo” and choose death instead. It can be that intense. I have a highly treatable form of cancer, so this option isn’t even on the table as far as I’m concerned. But I can understand how anyone would make that choice.
Courage. Courage isn’t fearlessness. It’s feeling the fear and doing what needs to be done anyway. I’ve often been told over the years I have courage. I’m not so sure about that. It’s always been a matter of live or die. You simply do what you have to do to keeping living. For some of us, it’s harder and more complicated than for others.
And I’ve been lucky enough to experience fearlessness. Right now, my energy is low and I wish I felt better. But I’m not afraid. I’ll get through this and move on to what life has in store for me next. But I’ll take some courage in the meantime, anywhere I can find it.
Coping Method. This is for real. Maybe spirituality is already a part of your life. If so, you know how it can help you cope with life’s smaller setbacks. Don’t worry, I’m not going to shove God down your throat. Just don’t be too quick to count God out, either. Meditate. Pray. Count your blessings. Visualize. And if none of that is your thing, lean on your friends like never before. And if you’re old enough to be reading this, you’re old enough to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy coping methods, so I won’t preach to you about that.
Compassion. My definition of compassion is to have sympathy for those on a different road–even if it’s a road you’ve never travelled or even wanted to. Cancer is one of those diseases most people can feel a high level of compassion for its victims. That’s good. Right now, I’m too tired to be my typical feisty self. But, with any luck, it won’t be long before I’m ornery, feisty, and–if not feeling well that day–a total bear. Middle-aged men (make that mean of any age) can be short-tempered and downright hostile when we feel like crap. Please remember to have compassion for me than.
Challenge. This word has become so common in the past 20 years, I’ll leave it alone here. Everyone gets this one. Yeah, it’s a challenge to fight cancer. I’m also “visually-challenged” and once in 1983 I took The Pepsi Challenge.
Vitamin C. The chemo reduces your ability to fight colds, viruses, and anything else. Last week, my white blood cell count dropped to zero. That means no immunity at all. The numbers have improved, but I’m making sure I get my Vitamin C so I can hedge my odds. This winter, I hope I have enough white blood cells to rub together with Vitamin C to ward off those nasty bugs waiting to ambush me.
Check-In. Just having someone call and ask if there is anything they can do is a source of comfort. This is especially true in the case of someone who can’t get out and drive to the store even when they’re feeling fine. It’s easy to feel forgotten by the outside world–the healthy world–passing them by. Sure, it can be uncomfortable talking to sick people. They can sound so frail over the phone. You tell them what’s going on in your life and suddenly feel as if you’re flaunting your health in their face. I’ve been on both sides of this equation, so I know what I’m talking about. Maybe the sick person has grown bitter and resentful. If they weren’t like that before the illness, you can bet that when it’s all over, they won’t be then, either. My friends have called to check on me. I’ve told them, without going into unnecessary details, what’s been happening with me. Then I want to know what’s happening with THEM. I’ve already caught myself saying, “Tell me something good. Tell me something interesting.”
If you remember to check on people in my situation, I GAURANTEE you, if they’re any kind of human being, they’ll love and appreciate you the rest of your life.
Creativity. Maybe you’ve never been a particularly creative person. You might be someone who says, “I can’t even draw a straight line.” Really? Wnen was the last time you tried? Maybe you have a lot to say, a lot to get out, and writing might be the best way to do that. Whether visual, musical, or whatever, you could end up creating art which moves people. If nothing else, creative pursuits can sure help take your mind off things. When my kidneys failed in 1997, I took up art after a 15 year break from it. To my astonishment, my skill level was right where it had been–even though I had lost some of my vision. With practice, I actually improved. This brought me greater peace than anything else I did, and it made me feel closer to God.
Communication. This is another word that doesn’t need much explanation. We all have our own definition, but I feel it’s worth mentioning here. Communication is going to be even more important now. For some of us, just asking for help when we need it is the first step.
Comedy. Humor. Laughter. It really is the best medicine. If you haven’t experienced this first-hand, YOU NEED TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT. From my personal experience, laughter and fear cannot coexist. OK, there’s nervous laughter, but even that’s a great pressure valve. There’s evidence of the positive effects of laughter. It helps strengthen core muscles, breathing, and whole bunch of other physiological benefits. There are now exercise classes devoted to laughter. Through all the current and previous health issues, I’ve maintained my sense of humor, often to the surprise of others. It’s been one of my best survival tools and I simply cannot recommend it enough. Laugh. Giggle. Chuckle. Guffaw. It’s your God-given right and now that you’re trying to stay well, it’s more necessary than ever. I know people are worried about me these days. The only time to worry about me is when I stop laughing, or making other people do so.
Conquer. I WILL conquer cancer. In my case, I’ve been lucky enough (yes, lucky) to have already survived some serious, potentially fatal health issues. I got through it and it has given me a type of self-confidence regarding this that I just wouldn’t have had otherwise. I hope you’ll continue to follow my progress and share this adventure with me, because eventually, when this is over, we will . . .
Celebrate. I’ll celebrate the good news when I’ve conquered this. And I’ll celebrate the smaller victories along the way, even if it’s something as minor as having more energy than the day before. Celebrate every bit of good news. Celebrate life.