(David Bowie reference)
Okay! More than two years later. Where are we?
Let me say that I have not smoked a cigarette since the day my wife drove me to the hospital for what we knew was tongue-rearrangement day/week/weeks. I smoked and smoked and smoked that day, all the way to the hospital, hanging out of the passenger window of her VW Bug for the entire ride, lighting one after the other (which amounted to about two and a half).
Maybe I was nervous, or maybe I was just getting in those last few precious drags, my precious, my precious! You know what I mean if you smoke or did, even if you have not seen Lord of the Rings.
I never smoked again. Smoke stinks. I admit that if it is far enough away, the whiff still invites me, as the perfume of a woman might remind me of a girlfriend from long ago. But I have not smoked. Not a single puff.
In June of 2007, therefore, I asked my GP why I still had this nagging little cough. Shouldn’t I be beyond that by now? And that is when things got interesting again.
Believe me, half of what happens to me, I have to ask other people how it happened. This is one of those times. I think my wife and I insisted on a CAT scan, maybe it was just her. But I was getting a CAT scan after that day in June. And so I did. And then a PET scan.
And then, a trip to the oncologist. He said, with my wife and my daughter and her husband there, that I had a minimum of 10 months to live. My wife insists he said I had a 15% chance of making it two years, and even I remember him saying that some people, very few, make it four years.
We can’t blame him, since I insisted. You know how that goes: “I know you can’t give me a number, doc, but, between you and me, what do you think?”
I think this is how they avoid lawsuits, frankly, but to be kind, he answered my question. I was stunned. I wondered if he was still upset because my son-in-law and I had raised all kinds of ruckus because he was late getting to me. I wondered if he just didn’t like people that were smarter than him. I even wondered if it was because I was better looking than him. But even as those thoughts flashed through my mind, I knew they were not responsible for his answer. Yes, I am smarter than him, and certainly better looking, which would perhaps lead you to think that my son-in-law’s being a jerk is responsible for my new and life-ending cancer, and I wanted that to be true, but no…it was because I asked.
The room was bereft of air. It was as if someone had stuck a machine into a hole somewhere in the wall and sucked out all of the air. It seemed that none of us could breathe. I am not being dramatic, here, and if you had the announcement that your days are numbered, you know what I mean. All of the air goes away. Everything goes away.
My wife was crying. I know that. I do not know what my daughter was doing. My son-in-law was, like me, trying to control himself, as if we were still upset about the waiting. That was not so, of course, and I love him for his fear.
I managed to say something. I don’t remember what. Yes, I do. Pardon me, but this is what I said: “Holy sh*t!”
I am not proud of that, and I wish I had said something more profound, but that is what I said. Only once. Not loudly. But with conviction.
We left in a stupor. Hugging and crying and all of that. Usually, it is my wife who takes care of me. She does it well. This day, it was me, I think, all the way home, sustaining her. It is what it is, I told her; I will be fine, I told her; I AM fine, I insisted to her.
She drove home through tears. I held my head out the window like a dog seeking air. I held her hand when she was not shifting gears. More accurately, she grabbed mine, and would not let go. Death is a b*tch. We were not prepared for it.
The doctor said that the results showed I had cancer in both of my lungs. It was like buckshot, spread everywhere. When I asked about treatment he used the word “palliative”. When I asked about taking out a lung, he said it was in both, and it would do no good. Every question I asked was met with a roadblock of hopelessness.
Palliative care. It is what you get when your options are done. I should not say that here, but that is the case. Palliative care is ‘let’s make this as painless as possible while allowing him to be cognitive for as long as possible too.” It is a fine balance. I saw this happen with others I loved. It is a useful way to move beyond the futility and the pain while appreciating what life you have left to live. No problems here.
Except that it was me.
I am really good at giving advice, but I don’t take my own very well. My wife still asks me when I am going to start taking my own advice.
Probably never. That doesn’t mean it’s bad advice. It just means that I don’t listen well.
To be honest, I was not as afraid as I thought I would be. We can go into the religion thing right here, again. I am not a believer, and it makes the prospect of death more frightening and final, I would think. But still, I was not blown away. I was numb, perhaps, and may still be, but I was not blown away. Someone had to accept it, and so I did, I guess. Yes, I’m guessing.
A lot of things happened. I said “Holy sh*t!”, which will go with me to the grave as just as fine a line as “You can’t handle the truth”, given the context.
I told the doc, my oncologist, and one of the finest in the land, I was going on disability that very day. I had more important things to do than to die in an office. I had 10 months to live, maybe 24, maybe even 48, if I was lucky, but geez, let’s not split hairs here! He agreed.
And so, I was the Dead Man Walking, as I called myself from time to time. Old soccer teams had parties, memorials, I thought of them. Family members I had not seen in years showed up, perhaps under the mistaken impression that I had money, more likely to atone for past perceived sins. Who knows?
The Dead Man was walking, and oh, he was feeling sorry for himself. There is nothing sweeter than dying on the layaway plan.
In August, they did another couple of scans, to verify the results, so that I could get into that palliative chemotherapy progam.
In the meantime, I was taking an antbiotic to relieve a problem in my jaw and face area.
Behold! The lung cancer had disappeared! If you seek miracles, look no further. It seems, according to the oncologist who said I had 10 months to live (minimum) that I must have had an infection, and the antibiotic cleared it up.
Let’s not even go there, folks.
I was ecstatic. Later, people asked how angry I was. Angry? I was alive! I was ecstatic!
What is the moral? There is always hope, my friends.
Also: do not tell people you are dying until you are really, really sure. It is kind of embarrassing to have to call the whole thing off, believe it or not.