Read these first:
The Golden Age (Part I of III)
The Golden Age (Part II of III)
I got my first MRI in August and didn’t know what to expect. “It’s just a bunch of really loud noises, like a jackhammer,” my friend Hamburgers assured me. I expected a stress fracture diagnosis, and when my doctor prescribed a second MRI, I was surprised. Did you have trouble finding my hip the first time? It’s only a bigass bone. It took three weeks to schedule me for the second MRI, though the bone scan was scheduled one day after that. My doctor must’ve known.
The bone scan technician surely did: she saw my future in perfect clarity on her computer screen as a bright white spot over my left hip. After the bone scan I was instructed to drink two bottles of water because they had injected nuclear medicine for easier detection. I drank three bottles because I was scared of nuclear medicine, a minute fraction of the toxicity of chemotherapy. It’s all relative, isn’t it? A healthy person fears nuclear medicine and a cancer person fears his future amputation or cancer recurrence. They may be equal, just different.
After everyone else was too much of a coward to tell me, it came down to me and my mom at the kitchen table. “Benjamin…you have a tumor.” I understood then what the bone scan technician had already known—cancer was growing in my pelvis and I would need treatment to kill it. I didn’t know much about chemotherapy or radiation except that they made people very sick, physically and in appearance. And I only knew that from watching Charlie Salinger receive treatment on the TV show Party of Five.
I went to school the next day after telling only three friends. I had been rocked by a life-altering uppercut and was now walking around the halls listening to classmates complain about petty high school problems.
Two days later, on Sunday morning, I taught Hebrew at Temple. There was confusion regarding the teaching assignments, so I waited in the sanctuary. Mrs. R, the mother of a student I had just finished tutoring for his Bar Mitzvah, sat next to me. “Tell me what you know,” she said. I guessed my mom had told a few people.
“I don’t know much. They don’t know what it is yet, or if it’s anything.”
“Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”
Like I said, when I turned sixteen I was no longer a kid. I didn’t need help or anyone to do anything for me. I may spend my whole life investigating why, but within the first couple months of treatment I realized I was invincible. I saw myself as a real-life Superman. Unable to be penetrated. Unable to be destroyed.
A week later I was diagnosed with bone cancer. My best friends and I went to Hamburgers’ house where I told them all that I knew. It was a typical Saturday night with our usual laughter and jokes. Before driving to Taco Bell, I walked up Hamburgers' basement stairs and said, “I can feel my cancer poking out my ass.” At the Taco Bell drive-thru, Zeke upset the employee and we’re sure she spit in our food.
Less than one week later my new life began. I am certain that the girls at school no longer saw me as the mysterious guy who cracks two jokes before taking Zeke and Big Easy home. They now saw me as the sick kid. I know this because that is how I would’ve viewed anyone else with cancer. I did everything in my power to show them otherwise. I’ve done everything I can since then, and I’ll do everything I can forever.
Last year I watched a skiing documentary with my roommate and some of the students he’d been giving skiing lessons to. When we left I asked him how old his students were. “They’re around sixteen,” my roommate said.
I couldn’t believe it. They looked so young—like kids. And that’s when I recognized that we don’t suddenly stop being kids when we turn sixteen. And I didn’t stop being a kid when I got cancer, even though Sweet Sixteen was over. I still say it was the best year of my life, perhaps never to be topped. There is something powerful about that age—maybe it’s because my life changed then. Or, maybe it had something to do with that "Super-Jew" t-shirt.
Continue reading "My Cancer Story": Teeter Totter of Life (Part I of II)