Continued from "My Cancer Story": Welcome to the Good Life (Part II of II)
Read "My Cancer Story" from the beginning: The Golden Age (Part I of III)
I can hear the screaming. I can barely remember anything from the first 36 hours after my surgery, but I will always remember the screaming. The dude next to me in the recovery room whined about his knee pain. The girl to my other side had just had brain surgery. No amount of opiates in the world could stop her pain, stop the screaming.
A year after my surgery, Dr. Phil told me they took digital pictures of the operation. I asked him to email them to me, and reluctantly, I looked. I was split open and the skin was folded down. Blood puddled inside me. I could see the bone, which was colored blue either because of added dye or because of the cancer cells. I was unrecognizable, even to myself.
After my first cycle I didn’t think chemo was bad, but by the third cycle I realized chemo was awful. It causes cottonmouth, a metallic taste, brain fog and nausea. It smells coming out through sweat and even worse through urine. It makes you not want to do anything except finish the day and get to the next one.
For my lengthy hospital stays one of my parents accompanied me, always carrying bagfuls of mini cereal boxes. While getting chemo my food selection was cereal, pretzels or nothing.
At first I felt odd discussing my bowel movements to my attractive nurse practitioner, Kiva: size, frequency, pain, bleeding, density, cramps, color, and my favorite, shape. I could never get used to pooping in a plastic container for my nurse to measure or culture.
As a child I hated vomiting, and just because I now developed nausea several times each cycle doesn't mean I got used to it. I took anti-nausea drugs around-the-clock, often staying drowsy for entire days. I can’t imagine treatment before the invention of the best of them, Zofran, which helps to deactivate the brain's vomiting center.
I made sure everyone at the hospital knew I was the healthiest patient there, the only non-sick one in the whole damn place. Instead of allowing my time there to make me feel really sick, I used it for energy by comparing myself to the less fortunate ones. Though unethical, it was also refreshing: I needed to feel and project that attitude.
Cancer provides an abundance of time. So often we’re incapacitated, unable to contribute to society or even ourselves. We do what we can to waste time, make it go faster. I listened to a lot of music. And when I had enough energy, like when riding home from the hospital with my mom on those cold fall nights, I pondered.
I thought about the enormous change my life had taken in such a short time. I thought about how strange, almost surreal it was that I actually had cancer. I thought about how I had become an outcast, different from everyone in a way that’s obvious just by looking. I couldn’t help but wonder how others thought about me.
I thought about school, and whether anything exciting happened, whether I missed anything really funny, what my friends were doing. I thought about Orange, and K-Dubs17, and every other hot girl at school. I thought about playing football and how much I missed it. I thought about how I loved the cold air, bare trees and dark nights. It was so peaceful.
I wondered how much the chemo would punish me in the next cycle, how low my blood counts would drop. I thought about how cool it would be if I had a stress fracture instead of bone cancer. I thought about my surgery and wondered why I couldn’t have just left the bone in there since it was already dead.
I thought about all the other cars on the road, all those red and white lights. I wondered why people were out, where they were going, where they were coming from. I had cancer and that's the reason I was on the road, but what were their stories? They were just several feet away and I'd never know. I thought about how much older they were than me and what it would be like to not be a teenager.
Keep reading: Welcome to the Cancer Life (Part II of III)
Monday, October 29, 2007
Continued from "My Cancer Story": Welcome to the Good Life (Part II of II)
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
As usual, my Baltimore Orioles didn’t participate in the baseball playoffs this year. In fact, this was their tenth consecutive losing season.
In 1996, during a playoff game between the Yankees and Orioles, a young hoodlum named Jeffrey Maier illegally reached over the wall and grabbed a Derek Jeter fly ball that would’ve fallen into the Baltimore outfielder’s glove. It was ruled a homerun, propelling the Yankees to their first of four World Series Championships in five years. In my extremely biased opinion, if Maier didn’t steal the ball out of the air, the Orioles would’ve gone on to win the World Series that year. Not only did that little thief go unpunished, he became a hero in New York.
Despite the poor team performance, my aunt and uncle have been season ticket holders for as long as I can remember. The seats are incredible, located in the third row directly behind the Orioles dugout. They even get on TV anytime a left-handed batter is at the plate. Every year they give my family a set of tickets. Years back I took a couple friends to the game and somebody saw Zeke picking his nose on TV.
About ten years ago I took a picture of Cal Ripken, Jr. as he was entering the dugout. Just as I flashed he looked directly at me. For any nonbelievers, I have proof. What I can’t prove is how much that moment influenced Cal’s career. I was very hurt when he didn’t mention me in his Hall-of-Fame speech.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Last week I saw the movie Into the Wild, which is about a guy (Emile Hirsch) who dips out after college and travels the country with the goal of reaching Alaska and living alone in the wilderness. Along the way, he documents his journey in his diary. Not only did I think it was a very good movie, it also inspired me to go on a similar adventure surviving in the wild and writing. I think it would be fun, exciting, and above all, postpone me getting a job.
There are only two problems with my idea. First, I hate insects, bees, snakes, spiders, and most other outdoor critters. For example, last month I reached into my pocket and felt something funny. I pulled it out and it was an enormous beetle. I flipped out, screaming and stripping off almost all my clothes just to make sure there were no more bugs. I clobbered the little bastard with my big shoe for payback.
Second, I know almost nothing about surviving in the wild. My limited knowledge comes from two Discovery Channel shows, Survivorman and Man vs. Wild. I now know that I can drink my own urine and take a bite out of a live fish, but I don't think those will help me much.
And besides, research shows that bears are more aggressive toward cancer survivors and people who actually liked the movie Catwoman. I'd be fucked.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Read this first: Welcome to the Good Life (Part I of II)
Besides staying alive and completing my minimal schoolwork, I had almost no responsibilities or commitments. I often judge days based on my productivity, whether it be exercising, engaging in social events, finishing tasks or doing work. When I had cancer, I could watch television the entire day and that would be considered productive. That mindset was unique to cancer and I don’t expect will ever be duplicated.
I quit receiving piano lessons, my soccer team, and teaching Sunday school. I stopped using my Ab Crunch Trainer, shaving, shampooing and bathing daily. Who was I trying to impress? A bi-daily shower would suffice.
I quit worrying about a balanced diet, and instead took advantage of the delightful dishes my parents and aunt provided me. My friends Ink and Ho-Train came over almost daily to play video games, and there were always Ho Hos for us to demolish.
I had cancer, yet was as worry-free as I'd ever been. Instead, I focused on having fun and staying relaxed. I learned that limiting stress could improve one's mental and physical health, and I did it better than anyone. The fact that the ideal cancer patient wasn't "supposed" to have that ability made me feel special.
Everybody has challenges, and I understand that now. But back then I didn't think anyone else's difficulties compared to mine. Yet, they all complained about trivial things. And I just sat back and laughed at them for being such pussies.
Throughout the year I was severely deprived. The periods before being privileged again were possibly my greatest times of joy. Those 60 minutes before my first meal in days, or the morning when I would be released from the hospital and take that first breath of fresh air, or the first blood test that showed my numbers were on the rise. The buildup, in part, made normalcy so unbelievably sweet.
At sixteen I doubt I was fully aware of cancer's benefits. It seems like other cancer patients, and most people for that matter, aren't aware of them either. Thinking that cancer totally sucks might be a defense mechanism, something we perceive so that we're better able to survive. Now that I have been a survivor, I'm able to look back to my time with cancer with a clear head and I see that the Good Life existed.
I will always remember and occasionally get nostalgic for those brief moments of bliss that I'll hopefully never get to experience again.
Continue reading "My Cancer Story": Welcome to the Cancer Life (Part I of III)
Monday, October 8, 2007
Continued from "My Cancer Story": Teeter Totter of Life (Part II of II)
Read "My Cancer Story" from the beginning: The Golden Age (Part I of III)
People bought me things—some who I'd never met before, and some expensive things, like video games, an mp3 player and a portable CD player. NoCommonSense's dad wanted to impart some Beatles culture on me, so he bought me their greatest hits. My rabbi bought me the new Ja Rule CD, Rule 3:36. I wanted him to listen with me, but he wasn’t into gangsta rap.
My parents and Aunt Flojo ordered whatever I wanted to eat. Huge, fatty, delicious milkshakes and greasy, heart-clogging foods were shoved down my throat. If I had the ability and desire to become obese, they would’ve gladly financed my girth.
School became a circus. I attended when I could and took breaks when I wanted. I dropped one class and spent those 90 minutes in the guidance office with two other kids. Our conversations probably led the guidance counselors to wonder why we weren't with other learning disabled students.
My mom drove me to my clinic checkups. Sometimes on the way home we went out to eat or rented a movie. It got even worse (or better) after surgery when I didn’t attend school for three months and my mom and I frequented Pizza Hut or the mall for Roman Delight Pizza, my favorite. We did not bump into the truant officer.
Maybe my slackness is why my SAT scores declined between the beginning and end of treatment. Did I get stupider? Is stupider even a word?
Because of my pooping troubles, breakfast decisions were simplified to oatmeal. Because of my reduced schoolwork, at night I familiarized myself with obscure shows such as Titus, Gideon's Crossing and Grounded for Life. Most aspects of my life outside of cancer became easier. Some people don't like easier; some people don't like using the cancer card, including me. But when that kind of lifestyle is available, it's hard to decline.
Seeing the good side of cancer was not a function of fearing death and the accompanied desire to treasure my remaining time. I didn't fear death. It was a function of, at least partly, my simplified life and the reduction in choices and activities. I didn't always eat, so when I did that Starburst tasted sweeter. My hospital didn't have cable, so when I was home, SportsCenter made my mornings more entertaining.
Going to the movie theater or dinner became an event, not just something you do, but rather something truly special. And I can still remember them all: Olive Garden with my mom after Cycle 3; Uno's with my mom and Aunt Flojo after Cycle 4; Cast Away with my family after Cycle 5, to name a few.
I can remember everything about those special events. We saw Cast Away on Christmas in 2000. I wore my white Eddie Bauer sweater and olive green cargo pants. I got up to pee halfway through the movie and wondered, do these people know that I have cancer from one look in a dark theater? I was so happy that day. I was happy that I finished Cycle 5 and was healthy enough to see that great movie with my family. I was genuinely happy with life. I was so happy that I almost wanted time to stop. It is times like that I miss so badly now that it hurts.
Keep reading: Welcome to the Good Life (Part II of II)
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Read these first:
The Stumbler: Part II
My 7th grade English teacher was absolutely obsessed with The Rosie O'Donnell Show. She loved it so much that she had us spend months of class preparing to do a mock Rosie show. Her plan was to ultimately record our show, send it to Rosie and get on TV. After the first month we thought she was nuts. After the second we thought she was the greatest teacher ever because we didn't really do anything. Case in point, my job was to play the drums to One Headlight by The Wallflowers, as the rest of my "band" played air guitar and lip synched. Since my dad had been giving me drum lessons for three years, I rocked out on the real thing.
Our class was broken into two groups. The other group needed one more band member and asked me to play air guitar to Korn's Blind. The Stumbler played lead guitar and vocals. Everything was going well during the final taping, until Dookie started spraying water at us with a spray bottle "for effect," as he called it. When I jumped up for a power cord, I slipped on some of the water and did the mini-splits. I think I pulled something, but I was a trooper and continued playing.
Meanwhile, Dookie sprayed The Stumbler in the face and he was furious. Somehow, someway, our crazy teacher didn't see this occurring. She also somehow didn't notice when both The Stumbler and I flipped the bird to Dookie. The Stumbler was caught on camera. I wasn't.
This was before the days of digital editing, and nobody told our teacher about the incident. So, she finished taping the rest of the show and gave it one last look-through before sending the tape to her idol. And that's when she saw The Stumbler blatantly sticking his middle finger in the air to the left of the camera. The words "fuck you" may also have been mouthed.
I thought both groups beautifully executed our skits and produced one hell of a mock show. Our crazy teacher disagreed and had a near-psychotic breakdown. "I didn't even know kids your age knew what that was," she said. Lady, I'm pretty sure I knew when I was just getting out of diapers.
The Stumber got suspended, our teacher scrapped all our work, and I couldn't have been more grateful the camera wasn't focused on me. Is it wrong that the entire class thought it was the absolute perfect ending to the three-month extravaganza? Except our crazy ass psychotic teacher, of course.