Cancer is just a word, but the Bus is coming.
I want to leave that statement lingering for a bit, if for no other reason than it screams, “Explain this!”
I have no idea how many people have heard, read, and talked to me about my cancer. Here’s the summary: I was diagnosed in January 2020 with colorectal cancer. It was discovered fairly early, and the prognosis was pretty good. I started chemotherapy that February using intravenous doses every 2 weeks. After 8 treatments, I moved on to radiation – a hell I want no other person to ever have to endure. These treatments managed to shrink my tumor, but nothing more.
In October, I had surgery to remove a portion of my colon, my rectum and my anus. Yep, I now resemble a Ken doll when I wear ass-less chaps (which I don’t actually do). The surgery revealed that the cancer had progressed further than originally thought, but the doctors believed they had removed it all.
I spent the fall and early winter recovering, returning to a more regularly life while learning to live with a colostomy. Then, in January of this year, my doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to my lungs and was engaging lymph nodes in my abdomen.
In short, I have stage 4 metastasized cancer.
Enter the Bus. I have always believe that we are all perhaps moments from the end of our life. The proverbial “bus” could hit us any time, even those of us who don’t live in cities where crossing busy streets indeed heightens the risk of getting hit by an actual bus. There are so many things that could end a life that worrying about them and contrastly thinking we will all see our 90th birthday are equally unreasonable. I believe we should dream about the future, and plan to be in this world for a good long while. At the same time we should realize that what we do today should both impact people positively and satisfy our own desires to experience the world around us.
In otherwise, dream of the things you want to do, enjoy the life right in front of you, and try like hell to be good to other people. If you have the skill, knowledge, or talent to impact other’s lives, do it. If you have the opportunity to witness something amazing, don’t hesitate. And don’t underestimate what can amaze.
My friend and fellow summer camp volunteer, the Rev. Erick Olsen recently shared a great sentiment. Someone once told him “cancer is just a word.” That is absolutely true. Hearing that you have cancer is scary; it really can change your life. Hearing that your efforts to fight cancer have largely failed is disappointing to say the least. But cancer is just a word.
“We are all on the path to death,” said Erick. Yes. That is exactly what I have believed for as long as I can remember. The bus is coming. Just because I can see it heading my way doesn’t change the outcome. It just means I’m more aware of the path between me and the bus.
I have no idea how long I have left in this world, no more foreknowledge of my mortality than anyone reading this. I do know that the chances of me seeing my 90th birthday are extraordinarily small. There are treatments that could prolong my life, potentially, though the science behind those treatments is not convincing, nor is it guaranteed to have any effect at all. That path is filled with doctors, chemicals, procedures, and a level of suffering that I have already endured once. I’m not choosing to take that path.
No. I love my life. I love my wife Debby who has always let me be who and what I am, only trying to correct my flaws by showing me how to be better and letting me learn on my own. I love my talented, brilliant, creative children Duncan and Dani. I have incredible friends who I love, and with whom I would share a part of every day I have left if I could.
Of course, there are things I want to do and see. Some I will get to; others I will not. How is that different than anyone else?
And I don’t fear death. The regrets I have only relate to things I have done, the things that hurt others, not the things I will never do. I believe in a continuation of self, a shift to another phase of being. I believe that I will know what my family does in the future, that I will see my children grow, try things, fail, learn and succeed. And because I believe in the continuation of self, I believe there are others whom I will be with again.
If I’m wrong, if death is the absolute end of all self, then I guess I won’t be conscious of that anyway. Fearing death is just as unreasonable to me as believing I am the exception to the laws of nature.
Cancer may kill me sometime in the near future. Or not. All it has done for certain is teach me to look more closely at the path, so that I walk a little slower and enjoy what’s here, and ask the people I love to walk with me more often.
[To those compelled to respond: I welcome your thoughts, your prayers, and even some shared time together. But I do not welcome suggestions for treatment. If you know me, you know that I obsess over everything. I have read what treatments are available; I do not need anymore doctors. Come share my life with me; don’t share how you think I should live it.]