My hands hurt with anger

My hands hurt from anger. They hurt from cancer, treatment, and the after effects. On each occasion that I learn of another case of cancer, my hands begin to hurt. I’m reminded of the neuropathy plaguing my fingers and toes with constant pins and needles. But more so, I’m reminded of the times when the neuropathy hurts, when I hold something of an awkward shape, try to open a bottle, or run. My hands or feet feel as if the nerves have been uprooted, sliced and shortened, thereby reducing the functionality of my extremities.

When I hear of new cases of cancer I’m reminded of the pain.

It would be perhaps naive to think that the coping mechanisms I acquired through my own battle are unpossessed by anyone else, even if he or she never personally had cancer. People learn to cope in various ways through various struggles. My own battle was unique to me, but my ability to cope was not. Still, I wish to share that ability, particularly when I learn of another cancer case.

My hands hurt with hatred from the cancer. I want to punch walls and throw plates, knock down chairs and cry, but it wouldn’t help. The hatred wouldn’t go away, because I can hardly even feel it. I hate yet I’m numb. I hate yet I’m powerless. I hate yet the cancer keeps on coming.

I beat cancer and I’m happy to be alive, but the cancer keeps coming without relent. I wish I could do more than listen or write, but it’s all I know. I wish I could channel my hatred. I just wish the cancer would stop.

I don’t want to accept it but cancer is still a powerful force in my life. When I first completed chemo I truly believed that my memories would fade, that I would continuously grow distant from cancer. Perhaps of my own cancer this is true, but not of cancer in general.

“We think you have cancer…”

“My mom has cancer…”

“…cancer…”

Cancer. Cancer. Cancer. It’s not one of those words that sounds strange when repeated. When repeated, cancer is more daunting. It eats at me in ways I still struggle to understand. It’s not that another’s cancer is my ownit’s not. Yet when I hear “cancer”, it’s as if I’m being swatted over the head with the dramatic stick of life. There’s no humor, only sadness. And it hurts, like the pain in my hands.

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Life’s too short; Thank you, cancer

Dedicated to all who have been, who are, and who will be personally touched by cancer.

Life is too short and I’ve decided to go all in. I could fail and I might but I won’t. I’m going all in.

I’ve always wanted professional independence and creative business freedom. It’s been my dream since childhood to own and run a cafe. I’ve finally decided and I’m going all in.

I lived frugally and forced my wife to do so to since we met. We only started spending frivolously once I was diagnosed with cancer. I started the trend by buying a $100 sweatshirt coined the most comfortable hoodie around. I figured I might die. I figured I was going to suffer. I figured the sweatshirt would comfort me. So I bought it, the richest piece of clothing I think I own and I’m not even comfortable wearing it. Still, buying it made me feel good, if even just for a second. I had cancer and a $100 sweatshirt to hold. But my frivolous days are gone.

I’m going all in. Life is simply too short. My cancer could recur, I could die, and my chance will end. I’m taking that chance without regret, through failure or success. No regrets.

Thank you cancer for giving me the courage. I hate you yet you have given me so much. Ever since you entered my life, you recur. I cannot rid you. You’ve taken hold of others close to me, threatening the preciousness that is life. Through your persistence, your seeming omnipresence, you’ve created within me a profound appreciation. Now I cherish all that is the best of life–time, chance, opportunity, friends, family, strangers, and the relationships in between.

I could lose all of these things, and so I’m comfortable going all in. And as I go all in, I bring myself even closer to those things you have helped me to appreciate. For all your evil, cancer, you have brought me great joy. You will always be beside me, through both good and bad, so long as I am.

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The Fear of Death

I’ve never been afraid of much, besides heights, which leave me in a frozen, almost incapacitated mental and physical state, though I’ve never been able to understand the root of this fear.

Now I fear death and what that would mean. It’s not even the death itself, which I imagine might not be all that painful, as I would be sure to get my hands on something to ease any potential pain. No, it’s not death itself that I fear, but all that I would lose were I to die. That is what I fear.

It’s also a fear of cancer, that it returns. I feel a cough developing, a strained eye, anything physically abnormal, and I think of cancer returning. I fear this and I am not sure I can help it. I know that life can run smoothly and then fall apart in a matter of minutes. The last time this happened a radiologist walked through the door with a mere handful of words that changed my life forever. She only had to say that my x-ray looked abnormal and my life and perceptions were instantaneously altered. The fear developed over time, as the concept of cancer sunk in. I had to come to terms with treatment, and more importantly, death, to which I grew very close.

I don’t think I can ever shake this thought of death, and I’m not sure that I want to. It may not be particularly unhealthy, so long as I don’t constantly contemplate dying, which I don’t. No, it’s those occasional moments when I savor playing with my daughter and think, this might be one of few such memories, etched in my head and memory with a life cut short to accompany.

I look at my ladies, my wife and daughter, and think of love, life and death. The thoughts are fleeting, almost surreal. I think to myself, and smile. I don’t share my thoughts aloud though I often think that my wife experiences the same feeling. She came equally close to my death, and I imagine she coped and adjusted in her own way.

While this fear of death occasionally returns to my side, it returns more frequently in positive form. I seek gainful employment, but I’m alive. I struggle to communicate with a family member, but I’m alive. I look forward to moving out of my parents’ house so that my family and I can finally enjoy our own space, but I’m alive. I’m alive and grateful for it, thanks to the fear of death.

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It Takes A Village

It takes a village to raise a child.

This is how the proverb goes. Well, it also takes a village to tackle cancer. In my own fight I encountered at least one individual (so there must be more) who did most of her cancer fighting alone. Some of her stories shocked me. She would drive to treatment alone, come home alone, climb the stairs alone, and sit through agonizing pain in the darkness, alone.

I did not fight cancer alone. I had a village and I could not have succeeded with anything less.

Here comes the Oscar drum roll…

My oncologist drafted the treatment plan but I don’t think she actually did that much. Still, I’m thankful for what she did, and she was positive, which always helps.

Numerous nurses, probably fifteen or so, helped set my IV and guide me through twelve weeks of intensive chemotherapy.

My family and friends stood by me without question. They waited by my side, talked to me, listened, fed me, treated me, cared for me.

My colleagues called, wrote, and sent gifts that made me feel appreciated.

My Peace Corps family visited, called, wrote, and also sent gifts.

I don’t know how many people underwent clinical trials before it was determined that the treatment I received was my best option.

Strangers wrote blogs and commented on mine. By sharing their experiences and emotions they let me know that I was not alone.

An Imerman Angels mentor guided me through the entire process, helping me feel comfortable.

My running mentor told me it was ok to go slower (so long as I went).

I don’t know where all these people came from or why they were so kind. I really don’t. But they all provided different pieces to a vicious reaction to the cancer in my body, and together, they emerged victorious.

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Hearing Lung Cancer

Every time I heard the words “lung cancer” a million thoughts ran through my head, and I heard the phrase repeatedly because I was actively seeking cancer stories.

“Lung cancer”.

It could have been my fate and that is what it represented. During my diagnosis the doctors at the hospital seriously considered lung cancer, but they hoped for germ cell (my actual diagnosis). Germ cell was much better than “lung cancer”; it was the favorable outcome because of its curability and prognosis.

“Germ cell” began to sound great. I was to hope for it and not for “lung cancer”.

When I hear “lung cancer” I imagine what could have been: years of management, palliative care, and a likely inevitable and eventual death from the disease. When I hear “lung cancer”, I think of a specific woman and her unfortunate diagnosis. She is kind and wise and shares her story on the internet, and when I hear the words “lung cancer” I immediately think of her.

I think of Stanford doctor Paul Kalanithi and his drearily titled yet profound New York Times piece How Long Have I Got Left.

I think of fate and my lungs, the fact that I haven’t smoked in years, and the chance that I still could have been diagnosed with lung cancer. The older, wiser woman never smoked. Neither did Paul Kalanithi. Yet they both have lung cancer.

When I hear the words “lung cancer” a million different thoughts run through my head, but they most all relate to death, unfairness, and what could have been. I hate lung cancer and what it makes me think of. All that could have been. I feel for those who suffer at its fate when they did absolutely nothing to merit such a disease.

I hate cancer, but I particularly hate lung cancer. The wise woman on the internet comforted me through my cancer crisis while hers continued. She wrote with such an endearing voice, with such closure, and comfort. I could feel her in my living room telling me that whatever the outcome, it was going to be alright. Her voice was more than the cliched positivity that I often heard–it was warm and understanding, even for the worst of outcomes (death). And even if she didn’t feel at ease with death, she seemed to know it.

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Tears for Strangers

Never before have I shed tears for complete strangers. I didn’t even know these people; all I knew was that one of the two was young, still in his teenage years, and had just passed from cancer. His older sister, an emotionally resilient young lady, had described his passing with elegance, love, and affection in a public blog posting.

I never cared about cancer before my diagnosis. I never cared about the millions affected and killed. I never paid much thought. But when I was diagnosed, I wanted, perhaps needed, to know that I was not alone. I searched online for cancer stories, shared my own thoughts and emotions publicly, and connected with oncology patients via public exchanges and private emails. These connections helped me maintain a positive spirit; I learned to deal with my pain, cope with my symptoms, and reinvent my perceptions of life. Cancer challenged me, but its patients challenged me more.

Never before have I shed tears for complete strangers. But this young man deserved my tears in celebration of his life. I could have been him, my sibling and fate his, all so easily and by nothing but chance.

My cancer is in remission but I cannot move on. I cannot compartmentalize my experiences as an occurrence of the past. And I am continuously reminded. Like a pregnant woman who markedly notices other pregnant women, I cannot seem to step away from cancer.

A childhood friend’s mom was diagnosed days ago. Her husband fought personally many years back. A stranger just passed.

Today at the store a woman about my age asked if I was an oncology patient and explained that her son was too. Despite thinking that it was somewhat inappropriate, I asked his age. He’s three. Three years old, and he’s beaten cancer into remission. His mom was smiling and kind. She showed me the fresh tattoo on her inner forearm in dedication to her son and cancer, to which I responded “cool” as I paid for my pistachios.

Before my diagnosis, I wouldn’t have cared about her and her son, his age, or her tattoo. I wouldn’t have cared about any of it; the stranger would have been simply a stranger. But not anymore.

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Cancer Free

On April 17, 2014 my treating oncology team reported the following:

The tumor in my chest, which measured 7.5 centimeters in length prior to chemotherapy, now measures nine millimeters. The remaining mass is likely nothing more than dead scar tissue that will be reabsorbed by my body. The chemotherapy worked and I don’t need any more treatment. I will see the oncology team and receive routine scans for the next five years. These scans will be used to catch, as early as possible, any recurrence of the initial cancer or occurrence of a secondary cancer.

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