I am a 52-year-old man who thought he had his life figured out.
Family. Home. Life. Job. In that order, and everything was on track.
I am an idiot.
One of the definitions of idiocy is a middle-aged man who says he thinks he has it all figured out.
I am an idiot… with cancer.
Cancer doesn’t hit you fast. It comes slowly.
For me I realized I was going to the bathroom a lot, but thought that was something men my age do.
Then it happened more and more. I finally decided to see my doctor.
I’ll schedule it tomorrow, I thought. Morning comes, and you shower, read the news, eat something and go to work. No call.
Up all night in the bathroom.
Tomorrow comes. I’ll call on the way to work. No call.
All night in the bathroom, and was that bump there yesterday?
The next tomorrow comes and the next and the next and the next and then you realize that bump is bigger. No call.
Finally you book the appointment, and it’s a month away. Nothing to worry about at this point, but in the back of your mind you wonder if it’s something bad (at 52 there are only simple fixes and disasters when you’re lying awake at night).
First appointment you get a look at that bump and prescribed some ointment. Call in a week.
It doesn’t go away, so you go back. Now you’re thinking about all the bad things it can be, and far back in your mind the word cancer is there, but you’re not really thinking about it, because you have a busy life and you’re healthy.
Another test says abnormal cells. The look on doctor’s face is not reassuring, but the word cancer doesn’t come up because… more tests.
Next test they put you to sleep for a BIOPSY! The scariest word yet.
It is slightly embarrassing. You are naked except for this ridiculous night gown thing, and there are lots of strangers coming and going. They offer you a warm blanket.
I am afraid of needles. There, I said it.
Hate ‘em, hate ‘em, hate ‘em. Nurses promise it will be a quick sting. They are all liars on this point.
Then you sleep. And it’s great!
When you wake up, you are very aware you’re waking up, but wanting to go back to sleep.
Now there is that man, the doctor, who is a stranger really. He is telling you a lot of words, and you’re nodding, because you do and don’t understand at the same time.
You can feel yourself wanting to cry, because you have to ask: Is it cancer?
Yes. It is.
I don’t know how religious you are. I am not very. If there is a God, and he has help on earth, it is not a person in a pulpit. His or her help are those nurses, also strangers, whose faces and names I will never remember. They quietly put an arm around you and discretely wipe away that tear you didn’t realize was rolling down your cheek. For those two women I am forever grateful.
Then… it is a blur. And it is a fast track to get you out of the hospital.
My husband David was there with my parents. The doctor had told them more of the details, because they all knew I wouldn’t remember. David helps me get dressed, and they put me in a wheelchair.
I don’t know why it’s necessary to go that way, and I’m pretty sure wheeling you through rooms of people must be some type of HIPAA violation, but that is how it works.
In the car you feel numb. In the house you feel numb and want a shower.
Then you want to know what’s next. There is a LOT!
More appointments and tests. More humiliating moments with your clothes off in front of strangers. More needles.
Cancer doesn’t happen fast even after you find out. It has been nearly a month, and I still haven’t started treatment. I find that hard to believe. One doctor told me, “Cancer is only an emergency when it happens to you.” We didn’t go back to him.
Along the way there are wonderful people who help you feel better, and there are people who are there to give you the news. Both are important. I hate the ones giving you news.
So here is my news. I have Metastatic Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Stage 3. It is a type of colorectal cancer that has presented in my anus, groin, lymph nodes and prostate. It sits in my lower pelvis and for lack of a better description feels (all the time) like I just took a massive kick to the balls.
It is painful to sit and is uncomfortable all the rest of the time.
It is also very rare for a man my age to have this type of cancer. It usually presents in older, African-American men.
When I was first diagnosed I went to the internet.
I am an idiot (especially for that).
That is where I read there is a 37-percent survival rate for this type of cancer and then had to crawl under the covers for a while.
Don’t go to the internet!
I lived with that number for a while until I had the nerve to ask a good friend who is also a surgeon about it. He told me to calm the hell down.
I love him.
The survival rate is based on the older generation who generally contract this type of cancer and doesn’t really affect me. He told me at my age (FYI it does feel good to be called young all the time!) I should expect a complete recovery. In fact he told me I will probably be back on the boat drinking beer by this summer.
I love him.
He did tell me the next six to eight weeks are going to suck. I will not have surgery, but will do chemotherapy and radiation at the same time. That means they have inserted a port into my chest to pump chemicals into me continuously, and I will get radiation EVERY day for six weeks. Yes, I am NOT excited about it.
I love him a little less for telling me this: “You are going to feel like shit.” (Sorry about the language)
In the middle of all this you have to tell people. First, your family. David is amazing and goes to every appointment and takes notes so that when I yell at him about what happened he can “go back to the play” and prove it. Your extended family is concerned. Your mother takes care of business and ONLY responds with the bright side of what is happening. Your father offers to help around the house. Your other family members reach out. My sister-in-law became my new Google. After surviving breast cancer she is an expert. My family of friends never disappoint with their generosity and their care.
I love them.
Then you have to tell work. Ugh. How to explain this?
Then, they are awesome and understanding and you feel bad for worrying about how they would respond.
I love them, too.
So, here is some advice: Stop waiting around! Your body tells you when something is wrong, and your life wants you to be well! The people in your life want you to be well, too! It is very scary and uncomfortable, but you’ll deal with it.
Don’t be an idiot.
Now I have to do the hard part. Treatment starts tomorrow. I’ve gotten the prescriptions (not gonna lie, painkillers have been awesome). I’ve taken the time off. I’ve bought the loose boxers, loose sweat pants with no elastic at the ankles and oversized shirts to fit over the pump. I have done the paperwork. I have picked a team that is going to help me kick ass!
I am ready.
Maybe I am not an idiot after all.