|"...let me 'splain this to you, Lucy..."|
It struck me the other day that cancer presents me with opportunity.
What on earth does that mean?
Let me 'splain, Lucy...
I have faced my mortality just one other time. In 2002 I had a major abdominal surgery. There were just a handful of hours from the time I went to the doctor's with a nagging pain in my side to the moment I was wheeled into surgery to remove a dangerous but benign tumor on what was left of my appendix. I found out later that prior to surgery the doctor told my wife it was 50-50 whether I would survive. Fortunately, everything went flawlessly during surgery. But there was no time for me to prepare myself. No time to fix the many things in my life that needed fixing, to say goodbye properly to people, to even just be plain scared to death.
As they took me to the operating room, I remember thinking, rather dispassionately, "...well, this might be it." My heart didn't so much as skip a beat. There was simply no time. I was on a rocket right to either recovery or eternity and there wasn't a damned thing I could do about it. That's no way to leave the world, but it is what many of us face. We're eating wings today, and they're being served at our funeral brunch tomorrow. (Note to my family: When I die at the ripe age of 106, it's a wing buffet kids. Hot, mild, Cajun, butter garlic, and y'all can pick one more flavor to round out the selections. Just choose a noteworthy sauce. Nothing artsy-fartsy. Designer wings are an abomination. Then make sure the Beatles "Birthday" is playing on a loop. Mourners must throw their chicken wings in the air and take a slug of Guinness every time they hear, "...yes we're going to a party, party ...yes we're going to a party, party..." Damn the torpedoes and go for the gusto. I want people going home saying, "...well the S.O.B. was a helluva lot more fun dead than alive!" )
(Note from my wife: NOT HAPPENING)
But I digress ever so slightly. Back to this bizarre little narrative I've started...
A few days after my emergency surgery, when I'd been weaned off the really good painkillers, I had a full-blown anxiety attack. I realized I'd just peered over the edge of the abyss. The great beyond. The hereafter. It had beckoned, but I'd been pulled back. It scared the hell out of me. I treated my anxiety attack by calling my wife at home and asking her to bring me an old high school geometry book I had on our nightstand. I'm not a geometry fan, but my brain needed to tackle something other than eternity.
"You want what?" she asked.
"My geometry book. It's under a pile of Glimmer Trains."
"Why do we have a geometry book?"
"I don't know. For emergencies."
I knew my wife wasn't thinking, "What kind of emergency requires a geometry book? Does Pythagoras need help? Is the square root of two acting irrationally again?"
No, she was thinking: "Well, this was inevitable. He's freaking out."
She rushed the book down to me. I spent a few hours trying to solve the most basic exercises in the book with only mixed success. You see, as much as I love the concepts of mathematics, once I get past a little algebra I'm awful. I am the king of add, subtract, multiply and divide. But the book served it's purpose and I calmed down. I haven't had an anxiety attack since.
This isn't 2002. This isn't a major surgery out of the blue with my life in the balance and no time for goodbyes. No, this time it is a different sort of journey. Prostate cancer isn't a rocket ride. It's a sort of cancer Carnival cruise, one that meanders from port to port with a destination in mind, but not guaranteed. One where multiple captains fight for the helm, changing the ship's course without warning. At least, so far, the prognosis is good. If I do draw an unlucky number in the cancer lottery, I will have time. And that, folks, is where the opportunity lies. It won't be enough time ...in my experience there is never enough time ...but there will be time nonetheless to try and make some kind of difference in the world, however small. Time to be a better person for those who love me and to help them through whatever comes.
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