The ride

November 16, 2022. I’ve spent a lot of time lately reflecting on the past four years. It’s been a heck of a ride and one I didn’t see coming. I know there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. It was the same way the first time I was diagnosed in September 1999. I didn’t see it coming and there was nothing I could have done to escape it.

Cancer is like that. You can read about all sorts of recommendations for avoiding it, most prominently diet and exercise. For me the truth about cancer is it doesn’t care who you are, how healthy you are, what your family history is, how much exercise you do, where you live, how old you are, what color your eyes are, if you’re heavy or lean, if you are a frequent or occasional drinker, if you don’t drink at all, if you are social or a recluse, if you do drugs or don’t, what color your skin is, if you are male or female or in-between, if you believe in a higher power or don’t, if you drink coffee or tea, if you don’t drink enough water, if you take vitamins or not, if you floss or don’t, if you shower every day or once a week—cancer doesn’t care. The truth is when you get a cancer diagnosis you look at what you can blame, you think to yourself, “what did I do wrong?” You try to point your finger at the one thing that could have triggered it all.

Our bodies work hard every day trying to keep us as healthy as possible. I know it and I appreciate it. But sometimes our bodies let us down. There have been many times in my 70 years when I woke up in the morning with a sore throat or a headache and would ask myself, “why?” It was the same way when I got diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and then again in 2018. I was fit, ate right, got plenty of rest, took my vitamins, brushed my teeth, and drank lots of water. Still I got cancer. I don’t know why. It just is what it is. And once you have it you, along with your care team, do everything you can to beat it. To end it. To survive it. But I know for certain there was nothing I could have knowingly done to prevent it.

In spite of all that, for some unknown reason, I unconsciously believed that because I had cancer none of my friends and family would ever have to endure it. I guess I wanted to be the one thing that would shield them, protect them. Sadly, I’ve been let down a number of times over the years. And every time I take it a little bit personally. It happened most recently last week. The word NO screamed so loud in my head, I was certain my cat laying nearby flinched. All the things I wanted for my friend whirled around in my brain like a tornado… I hope she caught it early, I hope there’s no metastases, I hope it’s easily treatable, I hope, I hope, I hope.

That’s the other thing about this ride…it’s lonely. It’s a singular journey. No one can take this trip with you other than in a position of support. They can’t take any of the tests. They can’t be in your brain as you anticipate the next step. They can’t take a treatment or blood draw or surgery for you. They can only watch from the sidelines. As much as they want it, they are helpless to help you. You just have to go it alone and fight like hell to survive.

So here I sit, four years into this latest journey with no end in sight. Right now the Bicalutamide I’m taking has been the least toxic chemotherapy I’ve endured with fatigue as the most dominant side effect. I’ve been on it for 6 weeks and will continue for 5 more. Then more scans. Then… Well, like I said, it’s a heck of a ride.

During this season of giving thanks, I am profoundly grateful to be alive and for each and every one of you.

Instructions for living life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. — Mary Oliver