Before & After

I can’t sleep.

I’m in a hotel room at 1 a.m. after a long exhausting day and I can’t get tired enough to sleep. I just keep thinking of the conversation I had with my Quality of Life doctor today, who sometimes is more like my psychiatrist than one of my many cancer doctors.

“I want you to answer something for me. Do you think you can be cancer-free?”

I hesitated.

In that instant I realized something I don’t really think about too much because I never have the time to think about anything other than cancer.

I don’t really remember anything about how life felt before cancer.

I truly don’t. And I don’t know if I ever will. Life at home is different. My wife is different. My kids are different. People treat you different. Work isn’t the same as it was. I don’t really enjoy solving problems on the computer anymore.

Even though I’ve tried so hard to protect myself from having cancer, cancer has somehow invaded and changed everything about me.

I find myself not in the moment most times. My mind is constantly somewhere else at any given time. Sometimes Heather tells me things like “you were acting kind of mad around so and so” and I don’t even realize I was giving off that vibe. I honestly don’t mean to, but sometimes it just happens.

You know how when you’re faced with this life changing situation and you tell yourself things like “I will never take this or that for granted ever again”? I still do. Too often. I’m not patient with my kids. I’m not always thankful for my amazing wife. I forget to say thank you to people who help us or I forget to smile and laugh and instead I get frustrated.

I feel like I should be this amazingly changed person who has experienced this revelation where life is so short so take every chance to dance like no one is looking or however that saying goes.

I’m just not doing a good job embracing life through all of this hell I constantly feel. And it is just that. It’s a terrible weight that is most times impossible to shake for even a few seconds. I love to disappear into my phone or into a TV show because for those few moments I’m either living vicariously through someone else’s seemingly perfect life or watching some fictional characters live their lives. Lives that seem infinitely better than what I’m going through.

I hate cancer.

After I hesitated and felt all of this emotion above… I managed to say this.

“I hate that phrase, “cancer-free”. I also hate the word “cured”. Because the moment I hear someone say I’m cancer-free, I feel like I’ll let my guard down and put my body in the position again to get cancer. I know people keep telling me ‘you didn’t do anything to get cancer’, but honestly, I didn’t take care of my body the way I should’ve and I set myself up to get cancer. Yes, it was a perfect storm scenario, but I still helped give it a place to grow.”

In pure psychiatrist form, she asked the question again.

“Okay. I understand all that. But you didn’t answer the question. Do you think you can ever be cancer-free?”

And I replied.

“I have always said that I will be a Radical Remission case. I’ve said it the first day I came here to you 6 months ago and I do still believe it. But it’s hard for me to think about it right now.”

And she replied.

 “I think you need to do something very important before surgery. I think you need to find a way to bury the person you were before cancer. You can’t be that person anymore. After surgery you need to wake up and be someone new. You are holding on to the past and everything that led to where you are now and it’s time to let the past be the past. It’s time to bury the past.”

And this is why this is a good place for people to come. The doctors here aren’t in this for the money. They’re in this to help the patients get through the worst times of their lives. It’s important to me that they take the extra time to talk to me about how I’m feeling rather than just write me a prescription for anxiety medication. When I would try to talk about how I was feeling with my last oncologist in Michigan, he just smiled and nodded. There was no conversation. It was as if I was talking to myself and he just wanted to get to his next patient. Awilda spent about 40 minutes with me, and 90% of it was just talking about life.

“I had a patient a few years ago who was severely depressed. He didn’t care if he lived or died. The only way you can help someone that depressed is to get them angry. Once you get them angry, you have an emotion to work with. If you can make them angry, then you can try to make them happy.”

It’s simple things like this that mean the most to me. She’s actively trying to fix me mentally without me really even knowing it. Same with my Russian acupuncturist Irina who I see tomorrow. She’s always taking the time to get to know me. It’s refreshing.

Anyway. I left that appointment with this renewed sense of possibility.

“I have always said that I will be a Radical Remission case”

I had chills when I thought about it for the next few hours. I think ever since the CT scan results, I’ve forgotten my goal. That may seem stupid. Of course I should remember that my goal is to be rid of cancer; but I lost sight of that mindset. I let the weight of cancer grow again. And I can’t do that. Like one of our fellow Kindergarten moms told me in a message the other day…

“You do not HAVE cancer. Have implies ownership. Do not own any of this.”

She’s right. What I do have is an amazing wife. A beautifully stubborn silly girl. A funny cranky obsessively detailed boy. An annoyingly affectionate dog. Two weird nerdy brothers. A loving mom & dad. Friends. Family. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. A home. A career. The list goes on. That’s who I am. Cancer found a way into everything on this list, but I have to find a way to get it out of here and rebuild my life after surgery without cancer.

There will likely be obstacles over the next few months or year. There may even be some surprises. Maybe even some surgical complications. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can and will be a Radical Remission case.

“I have always said that I will be a Radical Remission case”

And I will.

I am greater than cancer.

I am wonderfully made.

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