Summer Fun

Too darn hot...

What is it, I thought, what is it that makes this summer feel so much like one in the past? As I walk through the humidity-drenched house, it hits me – duh! The heat. The heat wave of last week, the lingering oppressiveness in the air – it’s just like that other summer. Of course the 90-degree days kept coming then, through August and even into September, if I recall correctly. Who knows if this summer will match the intensity of that one.

That summer 22 years ago, when I found out I had cancer.

I’ve thought about the similarities – and differences – between getting that diagnosis, going through the surgery and radiation and follow-up exams, and then getting the final good word that I was cured,  and the current Crisis. The IMD is not life threatening, unless I do something very stupid in one of my moments of feeling adrift. Hey, it could happen: The forgetfulness and emotional fog could deepen one day while I’m driving, or even walking down the stairs, and who knows what kind of dumb accident could take place. But barring that, I am physically safe. Of course, in retrospect, I was then too, even though I still live with a fear of another cancer striking (more than the same one returning), and it’s not a misplaced fear. The radiation treatment itself makes survivors of this cancer – and others too, I assume – more likely to be struck again.

Like the IMD, the cancer did not come completely out of the blue. I just had warning signs I didn’t know how to interpret. Day after day, I washed myself in the shower and felt something funny – right there. Kinda hard, that one, compared to the other. And maybe a little bigger…but nothing hurts, nothing seems too different. Just go along with life.

But one day, something nags at me, so I initiate a dialog. Take off at lunch, go to a walk-in clinic. The doctor says it could be several things. He does not say one of them is cancer. He also says I should see a specialist. Soon. Like, in the next hour.

So by the end of that Friday afternoon on a steamy August day, I have an appointment for an ultrasound. But that’s just a formality. I also have an appointment for surgery. For an orchiectomy. The removal of one testicle (the right, if you’ve ever wondered why I list a bit to the left…).

I go home, shocked. Akin to the shocked state I entered when I heard about the Fex’s desire for the IMD. But the cancer diagnosis was scarier, obviously. I was 28, in good health, and had never thought I was a candidate for cancer. I’m not sure I had ever even heard of testicular cancer, this being long before Lance Armstrong and Scott Hamilton and other athletes helped shine some light on it. I went to bed that night frightened. Very frightened.

But something happened over night, and to this day I don’t know what triggered it. I woke up angry, angry at this rogue cell deep in my sex glands that would dare to lash out at the rest of my body. Who the fuck do you think you are? The anger rolled into determination – a will to beat this thing, and not show fear.

I honestly don‘t recall how I felt as they slipped the mask over my face a few days later, and the first whiffs of anesthesia filled my head. The surgery was quick – slice, snip, pull it out. The recovery was a little rocky, as we discovered I was allergic to the painkiller the doctor prescribed. Once I recovered from that, they  gave me something a little less potent and shipped me off with my live-in girlfriend into the unceasing August heat.

A few days later I heard from the doc: Good news! The biopsy showed it was stage 1  seminoma,  the most curable form of this cancer. Just a few weeks of radiation and a few years of CT scans to keep an eye on things, and I would be fine. Well, of course, I thought. I had gotten angry. Determined. I knew I was going to beat it.

Only…I didn’t know. I just had some luck on my side. Not waiting any longer to get that weird lump checked. Having a treatable cancer. But with the phone call, and the upbeat prognosis, it felt like the worst was over, just 10 days or so after that Friday afternoon stroll into the walk-in clinic.

So why think of all this now? Ah, yes, the heat. And the IMD. Like the cancer, there were some warning signs here that something was not quite right, though I never imagined of what magnitude. Like the cancer, I did not ask for this and have little direct control over procedures and outcomes. And like the cancer, I decided early on I would be determined, strong.

But something’s not quite working this time. Maybe because this doesn’t have as clear-cut an end; no doctor’s call just a few days on to tell me everything is all right. And maybe because that urge to be strong is undercut by daily reminders of the fear and pain and loneliness. That’s it, the other big difference – I went through the cancer with someone I loved by my side. Yes, she was not exactly Florence Nightingale, but she was there when I went for the second opinion, and when they wheeled me in for the surgery, and when I came out of recovery and thought I was going to die from the allergic reaction to the drugs.  She made the call to the doctor the first night home when my temperature spiked. She did what she could. This time, there is no beloved by my side to offer comfort, commiserate, share a laugh – or a tear.

I mean, that’s the whole point of divorce, right?

So the cancer is in the past, yet it’s not. Hard not to be reminded that something is missing down there every time I take a shower or use the toilet. The mere idea of cancer is present too often too, though not as much these past few months. The New Crisis has put the focus on my mental and emotional health more than the physical.

And some day, the divorce will be in the past, and hopefully all the pain of the separation and everything around it will be too. But it seems like it will take a while to get there, much longer that it took to yank out a ball and shoot some roentgens of radiation into my torso.  And just like back in August 1988, the heat sure as hell doesn’t help.


~ by mburgan on July 14, 2010.

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