First they tell you you have cancer. Fine, that sucks. Then they say you're going to need chemo. OK, not fun. Oh, and you're going to lose your hair. Whatever, it's just hair. Anything else? Nothing? Oh wait, you're also going to need to have a couple of teeth pulled. Wait, WTF?
I was sitting in the dentist chair getting a simple checkup before I started chemo a week later. This is just a checkup, I thought. I never imagined I would need anything serious done outside of a filling. Turns out, I needed a couple of things done.
"You have three options," the dentist said. "You can treat the infections and delay chemo," not an option, "do nothing and hope the infections don't become worse because of the chemo," like, lose all your teeth worse non-option, "or have the teeth pulled and replaced after chemo."
Yeah, those aren't options. Options are things that are equally feasible, rational and reasonable. I was offered a dental hygienic hit list.
Of course, I went with the third and had the teeth pulled. As I sat in the chair, my mother sitting across from me, I began to cry. It was the first time I had cried since the surgery three weeks before that removed the cancery tumor. My mother took my hand, helpless before her 30-year-old weeping son, unable to fix this as she had fixed everything for so many years.
Cancer had taken so much from me, and now it was taking my teeth? I'm not a vain person, but I like having teeth. I'm a stand-up comic, so looking below average is basically a requirement in my business. Frankly, looking like total shit would probably help my career. But I wasn't ready to give up my Hollywood dreams and become a headlining comic in Alabama -- no offense if you're reading this from Alabama. I'm talking about everyone else, not you.
The teeth were pulled, and I started chemo. As the months passed I lost my hair, gained weight and remained toothless. I was a young, single man living in Los Angeles. My fuckability rating dropped at a dramatic rate with each passing day. It's as if I was losing myself, starting with the body that I used to work so hard to keep below average.
You're thinking, "Yeah, but like, you had bigger things to deal with, so sex was probably the last thing on your mind." You're half right. I didn't want to actually have sex, but I was horny as fuck. Physically being with someone was repulsive, but the idea of being with someone was Boner-Town: population one.
One day I stood up, took my IV pole into the restroom, locked the door, and jerked off like a giddy 14-year-old. It felt so good that I did it again the same day. Then again. And again. It became my new thing. Get to chemo, masturbate. Change chemo bag, masturbate. Hour five, masturbate. Someone said hello, masturbate.
I loved it so much that I started doing it everywhere I went (which was limited, because cancer). Target, gas stations, friends' homes, gyms, medical buildings -- you name it, I jerked off in it.
It gave me life, something that I was seriously lacking at that moment. Fat, bald and toothless, I felt like the person I used to be when I masturbated.
Eventually I finished chemo, grew my hair back, and slowly got back to my original weight. But the teeth, that's been two years in the making. Soon my last fake tooth will be put in, and I'll end a chapter of my life that contained (literally) so many gaps.
During chemo I wanted to get back to the person I had been, but that's not possible. I'm not that person anymore. I might look like him, but behind the fake teeth and the long hair is a man changed by the reality of cancer. The reality that the cancer could come back--or might not. The reality that I'm mortal. The reality that, as masturbation so wonderfully illustrates, it's essential to live every moment fully, even if it gives you carpal tunnel syndrome.
This piece was originally published on Thought Catalog.