I have spent the last six years trying real hard not to die from cancer. Last Friday I received back to back clean scans for the first time in my life. I went into my doctor's office expecting to hear awful news. You see, I've developed a strange relationship with cancer. Much of my success and notoriety is due to cancer. My cancer is what gives me the credibility to go into high schools, fundraisers, or corporate retreats and tell people to give money, or change their perspective. My routine with cancer has become just that, routine. Treatment, surgery, scan, treatment, surgery, scan -- wash, rinse, and repeat.
At the beginning of the summer I had clean scans. After my scans I was going to try an experimental oral chemotherapy drug, but my insurance denied it. So, I went off of treatment. I was sure that the clean scans meant nothing at the time. It's easy to have no signs of cancer in your body after blasting the hell out if it with god knows what, it's a lot harder to stay clean when your cells are left to their own vices.
The lack of cancer in my body is almost more unsettling than knowing I have cancer. Because when you have cancer in your body there is always an attack plan. I have some of the best doctors on the planet and when they put their collective heads together to make sure I'm healthy, I trust them. But without cancer, I'm left to quinoa, bike riding, and carrot juice as my cancer fighting team.
My realization is that this is the reality that most people who have had cancer deal with. After cancer, there is a fear that lingers in your life that you can't do anything about. It's a healthy fear. It's like the fear you should have for a loaded weapon. In all of your cells are the potential for cancer. Last year I rock climbed in up state new york with First Descents, a charity that specializes in adventure therapy for young adults affected by cancer. The healthiest and happiest member of our group ended up dying from her cancer. She left behind a little girl. That's why I'm afraid. After cancer, your body has become another liability that you need to keep tabs on.
It was easier to act like I didn't have cancer when I did have cancer. Acting normally during cancer is a form of non-violent protest. The chemo is the violent part of the protest. Acting normal after cancer makes me feel like the cocky kid in high school who was really twice as self-conscious as everyone else.
Now that I have cleans scans and for the first time in a few years can rationally make the argument that I probably won't die of cancer, I don't know what to do. Last time I relapsed I went to MD Anderson in Houston and Nationwide Children's in Columbus for possible treatment options. Both doctors told me that since I have had cancer six times and gone through all possible options that I was "grasping at straws" which was a very accurate way to portray my situation at the time.
Since my amputation two years ago I lived my life with a 75-25 mentality. Seventy-five percent of my brain accepted that I could die of cancer sometime in the next 5-8 months. Twenty-five percent thought I might not. It allowed me to reprioritize my life on a weekly basis. I get the feeling most people think I'm this incredibly motivated individual, when the truth actually is that I don't want to die knowing that I could have had more of an impact, or more life experiences.
Couple that with the constant supply of cancer related deaths in my network. And I haven't had a choice but to live with short term goals and ambitions for the last 2-3 years of my life. That's probably why my credit is awful, and I haven't had a serious relationship since before my amputation.
I'm not sure if my next scans will be clear, or if after my next scans I'll have to return to my all too familiar cancer routine. But for now, I'm here. Which is a lot more than many people I've met along the way can say.
Excerpt from Slaughterhouse 5:
Welcome aboard, Mr. Pilgrim,' said the loudspeaker. 'Any questions?' Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: 'Why me?
'That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is.
Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?'
'Yes.' Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.
'Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.