Thursday, October 17, 2013

Copping an Attitude (the good kind!)


I’ve found in my rambling thoughts that I often come full-circle on a number of similar topics that seem to debut, bounce around my cerebral cortex for a while, register some sort of reaction, and then move on to the great baggage carousel in my mind. I pick up a new designer bag of a topic and deal with it, and at some point when that first one comes back around I take another look at it.  This time around, though, I’ve somehow changed internally; my threshold of pain is higher or perhaps I’m weaker for that matter; or maybe I just see a different side to that rugged North Face duffle where I’m keeping all my emotional baggage.

On the left, this is the t-shirt that turns the heads in the hallway and the doctors make the most comments about...and hey, it does make the statement, doesn't it? (and I won't take it lying down...or maybe I had to on occasion) On the right, I had to hang the "name your poison sign on my door. I saw the sign, ostensibly to go over someone's home pub and knew it was for me!


One of the very first designer bags of topics I picked up that I decided – and then discovered was entirely true – was that my attitude toward putting cancer squarely in the rear view mirror would play a pivotal role in how well and how fast it would actually happen. I read about it, talked about it, shared experiences with other cancer survivors about it and it was unanimous: however else you approach this bad boy, a positive outlook mixed with a dash of humor is crucial. Now, these several months after that decision, I can tell you without a doubt that it has not only made my life possible and my healing move along well, it has made those around me push the process along, doubling my own efforts. It almost sounds cliché to say something like that, but all I can go on is experience and it has made all the difference in the world.

I have a bit of a reputation for my t-shirts, hats, and door signs poking cancer in the eye.  From the medical staff to the support staff (including the guy who empties the trash and cleans the room), everyone knows me by first name and when I came back from the MICU, in addition to the high quality standard of care I would naturally expect, the genuine concern shone through on people’s faces.  You can put on a plastic smile for effect, but you can’t manufacture the real thing.

And even today, I was reminded during my outpatient caretime of just how real the empathy is among all of MTU patients, their caregivers and on the part of the staff. Another patient I met just before starting my own transplant had finished his inpatient phase, and was discharged over the weekend. He’s a bit older than I am and had a bit of a rough go for a few days. His gratitude shone through the incipient tears of being alive, of being on the road to more years of time with his family, and doing the things he loves. It was almost palpable and that lump in my throat was lock-step with his. The conversation in the room became more authentic rather than simply comparing scars with each other, and let’s face it, we all have some good ones. Even though none of them are the kind you can see, they’re very, very real. 

It reminded me of the courage each and every one of us had to submit to a regimen that actually takes some of us out and without a doubt, the treatment is just plain downright unpleasant and painful, yet it saved our lives. The treatment may rival the disease some days, to be sure, but we live to fight another day and it somehow makes it worth all the crap we go through. There have been days, honestly where I’ve struggled with whether I could do this or not and I’m sure I’m not alone in that lack of courage, but like so many other things I’ve endeavored in my life, I've had to simply put one foot in front of the other and hope my body carries me forward. Some may chalk it up to intestinal fortitude or toughness and to be sure, there's an element of that in there, but without people holding my hand and encouraging me, bravado and courage are the least of my worries. It's a tough, long haul...it's where attitude must collide with my lack. And I take the next step.

I have heard rumblings from people that it was touch and go for me at one point and that I had apparently stopped breathing, but again, it’s an academic thing. It’s not something I remember, so the trauma was what happened afterward in being hooked up to a machine that helped me breathe for a few days, unable to communicate without the help of an old-school clipboard and ball point pen. I found out just a few days ago that statistically, I had a scant 2% chance of making it out alive from that procedure, yet somehow I beat that. At the time, it was again, one foot in front of the other, unaware of the odds. But after all is said and done, I think the sentiment that comes to mind is something a brave young girl named Malala Yousufzai said in an interview with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart I saw the other night.  She told him, “Nothing becomes precious until it is snatched from our hands.” Malala is the 16 year-old nominated for the Nobel for her courageous stand against the Taliban for girls’ education in her native Pakistan…and getting shot in the face for it. Indeed, one more example of if someone can endure a gunshot to the face for a principle, I can certainly be connected to a machine. Even in my worst of times, I’ve found that I am so very fortunate and so very filled with gratitude that I only battle cancer of all things. It’s not like someone’s holding a gun to my head! I’ll heal and the ordeal I’m working through now will fade over time.
 
 
Yeah, there are some tough days ahead to make the good ones even better, but my steps are getting a bit more assertive and assured and even the stairs are becoming less daunting. I harbor no illusion that this is going to be at all easy of course, but I'm making it. My attitude hasn’t changed appreciably except in resolving to make the very most of the days I have left, whether it be 5 years or 50, and yeah, I’m rooting for 50 good years ahead.  I have so much left to do, most of which I haven’t the faintest idea of what I’m supposed to be doing.

But I’m not going to wait for some sort of sign. Life isn’t on hold because of an illness and I won’t be defined by my medical condition.

As one example, I’ve felt strongly for some months in sponsoring a child and it took somebody standing out in front of an art museum with a smile and a clipboard to push me off the bench of my own self-introspection to actually do it. All of my own children are grown and moving into their own adulthood, so I had no excuse really. Another commitment is to write a book out of my experiences in leukemia.  There are a lot of books on cancer and the clinical sides of things, but I just found myself overwhelmed by the medical facts and figures when I just needed something else.  I’m hoping to offer some humor, anecdotes, advice, and a little pokin’ in the eye of the foe of the battle none of us chose. I’m sure more will surface over time, but I’m not putting 8 irons in the fire like I used to. Perhaps a couple to keep things interesting, but I think the good ol’ bad ol’ days of so-called multi-tasking may be a thing of the past.


This is Guillermo. He is 10 years old and lives in Guatemala. After a lot of research into these kinds of charitable organizations, I elected to go with Children International. Yup, I decided to get off the fence and make a difference. Whatever you do to change the world in a positive direction, I thank you!

Let life be enjoyed and lived, not endured. Carpe diem and all that other Latin stuff!
Be well, stay strong, and as much love to you all!

Music today from Leeann Rimes – Life Goes On
 
Life goes on
Life goes on
You sucked me in
And played my mind
Just like a toy
You would crank and wind
Baby, I would give till you wore it out
You left me lyin' in a pool of doubt
And you're still thinkin' you're the Daddy Mac
You should've known better but you didn't and I can't go back

Oh, life goes on and it's only gonna make me strong
It's a fact, once you get on board
Say good-bye 'cause you can't go back
Oh, it's a fight, and I really wanna get it right
Where I'm at, is my life before me
And this feelin' that I can't go back

Life goes on
Life goes on
Life goes on

Wish I knew then
What I know now
You held all the cards
And sold me out

Baby shame on you, if you fool me once
Shame on me if you fool me twice
You've been a pretty hard case to crack
I should've known better but I didn't and I can't go back

Oh, life goes on, and it's only gonna make me strong
It's a fact, once you get on board
Say good-bye 'cause you can't go back
Oh, it's a fight and I really wanna get it right
Where I'm at, is my life before me
And this feelin' that I can't go back

Na, na, na
Life goes on
Na, na, na
It made me strong
Oh, yeah, got a feeling that I can't go back

Life goes on, and it's only gonna make me strong
Life goes on and on and on

Shame on you, if you fool me once
Shame on me if you fool me twice
You've been a pretty hard case to crack
I should've known better but I didn't and I can't go back

Oh, life goes on, and it's only gonna make me strong
It's a fact, once you get on board
Say good-bye cause you can't go back
Oh, it's a fight and I really wanna get it right
Where I'm at, is my life before me
And this feelin' that I can't go back

Na, na, na
Life goes on
Na, na, na
It made me strong
Oh, yeah
Gotta feelin' that I can't go back

Na, na, na
Life goes on
Na, na, na
It made me strong
Oh, yeah
Gotta feelin' that I can't go back

Na, na, na
Life goes on
Na, na, na
It made me strong
Oh, yeah
Gotta feelin' that I can't go back

Na, na, na
Life goes on
Na, na, na
It made me strong
Oh, yeah