Sunday, January 30, 2011

DAY 1117 - Day 875 in Recovery Paradise

Old Dog Learns New Tricks
I recently shared an email with a fellow Tonsil Cancer survivor (we proactively refer to ourselves as survivors) regarding a special moment she recently had, watching her son receive the highest honor in Scouting - The Eagle Scout award and how proud she was.

This kind of shared Golden Moment is just the right medicine needed for those Tonsil Cancer innocents at the crossroads to choosing the dark path of radiation daily for two months and several Chemotherapy treatments or letting fate take its course.

You are generally feeling  pretty good at the moment when you are diagnosed with Tonsil Cancer, but to fix you the doctors have to make you feel really, really bad for about six months  The gamble is that you are asked to trade one half of a year of your life for more time on the other end and pray that it works). 
You are first fitted for a full faced, highly claustrophobic, heavy plastic mask to hold you down during precision radiation treatments (don’t move for fifteen minutes – fairly easy task as the rest of your arms and legs and body are also strapped down).

Your hair falls out, you can’t swallow, your saliva glands and taste buds are destroyed and you can’t even swallow water (which tastes like moldy swamp water anyway). 

You lose 30 to 50 pounds, even if you don’t have it to lose.  You can’t eat, so you have a surgery to install a feeding tube into your stomach, so you can hold your arm up like the Statue of Liberty for about 40 minutes (try it – bet you can’t do it) letting gravity drain two or three cups of Ensure, or the like, into your stomach to keep you from starving to death…oh wait…you get to do this eight times every day. The upside is that is a surefire weight-loss program.

In between feedings, you shuffle around like you are a hundred years old.  Because your head is being radiated, your sense of hearing, sight and balance gets whacked.  If you are lucky (unlike what happened to me) you won’t fall down a flight of stairs, on your back, in the middle of the night, because you thought you were stepping into the bathroom. 

That sort of opportunity definitely enhances the Cancer treatment experience (that is what I got for saying before I fell- “Well, at least it can’t get any worse that this.”….just to show that you never get too old to learn something, I learned to shut up after that…trust me, things can always get worse).

Newly diagnosed Tonsil Cancer innocents (I never liked the term ‘victim’) often wonder if what they are about to go through will be worth it.  I have had people say to me, after I (in detail) described the six month endurance run through Hell to keep Cancer at bay (you only get the Iron Man/Woman title after you make it through), that they wouldn't go through that.  They said they would just let the Devil take its course.

That is an unfortunate example of choosing to be a ‘victim’.  One can choose to be or not be the ‘victim’.  It is our decision as to how we handle the stones thrown in our path. To me, it is similar to saying that, faced with the ordeal of fixing a mouthful of really bad teeth, you would choose to let all of your teeth rot out, rather than going to the dentist and having them pulled and replaced with false teeth (perhaps the analogy would be clearer if I added: without Novocain...ha).  A year from now, would I rather be eating Filet Mignon and peanut brittle or sucking mush over my gums?

Project out a year; where do we want to be; having gone to our deathbed full of regrets or experiencing things like watching your child receive the highest honor the Scouts can bestow?

Every golden moment for all of us going forward after enduring the very invasive, but necessary procedures to do battle with a Tonsil Cancer diagnosis is blessed with the enhancement of knowing that if we had not chosen the S & M masked radiation/chemotherapy experience, we would most likely not be here today to enjoy another glorious sunrise or Golden Moments yet to be shared.
Sharing a post treatment Golden Moment is the lantern we hold up, offering light and hope for Cancer innocents still on the opposite shore or halfway across in a leaky little boat, tossed about on dark and stormy seas.   Shared Golden Moments from Cancer survivors provides strength to those that still endure the darker moments, providing a sign of the rewards waiting for them on the other side.  A shared Golden Moment is a great visual to inspire us all to hang on - Never Give Up - and to gather as many of these moments as we can cram into our new gift of extended time.

Note: the choice we make to voluntarily endure the boat ride through Hades and 'cheat the reaper' for one more turn, returns rewards, not only to us, but more importantly, to those around us if we wish it.  Even if it is for just a few more months or years.

"Like tomorrow was a gift,
and you got eternity,
to think about what you’d do with it.
An' what did you do with it?
An' what can I do with it?
An' what would I do with it?"

... Live Like You Were Dyin' - Tim McGraw

Here is my most recent Golden Moment to share.

Recently, my seventh grade daughter got "called up" to the big high school orchestra because of her skill with the cello (Principal Chair/Cello for the Intermediate School Orchestra), for a tour bus trip to Disneyland, to perform on stage and cut a CD this coming Friday. Is Dad taking a vacation day, driving ten hours down to Anaheim, buying a day pass to Disneyland, and stand in the front row at the concert with the movie camera?  Absolutely! 

This will be a Golden Moment I would not have had, if I had chosen the weaker course of action in 2008 and not gotten fitted for my custom claustrophobia mask, had two months of radiation and chemotherapy treatment and six months of recovery.

Will this cherished Golden Moment extend beyond me?

My gift to my daughter, from all of this, will be her being able to look up from her music stand, on stage in front of a huge crowd in Disneyland (she is still young enough to know this is way cooler than Carnegie Hall) smiling at her Dad beaming with pride, and actually SEE me in the front row of her momentous concert, rather than having to say "I wish Dad could have been here to see this.  He would have loved it." 

I won’t be able to see all of her future moments, but I won’t miss this one.

Our choice to brave the exorcising process to rid ourselves of the Demon Cancer irrevocably shows our strength of character and provides not only benefits to each of us, but more importantly, to those that care about us. 

Are they proud of us?  Would they think less of us if we just gave up and did not choose to take our little wooden sword into the battle with the windmill (thank you, Cervantes)  to fight for our life? Yes and Yes.

As we are proud of our loved ones as they work hard and receive accolades, we admire them not just for the reward they received, but more importantly, for the lessons they learned in the process that brought them to that moment.  The admiration and pride we feel is not for the trophy, pin, or certificate.  Rather, it is for the process, the perseverance, hard work and character they showed, without giving up and just going to the mall with their friends.  It is knowing they will use this process they experienced for all of their life and will be a better person for it, long after we are gone.

The trophy is but a three dimensional reminder of what one can achieve when we don't quit, take the easier path and "let life just happen to us."  Our fight is their example, as well as an inspiration to our friends and all those we come into contact with.  That is our silver lining to the cloud of Cancer.

None of us will live forever.  We can however, choose to not go quietly into the night.  Which would we rather have as our legacy - curling up and passing into dust with a whimper or fighting a glorious fight, snatching our little victories here and there and persevere to the bitter end and arrive at our final destination with character? I choose the latter. 


"Fight the unbeatable foe, Strive with your last once of courage to reach the unreachable star.”  'Don Quixote'/Cervantes

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