January 27, 2002
Having found a voice, medium and potential audience I feel strangely compelled to write. It seems to help me gather my thoughts and focus a bit.
Consumed with curiosity verging on obsession, I research oral cancer endlessly. Brian has provided some excellent resources and I stumble across some of my own. Each new bit of information seems like hope wrapped in a package of things that I do not want to do, or have done to me.
I have always been terrified of dentists. This started when I bit my first dentist. On all subsequent visits he had me harnessed and braced to the point that I probably resembled Hannibal Lechter being moved between institutions, except I don't recall wheels. They don't need to restrain me anymore but do have to wipe the sweat off the armrests of the chair, I'm sure.
Surgery does not scare me. I had extensive hip surgery as a child. It allowed me to walk pain-free, but stunted my growth a bit and leaves me unable to cross my right leg over my left, but it was worth it. I had hoped I'd be as tall as my father (6' 4") but only made six feet due to diminished bone growth in my legs.
It will be ten days until my first visit to the oncologist. They will be long ones. I have so many conflicted thoughts and behaviors that I often chuckle at myself. (Huge dichotomy - as I write this I still smoke.) I know I am eager to have a number attached to my degree of cancer. I want a very low one! Unlike the low draft lottery number of my college days, anything above a 3 will be crushing this time.
I start quietly telling certain friends of my cancer, excluding those less close. The combination of publicity and secrecy is pervasive. E-mail lets me tell them on my terms, with no interruptions or reactions to deal with. As the grapevine spreads the word, I am angered that some of those I told have violated the silence I requested. At the same time, those who offer unauthorized words of support and encouragement touch me. One young woman, girlfriend of one of my favorite bartenders writes a phrase I will hold on to tightly. Having read my first posting here, Bekee offers "You can't be broken, can you? :" I hope she is right.
Family is just as bipolar. My son was first to hear from me, via phone, the afternoon I got the biopsy results. He and his wife will have dinner with us today. He is sworn to not tell my mother. She has enough on her plate without worrying about me. Because she would spill the beans to Mom, my sister is out of the loop as well. I'll tell them when the CT scan results are in. Mom is six hours by car from here and at 76 with a bad ticker, need not fret until there is more concrete information. We do not have a history of cancer patients in our family, which seems heartening. Then again, I am the only chimney in the family.
For days now, I have needed to talk about my feelings in more depth with Kay, the love of my life. This morning the time presented itself. It was a one-sided conversation, mostly me verbalizing my fears. I thanked her for all her support and the love I know she has for me. I told her of my fear of the treatment and the disease. I gave her permission to walk away, briefly or permanently, if it/I got to be more than she could bear. I asked for the inverse as well. If the disease and/or treatment become too much for me to handle, I want the freedom of knowing she will allow me to end it. She'll get back to me.
I have no doubt she would suffer through any and all that comes our way. She is far stronger and braver than I am, but I think that is true of most women. I continue to marvel at what I have done to deserve such a wonderful woman. I care enough about her to want more than she may get from me. I will hold onto her, but softly enough that if she needs to flee, she knows she can. Still a young woman, she surely deserves more than I may be able to offer in the future.
Using the theory that I can only be pleasantly surprised, I am taking a dim view of the future. Perhaps I am too pessimistic, but I would rather expect the worst than find my hopes to be false ones. This will not prevent me from celebrating life and love with each passing day, however.
All that I have read to date leads me to believe that I will be, at least temporarily, quite impaired in speech and appearance. Neither of these bode well for my continuity as a public sales person. The new insurance coverage so dear right now, may vanish if my new employer finds me no longer an acceptable representative of his firm. At face, the coverage looks fabulous, I just hope it has longevity. I will clearly test it soon.
My attitude waffles. At times, my slogan is a line from the movie Wag the Dog. Each time Dustin Hoffman's character encounters another catastrophe, he shouts "This? This is nothing " A few minutes later, I find myself the frightened little boy in the dentist's chair. But this time, I don't know who to bite.
January 28, 2002
Last evening a new, but increasingly important, friend chided me about still smoking. I suggested that if he wanted to kick my donkey, he needed to get in line, as I was ahead of him and in full boot. I lashed out a bit, later apologized, but thought a good bit more about it.
I spent 24 hours preparing to do my traditional rant about the connection between our government(s) and the tobacco industry. Subsidize on one end, tax on the other; still you reduce the future social security debt load. While it is not an invalid position, it is also not fair. To pretend that anyone but myself is responsible for my addiction to cigarettes is only going to make me look foolish. It's kind of like an ostrich, the pet of a coal miner, complaining about how dark it is when his head is in a hole in the coal shaft.
It started in college. I'd been a goody-two-shoes of the first order of magnitude in high school. Didn't smoke, drink or date. The first two scared me; the later was ruled out by the geek factor. If we'd had computers back then, I might have managed cool, but not easily. I was eager to make up for lost time.
My freshman year saw me cajoling my upper-classman roommate into teaching me to smoke, literally! Within a week, I was a pack-a-day guy. It just went up from there. I peaked at 2+ cartons a week. If I was awake, I was smoking. Of late, the no-smoking rules and environments (against which I railed) cramped my style. I violated those rules now and then, maintaining that if it was acceptable to empty ones bowels in the room, how could smoking be offensive. Get the (unpretty) picture? I was a militant smoker.
Over the course of the past 35 years, I have gladly embraced an addiction I knew was dangerous. I have attempted to quit three times, twice by spousal nagging, once completely of my own volition. I've tried hypnosis, acupuncture, and the patch. My record abstinence (well, except for one now and then) was a whopping two weeks, wearing so many patches I looked like a crazy quilt when naked. Now, it looks like quit or die. Chuckle with me as we look at the butt smoldering in my ashtray .
I'm making progress. From 60 a day (or more) down to 20-25. Trying all the tricks. Switched brands to something vile, keep them in an inconvenient place, buy only by the pack (damn, that gets expensive!) and feel guilty with each puff. But I still crave one every waking minute of the day. Once the doc says it's okay, I'm going to combine the patch and Zyban. Wouldn't it be ironic if the combination gave me a heart attack? This time, I quit for good when the time is right. I'll use every crutch and cling to every blade of grass I can to keep from backsliding, but damn, it will be tough.
A few pages back I talked about my fear of losing my voice. I spoke of it professionally. It's a bit more egotistical than that, I fear. My voice is one of my most treasured possessions, and I have tapes of the commercials I've done to prove it.
It's one of "those" voices. It's been described as a white Barry White on the phone. Deep, throaty (see prior reference to cigarettes), it coexists an easy laugh and naughty chuckle. In my dating days, a woman once told me she could not talk to me on the phone without worrying about sliding off the chair.
Throughout high school I was involved in choir and competitive singing. One fall I sang three songs in competition, taking firsts in all three. I was in the midst of puberty and had a range from first tenor to bass and could bounce between them (usually) at will. Never let me near a karioke bar, I think I still can sing - I can't.
As if quality weren't enough to worry about losing, I love to talk. I will argue and debate any side of any issue just to keep a conversation going. Introverts love me all they need do is nod occasionally. (You knew this already?) A friend, upon learning of my cancer said, "It's a good thing you learned to type. You will never be silent, just quieter."
But I cannot type fast enough to say all I want to. I am willing, for a while, to just type what I need to say, but I WILL need my voice. And I will save it or get it back any way I can. You can count on hearing from me in the future.
January 31, 2002
How these days drag. I seem to be bursting with too much and too awful information to stay patient. Still five days before I am allowed to turn macro/global data about oral cancer into MY oral cancer. Am I at stage one or stage four? What will the treatment plan be? Never one to be accused of patience, I pace mentally. The mind, never one to suffer idleness, picks at me. The hypochondriac stage, if there is one, is in full force. Every cough is an indication that it's spread to my throat, esophagus or lungs. (Never mind that it might just all of those, healing from less smoke.) Every lump is a tumor. (Ignore the fact that you've always been clumsy, crashing into doorframes.)
I probe my lymph nodes multiple times each day, looking for bad news. It might help if I knew where my lymph nodes were, but I look anyway. A lump in my armpit turns out to be a bone. Tenderness in my groin, a stretch on the stairs or snow shoveling. Mental wreck is an understatement.
The hospital calls, wanting insurance information nearly a week before I see the doc. I stay civil, but admit the irony. Will this go away if I can't afford it? If so, I'm a pauper! Probably not.
All the while I wait, the lesion under my tongue seems to have a life of it's own. It seems to be growing, the tissue around it brighter red and the redness spreading around a white core the size of a dime. At this pace, they may need to amputate my head by the time I see someone who does more than diagnose and refer. Maybe I'll hit the top of the food chain next week? Again, probably not, I'm expecting a committee.
In the meantime, I write my dentist a thank you letter. He may have saved my life. Then again, I may bite him when I see him next. I'm scheduled for my next cleaning in April, and hope to see him then. I suspect if I bit Brett softly enough, we'd both laugh. He's a pretty good guy, for a dentist.