Monday, April 14, 2014

The Final Chapter Begins

Two heads with pieces missing
Four years. It doesn't seem real, somehow. Four years ago today, the doctor and Mrs P and I sat in a room and decided that my life was in imminent danger from a fast growing mass that threatened to cut off the flow of blood to my brain, and crush my larynx. Basically, my body was strangling itself.

Two days later, the diagnosis came. The Amazing Cancer Boy was born.

I'm not going to tell the whole damn story again. If you're interested, the links to the right will take you through the entire adventure. It's a story that has taken over my life, defined every waking moment since that morning, for good and for ill.

"How do you feel?" a friend asked today. "You should feel great."

On the phone, Mum agreed. "I think you should, too."

Yeah. I should.

Somebody said to me once, maybe only half-joking, "You know, you were a lot more fun before you became a national treasure."

It was a joke. I know. But life is certainly different.

The Amazing Cancer Boy
Better in a lot of ways. I got to experience an outpouring of love that most people don't get until they are dead. I know what resurrection really means. I've experienced it. Several times. I have a purpose for my life, and a place to fulfill it, thanks to LIVESTRONG at the YMCA. I'm not sure I've ever had that feeling before... knowing that I'm doing something that is making a measurably positive difference in people's lives every day. I have done things physically, athletically even, that I never even dreamed of doing before I was sick. And maybe best of all, I have had the chance to know and love my mother in a way that might never have happened if we had not spent all those hours together laughing, crying, working crosswords, and pumping protein drinks into me through a rubber hose.

But in a lot of ways... well, it's hard to put into words. Resurrection has its price. My teeth are gone. And yeah, I miss them every day. My thyroid is dying, cooked by hours and hours of radiation. I have to take pills by the fist-full, and still I get so tired, so easily now. And so very sad sometimes. It's hard for me to remember things, especially when I try to memorize lines for a play.

Mrs P and Me in "happier"days
And there are other costs. Much more painful ones. I have loved and lost so many brave cancer fighters in the last four years. Been to way too many funerals. I've lost my family. Half of it, anyway. My dogs. My home. My best friend and the love of my life. The woman who fed me and cleaned me and mopped up my puke and kissed away my tears. Who gave me a reason to keep fighting for life. Can I blame cancer for all that? I don't know. Maybe not. But maybe without it, things might have been different. I know that at some point I went over a very important edge. I stepped into a place where even the woman who loved me most could not follow. And I know that cancer had a lot to do with my going there.

So yeah, I guess I'm glad to be alive. Being alive means I have a chance to... what? Make a difference? Heal? Find love again? Be whole, whatever that means? I don't know. All I know is that it's getting to be time to turn the page.

Five years. They throw a pile of numbers at you when you have cancer, but one of the biggest is five years. When we met the radiation oncologist, Mrs P and Mum and I, one of us asked my prognosis. "50%" the doctor answered. "50% of the people with your kind of cancer will live for 5 years." I remember seeing my mother cry at that. Five years. And no reason to think I'm not going to be one of the lucky ones. "Heads. You live." So that's how long he has left. One more year. One more chapter left in the tale of The Amazing Cancer Boy... the real-life boy who didn't die. In twelve months, I can close the book, put him to rest, and get on with whatever the rest of my life is going to be.

I've already registered for a marathon in May to celebrate my new life. I'm going to keep running. Don't really have any plans beyond that. I'm going to keep acting. I'm going to keep writing. .I'd like to be able to make a living again, so I'm not at the mercy of the docs and the shrinks and the Social Security Administration for my income. Maybe I can write and star in one-man shows about running.

I'd like to get on with all that. And in a way, I am. But in another sense... it's hard to explain... it's like I have one more year left to serve... my term?... my sentence?... maybe both. All I know is that I'm not going to really feel free until April 16, 2015.

Of course, there's a downside too. Without cancer, there'll be nobody left to blame but myself. I'll have lost the greatest excuse in the world. I'll be on my own.

And in some ways, that's even scarier that a tumor.

As for Cancer Boy? Well, there are some advantages to being a Minor Local Celebrity... It can be very good for the ego. But to be perfectly honest... I'm getting kind of sick of the son of a bitch.

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