I write this column in all sincerity, but what are you asking me for? A rhetorical question if there ever was one. To what I refer is the question I was asked earlier this morning by one of the home-improvement tradesman working on my upstairs bathroom. Having made significant progress on the bathroom in the five weeks or so since I published "And So It Begins," a column detailing the few facts I retained about the demolition/renovation and the anxiety I felt about it, today's task was waterproofing the shower enclosure/bathroom floor in preparation for the tile, if I understand correctly.
I lost my mom to lung cancer. My mom lived a very clean life, she never drank, never smoked, was never around smokers or smoke-filled environments—she didn’t even eat sweets or fatty foods. There are ads about the connection between smoking and lung cancer and that is important to know. But there’s not much out there that says nonsmokers get lung cancer.
Being diagnosed with cancer, then having cancer/living with cancer, is like having a second job. A job that, unlike many, requires and/or imposes a 'round the clock-type 24/7 adherence to protocol, policy, procedure, presumptions and principle. To live not like you're dying takes more than scoffing at a country music song that twangs an alternative vision. Believing in what routines you're following and any lifestyle changes you've made allows (I didn't say enables) a cancer survivor to thrive under the most difficult and demanding of circumstances.
Which apparently, according to my oncologist, is not unusual. In fact, he's had them, too. What I am referring to, in a general sense, are cancer dreams. The 'cancer dream' I had was my first. Actually, it was not so much a dream, with a beginning, middle and an end, as it was a fragment; a moment in subconscious time that provided (illuminated would be too strong a characterization) an opportunity to possibly see my future and prepare accordingly.
What do I do now? What can I do to keep others from having to go through what my family just endured? Those were some of the words I said to myself after my mom passed away almost 11 years ago. Back then her treatment options were few and she only survived for 7 months after her initial diagnosis. It was a hazy 7 months, ones littered with hospital stay after hospital stay. When I finally came out of the haze, I realized I wanted to raise money for lung cancer research and support programs. There had to be more ways we could fight this awful disease than just chemo and radiation.
And speaking, a few weeks late, of my "whirled," at least as it relates to my next week or so: 24-hour urine collection on Tuesday, pre-chemotherapy lab work on Wednesday, in the Connection office on Thursday, chemotherapy infusion on Friday, continuing anxiety concerning the previous Wednesday's CT Scan/awaiting results from my oncologist followed by our usual post-scan appointment with him Friday a week later to discuss my future: status quo or the great unknown; coinciding with the typical eating challenges/post-chemo side effect which lasts a week to 10 days after treatment.
For the first time in almost exactly 25 years: bathroom demolition, times two. With financial assistance from my father-in-law, along with use of our home equity line, we have committed to and contracted for, a complete renovation of our two full bathrooms ('full' meaning: tub/shower, commode, sink, vanity, mirror, shelves, lights/fixtures, counter top, floor and shower tile, and paint). Ergo, over the next eight to 12 weeks, our house will officially become a construction site.
As I bring our two cat carriers up from the basement in order for "The Buff Boys" to acclimate in anticipation of their impending visit to the Veterinarian, I can't help but think back to the spring of 1976. That's when an appointment to mend my male cat, Tillie, nearly went very wrong. To this day, the circumstances still haunt me.
Four weeks out of every five, it appears as if I don't have cancer. Fortunately, I don't look the part. Nor do I act the part - in my opinion. However, there is one week out of every five when I most definitely feel the part: the week after my chemotherapy infusion, when eating is a particular challenge. The look, feel, taste and thought of food and/or drink is nearly impossible to swallow - literally and figuratively. And though I'm not in any pain during this post-chemotherapy weak, I am compromised nonetheless.
If you live long enough, it's quite likely that many of the family members/generations born before you will have predeceased you. Moreover, the family members born before them, two generations-plus behind, are most surely to be geshtorbin (Yiddish for dead) as well. The effect: memory loss. Specifically, the memories lost of a generation of great grandparents - and beyond, you probably never knew or for whom you have extremely limited knowledge; after all, you were an infant when your maternal grandmother died.