Tuesday, March 07, 2017

My 49th Birthday: love and cancer

Here I sit on the couch of the apartment I share with my girlfriend. She is sleeping in bed, or lying awake trying to sleep, at least; I am using her laptop, in the hopes that the clicking of her keys isn't audible to her (my keyboard, on my creaky old desktop, is certainly too loud). It's just past 6am.

Very strange days here - an eventful year. 2016 was "the year famous people died," but 2017 seems so far to be marked with firsts for me, some life-changing. It's the first real winter I've experienced. It's the first time in my life I did anything remotely like warehouse work (!). It's the first time I've had cancer, and it's going to be - in a couple of weeks - the first time I have surgery, unless you count various dental procedures - root canals, extractions, fillings.

But biggest of all, it's the first time I have been engaged to be married.

The morning crows are cawing in their flight into Vancouver. Our apartment is on their flight path. I see there's some sunlight in the sky.

It's been a stressful week. Initially, the cancer diagnosis was freaking me out: because there was no indication of the severity of the disease, my mind was running wild, and my body feeling correspondingly weird. I felt a bit like I was going to float away - light and insubstantial, like somehow my gravity, my solidity, my permanence had been sabotaged, undermined. I also felt like I might fall over, like my balance was somehow compromised. Lying down to sleep was worst - or waking up from sleep at 4am - because the thoughts would spiral uncontrollably, me imagining myself with no tongue, no jaw, no power of speech. "Will I need to be fed through a tube?" ...remembering my father, withering away under chemo, wondering if somehow my cancer was my punishment for being too selfish and self-absorbed when he was dying of the disease. Or if maybe it was punishment for failing to get my mother home from the hospital last April: do I deserve to have a life - any life, let alone a life as rich and comfortable as this one - after she has died? Why? Now that I'm no longer here primarily to take care of her, what is my purpose exactly? Why should the universe let me live now? 

One morning, trying to nap, I was gripped by the fear that I was in fact, on my last legs: if I fell asleep, I might not wake up again. Don't know if you've been there: it's hard to fall asleep when you can reasonably entertain a thought like that. Eventually I just got back out of bed.

Since Saturday, though, I feel much better. Erika drove me to an oncologist in Coquitlam, a guy who has office hours starting at 7am on Saturday because he's so busy with surgery during the week, it seems. He was a quirky guy: at first he seemed blank-faced and serious, but soon revealed a sense of perversely playful humour that I, for one, appreciated (but that I could see being off-putting for more fragile patients).

For example: he sticks a camera on a wire tube up my nostril, and gets a view of the inside of my throat. I can't watch, because my head is back and I have a camera up my nose. I say, when he's done, "did you see something?"

"Yes, I did," he says, somewhat somberly.

Cue thunderous crash of doom and despair: oh no, he sees something he sees something what is it can he cut it out of me is it going to kill me auuugggggh!

He continues. "I saw a perfectly healthy throat."

I dunno if I cussed him, at that point. It would have been with humour and play in my voice, and a certain amount of shock that he would have done something like that. I forget the exact words I did say, actually; but it might have been something like, "you sonofabitch! You made me think that I had something wrong in there!"

Quietly, he retorted, smirking: "Just for a second."

So it looks like I've got a character for an oncologist. I'm glad. I'm going to gift him with a DVD of David Cronenberg's The Fly, I think, because he asked me who I have interviewed, and it transpired that he didn't know Cronenberg's cinema (he's too busy with work to watch movies, he told me). I have a sneaking suspicion he might appreciate Cronenberg, actually.

The important thing is, he reassured me: this can be easily cut out of my mouth, he thinks, is probably contained, and I will probably make a full recovery, including my powers of speech.


My physical symptoms now amount to a sore area on the side of my tongue, and a feeling in my throat and ear like I have a cold, although in fact I don't (this is a normal symptom of tongue cancer, I gather). The oncologist has set me almost completely at ease, and I now must acknowledge that all the weirdness I was feeling for a few days there was in my head.

Frailty, frailty.

Meantime, cue major distraction from my worries: because Erika and I have set a course on marriage, for a date not even two weeks away. A hall has been acquired, an officiant engaged, invitations have been sent. We already had our clothes, and Erika finally found some shoes she can tolerate for the occasion. Still lots to do, too! It just made sense that we move it up, since there is always potential for things to go wrong when there's a surgery planned. We want to be married, and we are doing it in a sprint.

A proper party will be held later on, if all goes well, once I have recovered from my operation. Might even be a public one - we had discussed a wedding "gig," with bands and such, before this cancer diagnosis screwed everything up.

Anyhow, Erika is now awake. Turns out she slept as poorly as I did, and - yay! - it wasn't my fault (I hate being the sleep-wrecker). Happy 49th birthday to me! Time to make breakfast, I guess... we might snuggle for a bit...


David M. said...

Don't think of yourself as a 49-year-old; think of yourself as seven 7-year-olds fighting it out inside an Allan MacInnis bag. Happy birthday, brother.

Unknown said...

Mu Grandmother has recently been through nearly the identical procedure... It took her some time to regain normal speech as she adjusted to surgical aftermath of partial removal of tissue. Maybe I'm biased and see her as a tougher person than she is, but her results were uncomplicated and relieved her of the cancerous tissue. She is fine - she speaks well and after having this procedure (in her late 70s) she has shown no ill effects. I hope your experience is similar and recovery is swift.

Unknown said...

Well, Al... my Family has had a very similar experience. My Grandmother (in her late 70s) was diagnosed, had surgery to remove the cancer, and has adjusted and recovered well. I hope your situation evolves in a like manner and this is behind you swiftly. Her speech is fine and if you weren't informed of her surgery, it is possible you could miss the change in her voice and speech. As an old friend who spent many days with you in our youth - I am tempted to tease you a little about the potential of you not being able to talk for awhile... But you already have the playful doctor so I will take the high road and hold back. Good luck my friend and congrats on the Marriage.

Unknown said...

I stink at this posting thing... Did I just send you 2 messages? I thought I deleted the first by accident, so I sent another that also vanished. Then I realized that there was "saved-until-approved" thingy at the top - so I think I get it now. You probably are getting these. So you can delete this message please and I will use this post to let you know that it is the other Dave M writing this... from Maple Ridge. My Facebook was hacked and I deleted all my Friend contacts and such to keep that information as private as possible - I hope it worked. I then closed that Facebook account. I have a new Facebook site (Masana Martin) if you send me a request then we can correspond again, Al.