Cancer Update


The drive to the diner is quiet. I don’t see another car the whole way. I have the defroster running to melt the ice on the windshield. Fall and winter are coming early this year, it seems.

At one point, I pass the Mexicans, getting ready to work. They are a hard-working bunch. I see them most days on one or another of the local farms. I have a nodding acquaintance with them, one that started in early spring when I stopped to ask what they were planting. It was a new crop to me and I was curious enough to go ask strangers what it might be.

It was hemp they told me. And hemp it is. A new crop to this area, part of the CBD oil craze that has swept America as it has become legal, state by state.

One of the Mexicans has a new hat. It is a straw cowboy hat, white and incredibly bright and clean. I point to the hat as I drive by and smile. The owner nods and breaks into a megawatt smile himself.

Now and again, the Mexicans come to the diner with their families. They are friendly and polite and interesting. Their families are close and loving. There is so much joy there. Most times, we talk for a while. I’ll always be an outsider, a nodding acquaintance, but I feel better for knowing them, even that much.

When I get to the diner, it is closed. The hood, that mighty fan that sucks the hot air and grease from the griddle, has died and they are waiting for repairs. So it is off to my second chance diner in nearby Granville, NY.

There is a lot of fog this morning. Walls of the stuff rise from the creeks. In the lower fields there are thick ghostly patches blowing from the west. I pass farms. The cows at one are marching to the milking house. At another, they have pigs, who seem to be just waking up. They look grumpy and irritated.

As I cross into New York. One of the farms has put up a wedding tent. It looks like something out of a fairy tale, all towers and turrets and white linen standing against the worn red barns. you see that often around here. People who grow up on the farms love the farms, and they honor that love by holding their weddings there. It is always a strange mix of elegance and Americana, part of a disappearing world that I feel honored to live in.

I pass a young girl, maybe seven or eight. She is bundled in her winter coat and running, little puffs of air rising from her mouth. She is clinging to her bookbag with a panicked look on her face.

I know what it is. I know the bus schedules around here and she has missed her bus. She is running then to get to school on time. She will likely make it. It’s only a mile or so to the school.

In another time I would have stopped and offered to give her a ride. In another time, she would have taken it. But it is not another time. It is a time where children are raised to be suspicious of strangers, and rightly so. But still, something is loss.

I drive by.

I get to the second chance diner. The regular crew is there. Both the crew that normally eats here every morning, as well as refugees from my own favorite diner looking for breakfast. It’s crowded and it takes a while to get settled down as I talk to these people I have slowly grown to know since moving here. All from the diner and country stores.

There are farmers and programmers and funeral directors and contractors and pretty much every kind of worker you can imagine. I’ve learned their work and ask them about the things they are working on. How is this house coming? Is it hay baling time yet? I ask about their families. There are stories of children and parents and struggles.

And finally, I settle down to write.

Yesterday I had scans for my cancer. My doctor is pretty sure nothing has spread, but we have to make sure. If it has, the whole course of treatment changes. If, as we expect, it has not, then we deal with it via surgery in a few weeks, do the recovery and rehab, and get on with life. A painful few month burp and life goes on.

I’ll get results in a few days. That’s the way of it with cancers and other diseases. Tests. Biopsies. And then waiting. Yesterday was no different. I spent a lot of time waiting as they pumped me full of dyes and radioactive materials and such.

It has all been a little surreal until yesterday.  I have felt great. I do feel great. To think that I have a cancer but feel so good has been hard to get my head around. But yesterday, as they put in the IV that served as the gateway for all the stuff they needed in me for the scans, it became real, and for a few moments, for the first time, frightening.

And then it was over. The frightening part. My brain wrestled down my emotions. (Something that does not always happen) and all the odds and indicators played back through my head. “Trust the doc. Trust God. Trust how you feel.”

And after that, it was mechanical. The machine was like something out of a sci-fi movie. The technician was a James Corden look-alike and had his own comedy routine. It was a little stale – you could tell it was a patter he has used a few thousand times, one that has proven to set people at ease. It was light and breezy and give you all the information you could want about the process, all ignoring that people who have these scans are mostly in life and death situations.

I liked him a lot better when I asked him questions that were not part of his patter. Suddenly the guy behind the show appeared. He was thoughtful. Kind. And I was no longer invisible. I was a person. All good.

And now I wait. Again. Like waiting for the original biopsy. Waiting is the hardest.

And what do you do when you wait? The same thing you do before this all happened. I get up in the morning. I meditate. I pray. I drive to the diner to write. I notice things. I remind myself of the good things around me. I push back the depression and become useful. If I am lucky, I get all the way to joy.

Nothing changes, even when you wait. And that’s OK. Life is good.

Be well. Travel wisely,



  1. Thinking of you, Tom, and sending positive thoughts to you.
    Thank you for sharing your journey through this.
    You are in my prayers.

  2. Today I have 3 not so good cancer news with people dear to me. Then I read Tom Atkins instead of tears, I see hope.
    As Tom Petty sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.”
    Prayers continue. The one thing I know the Lord is with you. He will be with you. And He will be, always and for eternity. The same with my 3 faithful friends.
    The Lord be with you and also be with them.

  3. A comment on your writing? What a beautiful piece! Lyrical, melodic, honest, free, sweet and touching.

    To the point: you seem so peaceful and assured. Thankful for you.

    • One of the benefits of having been through hard things with God’s help is faith becomes easier. All will be well – it is just a matter of how. Blessings my friend.

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