It was a year ago today.
In a way, it was routine. For the doctor at least. As cancer goes, Prostate surgery is kind of a garden variety thing. Even the way they were doing it, with robotics and four small incisions. Kind of a video game with real blood kind of thing.
In a way it wasn’t. Prostate cancer is typically a slow, slow disease. The tortoise of cancers. It is not uncommon, when men are old enough, for them to not even bother operating, because a dozen other old age things are likely to take you out long before the cancer becomes an issue.
This however, was more a hare of a cancer. They found it in August. Stage 1. By the time I got the second opinion, it was stage two. By the biopsy in September, it was stage 3. We would find, by the time they actually went in, that it had moved to stage four. This thing meant business.
It was kind of surreal, those two months before, and the time just after. It is amazing how, in an instant, the focus of your life can change. I had had that happen before of course. We all have. Loss of jobs. Divorce. Love. Deaths. They all take you to another place for a time.
But this was life itself, and nothing has ever quite sent me to a surreal place like that did. I am told I functioned pretty well. Life went on. I did my work. I pastored my church. I helped my wife move stuff from her old house in Massachusetts to our home here in Vermont. I managed to avoid moroseness.
It was even more surreal because I felt fine. I didn’t have much in the way of symptoms. But I trusted my doctor and he said it plainly. Everything was not fine. I was in a bad place. Right up to the night before surgery, I felt fine, with the exception of the surrealism of it all.
The surgery went well. Two nights in the hospital and then home. That first week I was pretty useless. The cats never left my lap. My daughter came up for a week to help out. Looking back, it feels like it took forever to recover. But I am told I did well. Better than most. It was the first of the year before I began to feel human.
I have five little scars on my belly. No big deal. It’s kind of hard to imagine from those tiny little scars came so much pain and weakness and need to recover. There has been rehab for a year and I am still at it.
Every few months I have to be tested. I To make sure the cancer is not coming back. I have another of those coming up in a few days. So far, all the tests have indicated all is well. No discernable cancer. I’ll be on watch like all cancer patients, for about five years.
The test is simply a vial of blood. No big deal. The big deal is the waiting. It always is. The time of uncertainty.
A week or so ago, the woman I loved looked at me and said “You look healthy.”. So a year past, I am finally to the place where I look, not “good” for where I had been, but healthy. I’ll take that. The tradeoff is a good one. One year’s work, surgery and recovery for the rest of my life, Hopefully, if I follow the pattern of most of my family, a lot of years yet. Yeah, I’m good.
But of course that is not all that has gone on this year. Covid invaded our lives early last year. When you look at the past year, and how much has changed, how the atmosphere has become tinged with fear, with the constantly evolving information of how the virus works and how the treatment goes, and the mere fact that it has not gone away, and is not likely to go away for a while. It has impacted and for many, destroyed small businesses. Restaurants have dropped like the proverbial flies. Almost all of us know people who have struggled through the disease. Many of us know of deaths.
Millions have suffered. Hundreds of thousands have died. Our government is still without a clear plan. The numbers are going up.
It has changed how we work. How we go to school. How we visit the doctors. Whether or how we go out. There is no live music. There are no plays. Sports are strange with vast empty stadiums. We don’t mingle with strangers. Many of us have not seen family members, or if we have, it has been at a distance, with masks. No hugs allowed.
I work a day or two a week as sort of a chaplain for Hospice. Many of my patients have little or no family, and live in a nursing home facility, which are at risk. Many have not seen their family in months and months. In some, even I can’t go in, and other than medical personnel, I am often the only connection they have to the outside, and to their faith. And now that too is gone.
That is not a critique. None of it is a critique. It is just a fact of life in the time of Coronavirus. We give up a lot to stay alive and we give up a lot to keep the people we love healthy.
I experienced a new kind of fear and anger with my cancer. I love my life. And I just recently (3 1.2 years ago) got married after a lot of years being divorced. It has been a miracle and beyond wonderful for me. I was more angry than scared. I didn’t want to lose my chance at lots of years with this marvelous woman. It wasn’t far. Of course, life is not always fair.
I am the kind of guy who has conversations with someone at the cash register, often deeper than you would imagine. I meet people at the diner and we end up sitting down and talking for huge expanses of time, far more animated and far deeper than you would expect two strangers to share.
“Don’t talk to strangers” is sort of a joke at our house, because it is what we do all the time. As much as it happens with me, it happens twice as much to my wife.
And now, every stranger, every person we know is a potential carrier. Someone sneezes, a common thing in this allergy filled time, and the room freezes. Everyone looks at you.
I hate that. I miss the carefree way we lived before. I miss not worrying about health, being able to take it for granted. Not worrying about standing close in intimate conversation, hugging friends at church and friends at the street.
But you know what? I am alive. A year after surgery, I am alive. At the rate that cancer was going, not being alive a year later was not a guarantee. And here I am. Healthy. With prospects. I sat at the table this morning with my wife, petting the cat and talking though our day. I hugged her as I left for the studio to write and work. I had breakfast at my diner and the coffee was better than normal.
There is rain outside, and the colors on the trees have taken on a muted brightness that is beautiful.
I have always appreciated life, but I appreciate it more.
And that is what hard times do, I think. After you have come through it, there is a new level of joy and appreciation in life. And that, my friends is a good tradeoff indeed.
Be well. Travel wisely,