Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

It's no secret that I've had a rough go of things over the past few months. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that this is a difficult time in my life; probably the hardest thing I've ever been through.

A number of holidays have passed since I've been sick. Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas; I watched them all come and pass without saying anything particular to them. I wanted to, I meant to, even planned to, because holidays are important, but for some reason I didn't find the words.

It's always important to take time to appreciate the meaningful things in life. I'm sorry for having missed my opportunities when the occasions were upon us, but today is New Year's Eve, a day for reflection and looking forward, and I believe that in order to know where we're headed, we have to appreciate where we're coming from.

I was watching ESPN on Veteran's Day, and the anchors were talking about our soldiers and the sacrifices they make for our country each and every day. They were commenting on how ridiculous it is to use "wartime vocabulary" with regards to sports. Sports are just games, and though the players seemingly "battle" against one another for supremacy on the court or field, ice or what-have-you, an athlete's struggle is far different from the real wars being waged by our brave armed forces.

It made me think about the terms of my own battle, and how complicated it is. I am fighting (I feel secure in using that descriptor) an illness that my body created, unintentionally, yet one that nevertheless threatens my life. I wage my fight with the help of chemotherapy, a recipe of toxic drugs, which has, thus far, yielded amazing results. Unfortunately, the drugs introduce a new struggle between their effects on my body and my ability to recover from them, making me feel like the battleground of some internal chaos that leaves my insides burned and pillaged.

But I've never seen a real battlefield, not a live one, anyway, and I have the utmost respect for those who defend our country and our liberties with their lives. They are the men and women willing to make the ultimate sacrifices so that we may enjoy the way of life to which we've become accustomed, and for that they are true heroes.

Naturally, on Thanksgiving, I thought about the things in my life for which I am grateful. My friends and family came immediately to mind; like most people, I don't know what I'd ever do without them. I was appreciative of the deliciously robust meal, as I always am, but this year I was especially thankful that I was able to keep it all down.

Past all that, however, I had a hard time finding reasons to be thankful. I settled on the fact that despite my current conditions, I'm still fighting, and eventually I should be better, despite how challenging everything is right now. In other words, I'm thankful to still have a chance at a future, beyond all of this, regardless of the odds and probabilities with which I've been faced, presuming I can continue to persevere.

I've learned to appreciate all of the December holidays, because for all of their differences and the differences between the people who observe them, they bring people together in celebration. One day, I hope to see everyone celebrating together, accepting of our individual differences, eager to learn one another's values, and motivated by a common purpose, but for now I'll settle for people coming together in warmth and joy.

I also like presents, just like everyone else, so the December holidays are definitely where it's at.

Again, today is New Year's Eve. A brand new year is upon us. A brand new decade is about to begin. I'll spend the first few months undergoing treatment, but I'm hopeful that the second half of 2010 will be better than the year preceding it.

I'm grateful to have seen another year pass, and I've not forgotten the joys of this last year either. I know it hasn't all been bad, and I guess I've learned to value those precious moments more than I have in the past. That's why I'm so anxious to be out and living again, because I want a chance to appreciate things more than I used to; to see things through a brand new, brighter scope; to meet new people and let them change me, and to hopefully make a difference to them as well.

With each new year brings new opportunities, more chances to touch and be touched, to hold and be held, and to better ourselves so that we can make ourselves happy, because above all we must be happy with who we are when we're all alone. It's an ongoing process, in my opinion; an endless, ever-changing journey that will only offer new challenges as the circumstances in our lives continue to change, but it's a worthy purpose and a journey that I'll hopefully pledge to continue each new year.

And tonight, on the eve of the new year, we celebrate with friends and family, and may we forget for a while the fighting and sickness because holidays are meant to be celebrated. And I love a good celebration, in case you didn't know.

So Happy New Year! I wish everyone a safe and wonderful night, and a happy beginning to an unforgettable 2010.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Be Careful

I've made the decision to wait until after New Years' for my next round of chemo. It was a difficult choice, and one that I'm still surprised at myself for making, but now that I've said it I'm trying not to change my mind. I still hate postponing chemo, and I want to be finished with it as soon as possible. I want to be finished with all of it. I finally realized that allowing myself to feel good for a few days isn't going to make that much of a difference in the long run.

I've pushed through ten consecutive rounds of chemo at an every-two-week pace. The doctors have told me repeatedly that maintaining that pace is simply unfeasible, but hearing them say that just makes me want to prove them wrong.

I was planning to force myself back into the hospital today or tomorrow, today being the twelfth day since the start of the most recent five-day round (meaning I've been out a week). But I've been a mess since then. My stomach is always a shambles, but this round and its accompanying virus really made me feel that I might be hurting myself if I don't let my body heal.

At first, I thought I might be able to go through chemo the two days right before New Years' Eve and then just make the best of the way I was feeling on the actual occasion. I might be miserable, but I'd be one step closer to being done. But If I waited a few days, my stomach might actually recover, and I'd have a chance to get out of the house and explore the outside world for a little while.

I went back and forth over what to do countless times, and along the way I realized that though I may be sick, and for that reason approach my life from now on with a little more regard to my well-being, I don't ever want to be careful.

I think it would be easy to take being sick and use it as a reason to try to avoid bad things from happening. It would be easy to start being scared, but what's the point of living scared? Shouldn't my flirtation with death teach me to go for what I want and to take some chances rather than holstering all of my guns and playing it safe? I don't actually own any guns, I'm just shooting for a metaphor, but really, I don't think that's what I'm supposed to do. I've acquired a heightened appreciation for life and living, so I'm going to chase after life, not wait for it to find me.

Going back in for chemo in the next two days wouldn't be careful of me, that's not what I'm saying. If anything, it would be brash and stubborn, both of which are words I would readily use to describe myself. But I've also pledged to be easier on myself. I still demand a certain standard of commitment and results, but this time I'm taking the doctors' advice and giving my body a break. And, at the same time, I'm rewarding myself with New Years' Eve. A celebration.

I have a ways to go, and after extending this round an extra two or three days, I'll be right back on the two-week regiment as long as my counts can bear it. Right now, though, I'm craving a chance to celebrate the ten I've already completed.

I've already promised myself to be cautious and to avoid trouble, at least for this year's New Year's Eve. The perils of coming down with something are no mystery to me. But if I'm not going to be infused with drugs and bedridden, I should really try to enjoy myself.

Like I said, I'll be back to the grind after just a few days, and I don't plan on slowing down or looking back. I'll plan ahead, though I won't deliberate to the point of frustration. I'll count the days until the things I'm looking forward to, though I won't be too calculated in the pursuit of my dreams. And I'll be responsible, and consider consequences before I act, and I'll do my best to avoid putting myself and others in danger, though I'll never be too careful.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


While I was in the hospital, my dog thought it wise to eat a rock and a piece of rubber from one of her toys. She's been in surgery for the past two days having them removed, but thankfully she'll be alright and she's coming home today.

I've really missed my puppy over the past week. She's three years old now, so she's not exactly a puppy anymore, but she hasn't lost any of her boundless energy and recklessness. I love having her around, because she always keeps things interesting when I'm unable to remove myself from the couch. And she's always willing to share it with me, even if she'd rather be digging up rocks or clogging her intestines with rubber balls.

It's a little difficult for me to understand, though, the thought, or lack thereof, behind ingesting a stone. Can the things that go through Josie's mind really be that simple?

"Eat that rock. Tear apart that toy. Kick that man in the nuts. Lick his face."

I know that can't constitute the enormity of Josie's cognitive and emotional capacities. She can always tell how I'm feeling, and she's empathetic and affectionate. She gets jealous when she feels left out, and I swear she can understand almost all of the things I say to her. And lastly, she's got those sweet puppy dog eyes that make me melt, even when she's bad.

I hope she's been alright all by herself in the hospital. I know how lonely that can be, and I also know how afraid she gets. She can't even go out into the backyard alone at night without someone going with her. She's so strong and athletic, though, I don't get it. I guess she's just spooked by the dark, which isn't so uncommon, but I don't want her to be afraid.

When Josie came home after being spayed, she was back to her sprightly self in no time. I'd assume most dogs would relax and recover over the course of a few days after something like that, but not this one. She was ready to play from the moment she set paw in the house.

That was a long time ago, and I'm hoping Josie still has the same vigor she had then, but I'm not worried. It's just my turn to comfort her, because she'd do the same for me. I'm anxious to have her home again.


I hate it when I can taste the chemo. I can taste it in my mouth and on my tongue, and I can feel it in my stomach. It hurts. I can smell it on my breath and escaping through my pores, and I can feel it oozing out of my eyeballs. At the corners, they're welling up, but not in the shape of tears. I don't want to taste it. And I can't sleep. I can never fall asleep.

I regretted doing this the last time I did it. But what is there to regret? I don't have a reason to regret. Not tonight. I just feel like a fool for trying to find meaning where there is none. At least not right now. Maybe I'll find it tomorrow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Round 10

Today is the second day of round 10 of my chemotherapy. I'm proud to have made it this far, into double digits, and I'm hoping that the rush of accomplishment will carry me through the impending nausea and sickness. My doctor anticipated that at the end of the last round, when my hemoglobin had fallen to 9.5, that I would need a blood transfusion prior to this round to ensure that my body was fully ready. Usually, they like to administer transfusions when my hemoglobin falls to about 8 so that I'm not too tired. As it turned out, however, my hemoglobin actually rose to over 10. She also advised that I receive Neupogen shots until Sunday, knowing that I was planning to come in and have blood taken on Monday for a Tuesday admission (the way I always do, coming in a day in advance in order to minimize the headache of admission day). Unfortunately, I got a call back on Monday telling me that my white blood cell count was actually too high for chemo the next day, and that I had to wait another day at home before coming in to begin.

An extra day of staying home at the best end of the cycle, feeling good. That's great, isn't it? Well, either that or I am the only crazy moron in the world who gets inexplicably impatient when I'm given an extra good day to postpone impending misery. But I could have told those people advising us that I didn't need to take Neupogen all the way through the weekend, that I was strong after maybe seven or eight shots and that any more would be unnecessary. Regardless, we followed their lead and after eleven consecutive days of shots, my white blood cells were spiked like the punch at a junior high school dance, and there was nothing I could do but drink it.

I guess it just bothers me when other people dictate the details of my plan to me. They are they experts, after all, but I feel as if they didn't talk to each other, let alone to me, about the best way of going about this last cycle. It was my first cycle with my new doctor, and I don't want to go running around saying that I miss the old doctor, because I'm confident that this will turn out fine. I guess we just need to maintain better communication to reach the best results. She did, however, admit to me that my case has deviated so far from the "textbook" case due to my quick response times and constantly replenished strength, that it's difficult for her to predict my needs. And that was a humbling thing to hear from such a renowned doctor.

I realize that what I'm asking for is much easier said than done. A lot of times, we struggle with communication with those about whom we truly care and play a very significant role in our lives, so it might be a little unrealistic to demand optimal communication among staff at a hospital. It's in the best interest of the patients, but it's impossible for any one of them to have all of the answers. I've learned, now, that I need to be a part of these discussions because I am, in fact, at this point the one who knows most about my treatment and my reactions to the treatment, and, in effect, about what I need.

But communication is always at the very least a two-way street, yet the lack thereof seems to be the weakness in so many of our cherished relationships. I've noticed how hard it is to talk about things that cannot be changed; things that happened in the past, and no matter how much the culprit of those actions wishes to be able to take them back, it takes the biggest toll on that person's partner. A lot of times, that partner is unable to express adequately the reason or extent of their hurt, and without that communication there is little to be done. Unfortunately, it becomes a vicious cycle of hurt, sadness, and the inability to make things better, no matter how ready and willing one person might be to say the right thing and make it all go away.

I think this happens most often in regards to things that happened in the past. I've learned, however, that we can't change the past, and that to judge someone for the things they used to do, especially if they have become a stronger, more mature person now, is just utterly pointless. I'm not saying that thinking about the past is never going to hurt, but it really shouldn't effect the things two people can share moving forward. It's just not fair to either person.

Now, if these things exist not only in the past, and continue to live on in some capacity for one of the parties involved, then that's an entirely different story. It's hard to force someone out of our minds and lives entirely, for good, and it's not always something we can consciously decide, though we can prioritize and keep certain people at a distance for our own best interest and the best interests of those whom we care about most.

I still advocate communication above all costs. People are different, and what one person might consider a big deal might not be that serious to someone else. But in order to build the strongest relationships possible, we need to exhibit honesty and trust, because hiding things will only make them a bigger obstacle to cross when they eventually do come to the surface.

I feel like what I'm saying is almost second nature at this point, it's been said so many times before. But failed or stunted communication still plays a large role in my life. My doctor and I have agreed to talk more often about the phases through which I'm going, along with the following steps that make the most sense for the both of us. And good communication will continue to play a vital role in all of my relationships, big or small. Communication is so closely related to honesty and trust, which are two of the things on which I pride my relationships. If not for trust, anyway, do we really have anything at all?

In two weeks, I'll have to make the decision whether or not to squeeze in another two-day chemo immediately before New Years' Eve. I'll either have to trust that my body will feel well enough to enjoy the holiday, or I'll have to postpone the chemo until a few days later; and I hate postponing chemo. This time, my doctor and I will talk about the best option for me and my treatment, and hopefully come to a conclusion with which I am happy.

For now, though, I'm focused on defeating number 10, and in four more days returning back home, overwhelmed with that familiar sense of accomplishment. And I'll remind myself that in my relationships, communication will always be vital. There will always be things that I or someone else can't change, but I can always be open and honest about the way I am and the way I'm feeling.

I've learned to try not to judge someone for the things that may have happened before they ever knew me. Nobody can change those things, and worrying about them is about as useless as asking those unanswerable questions we all love to ask, though the answers are expectedly unsatisfactory. We can take things one day at a time, and trust that the things people say to us now, and that they will still say tomorrow, are enough to make us happy. Nobody is perfect, not on their own, but I sort of believe that what two people can share might be perfect, if not the closest thing to it that we're ever going to find.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I was quite disappointed when I realized recently that my eyebrows had disappeared. They had given me the impression that they might hold on through this ordeal, but apparently they just didn't have the longevity I thought they had. The hairs on top of my head were gone almost instantly, so good riddance to them, but I thought my eyebrows were different. As it turns out, they were as fickle as the rest of them.

It's hard to get over that, when you expect something to be there, and it's there for a while, but then before you know it, it's gone. And I can't just readily forgive that right away, no matter how insignificant my eyebrows might seem. The reality is that whenever I look in the mirror, I anticipate my eyebrows being there, and it takes me a moment every time to acknowledge and accept their absence.

It's also an interesting experience not having any facial hair. Obviously, I made it a good portion of my life without any; I wasn't the one four year-old in the world with a beard, but I figured that once I had hair on my face, it was there to stay. I don't miss shaving, and I don't think any guy would, but when you add up all of the vanishing acts, it makes for a very different looking face. I have yet to get used to it.

Because of the shaving aspect, I'm not as upset with my facial hair as I am with my eyebrows, though I find myself wearing my glasses much more than I ever have in the past. I like to believe that wearing them lessens the shock of a person without eyebrows, though I don't think anyone would judge me. I just wish my brows hadn't fooled me into thinking they were sticking around, and that they had fallen off right from the beginning. I guess maybe they didn't know they were ever going to fall off, the same way people mean the things they say when they say them, not knowing that someday they might not mean them anymore. Maybe my eyebrows thought they wanted to be a part of my face forever, but then things happened and things changed, and they wanted out. It's not a crime to change your mind about the things you think you want, and I guess sometimes the only way of going about getting them involves someone getting hurt. I'm not sure if that makes it wrong to say those things that are true at the time they're said, since feelings are always subject to change. I'm not sure if I'm just talking about my eyebrows anymore.

I'm told that when my hair eventually does grow back, it might not be the same as it was before. It might be a different color or a different texture, but I'm hoping to regrow the hair I'm used to having. It wasn't the best hair, or the prettiest, or the softest, but it was my hair, and I want it back. I'll take things as they come, however, and if my hair is different, I'll accept that and move forward as best I can, but I'm hoping for something familiar. I already know that plenty of things will never be the same again as they used to be, and that they're not going back to the way they were, and I'm fine with that. But I'm holding out hope that this one thing will return to normal, though I've learned to temper my expectations so I'm not disappointed.

But if we always worry about being disappointed, and for that reason never get our hopes up, or get really excited, or get butterflies in our stomachs when we meet someone who gives us butterflies, then how will we be as happy when things do turn out the way we want them to? And aren't we selling ourselves short?

It doesn't seem to matter how sick I get, or how weary I am, or how angry I can be with my eyebrows, I don't think I'll ever be numb to pain. I may learn to have a higher threshold, but I'll never be numb. Hopefully, I'll just always be that much happier when things go my way.

I will welcome my eyebrows back whenever they do decide to return, and the same goes for the rest of my hair. I'm disappointed in them now, but I know I'll just be happy to see them again.

Friday, December 11, 2009

My Jordan Year

I think a lot about what I'm going to do when I finally have the opportunity to get out of the house, back into the world, and to resume my life. Let's assume, for conversation's sake, that I will once again have that chance and that this part of my life is temporary. Before anything else, I think I'm going to take some time to myself and do some of the things I want to do. I mean, I guess you could say that right now I'm getting time off, or a break, from real life, but it doesn't feel that way. And before I begin real life again, I think I'll be entitled to a real break where I can leave the pills and shots, aches and nausea behind.

I'll go where I want to go, and I'll see who I want to see, if they want to see me too, and for a little while I'll ignore the inevitable demands and responsibilities that await my return to normalcy. For a little while, however long it lasts, I'm not going to worry about anything except enjoying myself. And that's something I'll try to take home with me, but I haven't forgotten how difficult it is to live worry-free. The steady schedule of tests and scans to which I'll subscribe for the rest of my life may make carefree living that much more challenging as well.

But I will take the time I'm craving just to be out there in the world again, wide-eyed and impressionable as a young child to beauty and splendor I've never known or seen. I'm not going to set a time to it, or draw up a plan, either. When I can go, I'm just going to go. I'll figure out where, and for how long will be a question I'll answer when I'm out there, but for once I want to abandon boundaries and limitations. I know they'll be anxiously awaiting my return, when I'm ready to be subject to them again.

And that day will come as well, when it's time to come home and start anew. It will be like starting from scratch; I'll have to build my entire life all over again. And I don't feel that young, anymore. Twenty-three could be argued either way, I guess, young or old, but I no longer feel defined by age. Experience has dictated my rate of maturation, though I presume it's never really too late to start over.

I won't have a job, and obviously I can't live at home forever, though my parents might try to convince me otherwise. My friends have jobs and roommates and leases, but I don't feel like I need to force myself to make up ground. The bottom line is that I want to spend my time doing the things that I really want to do. Life is too short to get stuck doing something I don't enjoy. Patience is a virtue, right? Though maybe the most frustrating of them all, it may be the quality in which I am most well-versed. So I'll employ it then as I employ it now, and over time I'll do my best to adorn my life with the people and circumstances that make me happiest. It's the only way that makes sense to me.

All of this is easier said than done, though, isn't it? Otherwise, we'd all be happy-go-lucky and ultimately satisfied with our conditions, but that doesn't seem to be the case for everyone. I'm hoping that my adjusted perspective on life will provide me with the vision and foresight to make decisions that will, in turn, make me happy.

I'm lucky to have good friends and family who care, because even though I'll have plenty of work to do, I'll never be starting with nothing. After all, I really think it's the people with whom we share this life that make it worthwhile in the end. And it's the time we spend with them that proves most memorable.

I call this lost year my "Jordan Year." It began when I was still twenty-two, but I'll spend most of the year at age twenty-three fighting this disease. Hell, who knows, I could be fighting it for the rest of my life, but I just don't want to think that way. But Michael Jordan, whom I idolized growing up, wore number 23. Every basketball fan knows that; it's like knowing that there are fifty states. And I always wondered what I'd be doing when I reached twenty-three. I imagined grandeur, though I never considered such plight.

My Jordan Year will continue to teach me invaluable lessons that I never wanted to learn. It will continue to put things in perspective and change my perspective and rearrange my values. I can't wait to be free again; I'll start running and I won't stop until I get where I'm going, wherever that might be. That's all I know right now. Anything past that is a mystery.

But maybe those are the only answers I need, and maybe that's all I really need to know at all. Something's always going to fill in the blanks. For the first time, I'm starting to feel okay with not having all the answers.

Monday, December 7, 2009


In hindsight, I think I may have been a little overexcited for the season's first snow. Sure, it's beautiful to see the outdoors blanketed white, but I certainly underestimated the accompanying cold. Furthermore, I've realized that under normal circumstances, snow is especially refreshing because it provides a wonderfully good reason to stay inside and sink into a sea of covers. I, on the other hand, need no such excuse, as such is my daily existence, so unless I become particularly motivated to go outside and roll around in it, the snow has brought me only marginal satisfaction.

Nevertheless, I refuse to lose appreciation for those few things in which I find beauty. Being isolated, or sheltered, from the outside world makes it easy to forget what's out there. I don't want to forget that good things do exist, and that I may still find them, though I'm so jaded and discouraged by life's injustice.

When I was little, my mom and I used to make up bedtime stories. We thought we were pretty good at it, too. We said that one day, we'd go into business together writing children's books. I would do most of the writing (my mom always thought I was so creative), and she would do the illustrations. My mom is a very talented artist.

The main character in our stories was a boy named Bean-in-the-Box. Naturally, he was about my age, though I can't remember his real name, and he loved boxes. Bean-in-the-Box absolutely adored boxes. Cardboard boxes, wooden boxes, you name it, he wanted them. And by accumulating as many boxes as he could, Bean-in-the-Box was able to construct an enormous fort, or maze, that took up most of his bedroom. It had different levels where he could climb, and nooks in which he could hide, and every night Bean's dad would bring home a brand new box to add to the collection. Sure, Bean had a bed where he slept, I don't think anyone really wants to sleep in a box, but Bean-in-the-Box had a refuge; a secret world to which he could escape and not be bothered by anything or anyone.

Ironically, Bean-in-the-Box had a younger sister the same age as mine, with the same name, though I'm not sure she was allowed access into Bean's box world. What gets me, though, is the foresight Bean-in-the-Box had to know that he would always benefit from having a means of getting away from everything. He knew about trying to escape well before he ever knew the things that I know now. But he wasn't afraid of being alone, I'll give him that, and I have a suspicion he didn't find it hard to express the way he felt.

The trouble I saw with Bean-in-the-Box was that he may have been too complacent with his boxes. Sure, he was just a boy, but he needed to get out and pursue more adventure if he were ever really going to become a popular children's book character.

I keep coming back to this idea of escape; I can't seem to get away from it. I want so badly to step outside again, to try to be happy on my own terms, but I'm afraid I won't be able. I feel stuck, trapped, in this mold, and the longer I stay in it the harder I fear it will be to break free. Especially now, knowing so well how easily things break and how quickly they can disappear.

I know I can't hide in boxes, and I know that faithless can turn to faithful in an instant. I've fallen into something I'll never fully escape, through no fault of my own, but there's no place for fear.

Today, I'm jaded. Maybe tomorrow I'll be surprised.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hope and Uncertainty

Today, for the first time, I can count the number of remaining rounds on my one hand. It's still two and a half more months of chemo, then radiation and weeks of vaccines, but I'm still proud of having made it this far.

That said, I still can't help being scared sometimes. It's just the honest truth; sometimes, I'm really scared that chemo will stop working, or radiation or these vaccines that are supposed to keep the tumor from returning just won't work and it will come back stronger than ever. One thing I know is that when I finish all of this treatment, I never ever want to endure it again.

But that's the problem, isn't it? There's always uncertainty, no matter what the situation is. It seems that death might be the only real certainty in life.

It wasn't until I got sick that I really understood how one day is never guaranteed from the next. It's difficult to see each day as a blessing, especially when I feel there's so much on which I've been missing out. It's easy to forget that I am still living, I'm still feeling, and I know I'll never stop dreaming.

But death is an inevitable part of life, and unfortunately, it appears to be prevalent in this cancer world; a world I never asked to be a part of, or to be granted access, but it is a world of uncertainty in which I find myself at any rate.

For months, I tore apart my daily life searching for hope, but found nothing but the same familiar loneliness and those same unanswerable questions.

People find unpredictable ways of entering our worlds, and we can't just close ourselves off to them. At least, I can't. The sad part is that we never know how people will leave our worlds, either, though we can anticipate the impact they will leave on our lives and in our hearts.

I feel lucky to have met some amazing people so far along this journey. Between the nurses, doctors, and everyone involved at Columbia and the National Cancer Institute, it's touching to see how many people truly care. And they have to know from the beginning that they can't save everyone, it's just a part of the job description. I admire their ability to persevere, though I doubt whether or not I'm constructed with the emotional fortitude necessary to do what they do.

And then there are those who enter our lives when we least expect them to, seemingly out of thin air, with the ability to change everything without doing anything at all. Like a moth to a flame, we follow their light, unquestioning, and relying on faith that their guidance will uplift our floundering spirits. Of course, these people may not always live up to the billing, or our expectations for them, but then again sometimes they do. And when they do, it's like waking up to a different world. Possibility and adrenaline overshadow uncertainty, and we're given a glimpse of the way life could be; the way it should be.

Once we've tasted that life, that unbridled joy, even for a moment, it's pretty hard to imagine letting it go again. Why would we? Why would we ever want to or have to? I want to be inspired, and I've been given hope; hope that may carry me through these next few months, and hope that this life can still offer me wonderful things that I've not yet come across. But right now, today, there's a pain inside of me that I can't shed, because I don't want to lose that hope and I don't want to go back to my old world.

It doesn't make sense that we could so easily be so happy, but circumstances so far out of our control, or even our realm of influence, dictate our conditions and dole out our pain. I don't use the word "fair" anymore; it's a useless thought that breeds only frustration.

I feel like I've been given the greatest gift one can receive in this life, and for that I am eternally grateful. But in this cancer world, nobody is safe, and I can't keep anyone safe, even those I wish I could more than anything. I suppose that's a fact of life in any case, though, unconfined by the characteristics of illness and disease.

So I'm going to be brave in the face of unshakable uncertainty, and I would never dream of giving back what I have gained. I'll hold onto it as long as I can, because it's changed me, and I'm not going back to the way I was before.

I can't decide the future, regardless of how content I think I could be with what I've found. But I've learned that things can always change, and things can always get better. And, even in spite of the most unlikely odds, people can get better. Odds are just numbers, while people can accomplish amazing things, and miracles do happen. I've got to hold onto that belief, and somehow I've got to have faith that things can turn around, and that I may still end up with what I want. And I know I'll never lose hope. I couldn't, because she, hope, found me.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rainy Days

It's been raining all day today, the last day of November. If you ask me, it's time for the rain to turn into snow and release the beauty of winter.

When I was growing up, I loved the rain. I would always take the basketball out into the driveway and shoot around, and it was special when it rained. I would stay out there for hours, listening to nothing but the sound of the raindrops on the pavement and the pounding of the ball against the wet concrete. I always had the street to myself; people would disappear inside their houses when it rained, leaving me alone with my thoughts and the wind in the trees.

I would think about anything and everything those days. I took the time to appreciate the things that made me happy, and I gave thought to the things that needed figuring out. I dreamed about the future; college, basketball, girls. I always thought about girls.

Left to my own thoughts, I never once dreamed that such a dark, cancerous cloud covered my future.

Once I left for college, my daily basketball schedule was made for me; I was away from home, and I stopped having the opportunity to take the ball out into the driveway. But the peaceful tranquility of those rainy days is something that stays with me.

As I was saying, I would really prefer this rain to turn into snow. Winter can get so cold here, yet somehow I associate it with a quality of warmth. I think of bundling up against the biting chill of the outside air, and of getting close to someone because when it's cold, it's the perfect time to be tangled up with someone else. I, of course, have to avoid human contact like the plague, but I'm still looking forward to a fresh snow to warm my feelings.

Another month has passed, and I feel as if I'm getting stronger. I can still feel something in my bones, something that doesn't belong there, but it's not like it was before and I'm confident that it will be gone before long. A winter alone will be a difficult test, but I have a renewed motivation, a sense of inspiration, and I can feel that inside of me, too.

I look forward to snow, and I'll get through the year, though I'll yearn for the days that I've lost. I'll keep looking ahead to get to the bridge, if I'm sufficiently blessed, I will cross.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sweet November

I can't believe it's almost the end of November. I'm still accustomed to that meaning the beginning of a new basketball season, the end of a semester, and the air turning unmistakably colder. It's hard for my brain to register that I'm almost a year and a half removed from college, and there are no upcoming basketball games in which I'll be playing, but it's still getting cold outside.

I would imagine that this is the time of year when days will seem to go by even more slowly than they have over the past few months, if that's even possible. I wish I could wake up to a different reality, but my wishes continue to dissipate without response. My days still seem to drag on without end.

I asked for a time-out yesterday, as if some invisible referee were overseeing my life and could somehow grant me a few weeks' break from this cancer-fighting marathon. I could really use a vacation; I'm not sure where I would go, or if I would even tell anyone or invite anyone to come with me. It would just be nice to escape for a little while. I haven't been able to find an escape from this; I've just been creeping along one day at a time since it started.

I couldn't get out of bed again today. I felt like a wax creature, all disfigured and immobile in my bed, on my back, for hours. What I would give for a pretty girl to just come and be there with me! Then, at least the hours of blanketed obsolescence would bring me some joy!

It doesn't feel so foreign to me to remember what that feels like, having someone close to me like that, and I look forward to it again every day. It makes me romanticize the idea of being in a relationship, even though I know it's never going to be as easy as I would like it to be or think right now that it will be. It's just a sensible idea to me that there's someone out there who is meant to be nice to me, and I'll be nice to her, and we'll enjoy spending time together, and everything will work out, and I'll always have someone to waste the day away with me in bed.

To be honest, over the past few days, I've learned of the human capacity to miss something, or someone, that we've never even really had. Missing and longing, it seems, come from the same place, when we recognize some missing element as an integral component of our completion. It is, of course, the natural inclination of the human body and spirit to want to be complete, though we're so often operating at less than maximum efficiency.

I'd like to believe that I'm making sense, and I definitely believe in what I'm saying. The truth of the matter is that I don't know if I'll ever be lucky enough to touch, or to hold, this thing that I'm missing. Right now, it's really far away, but I can feel it as if it were next to me and I know it's real.

So, for now, the object of my obsession will have to remain just that. But at least I know she feels the same, which is a hell of a lot better than feeling alone. And it's nice to feel alive again, like something I had forgotten even existed has awakened from within me. I needed to express it; I want it to breathe, but I don't want to smother it and I don't want it to break. I have to let it be, and that's fine, for all things grow and develop in their own time, and as we know, it's not our minds at all that decide who makes a difference in our lives.

I really could go on forever, but I fear that wasted words will only spoil that which I am trying to protect. If nothing else, I am admittedly a hopeless romantic, and that is something that neither chemo, nor cancer, nor anything else that comes to mind can change about me. And I do believe that it's a good thing, and that it will all turn out well for me in the end. I hope this new thing remains, though I don't know what it will become, but it's been too long that I've missed missing and being missed, and I don't mind it at all.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Round 8

I have now completed eight out of fourteen scheduled rounds of chemo. It feels like I've been doing it forever, and it still feels like I have an eternity yet to finish, but at least I'm officially past the halfway point.

Five days of chemo is always such a long time. When they finally give me permission to leave and deaccess my port, I usually make one last trip to the bathroom before I go. If for no other reason, I want to make sure that the ten hours of fluids I've just received don't end up on the seat of the car. But I'm always bothered by the fact that I don't recognize myself. My face is always swollen and red, my body looks inflated with air, and I'm always so exhausted.

It really is surprising to me that sitting in a hospital bed for five days can be so exhausting, but it makes more sense when you consider that the nurses don't allow you any semblance of a normal sleeping pattern. The last two days, chemo went up at 8am and 4am respectively, so you can imagine how anxious I was yesterday when chemo ended at 6am and I could do nothing but wait to finish the fluids and go home.

I also find it interesting that my simple, well-planned, organized pill schedule is so terribly butchered by nurses who have the schedule all written out in front of them. I love my nurses, don't get me wrong, but I don't always get my familiar nurses and sometimes it's like the nurse I get pays no mind to the schedule at all; they'd rather just stroll in with whatever they find in their hands at that particular moment and leave me wondering if it's what they say it is and why I'm taking it at that time. Then, when I finally leave the hospital, it's hard to remember what I was given at what time and then determine how to get back on track.

It's flu season now, too, so the hospital is packed with patients from the E.R. who need an isolation room. That means there's no chance of me getting a single, even last week when I was the only patient to be admitted for chemo that day. In fact, not only was I put in a four-person room (with a fifth behind a makeshift curtain about fifteen feet from the foot of my bed; an infant, no less, who was incapable of making human noises but rather screamed exclusively like a velociraptor), but it still took almost seven hours to get from the clinic to the hospital room.

I realize that it's a hospital and that they're doing their best with limited resources, but it seems dangerous to me to put flu patients on the same floor as cancer patients. I'm not sure what was ailing the raptor baby, though I'm suspicious that it was a virus, but even if you assume that all of the flu patients were kept in isolation rooms, we're all still being treated by the same nurses and that makes me a little nervous. Clearly, I'd never think of refusing treatment to a flu patient in need of isolation, but it's obvious that things are getting more difficult for the hospital to manage around this time of year. Unfortunately for me, all I want is to show up and get what I need, then get out of there with as little a headache as possible.

The patient in the bed next to me was a young kid with a ruptured appendix. It seemed pretty rough, but I'm glad they were able to remove the organ and all of the poison before it was too late.

That said, I'm not really looking to make friends with other patients' family when I'm anxiously awaiting five days to go by. Still, each morning, this kid's dad was nice enough to come over to my bedside soon after I had first opened my eyes to offer me his newspaper. Aside from the shock of waking up to an unfamiliar man's face, I really didn't want to touch his newspaper. I wanted to stay as far away from that scene behind that curtain as possible, for fear that some abdominal fluid had escaped the child and smeared itself onto his father's newspaper.

So, each time he appeared, he promised to bring me his copy of the paper when I was more awake (he could never just wait until I was really awake), and each time I graciously declined and closed my eyes again. One day, my nurse even came in and said to me, "That man wanted me to tell you that you can borrow his newspaper whenever you're awake."

I don't know what it was that gave that man the impression that I read the newspaper, but I somewhat admire his persistence.

I'm not feeling very well today, which I expected, but I am carrying a sense of accomplishment for having finished another five-day round of chemo. There's not a lot of fanfare and it feels like I'm making progress in inches rather than in strides, but at least I'm going somewhere.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Second Chances

It's an odd thing to feel like you're already living a second chance. Your first chance, when you're young and naive and innocent, ends when you do something that could realistically render significant repercussions, possibly the end of your life. After that, if you think about it, it's like you were given a second chance. At least, that's the way I look at it.

Obviously, there isn't any rule or explanation regarding the number of chances each person gets. Like everything else, it's different for everyone. Some may never get a second chance; for them, it's all over at the first substantial mistake. Others may get chance after chance, never realizing or appreciating the fact that they're living on the edge and that it may eventually catch up with them. Some learn to change their ways after a certain experience serves as a wake-up call to start being more responsible. Some are determined to test their luck forever, with no consideration for those that may be hurt along the way.

Like I said, I feel like I'm on a second chance. I left the younger, more innocent version of myself somewhere in the distant past. I drove fast, and paid for it in speeding tickets, though I was never in a serious accident. I drove without a seat belt, and paid the state of New York for that as well. I drove after drinking, and while I never got caught, I put myself and my friends in danger. I went too far with girls I didn't know, and I've drunk past the point of remembrance and challenged my limits to the brink of alcohol poisoning.

One time, at the beginning of my senior year of college, my friend and I decided to take a couple of bicycles for a joy ride after each having a few drinks. It was exhilarating, liberating, and incontestably foolish, and our route eventually brought us to the top of a hill, overlooking a path, which ran to the left of four collections of wooden stairs, all leading down to a rickety wooden bridge laid across a small stream. Once at the top, we prepared to descend the path, but my friend stopped to say something and I swerved to avoid hitting him, which led me right into the stairs. I couldn't avoid them, so I tried to ride down them, which I did, and I swung back to the left to rejoin the path. At that point, my feet had lost the pedals, which kept on going, and I couldn't catch them again. I tried to make the bridge with a sharp maneuver at the end of the path, but I couldn't make the turn fast enough. The bike hit the front left panel of the bridge, as did my head, and I was thrown over the handlebars. My friend ran down the path to help me out of the brush in which I had landed (I barely missed landing in the creek), and when I stood up there was blood rushing from the gash on my head. To make a long story short, I missed losing an eye, or worse, by about a quarter of an inch. Thanks to the work of a talented plastic surgeon, three layers of stitches have left me with only a 1.5-inch long scar through my eyebrow.

After that night, I fought with depression for weeks. Needless to say, I felt lucky that the damage hadn't been worse. I felt as if I had been given a second chance.

I don't think there was anything I did, or any mistake I made that resulted in my getting cancer. There are other illnesses that can be acquired due to bad judgment, but it's safe to say that cancer isn't one of them. Still, cancer may be the most life-threatening of all the things I've mentioned. It requires the most work to fix it, takes the most time to eliminate, and has taken the greatest toll on my friends and family. If I'm lucky enough to get through it, I will most definitely feel like I've been given another second chance.

It would take me a few minutes to count up all of my second chances, so I don't know what number I'll be on if and when I beat this thing. And I don't want to stop doing exciting things, or having as much fun, but I know that it's time to start being more responsible. There has to come a time when people stop taking so many chances and start acting like adults. I know that after this experience, I want to make sure that my life goes on for a long time, and I don't want to throw it away by doing any of the stupid things I used to do.

I wonder how many more second chances I have left. Cats have nine lives, or so they say, but what's the expression for humans? Maybe "Humans have as many lives as they have, until they have none." But we never know when we have none left.

So, I'll probably calculate my risks a little bit more from now on than I have in the past. I have no way of knowing how many more second chances I have.

Friday, November 13, 2009


I've been finding it pretty difficult to get myself out of bed recently. I attribute it to the principle of inertia; you know, a body in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force. And, conversely, a body at rest will stay at rest until I can force my lazy ass out of bed to do something. Besides, it's really hard to get my body to do just about anything, so I just stay in bed and pass the day in comfort.

The weekdays tend to get lonely, anyway. My parents work, my sister is away at school, and I'm sick and tired of television and video games. The other day I thought about reading a book, then thought better of it, and if I'm not feeling motivated to write, I can't just force the words out onto the page.

I've been telling myself I should get into reading for a while now, but the reality is I'm just not that interested. Sparknotes got me through high school, and I did what I had to do to get by in college, but reading has never really been fun for me. I've always said that I'd rather live my own life than read about someone else living theirs, which, come to think of it, would actually make right now an ideal time to start. I have appreciated a good book before, and probably could again, but if I start reading now, I'll be reading about someone who still has the opportunity to get out and live, which would no doubt make me jealous and angry, so I doubt I'd enjoy it very much. One of these days, I'll give it a try, I just don't know when.

I'm also getting fed up with people asking me how my day was. Sure, it's a caring notion, and under most circumstances I know that people appreciate being asked about their day. But for me, right now, it really just gets under my skin. It's an uneventful conversation, anyway, and I could simply do without it.

"How was your day?"

"Great. I rolled over. How was yours?"

I'm not so concerned with the back end of that interaction, either, since once again it's bound to involve someone else getting to do something more exciting than a successful bowel movement. And while I'll listen if they really want to tell me, unless it's especially interesting I'd rather be spared the frustration of wishing things were better.

I do realize how bitter I sound, and trust me, I'm exhausted just being inside my own head. If I could drown out my thoughts, I would, but it's an ability I have yet to master.

The weekends get a little easier, though, and at least today is Friday. I don't look forward to them quite as much as I did when I could go out, but it seems like people are overall less stressed and more available than they are during the week, for obvious reasons. Someone else is usually home, which is nice, and there's much better programming on t.v. during the afternoon, namely live football or basketball at this time of year.

During the weekend, it feels more ordinary to be lounging around, and less like I'm doing it because something's wrong. I know that I'm entitled to my weekday indolence, but it still feels better when it's the social norm.

So, Happy Friday! It isn't said enough, but today is a privelege. And for the next two days, we get to do the things we wish we could do all the time, like maybe nothing at all. Some may be more inspired, or able, than others, but they can keep it to themselves as far as I'm concerned.

Just kidding.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's Hard to Say Goodbye

The other day, my doctor informed me that she will be leaving Columbia in order to assume a more prestigious position at another hospital in the city. Honestly, though the news was unanticipated and came as a shock to me, my initial reaction was to be happy for her. She has worked her entire life to get to where she is now, and I should be nothing but supportive of her achieving success. I've known her only a few short months, anyway, so it seems that it would be selfish of me to expect my agenda to compete with her lifelong dreams.

She won't actually be leaving Columbia for another month or so, but she did ask me to go with her to the new hospital soon after she makes the move. The new place is all the way downtown on the east side of the city, which is considerably more difficult for me to reach than is Columbia. In fact, the duration of the drive would likely double in time at the very least, making an already dizzying car ride even more difficult in both directions. When I need to come in for a meeting, or to have blood taken in advance of chemo, or when I'm coming in for chemo and subsequently leaving chemo, every car ride that already makes me all shook up inside would be even worse. And that's not even to mention those wonderful, though infrequent occasions when I have to go to the E.R. for some reason or another, in which case I'll probably be in a hurry, but inevitably at the mercy of the ever-unpredictable FDR Drive.

Then I have to consider my nurses at Columbia, who sent me a birthday card and gift, and always come to see me even if they're not on shift but notice that I'm around. Don't get me wrong, my doctor is without question the quarterback of this whole endeavor, and the reason I'm writing this in the first place is to express the loss I'm feeling due to the idea of her not being around. But once I'm checked into the hospital for treatment and my doctor has given her scripts and chemo orders, it's up to the nurses to carry out the plan, and I trust them fully. And, if you remember, they are the friendly faces I look forward to seeing to ease the transition from upright to bedridden and drug-infused.

The more I think about it, though, it's no easier to accept. My doctor has been a stabilizing force since those first, most fearful days when my diagnosis was a mystery and my entire future was in considerable doubt. At the risk of employing another hardly necessary analogy, she took the keys to the RV into which all of my family and friends packed themselves along with their panic and dreams of a miracle, and my doctor began to navigate us along the path that will hopefully lead us to the promised land of remission.

I don't doubt the credentials or ability of this new doctor I've been given to fulfill her responsibilities with regards to my treatment. Things just seem to be going so well right now, it's hard to imagine doing the rest of it without my doctor. When they're about to put me under for my eleventh and twelfth Bone Marrow Biopsies, I just wish it could be her telling me that she'll be there the whole time and that she'll still be there when I wake up.

I know that you can't really predict these things, and that you have to be ready to take advantage of great opportunities when they present themselves, but why does it have to be right now?

If my doctor leaves Columbia in a month, takes a few weeks to get her feet grounded in her new environment, and then asks me to join her there, I'll be at least two or three treatments ahead of where I am now, which leaves (hopefully) only a few remaining between me and the finish line. And at my hospital I know the routine; I know what to expect when I check in for chemo, and we humans are creatures of habit. I also know that at Columbia, the doctors work together, abandon their egos, and I'd like to believe that my doctor will remain relevant in my treatment until the very end.

I don't know how things are done over at the other hospital, though I know that after each chemo treatment I would have to walk a few blocks to some lodge where the amenities would be nicer than they are at the hospital, but the time it would take to get post-chemo hydration or transfusions hooked up again after a walk that sounds like it could be nothing but unpleasant after a day of chemo are not quite reassuring notions. Again, I just wish this weren't happening right now. But if it's not going to be me, then some other patient will have to deal with it, which isn't necessarily better, just easier for me.

At this point, I'm slightly more than cautiously optimistic that I can emerge victorious from this whole thing. Ideally, if and when that day comes, my doctor would be there to share in the joy with me and my family. I would pick her up, spin her around, and maybe we'd all go get a drink somewhere. I'm not saying she won't be there, either, or that her role in this process is finished, or even overly diminished, at least I sincerely hope not, but I have to be realistic about the fact that she probably isn't going to be around very much. Her input will arrive from a distance, and I'll welcome it, though I'll miss her reassuring smile, but that's the way it's going to be. And when this is over, I'll need a doctor for meetings and scans and maybe even the occasional Bone Marrow Biopsy, so you never really know what could happen.

People come and go from our lives, circumstances change when we least expect them to, and sometimes it's when we most want them to just stay the same for a little while longer. I know that these are things I've said before, and probably will again before my days are through, but it never seems to get any easier. Things around me are changing; people, the weather, and all I can do is try and hold onto any order and sanity I can get my hands on. I guess that's why I'll probably stick it out at Columbia, as long as my treatment continues to go well. But I'm going to miss her, that's for sure, and it'll be damn hard to say goodbye.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

An Elephant Never Forgets, and I Am Not An Elephant

My friends wanted me to remember to write about the things I can't remember. On Thursday, when I was in for chemo, three of them were nice enough to come and spend some time with me. When they asked me to write about this, I was entertained by the idea. Of course, today, before getting started, I had to ask my friend to remind me of some of the things I've forgotten so I would have enough content with which to write the post.

One of those three friends had lent me a movie, When Harry Met Sally, the last time she was in to visit me in the hospital. Naturally, she asked me on Thursday if I had watched it, and my immediate thought was, "Oh, no, she let me borrow her movie like three weeks ago and I didn't even watch it!"

"Umm, oops, I'm sorry, I forgot," I said.

I then noticed my other friend sitting next to her, whose face was turning red as she said, "Jon, what are you talking about? We watched that movie together the last time I was here!"

"Oh, we did?" I asked, somewhat embarrassed.

"Yes, we did!" she responded. "Don't you remember how it started and stopped a million times and we kept trying to fix it?"

"Yeahh, that sounds familiar," I said.

"You don't remember," she accused.

"No, not really," I admitted. But I wished I could, nobody wants to forget about something they've done, even if it is just watching some silly chick flick.

I also can't remember watching the final four episodes of season one of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, even though I've watched the episodes twice because I tried again once I blanked on them after the first attempt.

I told my friends about earlier that day in the clinic, when a nice woman came to sit down next to me and said, "Hi Jonathan, I'm (insert name, because I have no idea), remember me? I'm the karate master."

I must have looked at her as if she had three heads, because she went on, "Oh, it's okay, we have met before, I'm sure, but can I talk to you about the things I can offer you?"

"Sure," I said reluctantly, and she continued to tell me about the karate and mixed martial arts and such classes to which she could invite me when I'm ready to start building my muscles again. She also asked me about the sports I used to play and all the ways I used to be active, which of course made me feel great, and she told me about all the ways she is still active, and I felt even better.

When she finally left me alone, a young doctor emerged from behind a door, and quickly noticed me sitting in my chair.

"Hi, Jonathan!" he exclaimed, clearly happy to see me, and I reciprocated with a much less enthusiastic greeting, but a greeting nonetheless, having no clue in the world as to whom the doctor was. I'm sure he was one of the countless doctors who comes in to see me when I'm in the hospital for chemo and insists on listening to my heartbeat or pressing on my stomach so I have to hold in a fart or asks me about my pain even though another doctor whose name I also never remember has always just been in to do the exact same thing five minutes earlier.

He didn't stay to talk, thank goodness, because I was feeling enough like an Alzheimer's patient and wanted to be left alone.

"Remember the jello story from way back in Nyack hospital?" my friend asked, returning to later that night in the hospital room.

"No, remind me," I said, as the other two perked up.

"Well, the nurse had just come in to pick up Jon's full urinal, and she left with it to do whatever it is she does with a container full of pee. Then, a few minutes later, she walked back into the room with a plate of yellow Jell-o for Jon."

"Oh, no!" Jon quivered, "You made my pee into Jell-o? I don't want to eat that!"

The nurse obviously claimed that it was normal Jell-o, made without pee, but if my memory serves me (ha, ha) I'm sure I didn't eat it.

My friend also reminded me of the way I used to turn my temperatures into radio stations whenever the nurses read them to me aloud. I should remind you all that I was still heavily medicated through an I.V. during my days at the old hospital, so I can't be fully held responsible for my idiocy.

So, a nurse would read off my temperature, let's say it was 98.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and I would chime in with something like "Lite FM!" or if it was a little higher, say, 99.4, I might say, "99.4, The Buzz!" or something to that effect. I am unaware as to whether or not any of my stations actually exist, though they might somewhere, but it was mostly for entertainment. I remember on one particular occasion I was fighting off a tumor fever, and my temperature was rising pretty fast, getting up into the 100's and higher. My sister and friend were beginning to panic, but I just kept on shooting off names of radio stations as my temperature continued to grow.

"101.5, Jack FM!" and then "102.7, The Swing!" followed by "103.6, Oh, The Heat!"

I'm not sure what I actually said in response to the numbers, but with the last one, I was definitely getting nervous, and the next thing I knew I was being wheeled downstairs to a different room where they took the necessary precautions to make sure my temperature didn't get too far out of control and pose any real danger to me.

I obviously don't remember the names of those nurses, and I really have trouble with the names of all the hospital staff unless it's my doctor or the nurses who've been on my team since the very beginning of my time at Columbia. Even then, it took me a while before I could stop saying their names apprehensively for fear that I was calling them the wrong name and was about to be embarrassed.

On Thursday, when my friends were visiting, my nurse for the night shift came into the room to begin prepping me for chemo, and she said hi to everone, introducing herself as Patti. Needless to say, after she came and left, a few moments later, I turned to my friends and asked, "What was her name, again?"

"Patti!" my friends all responded in chorus. I guess it was an easy question.

I've always had trouble with names, though, and it usually takes me a few tries for them to really stick in my brain. Still, it isn't fun feeling like there are so many things I've been forgetting over these few months, and that it probably isn't going to stop happening any time in the immediate future. But I wish I could forget some of the bad stuff, too, like feeling sick, or the pain, or throwing up. Maybe having "selective memory" is just a false creation, or wishful thinking. Nevertheless, it's still kind of funny to think about my follies, and I'm fortunate to have good friends around to remind me of them.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The New York Yankees are World Series Champions!

The New York Yankees won the World Series tonight. As the announcer said, the title above is the most commonly uttered phrase in sports. It really was a great night to be a New York sports fan (unless you like the Mets, of course). The Knicks still lost, which is to be expected these days, but it was really thrilling to watch the Yankees celebrate after recording the final out. In the end, they won easily, but there were many moments when the outcome of this series was still in doubt. It made me so happy when it was clear that they were going to win.

The Yankees are probably the most celebrated sports team in all the world, and the most hated at the same time. They have the richest history of success, which is why players and fans from all over the world, from all different kinds of backgrounds, wear hats with their logo and dream of playing for them. People can say what they want about the Yankees buying their players (in a sport where the rules are such that teams are not subject to a salary cap, so the teams with the biggest markets and the owners with the deepest pockets have the best chance at signing the best players. Those are the rules, and they've been that way forever, so deal with it.) but there's a reason why the Yankees are synonymous with success. They carry themselves like professionals, are rarely targets in the media for bad behavior (save for maybe A-Rod with his high-profile women and history of performance-enhancing drugs, but at least he's not getting arrested for domestic violence or shooting himself at a nightclub, my apologies to Plaxico, I'm still a big fan), and they're expected to perform on the biggest stage, in the biggest city, in front of the most ruthless critics and most passionate supporters in all the world.

I know that if I go on, I might turn off some of my friends who put themselves under the category of Yankee-haters, and I don't want to do that. Besides, this blog isn't really about current events. But I've been a Yankee fan forever, ever since my dad started taking me to games at the old stadium. And there's a reason that I bring it up. For one thing, it's been a pretty tough couple of months, and watching that happen tonight really made a difference to me. For at least a little while, it helped me forget about my situation and remember the sheer joy of playing a game. As I watched those guys jump around on the infield, I was happy for them. And while I realize it's only the players who won, they always thank the fans, and without us they'd have nobody to play for. So when you think about it, we truly are a part of it, and it's a reason to rejoice.

So, for one thing, I really needed something like this. But that's not the real reason why I bring it up. The real reason is commitment. Baseball may be a game, and being a professional athlete in any sport must be the best job in the world, but these guys work hard. They play 162 games a year, weekends included, and on their off days they still go to the ballpark for their workouts, and in the offseason they're still working hard every day to get better. Weight-lifting, batting practice, fielding practice, throwing for pitchers, who have these crazy regiments where they throw different numbers of pitches on different days to preserve their arms which bend and stretch so far past the limitations of a normal person's arm that it's dangerous. And all of this because if they don't do it, there's always someone younger and stronger working his way up the professional ranks, coming to take their job. Talk about a lack of job security. Sure, they sign massive contracts, but most of them only have a number of good years before they're replaced and they have to find something else to do with their lives. And while the traveling might be exhilarating for a while, I'm sure it gets old, and there must be times when they just want to stay home with their families. Yet they do it all year long and check into hotels at 3am, knowing that they have to watch film or go over the scouting report at 10am so they can eat well enough in advance for a day game after a night game.

Everyone's different, and so are their commitments. Being a baseball player is far different from being committed to beating cancer, but resolve and perseverance are universal. The Yankees lost 63 times this year alone, including the playoffs, yet they can still call themselves champions. Suffice it to say, you can't win 'em all. But you can still try. I've got one big battle on my hands, so I only have to win one, for now, but it's going to take a pretty long time, and it's a pretty huge commitment. Chemo, radiation, vaccinations, a possibility of surgeries or operations; it's a lot of dedication. They should really give me a ring with a ton of diamonds in it if I win, too.

I was hoping I'd be able to go to the victory parade, but it's in two days and I go back in for chemo tomorrow (assuming that my blood counts have recovered). It's somewhat of a disappointment, but a parade probably wouldn't be the safest place for me at this point in time, anyway. I can only hope to see another Yankees title before my days are through. Considering that this is their 27th World Series victory and 5th in the last 13 years, the chances of that happening are fairly high, but that's assuming one enormous victory that has to happen first. It's no sure thing, but I'm seriously committed to it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I've made it my routine to have blood taken at the clinic the day before I'm supposed to go in for chemo. That way, I know whether or not I'm ready for it a day in advance. I learned my lesson when I showed up for cycle number two, all ready to go, only to be told to go home because my blood levels hadn't recovered well enough to blast them again.

Having blood taken ahead of time also eliminates hours of waiting on the day of chemo, so I can just show up and get started.

Today was one of those clinic days. And while this past cycle hasn't been the best, it certainly hasn't been the worst, either, I don't think, though the past few months seem to blend into one big mess in my mind. I've been pretty tired, and I know my red blood cell count is low, so that's the reason why, but I had blood taken at the end of last week and I was told my counts were acceptable. So the only way I wouldn't be ready for chemo tomorrow is if my blood counts have gotten worse since they were last checked. It's possible, and not uncommon, just not what I expected.

Apparently, that's what happened because I got a call a few hours after leaving the clinic to tell me that I'm not ready for chemo tomorrow. I have to go back to the clinic and try again in a few days.

I'm not sure why, but that phone call really bothered me. It's the first time since that second round of chemo that my body hasn't recovered in time for the next scheduled round. And while the doctor says it's not a big deal, that it won't change anything or throw us off schedule, or most importantly affect my chances at beating this in any way, it still disappoints me. It's not that I get some bizarre enjoyment out of chemo, that's obvious, but I guess I just took some pride in always being strong again in time for the next beating. Kind of like the way guys in the movies, when they're being tortured, act as if they're unphased by it and keep on asking for more. I've been going at it every two weeks, which is a really fast clip, and the doctors warned me that we would eventually need to stretch it out. It's just not realistic to expect my body to be ready every time with so little time to heal. Still, I thought I could do it.

This next round is number seven. I'm scheduled for fourteen, so it marks a pretty significant milestone. I was looking forward to being done with it. Still, the bottom line is that it's not a big deal that I have to wait. I have to be patient with myself, just the way I have to be patient with this entire process. I know my body will recover, it's just a matter of a few days. I should enjoy these extra days of feeling better than I will after chemo, or during chemo, which is where I would be if I hadn't been given this extra time.

I get a few extra nights in my own bed before I have to sleep in the hospital. That's really the way I should be looking at it.

Once again, I'll learn to be patient and to curtail my expectations, because things never seem to work out the way I expect them to. I'm not saying I won't set my goals high, and I'll continue to shoot for the stars, but even when I'm anticipating the pits, my plans are subject to change.

Always expect to be surprised, I guess, because if you don't, you're bound to be surprised.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

I've been trying to figure out why I seem to do everything in a rush. Maybe I'm just a New Yorker, and maybe taking my time is just not a part of my nature, but it strikes me as odd that I can't really do anything unless I'm in a hurry. When I eat, I want to finish what's in front of me, or on my fork, or in my mouth because I'm usually anxious to move on to the next flavor. The other night I was clipping my fingernails, and it was like I couldn't get through the ten nails fast enough because I was so anxious to stick myself right back in front of the television where I had been before.

The term "leisurely stroll" is really just a figure of speech to me. It doesn't matter how early, or even late, I am to wherever I'm going; if I'm walking, then I'm walking fast. When I played basketball in college, we were scolded if we were caught moving too slowly. Everything was expected to be done at "game speed," of course because the pace and focus employed during practice was the best predictor of our next game performance.

I would routinely run from basketball practice to a cappella rehearsal or to play rehearsal because my schedule was always jam-packed and I was overextended and that's just the way I liked it. It kept me out of trouble, or so I would say, though it really just made me budget my time well enough that I could still accomplish some mischief on the side of my academics, achievements and accolades.

In terms of my studies, I've never been able to plan anything too far ahead of its due date and then take my time giving it the proper research and preparation necessary to finish it in advance. For whatever reason, I prefer a time crunch. The pressure has always seemed to bring out the best in me, and I produce my best work under the most demanding circumstances. It's procrastination, pure and simple, but the fact is, I can't focus without a deadline breathing down my neck, and I've never written an outline. I always just wing it and figure out the structure of whatever I'm doing as I go along, organizing the pieces into what eventually becomes a coherent body of work. I've been told that it's because I'm a Libra, or just that I'm a fool, but whatever it is, it's not going to change now, and I'm pretty okay with it.

I'm inclined to believe that the activities of my daily routine would be more enjoyable if I could slow myself down enough to take the time to appreciate them. I'm so used to running from one thing to the next, starting with the first thing I do when I wake up and ending when I go to sleep, it just isn't natural for me to "stop and smell the roses."

At least, that's the way my life has always been until now. My natural rhythm is hurried, I'm high-strung, short-tempered, and I demand immediate results from both myself and those around me. But now, this has happened and it has changed everything. The speed at which I live my life has slowed to a crawl. Walking has become my new means of exercise, though my muscles seem to have forgotten their purpose. I have to take frequent breaks, and I'm not nearly as quick on my feet as I would like to be, or have been in the past.

It feels like everything is in slow motion, it's not just the way I walk. I get out of bed slowly in the morning because moving too fast makes me feel sick. I eat slowly because I want to make sure whatever it is goes down smoothly; hiccups are painful, throwing up is worse. I think slowly because I take morphine three times a day, unless I've just become dumber, and I'm not nearly active enough to justify my body maintaining the same metabolism that I'm used to having. I've been given no choice, especially with all of this free time on my hands, but to take plenty of time for consideration and reflection.

In the spirit of being positive, it can't be a bad thing to learn to appreciate some of the little things in life. Waking up on my own, without an alarm clock, is always a pleasantry. I don't have to put on a suit every morning and brave the commute, though breakfast has never been such an adventure. It is breakfast, after all, as long as it stays put.

Maybe it's some kind of blessing to be forced to slow down for a little while. I've always wondered about the next thing, trying to find the answers to the questions and the stories for the chapters in my life that haven't been written. But there's only so much I can figure out while spending the majority of my time in bed, on the couch, in front of the t.v., or wired to an I.V. drip.

It's all too common to rush through everything to the point where life becomes routine. I never want to feel like my life is mundane, like I know exactly what each day will look like before the sun rises. It's the way things are for me right now, but I fully expect to lead a normal life again someday, as long as I can get through this. My message, then, for myself and anyone else interested, is just to slow down for a moment every once in a while. You can all be thankful that your entire lives are not paused the way mine is, but you can still call a timeout when you want to. When you can't figure something out, you can take a step back, refine your approach, and go after it again. The relentless pursuit of satisfaction can be fulfilling, but also frustrating, because things will never go your way all the time. Patience and compromise can be ultimately rewarding, and seeing the big picture will usually overshadow the stresses of minutia (i.e. don't sweat the small stuff).

I'm allowing myself a chance to relax. I'll appreciate the time spent on my own, time for my own thoughts and prayers and imaginative tangents, and I'll also cherish the time I spend with others, because everyone's busy and it's nice to spend quality time with the people I care about. Surely, that's the lesson I'm supposed to be learning here and sharing with everyone else. It's the most sensible explanation for a complicated situation. I'm just biding my time on the bench until it's time to go back into the game.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Two-Day Rule

When I used to lift weights, I would refer commonly to what I knew as the "two-day rule." It means that after lifting, you can usually expect to be sore not on the day immediately following the lift, but on the day after that, the "second day." Depending on the intensity or duration of the lift, you might be sore the very next day as well, but generally I knew my body and could anticipate the length and severity of my soreness. That way, I was prepared for the necessary rest, replenishment, and recovery my body needed to get stronger.

Today is my second day removed from a five-day chemo treatment. It's not quite the same, but I feel like my body has been beaten. I feel like a couple of tough guys got together and roughed me up a bit. And while it wouldn't be the first time I've ever taken a punch, at least in the past there was someone against whom I could defend myself. Right now, I've got two tender cheekbones, my chest hurts to the touch, laying down makes everything sore, I think I took a few shots to the legs, and to top it off my stomach is a mess so I might as well have taken a swift kick to the nuts along the way, too. This chemo is one bully the likes of whom I've never crossed.

The real beauty is that even though this last round was five days long, they pushed the start back a day to get all of those tests and scans in beforehand, and since we're trying to compress everything to make sure I really have no recovery time, I'm already supposed to be back there a week from today. So, in seven days, I'll be tied to the whipping post once again.

I know I've marveled before at the body's ability to rehabilitate itself. We tear our skin off, and it usually grows back. We bang, bruise, and sprain our joints and bones and ligaments and, in most cases, our bodies can find a way to piece them back together. But it still amazes me that one simple mistake; one false move in a million routine patterns of seemingly functional insignificance could spell irreparable disaster. I mean, really, our cells divide and duplicate themselves all day long since the moment of conception, and all that has to happen is a "D" gets flipped for an "A" and the formula is ruined. The new creation is a tumor; a downward-spiraling, ticking timebomb of destruction in our brains or spinal cavities, and for some reason it isn't the same as any other kind of thing because our bodies don't have an answer for it. It just doesn't make sense how our bodies can be so evolved, yet so fragile and so vulnerable at the same time.

Where would we be without modern medicine? I was born with pyloric stenosis, which means that the opening between my stomach and small intestine was too narrow, so I wasn't digesting any food and if it hadn't been for a fairly modern surgery, I wouldn't even be around to be fighting this new and ever-more exciting medical anomaly. I don't even mean to joke about it; I'm afraid I should be a little weary of trying to beat this because maybe I'm just testing fate by relying so much on medical technology. Maybe it's just a matter of time before my body comes up with something ahead of our diagnostical capabilities, and then I'm screwed. I shouldn't even say that, though, lest I forget for a moment the monster in my bones whose wrath I'm praying will lie dormant for the remainder of eternity.

I've digressed so far from my original direction that I'm not sure anymore where I'm going with this. I suppose I could reiterate the point that as long as I'm still kicking, and as long as I've got a shot, things could always be worse. And that's a sentiment worth repeating. There's always someone whose monster won't go to sleep, no matter what Molotov cocktail of drugs and poison the medical miracle-makers can concoct to throw at it.

Good people, better than I, are doomed to such a fate. The thought of it just seems to drain all of the air out of the room. But it makes me want to be better. I know those people won't stop fighting until that final breath, and that's a lifetime's worth of inspiration for me. I will forever hesitate to take a simple moment in this life for granted, though it will probably take some getting used to, because I've never lived that way before. But, having thought about it, there's really no other way to live. It's all just too fleeting and too ephemeral to fail to take the time we do have here to try and be better. I'm going to be better to myself, more forgiving of my mistakes, better to those around me and to those close to me, because they deserve it. We all deserve it because if we don't start treating people better, nobody ever will. Nobody's going to do it for us, but if we each make that small adjustment to be a slightly happier, friendlier, more accepting or more welcoming individual, the implications could be enormous. Tragedy will still exist, and unspeakable misfortune will befall the few, but it seems like a no-brainer to me that fewer strangers means more friends and more love and that breaking down some of the other barriers that pervade our volatile social coexistence might only tempt fate to be more forgiving. Maybe it could work, and maybe fewer monsters would sneak up from inside of us. Maybe it wouldn't work, and not a whole lot would change, but foregiveness is still a powerful thought.

Forgiving my body its mistake won't erase the tumor it created, but holding onto that grudge and refusing to forgive won't get rid of it either, so it's a matter of the kind of person I'm going to be. I'd imagine that if those with gloomier prognoses than I can find it in their hearts to forgive their own conditions, then I sure as hell can, too. And if we could all learn to forgive just a little bit better, then fewer people might actually be recovering from an old-fashioned ass-whooping, or worse, the way my body's feeling today. That's something I'll gladly hope for.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


When my ex-girlfriend and I began our "break," I thought it would be noble or worthwhile or fulfilling on my part to begin counting the days, or months, or even years until we could once again be together. After a few days, it occurred to me that the day might never come when we would reuinite, so my endeavor would be entirely in vain, trying to prove something to someone that just doesn't need proving. People grow up, people grow apart, people change in some of the most unforeseeable ways and there's just nothing that any of us can do about it. The truth of the matter is that the day may never come again when we make sense for one another, and chronicling my daily sufferance on a flimsy notepad was not going to change that.

It seems to me that counting my remaining days of chemotherapy is much more timeworthy, especially considering that it has a planned end date.

Today is the fifth and final day of the current five-day chemo. Needless to say, I'm anxious to go home. After two Bone Marrow Biopsies, a bone scan, an EKG, and little to watch on television, I'm yearning for a comfortable bed.

After today, I will have completed 21 of 49 chemo days. It still leaves a lot to be done, but it's six of the fourteen rounds overwith and so far I've come out halfway alright.

Nothing is ever going to be perfect, and even having the audacity to expect it to be so is like asking for punishment. A relationship may disappear without explanation or understanding, health may deteriorate in a similarly mysterious fashion, and we are left to our own means of coping with the situations that arise.

Like I said, I still have a long way to go. Eight more rounds of chemo, plus scans and vaccines and radiation and whatever else they decide to throw at me, but right now, at the end of this lengthy cycle, the battle doesn't seem as far uphill as it has in the past. Maybe the nausea and dizziness will kick in and take care of that, but right now, in this very moment, I'm determined. And determination can certainly accomplish a lot of unlikely feats.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Nine More Years?

Today, I heard the results of yesterday's Bone Marrow Biospies, which found no tumors in the base of my spine! The Biopsies were still sent to a lab to be studied more closely, and the doctors expect that there will still be some tumor in the bones, since the bones are always the last to heal. My PET Scan from Monday also came back, and while the results weren't groundbreaking, there is still clear and substantial progress being made. The same was found to be the case with today's bone scan.

All of these tests and pre-test procedures are tedious, but it's really nice to know that all of the hard work and suffering is paying off. Though I've been told that the high rate of recovery I've witnessed so far will likely taper off towards a slower pace, my only hope is that the treatment continues to be effective, so I can get the disease into remission and head back down to NCI (National Cancer Institute) in Bethesda, MD for the vaccines.

Immediately before chemo started, I was lucky enough to take part in a vaccine trial for a variety of very rare tumors. It consisted of a number (six, to be exact) of Bone Marrow Biopsy samples to isolate the tumor, followed by a day of collecting my blood and platelets in order to create a personalized vaccine of my own, for my own particular illness. Though the trip to Bethesda was painful and postponed the beginning of chemo, the hope was that by administering the vaccine to me in the end, once the tumor is in remission, then my body will have a better chance at preventing the tumor from returning. Apparently, the second vaccine trial run was fairly effective and with new and improved research and procedures, the hope is that this trial will be even more successful than the last.

The logistics seem to add up, which is great. But we all know that numbers and statistics don't always hold true in the real world. When talking to my friend, who was really excited over the news of the past few days, he told me that "all I have to do is focus on the big picture; the light at the end of the tunnel."

He is exactly right. If I could focus all of my energy and attention on that day so many months from now when I hope to hear those magic words that I can go back to living my life, it would all be so much easier for me. Unfortuntately, that just isn't possible. I still have to feel the nausea slowly creeping in as I sit here in my chemo bed. I have to deal with the next two weeks of illness, which make the routine things in the day ever more difficult, lonely, and frustrating. I have to continue living in a body and a mind that I don't fully recognize, continuing to wonder when I might once again feel like myself.

My dad and I came to the consensus together the other day that at this point in time, it would be hard to see my life being any worse. The limitations on my daily opportunities combined with the constantly overwhelming sickness make it seem obvious that my life is a troubled one. Although it sounds awful, it really made me feel better to hear someone else agree with me that my life was just about as bad as it could get.

I joined Planet Cancer, which is an online social networking site for young adults with cancer. I didn't expect to meet a ton of people, but I want to get my blog out there to as many people as possible and maybe even to connect with some people with whom I share my struggle.

The other night, around 12:30am, a girl sent me a message on the site's instant messaging system. Having been previously unaware of such function's existence, the instant message caught me by surprise.

She told me her name, and I reciprocated with mine. She asked where I was from, I answered and she answered back. To make a long story short, I was shocked that this girl, who happened to be fourteen years old, was meeting people on this site at 12:30am on a Tuesday, or a Wednesday depending on how you look at it. I would like to believe that even if things are bad, like even as bad as cancer, that 12:30am is still pretty late for a fourteen year-old girl on a weeknight.

More disturbing to me still was this child's revelation that she has been battling cancer since the age of 5. That makes nine years. Nine years makes my four months seem trivial and easy, though a simple length of time cannot begin to explain this experience, nor can one use time as a means of beginning to understand it.

My experience has been undoubtedly different from hers. How? I can't be sure, though hearing her say "nine years" made me feel deeply for her and put my own six-or-so more remaining months in a much different perspective. It also made me wish so strongly that I will be done with this thing after whatever chemo, radiation, vaccines, etc. they say need to be done are done.

Nine years? It's a scary thought. But I've always said I would take this one day at a time. And today, on a daily basis, my life is a colossal struggle. At least I can find solace in the fact that my tests came back nicely, so the treatment is working. I'm dedicated to being in remission and on with my life way sooner than nine years from diagnosis.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Doing the Best I Can

One of my mom's friends recently asked me about the source of my motivation and strength. In the context of the conversation we were having, it was inherently a compliment to my recent perseverence, but I think my response was somewhat underwhelming.

I told her that I don't really have any special source of guiding inspiration. I just tell myself that if I can continue to be, continue to exist, simple as that, then days will continue to pass, one by one, until this whole thing is over. Eventually, it will be over, one way or another, and again there's no use in stressing over the unknown outcome because I'd rather concern myself with the things I can control. And, since there's not much I actually do control anymore, I'd rather not concern myself with much of anything. It's just easier, and I'll take some easy in the midst of so much being hard.

Though she seemed to appreciate my honesty, I wonder what my mom's friend's true reaction was to what I had said. She is a more spiritual person than I, to be sure, and it's no secret that I've been feeling frustrated and rather void of enthusiasm.

It seems that so often while growing up, you're taught to "do your best," or to "try your hardest," and that if you do, somehow things will turn out alright. You may not always win, and things can't always go your way, but you're lead to believe that if you put in enough effort, good things will happen.

But then, there's always the unpredictable. A bad call from a referee can ruin a great game, or a vindictive judge can offer a low score to a great routine, a critic can rip great work, and there's always a chance of rain on the day of a parade. While we can try to prepare ourselves for the unpredictable, it usually forces a deviation from our original plans.

I've asked myself if I have continued to do my best and to try my hardest in the face of my most trying and unpredictable obstacle. The truth is that I really don't know. Every day is a struggle, and for that reason I know I'm trying, but it's hard to tell to what degree my effort reaches.

"Trying your hardest" sounds so noble and deserving of merit, or of positive reinforcement. But in my situation, isn't it okay to just do enough to get by? If I somehow try harder, will it make me less nauseous sooner after chemo? Probably not. That sort of thing is out of my control, but its uncertainty is disincentive for me to give my maximum effort on a daily basis because I know my effort will not be rewarded.

Taking a more far-sighted approach helps, since each day that I try to improve and get stronger may pay dividends in the end results of the treatment and in my recovery. But the chemo is still the treatment and dictates my improvement, and while taking care of myself and being safe constitutes doing my own part, it seems boring and effortless.

Sitting here on the couch, convincing myself to accept the inevitable chemo that looms like a dark cloud over tomorrow doesn't take a whole lot of effort. I don't know what I could really do to try harder at sitting here on the couch. Maybe I'll put my feet up. If I could drink, I'd make a cocktail.

I could try harder to wait patiently, since I spend so much time waiting for procedures to be done. Maybe I've been too concerned with how long it takes to finish them, rather than with their results. Maybe that's because I don't want to concern myself with the results in case they don't come out as well as I want them to, so I preoccupy myself with logistics.

Yesterday was my second PET Scan. The first one, still in the days of I.V. pain meds, was one of the worst experiences of my life, as I was taken off the meds for six hours before the PET Scan administrator had me hold and suspend my arms above my head while lying on my back for 45 minutes. And, though I begged for mercy, she had no way of knowing that I had tumors in my ribs, back and shoulders which were making it torturous for me to hold my arms up. Of course, she could have just listened to me when I told her how much pain I was in, but she had her own agenda.

The doctors later told me that holding my arms over my head was by no means necessary for a successful PET Scan.

I was lucky that my mother happened to show up for the last fifteen minutes of the first scan, because she held my arms in place as I squirmed and writhed in pain inside that plastic tube. Otherwise, I would have had to start all over.

At least yesterday's scan didn't end with me shaking uncontrollably in a pool of my own sweat, letting out an exasperated wail as my arms dropped; a scream that still haunts my mom and sister to the point that they refuse to talk about it. No, yesterday's scan took only an hour longer than expected, with only three failed attempts at putting in an I.V., and finally a successful one that sent blood streaming down my arm.

I departed with my left arm the size of a pillow because of the reaction I had to whatever injection I was given during the scan. And, though I'm quite sure I made my discomfort known to her at the time, the nurse, realizing her mistake after the damage had been done, immediately blamed me for not telling her to stop.

In all honesty, I was relieved to be out of there with nowhere near the headache of the first experience. As far as effort goes, it did take considerable effort on my part to keep from reprimanding the nurse for her idiocy, especially after she had blamed me for her mistake. In hindsight, I commend my silence.

Then, today, I was told that Friday's MRI showed no tumor in the soft tissue of my shoulder, which was thought to be the primary location of the tumor. That's right. The tumor is gone from my shoulder. It doesn't mean anything yet with regards to the PET Scan, which will show us the rest of my body, but I couldn't have dreamed of a better result from that MRI.

At the beginning, the doctors were saying that the tumor was so strong in my shoulder that I would probably need surgery just to maintain close to a full range of motion there. I don't know if this means that I won't, but at least my shoulder is once again my shoulder. It's not some skin and bones with this foreign entity that came in and took over. At least in my shoulder, I've taken back what's rightly mine.

I don't think there's an easy answer to whether or not I'm trying my hardest. Maybe that lesson doesn't fully apply to me right now, though I've trusted it for as long as I can remember. I've always been passionate about the things that are important to me, and while my recovery is obviously important to me, it's just not feasible to give it my all every moment of every day.

And, while I've spoken to God, or whatever supernatural force it is to whom we speak at night, more often over the past few months than I probably ever have before, I'm still skeptical. When I get a card in the mail that urges me to feel God's uplifting presence, my first response will likely still be to crack a joke about feeling God's presense while my face is buried in his porcelain crotch (you know, while praying to the "Porcelain God"). That's just the way I am.

But I do believe that somehow, someway, when this is all over, I will be a better and happier person for having been through it. Just promise me one thing, that you'll remind me of the fact that I just said that the next time I want to give up and throw it all away.