Dancing with the Big C

I don’t want to be known as “that cancer guy”.

I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last four months since being fired from my last job.  And one of my recent regrets is not getting ahead of that story.

So, its official, at least it was at 2:45 pm on May 15th.  The only reason I’ll remember is that I had a call scheduled at 3 and I felt stressed taking down the necessary information for next steps and asking all the right questions (esophageal adenocarcinoma is its name) so that I could get on with my next call.

Funny enough I spent time reassuring the endocrinologist that it was okay.  Same with my family doctor a few hours earlier.  I’m not sure if I should have presented as a frightened, blubbering basket case because clearly that’s not what I was feeling.

Am I in some sort of fugue state?  I don’t think so.  I am self-aware enough and had five days to prepare myself for the diagnosis.  I have a lot of steps to take and surgery on the horizon provided it is localized.  Even then, information won’t be forthcoming until I hit each milestone along the way.  What I won’t do is spend time researching the subject on the internet, not because I am in some sort of denial, but because I can find any number of rabbit holes to go down that I’ll never get back from.

I stepped out on an aggressive 15k cycle this morning.  And I finished annoyed that I didn’t get more exercise minutes than the 24 minutes I did.  If my job is to get as fit and healthy as I can before facing surgery, I find that the fact that I am feeling better than I have in years isn’t just showing up in lower pulse rates and blood pressure, but the fact that I’ve lost a lot of the swelling and water retention, muscle aches and joint pains,  that’s been plaguing me for years and I have a stamina for exercise that is years younger than my age.  That’s a “for later” to talk with a dietician about.

Funny thing about preparing for the cancer diagnosis is that I started to pay attention to every ache and pain, and I am doubly aware of them now.  I think my biggest concern is that the scar from surgery is going to kill any chance of ever having a six-pack again.  Or that if part of my journey to health involves a lot of weight loss and that people will think that it’s about the cancer and not personal care.  And I wonder how I can avoid that wrinkly, pouches of skin look that would come from being 60, and thinner.  Vanity?  Sure, okay.  If the fact that I am concerned about how I look bothers you, then let me know what the right look for “having cancer” is.

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to be as “that cancer guy”.  I’m pretty sure that it’s not contagious.  And I would rather not suffer periods of social awkwardness, broken by the occasional cliché.  In fact, I am debating carrying a cliché book so I can record the better ones to share later.

But let me be honest with you, there’s nothing anonymous about being told you have cancer.  It isn’t something happening to someone else.  I have this disease growing in me that if left untreated will take my life.  I’m not sure where the disconnect between what I’m experiencing and what I thought I would have experienced lies. 

I’m sure part of it is my lower-class background – after all every challenge is epic and overcoming the challenge extraordinary, grandiose.  Or it could be from bad soap operas I watched as a kid when I was home sick.  I’m sure you know the setting, solemn looking doctor enters the room and says they have bad news, “that you only have a week to live”.

Turning sixty a month ago and the mental process leading up to it has helped.  It’s not been so much about glass half full but an acknowledgement of my mortality and what I want to accomplish before I’m done.  That’s part of the reason I’m blogging about this.

I want to make a difference in my community.  That community could be my former peers.  It could be my immediate family.  It could be my fellow CSIers.  By sharing my journey, I hope that you see whatever your journey is, there’s not much difference from mine.

I have much to learn.  Two months ago, I realize that I needed to climb down from my pedestal of arrogance and acknowledge that my skills and abilities relevant 30 years ago doesn’t have application today.

I want to influence how the build environment impacts all of us.  I am not happy with the way our city, particularly downtown, has developed.  It doesn’t matter if I’m thinking about transit, or cycling, densification without human scale, our parks, affordable housing or homelessness, I want a voice and ways to advocate, organize, engage and change my neighborhood.

I want to tackle ageism.  One of the challenges in moving into a coworking space like CSI Spadina is knowing where I fit in.  From Santa comments at our local bar or walking home through the bar district, being singled out in the emergency department triage unit with the comment “that old man there”, or being called out in my choice of summer attire of flip flops, t-shirts and cargo shorts, it is clear that I am being challenged to act my age.  I have been fortunate to grow up a white man of privilege, so any form of “ism” is new to me. And I’m not ready to be an old man yet.

I want to find contracts to not only contribute to our household income, but to explore where I might update my many years of professional experience, two business degrees, coupled with an increasing unhappiness with neoliberalism and a burgeoning interest in social responsible and alternative business models. 

I want to find an outlet for my artistic side.  That means that I want to continue to write, moral tale or not, and return to my love of working with wood.  It also means that I want to turn my attention to exploring the beauty in any creation, whether through the eye of a lens or with my hands with pencil and paper.

I have much I wish to challenge myself with.  In the end, I can only choose to take my latest life event in stride and see what I can learn about myself.  More importantly, I can give myself a boot in the ass and get on with it.

And, I don’t want to be known as “that cancer guy”.