Is Cancer a Curse or a Blessing?
Today is my last radiation treatment.
My favorite Christmas gift this year.
Every weekday morning for nearly two months, I have dutifully showed up at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus with a full bladder and an empty rectum. The rationale is that the empty prostate bed (due to my radical prostatectomy in June) is crowded with these two organs, and the bloated bladder will only sustain some of the radiation damage and will push the rectum into safety. TMI, Chip! LOL!
Mind you, this form of bodily alchemy isn’t easy, especially when my stern radiation technicians tell me—while sitting on the radiation bed—that I still have remnants in my rectum. So I need to go to gather my stuff and go to the bathroom without spilling my beans (urinating). That’s an impossible task! I often pee, then go to the end of the line to get radiated as I guzzle water for 30 minutes.
Henry Ward Beecher said, “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.” I’ve had my share of pebbles recently and have felt a little ripped off by life on those multiple days in a row in which I have no control over my bowels or bladder. I feel like I’ve like I’ve seated in the airplane row just in front of the smoking section (remember that?!) or I’ve been served up one–ply toilet paper in a five-star hotel. Somehow, I’ve felt cursed.
But then, I look at some of those cancer-ravaged men (and some women) in the waiting room who are there with me each day. They’ve lost an ear, an eye, part of their skull. They’re hanging on to life by their toenails. And they’re still smiling…some of the time. Many of them stay in cheap, pay-by-the-week motels and go home to their families in Chico, Eureka, and Lodi on weekends (I’m lucky enough to waddle 15 minutes to my three-dozen radiation appointments at UCSF). Many suffer through this alone in the discomfort of a generic, dirty motel room. But they persevere. There’s even a beauty in their physical and emotional disfigurement. They’re like the Velveteen Rabbit who’s been loved so much their eyes are popping out, and their arms are falling off. They’re Real!
This journey of 36 radiation treatments while starving my body of testosterone has made me more real. I didn’t sign up for this, and I hope I never have to go through it again. But I feel a grace-filled gratitude for each day I wake up, even if I’m nauseous and incontinent. I am on the precipice of the day when I no longer have to perform the bodily magic of a full bladder and an empty rectum. Now, that is true relief!
P.S. It’s hard to believe I will move from radiation to prime time as I’ll be on “Good Morning, America” this coming Monday at 8:40 am and then on “The Today Show” on Wednesday during the 10 am hour with Hoda and Jenna. Learning to Love Midlife launches on Tuesday. Please consider writing an Amazon or Good Reads review of the book. Or share my TED talk “An Alternative to the Midlife Crisis” on social media along with a link to the book. Thanks!