Each day I am stronger, I feel it in my heart.
But when we go out to ride with the group, it is all I can do to hold a wheel ( stay close enough to the person ahead of you to draft and gain efficiency from reduced wind resistance ). It is almost 3 months after the thyroid surgery, and one month after the radiation, it just seems I should be stronger. But either way, the dog still fights on.
Today we headed out toward Fermi Labs, that dichotomy of a park where on top you see fisherman, buffalo in the field and pass bogs where frogs croak a symphony that starts softly as we approach, rises to an ear shattering crescendo, and then fades gently out of range as we cruise on. Underneath this wood and field hides a giant cyclotron, where physicists try to know the hand of God. We merely fight the wind which shifts half way to reward us with a headwind out and back.
Thirty two miles at the end, and again I am so spent, that my story falls into a few fragmented memories.
The bogs where the invisible frogs croak like a thousand birds singing. Heather giving me a pull when I was floundering
Auburn hair shining in the wind
The joy of movement
And the glass of ice water at the end.
Rode 31.6 miles last night with the bike club. This was a faster group, and it was a struggle to keep up. By the end I was spent, feeling the beginning tinges of cramps as they tease your quadriceps and calves. I intended to post about the ride, but I was so exhausted that all I can recall is a magnificent dogwood tree, adorned in white blossoms surrounded by daffodils and jonquils a vision of beauty in the sunset.
One of the guys wore a Livestrong kit, right on.
We finished in the darkness, our lights flashing like so many lightning bugs coming home.
My father and grandfather were hard men. The depression and two world wars shaped and molded them. Tough times build tough men. They were kind, in their way, but affectionate or loving, never.
You knew you were loved, they worked hard to take care of us, but I cannot recall ever hearing my dad say I love you. We had cars, and bikes and Christmas was piled with presents. I recall coming down the steps as a small boy and seeing the presents piled higher than I was tall. They were wise and advised us, none too gently but sagely, but when we were fifteen we heard “When you turn 18, you are out of the house”. And at 18 we went forth to distant places, some rarely to return.
So I grew up distant and unengaged, and it cost me more than one girlfriend. I remained sensitive, but I kept it inside. I tried to compensate with my kids, but I am sure others felt the chill. I had learned no other way.
After over 1/2 century and cancer, I set the words free with my story in prose and poem. I will not be unknown as my father was. I will leave verse behind me.
We make our gains in inches
like soldiers slogging up a hill
The enemy must yield to constant pressure
Or so we think.
Saw the surgeon this morning. Everything looks good, if another lymph gland remains cancerous, they can go in again and out it comes. The incision is healing well, Scar Fade seems to be working although the scar remains an ugly red testament at the base of my neck. The tumor was 3.5 centimeters. So many problems for such a tiny thing.
We fortify our souls in quiet places
where no one else can ever know
Then out among our wishful helpers
And step by step we forward go
Back on the internet, I work the formula age x .8 + 1 for stage 3 + 0 for metastasized and tumor size x .3 add in a pinch of turmeric and shake and 80 plus % for cure. Four out of 5. Good enough odds if you can afford the wager.
We take the meds with perfect timing
Arranging diet and sleep to be just so
Put our faith in this mustard seed of science
please make it die, it mustn’t grow
After work I head out for the Monday night ride. About eight of us ride out seventeen miles. I am lighter, down 25 pounds ( 1.8 stone if you are across the pond ) and although I am still weak, when I stand on the pedals my Specialized Roubaix jumps forward like a rocket ship. All this time I had thought I had a gaited horse for smoothness and it has just been waiting for me to ask for speed. The night is perfect as our line flies over the pavement, each of us taking pulls at the front. This is how a man should be, to live and love and laugh.
Cancer is waiting. Unlike the flu or pnmenonia which can strike you down in two days, cancer meanders through your life, touching what it will, moving at its own pace. I was expecting this urgent dash to the goal line with absolute victory. Instead, I hike the trail to the unseen finish stopping at aid stations as they appear.
I thought cancer would be an epiphany. It would make me understand life, force me to live every minute. It has changed me, and made me more thoughtful than before, but the change is subtle.
In Joe Hyams book “Zen in the Martial Arts” he talks about the masters at the temple proclaiming that one of the students had attained enlightment. When all the other students approached the newly enlightened one and asked how it felt, he replied “Just as miserable as ever”. I too am different but unchanged.
What do I appreciate more? I appreciate taste, glorious wonderful taste, rich chocolate, zesty orange slices, cooked carrots and anything that doesn’t taste of metal. I value touch, that wonderful sense of connection fostered by a hug, or the touch on an arm and friendship, given unselfshly to support family and me. And I am reminded by one of my favorite poets in words I wish I might someday approach:
No man is an island
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.John Donne
Laughing. Home from work and still the sun shines well above the horizon in the clear blue Chicago sky.
A quick kiss to wifey, and then I gobble a thin slice of carrot cake for fuel and out the door I go in my black spandex shorts and bright bright yellow long sleeve top. The pump puts out a satisfying ka-thunk with each stroke as I inflate the thick 29 inch tires. No more light light pressure for snow and mud, today 50 pounds per inch for the dry packed limestone. It takes forever to pump these tires I think to myself ka-thunk ka-thunking along.
Laughing. I pop on my helmet and head off to the park. Note to self… Whoa…. don’t squeeze these hydraulic disc brakes with the same pressure used for the side pull caliper brakes on the road bike. Well, not unless you planned to eject over the handlebars!
Smiling. The park is full of people. Where were you on those cold cold mornings so recently I wonder. The sun is waning, but still warms my heart. I see the red wing black birds perched about, and hear song birds share the day’s glory. My cold cold rides are solitary affairs, just me and maybe one or two more on the 10 mile loop, but today there is no solitude. I schuss past strollers and walkers and weave in and out past dogs and bicycles, more a slalom skier that a cyclist. Weaving, moving quickly, but still safely, a smile and any who catch my eye, and a quick good day, or looking strong as I pass. Up one of the little inclines that pass for hills in most of Chicago I come out of my seat and power up the incline adding speed the entire time.
Laughing. Well I couldn’t do that last time. Last time this little incline felt like Mt. Everest. I whirl about and near the water the black nymphs rise up in the fading sun, perhaps my bright yellow jersey has convinced them I am a giant flower. Well they will soon find I don’t smell like any flower they have previously known. I power up one more incline, passing a long string of people huffing and puffing up when I realize I am a bit tired.
Smiling. The sun has dropped, no longer a warm golden bowl it is now a giant orange melon hovering just over the prairie. The air takes on a cool bite. It always amazes me how the prairie is about 10 degrees cooler than the pavement, but even so I cruise along, my breath coming harder in and out through my mouth.
Laughing. I don’t know how fast I am going, it certainly feels faster than last week. Back on the pavement my thick fat tires sound like a Jeep Cherokee on the highway as we whirr along. One turn, then another and I am passing by little children riding their bikes on the sidewalk with training wheels while mom or dad follow protectively. Are we raising a generation of whusses too dependent upon their parents for everything? Who cares I think to myself.
I turn into the driveway and up the bump, clip out one pedal and lift my leg over as I stand on one pedal leaning into the bike as I coast into the garage and step down. Wifey awaits. Laughing.
Lots of waiting in this cancer game.
More doctor appoints coming up tomorrow and the next day, surgeon, primary physician, and then the endocrinologist.
So we wait, and recover, and take each day as it comes.
My tiny buds returned from thirty days so far away
How I missed you tastebuds, although losing you improved my waist
I’ll be glad to eat more for the taste.
I should mark this festive night with song and dance
If I come across some epic poem I will be sure to add it,
After thirty days of metallic mud I’d nearly had it.
You just don’t realize what it is like, until chocolate tastes like mud, pure water like it was out of a poorly maintained salt aquarium or anything with fat like solid metal. And that first drink of water that leaves you satisfied with no metallic aftertaste, wonderful.
At work from 07:00 to 19:00, 12 hours. Walking out of the office a network problem arises. When I reach home, I sit in my chair with coat and hat still on and close my eyes. 22:47 almost fours later, I open my eyes remove coat and hat, grab a blanket and close my eyes once more. Tomorrow is another day.
“It is cancer”, three soft words that launch the quest. There is no magic sword, no vial of healing, or shield or magical armour to wear. There is a dragon to be slain, but the quest begins seeking courage, knowledge, and a way through this dense forest of doubt.
I have seen physical courage, willing yourself to make the tackle, even though your shoulder burns and your arm is numb from the previous collision, or pedaling gamely on after a bike crash, with your entire body a scab that the tiniest of movements pulls upon. These are but courageous moments, with a start and then the finish line or the referee’s whistle and ensuing revelry.
Even so, bravado doesn’t help you standing at the edge of the forest, dark and looming with no way through. You crave a guide.
I searched, and found many in such unexpected ways. Soft gentle guides with raven hair, or golden curls, or none at all. Women who day after day take one step more, through pain, and sorrow and loss. Who remain steadfast and hope beyond hope, steeling themselves with their eyebrow pencil and their lipstick.
This was new to me, this enduring courage. This finding small joys where ever they might appear. This encouraging other like me, in their misery. The nights must be full of silent tears, but each morning they bravely don their role of mothers and daughters, and wives, and friends.
Such brave gentle women. How can I be any less brave.