Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hey. I'm usually up to my neck in humble; ask anyone


For me, having cancer has been a humbling experience. And not just in the capital H sense that you are forced to face your mortality; that you realize you aren't “all that” after all; that, indeed, you do have to die of something and that your hopes of dying in some cool manner just took a major hit.

For the record, though. I never really came up with a cool way to die. I just didn't want it to happen in such a way that it became the funny tag at end of the 11 o'clock news. You know... where the anchors get to share a chuckle and remind you, that despite all the hairspray and expensive haircuts and couture clothes, they aren't all that different from you and me.

My big fear was the waterbed. Back in the day, my first wife Janice and I had a waterbed (if you weren't around then to know how cool they once were, you don't get to make geek/loser comments) on the second story of our pretty old house. Each time I had to drain it for a leak and refill it WITH A GARDEN HOSE, I became convinced it was going to fall through the floor into the living room, where I was sitting, hoping it wouldn't, and crush me, setting up the perfect chuckle for the end of the broadcast.

“A Mattydale man was killed this evening when the waterbed he had just filled crashed through the floor and crushed him.” The team struggles to put on its best serious face, but you can hear one of the tech guys off camera working to suppress a laugh. The on camera serious faces devolve into smirks, which turn into lip biting, which turns, just as it did when they were each in the fifth grade, into gales of laughter. Laughadethaphobia. I have it, you don't want it.

If having cancer is a humbling experience, then believe me, living with it day to day is even more so.

I said right off the bat that I was writing this blog, as I had always used writing, as a way to help me process information and to help me cope with the seriousness of the situation. In truth, I figured readership would be in the low, low dozens. Humbled, the blogs have already had hundreds of views. In truth the numbers don't mean as much as the things people are saying, the prayers they are offering, the support for me, Sheri, Jennifer and Alison. Humbled. What the heck did I ever do to earn that?

How many times over the years to you suppose you've seen the scene, usually in black and white, where the too serious doctor and his somewhat befuddled patient, Bob, have “the conversation.”

“Well, Bob. I'm going to give it to you straight. You aren't going to win this one. In fact, I suggest you don't bother renewing any of your magazine subscriptions.”

For his part, Bob, his befuddlement obviously now in high gear, finishes buttoning his shirt, puts his tie and suit jacket back on and leaves the office and does what? Accepts the situation stoically? Falls to his knees and prays to God, as he usually does, when he's desperate? Starts bargaining- “Get me out of this one God and I'll become your loving and loyal servant. And I really mean it this time.” Begins general untargeted, non-specific groveling? Or just plain gives up and heads to the nearest bar?

No matter what age I was when I put myself into “the conversation,” I always had time to think, rationalize and come up with a response. Usually one that cast me in the most favorable light, though groveling was never far from first choice.

As it turned out though, time was the one thing I did not have. While still overwhelmed with having multiple myeloma, while at the same time being unsure of what that actually meant, you had texted, phoned, Facebooked, Tweeted, emailed such strong support for the fight ahead and for the person that you considered me to be, the decision had been made. I would accept the prayers you so willingly offered up, accept your hugs, virtual and real, and believe you when you said how important I was to you and how you lived your life. As my ego began to ease out of its cage to denigrate much of what you had said, the sheer volume of your love and well wishes grabbed that little sneak by the heels and pulled it back where it belonged- caged and gagged.

It was also very humbling to know that for all the people I have known who had cancer, I didn't offer up that kind of support for any of them. Sure, I said all the right things and even ran a few errands, and I did feel genuinely sad, but a lot of that had to do with giving the appearance of doing the right thing. My father died of cancer in an English hospital, my mother in a hospital in Scotland, and I was noticeably absent for both. The physical absence made sense, but emotional support? That particular tank was empty. Besides, I had places to go and people to see.

When my older sister Moira died from cancer in a Glenn's Falls, NY, hospital I was there. In fact, I was the only person, family or otherwise, who was there when she drew her last breath. I would be remiss if I did not point out the irony in this situation, though. This time Moira had been the one to check out emotionally and physically long before she needed to, so being involved with her wasn't especially demanding. The experts at Sloan Kettering in Manhattan, arguably one of the more renowned cancer clinics in the world (not counting my own fabulous team at Augusta's Alfond Cancer Center of course), had told us there was no reason she couldn't live another three productive years, at a minimum. She died three months later simply because she wanted to.

I am, if noting else, a big thinker. And once I start thinking, stopping is never easy. I want to humbly thank you, family, friends and people I don't know yet, for responding so quickly and with such grace, that I wasn't able to fire my big thinker up settling instead for your belief in, and love for, me.


There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”