Sunday, October 20, 2013

Under the (cancer) dome


Cancer is a scary word, especially when preceded by “I have.” If I didn't know it before, I certainly did by the time I'd let the people closest to me know I was suffering from multiple myeloma, a rare bone marrow cancer.

 Cancer, it appears, is one of those words that is so big, so scary, that it almost has to be whispered to be heard. “Jim? Yeah he has cancer. To me, personally, there are worse things to be sick from - Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) comes immediately to mind.. But it's cancer I have and cancer that is scaring my friends and family.

I don't want people I care about to be scared around this; heck, I don't want people I don't know yet who may stumble onto this blog to be scared. I realized quickly that having cancer and someone you care about having cancer are two totally different scenarios. When I see people in actual, physical pain trying to find the right thing to say to me, I'm not sure I didn't get the better part of this deal.

See, the thing I know is this: at least to me, there is no right thing to say, no wrong thing. I just want people to be able to say what they feel. Believe me, you expressing your fear isn't going to make me feel any worse, and maybe it could help you; stranger things have happened.

Even if the only thought in your head is “I'm glad it's you and not me that's going through this,” you should go ahead and say it because I would be thinking the same thing in your position. Oh yeah, that should be a guilt-free thought, by the way.

If, on the other hand, you wish you had it instead of me... Well... that's the kind of thinking that keeps psychiatrists busy enough that they can't accept walk-ins.

Sometimes I feel like a character in Stephen King's “Under the Dome.” This “thing,” in my case the multiple myeloma, dropped out of nowhere and cut me off the world in a flash. Everyone is still there. I can see you through the dome's clear walls, as you can see me. . But we aren't really able to communicate. No sound will pass into or out of the dome.

Sure, if we assume we can have poster board and markers, we can make signs for each other and hold them up to the dome wall. But not every exchange of words results in communication. If I ask you what Moby Dick is about and you only have enough room on your sign to answer, “Something about a whale,” words have most assuredly been exchanged, but I'm not sure much communication took place.

Cancer. Here's how ignorant I was on the subject before I got it: I thought you got sick, worked with your doctors, loved your family and you either got better or you didn't. Silly boy. I'm sure it's possible to go through it that way, and good for anyone who can. Since I've been known to complicate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, though, it's not for me. I spent way too many years avoiding even the hint of the suggestion of the possibility of a feeling and I won't do that anymore.

So, I'm going to continue to find ways to talk to those who care without making them feel worse, and to hear what they honestly have to tell me and use it to help me heal.

The word cancer doesn't hold much fear for me at this early stage of my journey. I live with it, think about it, dance around it 24/7. I don't expect that to remain the case as more is revealed and the extent of my fight is better understood; “Hello darkness my old friend,” in other words. For now though, it just means I have to be careful when talking to others about it. As my friends start to come to grips with it, they don't need me to be seemingly dismissing their fears simply because my familiarity has led to a certain amount of my fear being replaced with contempt for the disease.

Oh, by the way, if there's an easy way to tell someone you have cancer, I didn't find it.


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.”