Tuesday, November 12, 2013

If I'd known it was important, I might have paid more attention, but I doubt it

When I was writing about how it feels to have cancer, it wasn't until I had posted the blog that I realized something I had aways thought I would feel hadn't even come up.

See, I always believed it would feel like some sort of creepy-crawly was moving through my body, chomping away like some crazed Ms. Pacman, or worse, Stephen King's Langoliers, or, worse yet, the Roto Rooter guy. I was sure it was something you would be so aware of that you could chart the disease's progress by just being still and listening to the... well....chomping is what it would be. OK, maybe not chomping, but it seems like you would know something was in there and moving.

I confess, even my wife Sheri had a hard time smiling and waving at that one and she's smiled and waved at a lot of stuff in the 20 years we've been together.

So, no chomping, no moving, no sense whatsoever of where the cancer is. By the nature of multiple myeloma, I guess it's pretty widespread but how helpful is that? Not very, if you're actually asking me.

Plan B, then. I decided I would poke, prod, push, squeeze parts of my body, to see if I could feel somethng out of the ordinary; something not as it should be. You may already see the huge flaw in that particular approach, but maybe not, so let me continue.

In the spring of 1968, middle of my sophomore year in college, I transferred from SUNY Brockport to SUNY Geneseo, ostensibly to major in speech pathology and audiology. In actual fact it was to major in reuniting with my summer romance, a very nice woman.

Guess what? I failed in both endeavors.

The romance seemed like the far greater loss at the time. Figures, right? But really, how could it have been otherwise? I was 18 and had been a stranger in this strange land you call America for just five years. I was at a new school where the only person I knew very well spent most of her free time avoiding me. I wept...a lot.

The speech pathology major-thingy, though. Who knew? Before abandoning the effort, I spent 18 months studying... well, you couldn't call it studying, really. It was more like being around people who were studying... speech pathology and audiology. All I learned in that time was don't put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow, and I learned that on the second day.

In the 40-plus years I have found someone willing to pay me to write, I have no idea how often the words “I wish I had paid more attention” appear. I can tell you this, though: it's a lot and the thought was always a lament. In fact, I'm making the same wish now.

If I had paid more attention- oh hell, make that any attention- in my speech pathology anatomy and physiology classes, I would be so much better prepared to get useful information from my poking, prodding, pushing and squeezing. Body parts were studied!!!

But I didn't pay attention. As a result, what I know about anatomy is pretty much limited to the lyrics of “Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones.” You know: “Your toe bone connected to your foot bone. Your foot bone connected to your heel bone” all the way up to “Your neck bone connected to your head bone.” I'm not saying that isn't good information. It is. And since I have bone marrow cancer, you would think it would be all kinds of helpful. But alas, as I prod, poke etc., I need more detail. Like, has my leg bone always felt like that or has the myeloma weakened it?

And there, of course is the flaw in Plan B. I never was much on poking, prodding etc. before, so I have nothing to compare it to. Know what I mean?... Was that lump always there? Dunno. Did it always hurt when I did that? Dunno. Did my shinbone always give way when I pushed on it? Dunno.

Well, this was going nowhere fast. So, as I often do, I decided to drag my wife Sheri into it... Hey. Has my forearm always looked like this? Dunno. Can I push on your shinbone to see what it does? No. Can I squeeze your head to see if contracts?,,,,,,,,Sheri?........Sheri?

I made the last one up, about squeezing her head. And, yes, I know the whole comparison thing is pretty foolish, but it does give me the chance to take a little of the fear away, like when you used to have to burp Tupperware. When we talk about it, whatever “it” may be, it shrinks; every time.

Besides, over the course of our 20 years together, Sheri has handled plenty of tough questions. She is actually the only person I have asked the question that has hung over our lives every day since Sept. 6, 2013; not always openly present, but always there: “Why did I get cancer?” Why not, right? Who would I want to get it instead?

Yeah. I know the question has plenty of answers; it just doesn't have any I happen to like. Sheri knows that too. That's why, I think, instead of saying anything, she reached over and took my hands in hers, squeezed them and suddenly the why didn't matter. Because in some unorthodox, non-medical way it became clear that the question should have been, “Why did we get cancer?” It's a proven psychological fact that two people joined in a common fight won't be easily beaten.

So, screw you cancer.

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.”