Friday, January 3, 2014

Heart versus brain? Better call for backup

People have been incredibly kind when commenting on my writing about my fight with cancer, complementary of my writing, my willingness to share my journey so openly, my positive attitude in battling multiple myeloma.

A lot of readers find something in what I'm doing that they describe as courage, but what I look at as faith and hope. Depending on your outlook, they're probably the same thing, and I don't suppose the label we put on it matters anyway. The reaction makes me uncomfortable, regardless. I certainly want to be able to help others; that was the whole reason for going public in the first place. I wouldn't want to take that comfort from anyone.

Through the years people have come up to me to tell me that what I had written was exactly what they were feeling and thanked me for helping them understand they weren't alone. Or something I wrote made them laugh and promise to take themselves less seriously. On the other hand, I came home one night to find a hand-scrawled note slipped under the door telling me if I knew what was good for me I'd better quit writing such crap (paraphrasing). I was I was also mailed a letter comparing me to Hitler and his henchman; didn't specify which one though.

Perhaps the most compelling example was back in New York when a woman I did not now came up to me while I was waiting in line at bank. She pulled what turned out to be a copy of a column I had written out of her pocketbook and handed it to me. She said she and her daughter were having issues, not the least of which was the mother trying to tell her daughter how she really felt about her. “Then you wrote this,” she told me, holding up the column. She cut it out of the paper and sent it to her daughter with a note saying, “This is how I feel.” The woman told me it helped to turn their relationship around.

I looked at the copy before giving it back to her. I didn't remember writing it, but that didn't diminish my gratitude at being able to help her. Still, I was young enough at the time that even as my lips were saying how happy I was to help her and her daughter, my ego was doing the happy dance, and yelling things like “Yeah, baby. You the man. You have the gift, the insights, the yackety, yackety, the blah, blah, blah, the ramalamadingdong.” Honestly? You gotta laugh. In truth, I hadn't a clue. There wasn't even a path to a clue from where I was standing. But, I've never been so sure I had all the answers, each one more fabulous than all the others that came before. I did say I was young.

Now, as I've written before, I find the whole thing humbling. Courage? There are so many times I sit down to share with you what I'm going through that I can't even find a path to courage from where I'm standing.

Most days since I found out about my cancer, I've put one foot in front of the other and plodded along, staying in the moment as best I can. It hasn't always been easy, but whoever said it was supposed to be?

But there have been times... There are just times when I feel overwhelmed by it all. When a friend of mine and I are faced with a difficult situation, we always say, “Shields up. Fazers on stun.” During the dark times, it invariably seems there's no power for the shields and I left my fazer in my other pants.

Thank the lord it doesn't happen very often. When it does, it's usually because all my niggling symptoms decide to quit niggling and start bludgeoning, all at the same time. My ribs hurt more; the pain in my sternum is worse; my stomach pain increases; the rash that is the side effect of my chemotherapy acts up; and so on and so on and scooby, dooby do.

The physical pain is bad enough, but it's my thinking that's the real problem. It becomes so black, so fast, that I'm powerless over it. Courage. Hah! I don't think so. In fact, when it happens, it makes me wonder if the positiveness and hope are even real, or if I've just been kidding myself. In my heart I know that's not true, but in any contest between my heart and my big brain... my heart better have backup.

Those are the times when having cancer, really, really, really sucks. Really sucks. Really. Sucks.

They don't last, these dark ages. Usually things begin to get better when I remember I can't think my way out of them; that I need to move a muscle, change a thought. If nothing else, moving, even if it's just from here to there, buys me time to get myself around other people. Fear doesn't do well in group settings; backup has arrived.

I know that I started writing about my cancer journey as a way to help me cope, and I would probably still be writing if I was the only one reading it. I'm glad it hasn't turned out that way because, I can assure you, any help I have given to anyone has been returned to me umpteen times. Not Sermon the Mount, loaves and fishes quantity. Let's not get carried away. But more than enough to get me up in the morning and give each day my best shot. That's more than enough, more than I would have ever thought to ask for on my own. Thanks.


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.”