Thursday, November 19, 2015

Finding the write stuff

A woman I know asked me an interesting question the other day, a question I had, in fact, been considering myself.

“How will you know when to stop writing?” she asked. That's not the exact question- memory lack and all that- but the gist is the same. If I'm writing about my journey through cancer, how will I know when to stop, since it appears that the journey is going to be longer than I initially thought.

When I first started, right after I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, I began writing as a way to cope with the uncopeable. There was no way for me to cope with having in incurable form of cancer; one I'd never heard of at that.

So, I started writing about what was going on. The things I was discovering about my illness, the steps we could take to combat it, and what the cancer would do to damage my health. It's hard to admit now, but I really didn't expect to be writing for that long a time. In the beginning, it all seemed a bit bleak. There was no prognosis, which was how we wanted it, since it would have been little more than an educated guess anyway. And that was fine, but it meant we didn't know if I would have months or years to live.

I soon came to realize, though, that a journey through cancer, living with cancer, is a lot more than doctor's reports, medicines taken, procedures followed. It also means living the other parts of your life, with cancer as a mostly constant companion. I am a husband, who has cancer. I am a dad, who has cancer. A friend, a former co-worker, someone you don't especially care for... with cancer.

If I was truly going to live with cancer, and journey through having cancer, I was going to have to find ways to keep it right-sized. It couldn't become the sum total of who I am or the person I hope to become. I wasn't going to be able to toss it onto the rubbish heap at the back of my mind and leave it there; every day was recycling day.

Writing about it, and sharing some of all that with you became more important, really, than the day-to-day medical bits. Yes, there was my stem cell transplant to write about, and these stomach issues, which I continue to have. But there was the challenge of getting by, day by day, with what could have been a medical Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

Well, then you began talking to me, writing to me, letting me know what you thought about what I was going through and how you saw me doing it. So many people told me my writing and my observations gave you hope; helped you maintain perspective on the things in your own life that seemed uncopeable. Brothers and sisters, I didn't really see that coming.

I had thought that by sharing how I felt about things, big and little, connected to my disease, I might be able to express feelings that others had, but weren't able to talk about or, perhaps, even get a good grasp on. I wanted to be able to help others by expressing for them what they could not express for themselves.

What I didn't expect, was the depth and breadth of people's feelings about me, my wife Sheri, my family and what we are going through. At times, the reaction seemed like too much. Honestly? I'm just a guy who can string some words together and doesn't mind sharing deep feelings with other people, most of whom I do not, nor will I ever, know. To me, there's nothing special about that.

In answer, then, to the initial question, the guy I was could stop writing whenever it wasn't enjoyable anymore. When the main topics were covered, and so many words had been shared about so many different feelings and events... he could just stop. Maybe to resume if the cancer flares up again, but maybe not. Hard to know.

But, I feel like that guy is a goner. Simply put, too many people have told me that they and many of their friends look forward to reading what I have to offer, talking about it, and being cheered by it. As I so often do, I hope that doesn't sound like ego because it certainly doesn't feel like ego. It feels like a real responsibility. A big one.

So, when will I know to stop writing? Well, not today. Also, as long as one person, forced to deal with their fears in the wee hours of the morning, finds any comfort or solace in what I have to say... well, again, it won't be that day either.

I feel as though we are in this together. I gain comfort from what you have to tell me, and, evidently, you gain comfort in return. So, I will try not to write beyond the time I have comfort to offer or something I think can help me or you get through another day. Promise.

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