“You’re wasting away,” a friend blurted the other day and probably regretted it immediately as much as I did. For my part, I feel suddenly obligated to divulge things that frankly, I’m weary talking about.
Statistically, one in three people get cancer, so I decided as part of that large minority, I should provide a brief primer for friends and neighbors, who, aside from a few busy-bodies and gossips, truly do care.
First of all, according to an insurance weight table I once read, at 200 pounds I’m 45 pounds over my optimum weight. Heck, when I was running everyday and had a 28-inch waist, I weighed 168. Let’s worry when the insurance companies are happy.
Secondly, I feel great, and I should because my scans are clean and my doctor calls me a “walking miracle.” I attribute that to world-class treatment, prayers, many from people who don’t really even know me, and positive thinking on my part.
One comment didn’t send me off to the keyboard. It’s the accumulation, and honestly, it’s generational. Oldsters say things like, “When I saw your new picture for your column, I said, ‘That’s not Tony!’” Or, “You don’t look like yourself!” Whoa. Don’t I get to decide what I look like, with of course, acceptance of Father Time and life’s inevitable scars?
Occasionally, some old fart demands I deliver my own personal HIPA violation and then regales me with a list of everyone they knew who died of cancer during their Methuselah lifespan. Inspiring. Well, old-timer, cancer isn’t a death sentence; there’ve been tremendous advances in chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy.
I was diagnosed exactly two years ago and told my kids, “Don’t research the statistics. I ‘m not a statistic. If anyone’s going to beat this, it’s me.”
I told my primary physician recently I planned to die of something else, and we settled on a boating accident at 95 with a bevy of bikini-clad women. When I told my oncologist that he looked startled. “Don’t worry,” I said. “None of the girls get hurt.”
After the diagnosis—I remember my doctor and nurse were more shook up than I was, God bless ‘em—I wrote myself a note that’s been hanging on my refrigerator door since:
“You Will because you Can.
“You Can because you Will.”
That’s how I live.
After chemo and radiation to reduce the tumor at the bottom of my esophagus, I had an esophagectomy to remove most of the esophagus and rebuild it with healthy stomach tissue, leaving me with very little stomach capacity, so to maintain my 247 pounds at the time of my diagnosis, I’d need 3,000 calories a day with a limit each meal of what fits in the palm of my hand.
This bores me to tears, but let’s placate the worry worts and morbidly-interested. Basically, I had involuntary stomach reduction surgery. It’s tougher to digest meats so I limit them in favor of other proteins. I love fruits, and I could pound ice cream everyday to hit 3,000 calories, but I like my A1C numbers where they are and my blood pressure’s that of a 20-year-old. It requires balance.
Younger friends inevitably say, “You look great!” (Not that I recommend the diet plan.) It’s generational. Not that older folks are mean. Many are just matter-of-fact bordering on insensitive. But younger folks can be more judgmental, to affix responsibility for the cancer. Mine’s a result of acid-reflux—who knew that could happen—but since I enjoy fine wine and a quality cigar—quality over quantity—they just assume that Facebook photo is me 24/7.
You know another link to esophageal cancer? Preservatives. Now, check your pantry. Yeah, I just ate a brat loaded with things I can’t pronounce. I didn’t fight through this ordeal to become a vegetarian monk.
So what’s my advice to approaching someone dealing with cancer? Practice this sentence: “How are you doing?” If it’s me, I’ll say, “Fantastic,” and mean it. But there’s an opening to share more if I chose.
All cancer survivor look over their shoulders even without reminders, but it makes one pretty good at looking ahead, too, at appreciating every minute you have with those you love.
Cancer offers perspective and personal evolution, a borderline blessing. That mindset demands positivity. Give us that. We don’t have to even discuss it. My life revolves around other things. Cancer’s just another hurdle. Let’s talk about the weather. Or my new boat.