Monday, January 19, 2009

Stopped Reading "It's Not About the Bike"

I put down Armstrong's book late last week.

At the moment, I couldn't explain myself, but the reading was very unsettling.

I quit about 100 pages in, not long after the beginning of chapter five "Conversations with Cancer."

Armstrong and I went through the same treatment for testicular cancer: bleomycin, etoposide and cisplatin.

Here's how he (and his ghost writer) describe the drugs that comprised our treatment: "...they were so toxic that the nurses wore radioactive protection when handling them."

Reading that line triggered memories of plastics gloves over soft white flesh as I received slow, ten-minute injections of bleo, memories of the chemical cocktail arriving every session via a large, clear plastic bag. I recall how, to ensure I was receiving the right meds on the right day, nurses would ask my name, type of cancer and date of birth before each round. Nurses new to me were always a little startled at my age.

The nurses kept strict notes. Down to the minute the injections began.

I never asked about the toxicity of my meds, though one surgeon, hoping to convince me to go with a proposed invasive surgery, told me that the long-term side effects of chemotherapy is just now being discovered. Doctors say the darndest things...

It took me about six days to figure why Armstrong's book started to bother me. I realized it was a line I read on page 13.

This line: "...testicular cancer was a rare disease - only about 7,000 cases occur annually in the U.S."

Something about being part of such a small club bothered me, about being stricken with something rare. But I couldn't tell why, at least not for a few days. I always knew the numbers of those with the disease was small.

Then I started to unravel. I've recently acknowledged the severity of what I went through, in no small part through the pushing of my therapist.

The shock wasn't the number. I already knew that. It wasn't that I was part of small circle of people. I knew that too.

What was shocking, for the first time, is that the things that have become normal to me -- the memories, the scars, the mutilation, the tests, the questions, the fear with every pain near my genitalia, constant thoughts about cancer, cancer, cancer-- uh, it shocked me to realize that what has become normal to me isn't so for most other young men.

That my worry about setting up another blood test soon, because it felt like it had been too long, is a worry Matt and Armando don't have. That this wasn't just a rite of passage, like hazing in boy scouts or drinking in college.

That nearly two years later, none of this will go away. ever.

That in fact my experience and my thoughts are exclusive to a small group.

Reading, a year and a half later, that I am part of a minority of young men stricken with this didn't make any sense. It doesn't.

None what so ever.

It's not a poor me sentiment. Far from it.

Am I making sense?

The only way for me to move forward through this trauma is to rationalize it as "normal." As a survivor, I accepted the situation without questions and moved forward accepting what is, unwilling to look back on what was.

Now I am looking back and am frankly shocked at where I am.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

no more beef with Lance Armstrong

i have to admit it on this blog: throughout the course of my cancer-survivorship, I stayed away from all things Lance Armstrong.
I wasn't interested in hearing about a super-star athlete and his triumphant journey from the face of death back to his bicycle seat. I openly question the amount of money going to his foundation and count myself as part of the anti-pink people who wonder aloud about the money going to maintain cancer foundations versus actual research.
I could not relate to a man with the resources at Armstrong's disposal when I got sick. I still can't.
Sorry, I didn't meet anyway at the clinic that dated Sheryl Crow.
But my therapist, an avid cyclist, has referred to Armstrong's book, "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life," quite a few times since our sessions began.
So a few weeks ago, I found myself in the $1 bookstore in downtown Burbank.
I found Armstrong's book on the shelf. Last night, I finished the first section of Bolano's 2666.
This morning I decided to read Armstrong instead of move forward with Bolano. Out of curiosity, I suppose.
I found this passage on page 3:
"I've read that I flew up the hills and mountains of France. But you don't fly up a hill. You struggle slowly and painfully, and maybe, if you work very hard, you get to the top ahead of everybody else.
Cancer is like that, too."
Damn. Damn that's real.
Writing is like that. Playing an instrument is like that. And chemotherapy was very much like that.
I am always surprised by peoples reactions to my treatment and the attitude I took during those two and a half months of chemotherapy.
There was nothing heroic about my actions.
It was what you do to survive. Everyone in the clinic had the same attitude.
In fact, some more so than others.
I'll never forget that old guy with lung cancer. He didn't like to take his chemo. sitting down, so he'd hang his meds on a mobile I.V. stand and wheel around the clinic. A few times he checked on me.
That man is one of my heros. I can relate to him. Not Armstrong.
But that doesn't mean I can't learn from Armstrong's book.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


It came out of my mouth.
I was talking about other survivors.
but I used the word victim.
All at once I was surprised, embarrassed, angry and disappointed.
It came about during my third visit with my therapist (a discussion for another blog entry).
In someways, it didn't come as a surprise. Whenever i feel a pain in my genital area, I sense fear. I am afraid it will be cancer. For a long time, i was afraid to touch my testicle. Afraid i would find something. Doctors warn of the two percent chance that my testicle will develop cancer.
Then there are the warnings of health complications from chemo as i get older. The likelihood that my asthma will get worse because of the bleo. the unknown side effects that accompany the growing legion of young folks who fight cancer.
Then there is the sense of waiting for the five year mark to celebrate passage out of treatment.
And the question of whether or not I will be able to have kids. The question of how the chemicals affected my fertility.
All of this hangs over my head, weighing me down; unconsciously causing me to question if I am healthy.
Silently thinking of myself as damaged goods. and never sharing it with anyone.
During treatment, I never, ever allowed myself to think this way; to worry. I couldn't. I was operating on a survival instinct. Day to day, appointment to appointment. With a clear goal = finishing treatment with my health.
But since then i've experienced these thoughts I once forbid.
It is good to discover this. to get it out. now I must address it.
My therapist said i should learn the difference between victim and survivor.