Sunday, October 16, 2016

Thoughts on Cancer

I had testicular cancer in 2004.

Short version: I noticed a hard long lump (2 inches long!), they took it out.

I had the good fortune to find M. Mendel Shemtov, a phenomenal surgeon at NY Presbyterian who dug into every possible detail with me. I'd met with a doc at Sloan Kettering, but found the entire experience there to be inattentive, breezy, and not confidence inspiring, so I paid thousands more to go out of network with the NYP guy).

It's a good kind of cancer to have because your testicles are so separate from the rest of your body, and they can take one out and you're still 100% fine! As my 2 daughters since then attest :)

There was some possible spreading of cancer cells to my abdomen, so I had 5 awful weeks of radiation, and threw up every day.

Directly after my first radiation, I went to see Prince at Madison Square Garden. No one had warned me that I might be more than a tiny bit nauseous. I ended up racing to the bathroom 3 times to throw up, racing back each time because I didn't want to miss a thing. I can believe the claim that Prince is the greatest performer of all time.

Obamacare has been a huge relief for me -- I've been forced to move and take jobs only because if I didn't, I'd lose insurance and be denied forever as having a preexisting condition.

Now at 11 years free of any sign of cancer in my scans.

The common narrative of cancer is that it clarifies your values and will to like. I generally found this not to be true for me. (Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor often The whole experience didn't change me at all, but then i thought back some more and reconsider.

I do think it made me kind of assume in the background that I might die at any time. But sometimes that's not great for the day to day. A lot of the best work I've done has come when I'm 0% thinking I've got to go Something That Matters with my life, and instead am just freely creating something I love. Thinking from the perspective of my death bed can be kinda paralyzing.

Pretty much as soon as I got healthy, I got the offer to go to Georgia and work for the new president for the Georgian salary of $12k/yr, which I was totally unqualified to do. At the time I had almost no savings, with a $550/mo health insurance bill that I couldn't miss a payment on no matter how little I earned.

I was terrified to do it, but I think the brush with death helped me have total certainty that I had to go. And that decision (and taking it seriously every day when i was there, even when I had nothing but doubt and fear everywhere i looked) kind of opened a whole door in my life.

Having kids has also done a lot to get me better at being present without a goal. Camus' end to The Myth of Sisyphus seems to describe what time spent with them is like: "Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world."

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