Punchline

Turns out, cancer isn’t as funny as I originally thought.

A couple of weeks ago, when I first legit committed to writing about my Summer of Cancer, AKA What I Did on my Pandemic Vacation, AKA The Guy with the Blood in his Urine, I assumed, mostly because when I journal about it… personal, PRIVATE journal about it… I always seem to make at least one joke per page about what I’ve been going through since the Hibiscus Tea Incident of August, 2020. I mean, I’ve hashtagged it everyday.

#inappropriatehumor

That’s supposed to be something you can’t come back from. A promise. A solemn oath to make something potentially tragic also something you laugh in the face of. It’s like mocking the devil, or the President. Yet here I’ve been, uncharacteristically getting in touch with my feelings, in public. It’s like a sad Hallmark movie. Shut up, I know every Hallmark movie is sad, just not in the way that Hallmark intends. A lot like that movie where Forrest Gump’s mother plays his girlfriend. Two noob stand-up comics, neither one is funny. But they spend the entire movie trying to convince the audience of said unfunny movie which movie reviewer Rex Reed gave FOUR STARS… whatever… that if you just try hard enough to overcome your traumas and triggers (although this movie was made in the ’80s so I don’t think the writers even had words like “traumas” or “triggers” in the script), you TOO could be one of the sad funny people on open mic night at the comedy club.

Spoiler… no, you can’t. Because a movie about unfunny stand-up comedians ISN’T FUNNY. Just like cancer ISN’T FUNNY. At least not intentionally.

But a promise is a promise.

So I guess the trick isn’t trying to write exceptionally funny cancer jokes. That would be like Tom Hanks and Sally Field writing their own material for the open mic scenes in Punchline. And if we learned anything from the movie Sunset Boulevard (RELAX, THAT won’t be on the test) we all know that even though everybody thinks that actors are making up their lines as they go, they aren’t. And I’m not writing cancer jokes on cue as I stare blankly at the screen at the start of every blogging day.

No, I’m remembering something that could have been sad, that in the remembering of it, at least made ME laugh. And that’s the punchline at the end of story. That if I can laugh, then I can laugh the next time, and the next. Until maybe I won’t need to remember to laugh anymore.

And if I’m laughing, maybe you can laugh with me, too.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

Rashomon

“When that long-anticipated first conversation with your oncologist leaves you feeling like the words, ‘Today, you are cancer-free’ are as temporary as a sandcastle at hightide.”

This is a day for catching up with the present.

(flashback)

For the last three days, I have written about what happened to me during that week in August, when an innocuous trip the bathroom (“There Will Be Blood”) turned into a completely unexpected diagnosis of cancer (“Panic Room”) and soon after, how having nothing to say isn’t necessarily a bad thing when there’s nothing left to do but the next thing, and the next (“Requiem for a Dream”).

You may have also noticed that every post title is taken from a movie I’ve seen.

That’s also something that, if you know me, you know this is how my brain works, and how it will keep working, all the way through this series. This day is for flash-forwards and flashbacks. No particular order. Just telling the story as it tells itself. And this is a story about those who know me best.

(flash-forward)

Yesterday, four weeks to the day since my surgery to remove a cancer-ridden kidney, I had my talk with an assigned oncologist. It was not what I expected. In these protracted days of Covid-19, first conversations take place on the telephone, not in person. In the case of this first conversation, the oncologist spoke and I listened. I took notes and then asked questions to the best of my untrained and overwhelmed ability.

When I want to be, I’m pretty good at asking questions in a vacuum. Yesterday, I did my in a vacuum best. But after an hour of statement-question-reply-question-answer, I had a full page of handwritten notes, and now, one day later, even more questions than yesterday I had answers for. Today, I did something about that. I asked my friends who have been there and done that. A friend who has survived cancer. Another friend who’s father lived five years with late-stage cancer, with her as his primary caregiver. And one other who has been down the kidney disease road, and come out on top. Their wisdom, both theoretical and practical, helped me navigate more than just a resetting of my understanding, but more important, a repurposing of my personal strategy to overcome this shit, and live.

(flashback)

In mid-September, I sent out the first of a series of texts and DMs to people I had considered what came to be called the “First Circle” friends. That is, those who would be told first, by virtue of the frequency of communications between the two of us. A couple of dozen folks. The essence of that message was to tell them that I had been gotten a preliminary diagnosis of renal cell carcinoma, and that I was waiting for further steps to be taken, which would ultimately lead to surgery. In late September, having been given a date for my surgery, I sent a second round of texts and DMs to the First Circle, and a similarly-crafted message to folks in what came to be called the “Second Circle”. Ultimately, with a couple of days to go before the surgery was to take place, a final “Third Circle” message was sent to let those who, for a multitude of reasons, I had not previously informed.

So, you know how you can think you know someone… until you REALLY know someone… and then you realize you really didn’t know them at all? I will never assume anything about a Circle Friend EVER again. Through this, I have learned that a friend is not that person you assumed they were. A friend is someone who exists in reality, not in your mind. And not in your own wishful thinking about them. And a good friend is someone who never thought they needed to try and convince you of who they already were all along.

(flash-forward)

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

There Will Be Blood

Silence. Followed by,

“That’s not good.”

I suppose there are a lot of things a person can say when an innocuous trip to the bathroom turns into a toilet-full of blood. In my case, due to many years in the church, and a still-in-tact holy reverence for not wanting to piss-off God at a time of crisis by exclaiming things like,

“Awww, shit!”

or,

“Ohhh, fuck no!”

I tend to go to that inward, generally understated place of expression. That place where I take into myself all the external control of an airline pilot who knows his plane is going down, but still believes that if he acts calmly and rationally, he and everyone sitting behind him aren’t going to die.

Yep, I’m THAT guy.

Even with THIS.

Although, I’d never had a THIS before.

So, about the blood. This was the first symptom. Turns out that there are only a few possibilities for what “blood in the urine” is a symptom of. But since I had not experienced extreme urethral pain during urination (possible kidney stones), or an extreme beating in the ring like Apollo Creed’s kid experienced at the hands of Ivan Drago’s kid in the movie Creed II, that left the only other high-percentage possibility for what “blood in the urine” is a symptom of. Renal Cell Carcinoma, or in plain language, kidney cancer.

This all began at 5:21 pm, on a Thursday in August. In the meantime, through all the exchanging of emails with my doctor, and appointments made for lab work to be done on Saturday, I spent the next 36 hours alone with my thoughts, and peeing blood. Then, on the morning I was to head for the lab, the blood in my urine stopped.

Just in time for the pain in my kidney to start.

Pain that got so bad so fast, I skipped the lab appointment altogether, and went straight to the ER. This was the second symptom.

Side note. Let me take a moment here to affirm that hospitals really do have the best drugs. Because by 10 am on Saturday, the pain that woke me up 5 hours earlier was all the way gone. By 11 am, all the blood and urine the lab was supposed to have helped itself to at 8 am was drawn into vials or drained into cups . By noon, I was being gurneyed into the imaging room for a CT scan. And before 1 pm, I was being told by the ER doc that the CT scan showed a mass on my right kidney that was troubling enough for him to schedule a second CT before I could even change out of the grippy socks on my feet and the hospital johnny, flap open around my ass.

Finally, as I was riding the gurney back through the halls from ER to imaging, that was when the third symptom hit.

The third symptom was fear.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday