First steps: How Can I tell what I think until I write?

March 11, 2017

I never thought I’d blog. While I had a blog over the past couple of years, it was just a factual account for those folks closest to me who wanted updates on my condition during cancer treatment. There were virtually no reflections. On re-reading, it’s funny to see how I keep saying “The doctors say this is the last procedure…” and “The doctors say I’ll start chemo in a month…” and then the next complication would come up and before you know it, a year and a half had gone by.


In her book “Read and Writing Cancer,” Susan Gubar says “At the worst times, writing helps us remember.” I come out of this experience having learned a great deal about life and myself, and I know from the first cancer 15 years ago that those hard-won revelations are easily lost. I find myself writing in an attempt to hold on to precious thoughts even as they slip away. Sharing those reflections—the act of putting them out there—forces me to pinpoint them and have the discipline to get them down on ‘paper.’


Gubar later asks “How can I tell what I think about disease until I see what I write?” This gets closer to the heart of it.


When the last time chemo ended, 15 years ago, I gained a new companion, Depression, who walked with me for close to a year. I was also joined by Fear, who stuck by me for a solid couple of years at least before gradually fading back, because I was told the cancer would come back in 3-5 years and be worse.


The last chemo pill went down my gullet Dec 10, exactly 3 months ago. This time around, the emotional toll should be worse. For one thing, I found out that the 3-5 year deadline was not just recurrence but actually a 100% mortality rate—thus the reason my oncologist calls me Miracle Man. A defect in my cancer gene kept me alive until now, but there’s no way of knowing how long until it comes back.


Two weeks ago was my first follow-up MRI since chemo ended, followed this week by visits with the Neurologist and Neurosurgeon. All of these take me back through the experience again, as I ask them why my brain sometimes stops functioning while I’m in discussion and the neurologist explains that with all the trauma done to my frontal cortex, it isn’t surprising I’m having trouble processing the combination of speech and thought.


Last Friday, I met with a woman who lost her husband to cancer three years ago. She apologized for dragging me through those emotions again and I said it wasn’t an issue; but then over the week-end the weight of the cancer journey hit me again—not full-force, but heavy enough.


The fact is, the past year and a half – actually, all three cancers over the past decade and a half – are not single events. They will continue to ripple. Back to Gubar’s second quote, I now recognize the need to write not as a way to express what I already realize I feel and think but as a way to understand how I feel and what I think.


My greater goal is to explore how to can find hope and meaning after cancer and learn from others who are on the same path.


PS I was going to have a picture of Alfred E. Newman, the MAD magazine guy, with a naked brain stuck on his forehead and the quote “What, me blog?” but it seemed a bit macabre. Maybe next time.



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