Note to readers: This is the column The Statesman did not publish. But there’s no reason why my blog subscribers shouldn’t get it. — Tim
The car pulled up slowly and stopped at the end of my driveway. The driver rolled her window down.
“Who’s your doctor?” she shouted.
“Who’s your doctor?”
I told her.
“I’m seeing her tomorrow. I think I have the same thing you do.”
This was one of the more unexpected responses to my Nov. 26 column about my brush with cancer.
It was, thankfully, the only one in which a reader appeared out of nowhere to interrogate me in my driveway. Many of the responses were from cancer survivors, who shared their experiences. Almost all included encouragement and advice; all were deeply appreciated.
To backtrack a bit, the November column was about being diagnosed with bladder cancer. I was lucky. My doctor caught and removed the tumor early, and it was non-invasive.
The bad news, if you can call it that, is that those kind of tumors tend to come back. I have to have a procedure called a cystoscopy every three months for two years and at less frequent intervals after that for the rest of my life to check for new tumors. If another one shows up, it’s back to the operating room and the clock resets.
That’s nothing compared with what some people have to go through with cancer. And it didn’t take long to learn that I have plenty of company.
“Welcome to the club!” the founder of a shelter where my wife and I volunteer said when I showed up for work the first time after the column was published.
“The cystoscopy club. I was diagnosed in ‘94.”
He doesn’t remember exactly how many cystoscopies he’s had. He does remember that he’s had to have eight tumors removed.
I’d rather not think about that. I’d rather think about lowering the risk through a healthy lifestyle, and about the good things that have happened:
A few days after the column was published, a neighbor I seldom see shouted at me to stop as I walked past her house. Then she ran out and gave me a hug.
Another neighbor brought over a box of chocolates. One of my former doctors, now retired, offered to take me out for a beer. Former colleagues from Portland to Minnesota sent prayers, good vibes, good wishes.
A neighbor whose wife is a cancer survivor advised me to “continue to live life to the fullest. Make plans. Do things. Play the guitar – loudly and with gusto.”
I’ve lost track of how many readers have called, written, done Facebook posts or approached me in person to wish me luck and share their own experiences with cancer – or worse.
Reader Mike Van Vleet reminded me that my disease is “one that people can and have beaten. Some of us have diseases that have never been beat.”
His disease? ALS. His email was a vivid reminder of how truly lucky I am.
Nancy McDaniel wrote to say she realized after being diagnosed with cancer that “looking back doesn’t help. Looking to the future is what’s truly important, and appreciating your family and friends is what matters most.”
Good advice, whether you’re sick or not.
Hy Kloc said his cancer may have spread, but added that “the more we share, the more controllable the emotional roller coaster can be. It’s good to hear positive stories now and then rather than just gloom and doom all the time.
Peggy Mondada, who lost her parents and two brothers to cancer, recommended a book – Dr. Michael Greger’s “How Not to Die.”
Greger says four healthy lifestyle factors can help prevent chronic disease – “not smoking, not being obese, getting half an hour a day of exercise and eating healthier – defined as eating more fruits, veggies and whole grains and less meat.” Not doing these things, he claims, “accounts for 78 percent of chronic disease risk.”
He recommends a plant-based diet. I’ll never be a vegan, but it’s hard to argue with his basic premise, and I’m incorporating quite a few of his recommendations into my diet.
That brings us to longtime reader Gayle Speizer, who won her battle with breast cancer and added that even if she hadn’t, she’s “had a good life. Not all of it has been easy. I’ve known poverty, pain and tragedy. Still, it’s been a good life.”
Words to keep in mind. With illness as with so many other things in life, a positive attitude and the support of family, friends – and readers – can make all the difference.