I’m so alone and I feel just like somebody elseOne Headlight, The Wallflowers
Man I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same
One weekend in late October, my sister, Kelli, stayed with me during a chemotherapy weekend. The treatments were fairly routine by this time. As routine as a chemotherapy treatment can be when each is its own odyssey. Still, I was over the initial anxiety, and I thought that I had leveled out. I was wrong. I had a blood pressure spike, and I was out of my mind.
We were watching an Astros playoff game on Kelli’s phone when it hit me. The nurse took my blood pressure a few times. She called the doctor. The doctor prescribed additional drugs. While I waited for these drugs to kick in, Kelli tried to distract me with jokes. My blood pressure spike was turning into a massive anxiety attack. None of Kelli’s distractions were landing. I was actually becoming a little annoyed.
“Your mom is having an anxiety attack.”
It was a stretch to start telling ‘your mom’ jokes, but having the same mother somehow got to me. I got a chuckle out of this. Correa got up to bat.
“Correa sucks,” I said. Correa doesn’t actually suck, but it was a superstition I had developed with my brother, John, to say that Correa sucks every time he got up to bat.
“Your mom sucks.”
Now I really started laughing. I responded with, “Your mom does chemo.”
It was dumb, and didn’t make any sense, which made it funnier. Now we were both laughing. Kelli said, “That’s dumb. Why is that funny?”
“Your mom’s dumb.”
“Your mom’s not funny.”
“Oh shit. I think I’m going to throw up.”
“Your mom’s gonna throw up.”
“Oh. You’re hurting me.”
“Your mom’s hurting me.”
This went on for a while until whatever kicked in. It might have been a really strong antihistamine, Ativan… I don’t remember, but when it kicked in I was really high. The combination of chemicals blurred a good deal of the evening.
When the treatment was over, we went home. Kelli went back out for tacos. I spoke incoherently with Iggy and Lucy while lying on the couch. Kelli came back and made me laugh some more. I don’t remember much more about that evening. I went to bed around midnight and woke up dehydrated sometime in the morning. Kelli had left earlier to run errands. I distracted myself with Netflix and food and books.
At about 1:30 pm, it occurred to me that I had not checked in with my mother to tell her that I was all right. So I picked up my phone and navigated to my text messages to discover that I had actually checked in with her at 1:30 am. I opened the conversation to discover that I had sent her a link to theonion.com, a satire website. The article had the following headline:
“Jared Leto Gains 400 lbs For Upcoming Biopic About Your Mom.”
My mother is overweight. I sent this link to my mother at 1:30 in the morning. A pit opened in my stomach. My face flushed like I had just been caught skipping school or sneaking out the window. I was panicking. I didn’t know what to do for a few minutes. Then I started texting apologies.
“I am so sorry. I don’t remember sending this at all.”
“I was so high when I got home. I have no idea how I did this. I was completely asleep.”
The phone buzzed in my hands. It was my mom calling. I hesitated. I almost threw the phone.
“I was awake when the text came in. I almost called you then.”
“I am so sorry. I have no idea how I did that. I don’t remember it at all.”
I could hear her laughing which stopped me.
“My first thought was: Do we need to have a therapy session about Larry’s unresolved issues around my weight?”
“I had a reaction to the chemo and Kelli was trying to distract me with ‘your mom’ jokes. It worked, and then we just did that all night. It was funnier because we have the same mom.”
She was laughing more. It didn’t feel like she was laughing because it was funny. She was laughing at me. And Kelli. But mostly me.
“Like, your mom is so fat… That kind of thing?”
“Well yeah… But… No…”
More laughter, “You should put this in your blog.”
“You should write about this in your blog. Everyone knows I’m big. And it’s funny. It’s a funny story.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Your mom’s sorry.”
In 1987, through a series of mergers and changes in the banking laws of both New York and Texas, Chemical Bank acquired both Chase and Texas Commerce Bank and re-branded the companies as JP Morgan Chase & Co. That same year, I found myself in a rehabilitation hospital in Houston due to my mother’s concern for my depression. A depression which turned out to be a nasty meth habit. It’s often amusing to me to look back at what was happening in a particular year to see what I was doing. I am sure that when I was 17 in 1987, I had no awareness of Chemical Bank, Chase, or Texas Commerce Bank. These things meant nothing to me.
In the mid 90’s, a problem concerning date memory size in computer software began to enter people’s awareness. The y2k bug. Over the next five years, tens of thousands of people were employed around the world to correct the problem. In late 1997, I was hired by some small company to replace every computer for JP Morgan Chase in Houston.
I worked with a team of people in the vault of the Chase Tower. It was on some floor high up in the building. Trucks would arrive at the loading docks from Compaq. Some other group would bring the pallets to the vault via the freight elevator. We would unpack the computers and load the Chase approved operating system. Then we would deliver the computers to the employees wherever they happened to be.
This last part was a lot more complicated than it sounds. There were Chase employees all over downtown. We had to find their offices through the tunnel system that is underneath downtown Houston, a place of restaurants, retail, utility rooms, hidden hallways, and storage units. At the time, it wasn’t obvious how to get anywhere. Truth be told, it still isn’t obvious how to get around down there and now it’s much bigger. Also, there wasn’t an online directory of employee locations. We received lists from someone. Then we would wander around until we found the employee.
“Where are my games?”
“Where is solitaire?”
A confidential whisper, “Come on. There’s got to be a trick. You know how to get the games on there right?”
“No actually. The games aren’t on the disk that we use to load the operating system.”
“There are no games on the computer?”
“Really? There are no tricks to get it back on there?”
Then we would take their old computers to storage rooms in the tunnels. We were told that they were being donated to charities serving Africa. It seemed plausible at the time, but now I don’t think anyone would have found much use for these Windows-95-no-IP-stack computers. Later we would find that all of the memory had been stolen. This was no surprise. There were so many people coming in and out of the vault and equipment would often disappear. I borrowed a few machines myself because I was writing an application for the project. I delivered the software, but at the end of the project there was not a place to return the machines.
We kept discovering forgotten rooms and machines everywhere. Servers in utility closets that updated transactions for some obscure group that didn’t even know they had a server. Mainframes that served mainframes. Databases that had to be transferred to new servers and converted over a weekend before transactions began on Monday morning. It was big. I felt good about that work.
The project ended in December of 1998. We had replaced every Chase computer in Texas. After that, I had enough experience to get my first full time programming gig at Production Access. I worked with really great people. There were just four of us making the software, the two founders, Bob and Jeff, and Jack. Jack and I were the first two employees. I was used to long hours at Chase. We worked some weekends until we had more customers and could afford more programmers.
I talked to Bob often about the y2k project as he had done some work on a project as well. It was easy to be paranoid having worked so hard to stay ahead of the deadline. We turned into preppers with stocks of canned food and water barrels. My friend Darrell helped with the water barrels. I met Justine during this time, and explained the problem to her as well. The stockpile in our apartment grew.
January 1, 2000 came and went and nothing happened. We were all happy and relieved and ate canned beans and peas for months. It took a long time for me to understand that some people were pissed off that nothing had happened. Internet threads. People talking loudly everywhere about how it had been a bust.
“Oh my god. What a bunch of idiots! Nothing happened.”
“Y2k. What a bust!”
It’s truly amazing to me to even google this subject now. Tens of thousands of people worked countless hours for years to make sure nothing happened. That’s why nothing happened. We fixed the problem.
Back in October, Dr. Kee’s antisocial nurse said this to me, “If your fever ever gets to one hundred point five, go to the ER.”
“What?” I find communication very difficult with this nurse. He never makes eye contact. He looks at a different part of the room which makes me think he’s talking to someone else.
I was confused. I looked for the person he was addressing,”Huh?”
“Go to the ER.”
“Okay. Which ER?”
“Oh, you don’t understand the question. Which ER should I go to? Should I come to the ER here?”
“Go to the one that’s closest to you.”
“I only live a couple miles from here, so there are five ER’s on the way here.”
The nurse was looking at me. Saying nothing.
“I mean if I’m going to the ER and making the choice to come here is easy, should I come here? I mean, is it preferred?”
A long pause, “You live close?”
“Come to the ER here.”
We stared at each other for a while. When I started talking, he looked away again like there was someone else in the room, “If I have a fever of 100.5?”
“Is that in relation to something?”
“Like if I get a fever after I have chemo? Or if I go home right now and I have a fever, should I go to the ER?”
He turned around and looked at me for a while. Then he looked away again, “If you have a fever of one hundred point five, go to the ER.”
“What? Did you understand the question?”
“Yeah you go to the ER if you have a fever.”
I laughed awkwardly and said, “Okay?”
Go to the ER if you have a fever. You hear this over and over at MD Anderson. I knew that chemo would compromise my immune system. This makes fever a dangerous symptom. But was my immune system compromised just by having cancer? If I had a fever even before having the chemo, should I go to the ER? Was it important that I go to the MD Anderson ER if that was possible? I didn’t get the answers from this nurse, but over time, I understood that any fever caused by anything was a reason to go to the ER. If I went to the ER, MD Anderson would like that information in the way they like to gather information, so they prefer you to go to their ER.
Also, they like to prescribe antibiotics that often feel like hitting a nail with a sledgehammer. Yes it’ll kill the infection, and any other microorganism that happens to be in the way as well. They so often function in the world of maybe. They love it when they get a chance to be absolute.
My White Blood Count (WBC) has been normal every time they have tested it since I started cancer treatment. Apparently my bone marrow is pretty strong and resilient, but after treatment number seven where I was very sick, my WBC came back at the lower limit of normal even with the two week break.
I was visiting with another of Dr. Kee’s PA’s, “It’s still okay. It’s just lower than it was. Better than most at this point. The real number that we look at is neutrophils. That indicates your ability to fight infection. That’s lower as well, but still within limits. If that goes below one, we will hospitalize you, but you have a long way to go before you get there.”
“Well these lower numbers don’t surprise me. I was very sick during the last treatment. Vomiting, explosive diarrhea. Over the weekend, my fever got almost to one hundred three times.”
“Did you take anything for it?”
“No. I was waiting to see whether it would get over one hundred point five to see if I should go to the ER.”
“It went down on its own. At the end of the weekend, they removed the pump and I started throwing up at home again.”
She stopped what she was doing to listen to me.
“It was really violent. I felt really terrible through the whole thing. Never felt anything like it.”
She had a bit of a smile which confused me a little. “Well. You’ve been fairly strong through all of this, so we’ve been giving you the maximum dose of all the drugs. We have some room to play in the dosage. How’s the neuropathy? The tingling?”
“It’s been okay. It mostly goes away after a few days, but I can feel it with ice. It’s like really intense pop rocks.”
“That sounds unpleasant.”
“Ah. Ya know… I kind of enjoy it.”
“Okay. Well I think we won’t reduce the oxalliplatin, but I will talk to the pharmacist.”
“I’ll be right back.”
She talked to the pharmacist and Dr. Kee. They removed the Loucavorin completely and reduced the Fluorouracil. Fluorouracil puts the chemo in chemotherapy. It’s the thing that makes people sick. I was grateful, but still apprehensive. The anxiety still really hasn’t returned. But I recognize fear as an actual thing that I experience. I was afraid.
Fear or not, I made it through the weekend. I was wound pretty tight, but two thirds of the treatments were behind me. I have endured a lot, and I found myself reflecting on everything that has been done to my body in the last seven months.
After being relieved of half my colon, enduring five rounds of chemo, focusing my entire life for two months on giving up a chunk of my liver, and another three rounds of chemo, I could see the damn finish line. Four more rounds of chemo. And then, with more than 80% of the race finished, coronavirus swept the world.
Like every human being on the planet, I felt my world getting smaller as more restrictions took effect. After a great deal of reflection, I found myself cancelling plans until I had no more.
When I approached my supervisor to tell her it might be a good idea for me to stay at home since I was immunocompromised, she said, “Well there is some stuff going on behind the scenes that will come out by the end of the day. So just hang out.”
“Okay got it.”
By the end of the day, we were all told to stay home if our jobs could be done from home. Two days later, the entire 30 floor building was closed. A week later, the entire city was shut down.
As I’ve mentioned, the last four years have been difficult. It has been mentioned several times that I have been handling the cancer itself quite well. I hear the words ‘strong’, ‘resilient’, and ‘positive’ often. Previous to the cancer diagnosis, there was divorce, moving, career problems. It felt like I couldn’t get anything right, but I just kept doing the next thing whatever that happened to be. But something about COVID-19… I just took it personally. I knew the whole world was being taken down by the pandemic, but this was just one too many rungs down the ladder for me. It wasn’t the stay at home orders or having to be at home. It was the changed protocol for my last four treatments. With a compromised immune system, stepping out the door became a risk. Going to the medical center for chemotherapy seemed like a death wish.
Then I felt bad for taking it personally. The whole world shutting down; first Wuhan, then the shift to Italy, then New York City. The people with the illness, medical professionals, people losing their jobs… I didn’t have COVID-19. I didn’t work in an ICU. I had a job. I had this incredible community that wouldn’t even let me go to a grocery store.
No matter how many things there were to do outside the house, there was always someone to do it for me. Despite being extremely uncomfortable asking for help, I measured asking for help against telling Troy, Elysa, Justine, Yolanda, or Stevie that I had ventured into a grocery store for supplies. With the number of people that have offered help, I couldn’t even justify telling myself that I could go out because I had asked too much of my core support. Friends, family, former and current co-workers. Everyone had conspired to keep me out of harm’s way. I couldn’t justify any action that put me in danger. I didn’t drive myself to appointments at MD Anderson even when MD Anderson implemented a ‘No guests’ policy. Patients and staff only. Troy and Yolanda traded picking me up and dropping me off.
All of that help left me in my apartment to deal with myself. After three days of consuming virus data, contemplating every dark outcome imaginable, and discovering the limits of social media, I knew I had to focus my life around a pretty strict discipline, or I was going to lose my mind and gain a ton of weight. I got myself up at 6:30 every morning to run/walk for two hours and only ate during certain hours of the day. I think that I have discovered that this kind of discipline is not necessarily healthy. It’s a coping mechanism. When the stress is high, I become very regimented. The outcome is mostly healthy, but I can be a little obsessive.
I enjoyed the time with my kids. They are amazing people. I will admit that it is hard being the only adult in the house with kids. I found myself telling them to do stuff way too often. I wanted them to join my obsessive militaristic behavior.
“Get out of bed it’s two in the afternoon.”
“Do your homework.”
“Let’s go for a walk. At least one mile.”
“Do your homework.”
“Empty the dishwasher.”
“Do your homework.”
One afternoon I went upstairs to get them out of bed. I went to Lucy’s room first. I stopped to watch her sleep. I wondered why I wanted her to get up. Her coping mechanism is sleep. She needs direction and exercise, but sometimes she needs me to leave her alone. Sometimes they both need me to just leave them alone.
It was easy to lose sight of Iggy and Lucy when I was trapped inside an apartment with them for weeks. I found myself imagining what it would be like to be their age with this going on. I have no experience that comes close to this. I tried to imagine myself at 17 or 11 years old being told I couldn’t go anywhere or see my friends. They didn’t have to be told. They understood the risks from the beginning.
Iggy came home from school on March 12 telling me that he was skipping assemblies. He asked the teachers why they were getting the whole school into a single room with this going on. When he didn’t get an answer, he hid in the stairwell. Lucy was avoiding her friends in the building. After talking to both of them, I realized they weren’t afraid of getting the virus. They were afraid of passing it on to me.
I wanted them to find ways to deal with the sequestration that were healthy, but I can’t really expect too much. If you told me that I couldn’t go outside when I was their age, I would have been out the window. I know they have so much more to do at home with electronics. They both talk to their friends all day online through game chats and zoom and whatever else. There’s a lot of arguing and yelling in this ‘talking’, but this isolation is still a lot to ask of anyone. They are making the best of it, but it’s a lot.
Justine was over a lot. Just hanging out and bringing things to the kids. We made her a vegan gluten free cake for her birthday. The kids made birthday cards. I ordered food from Niko Niko’s online, and Justine went to pick it up. It was sweet and peaceful.
One gloomy evening the week before Mother’s Day, I was talking to Lucy as she lounged on the couch watching videos on her computer. After a while, I realized she hadn’t heard a word I’d said. I was a little worried. My phone buzzed. It was my mother. I put her on the speaker.
I said, “Hello. I’ve got you on speaker with Lucy.”
“Hello Lucy. How are you?”
“Hi Grandma. I’m okay,” Lucy responded listlessly. She didn’t look over at me. She just pulled one of her earbuds out and continued watching her video.
“I think she’s a little sick of me.”
My mother said, “Really? Have you been inside with your father too long?”
“He talks to himself all day.”
“He does talk to himself a lot. What does he say?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes he says my name, and I take my headphones off to ask what he wants. But then he says that he wasn’t talking to me.”
“Yeah, but then sometimes he’ll say my name and I don’t answer because I think he’s talking to himself. Then he gets mad that I’m not listening to him.”
My mother and I laughed, “Come on. Sometimes the chemo…”
“No this isn’t when you’re on chemo. On the weekends when you’re on chemo, you make no sense at all. You’re just talking gibberish. Sometimes you’re loud. Sometimes you’re just mumbling. You moan sometimes like you’re in pain. You grunt when you get up. You call out people’s names for no reason. You start telling stories but you don’t finish. When I ask you to finish the story, you don’t remember what you were talking about.”
“Oh wow. That really sucks. I’m sorry.” The telling of the story was funny, but it was still sad.
“He’s talking to himself too much,” my mother said.
Lucy sat up and pulled the other earbud out. She was more animated now, “That’s not the worst of it. The worst is that he’ll have entire conversations with himself in beeps and clicks. It sounds like he’s actually having a conversation, but it’s just nonsense.”
“Do I really?”
“Oh wow. We really have to get you out of here.”
“Yes!” I could see the sadness now.
“Why don’t we go up to see Grandma this Saturday for Mother’s Day? At least we’ll get out of the house. And she’s been pretty isolated too.”
“Yes. Can we?”
“Sure why not. We’ll go over on Saturday because your Mom will be here on Sunday.”
“That’s like… How long does it take to get there?”
“I don’t know. About 45 minutes. Why?”
“That’s like an hour and a half in the car?”
“Yeah. Oh I see. Even just being in the car will be time away from here.”
“Iggy might even talk to us for a little while.”
I saw Dr. Kee right before the eleventh treatment in the middle of April. We talked about COVID-19, cancer, government responses, clinical trials, MD Anderson’s response to COVID-19, and the medical center. I could tell he was abbreviating his knowledge of all of these things, but I felt reassured that he was involved. As I left his office, it occurred to me that this interaction got me to the root of what is bothering me about our culture and COVID-19.
When I went to St. Joseph’s Hospital in August, within six hours I knew that I had cancer. I started the acceptance process right after they did the CT Scan that revealed unidentified masses in both my colon and my liver. The odds of having two benign masses in two separate organs at the same time, from my limited knowledge of cancer, seemed astronomical.
The next day I had a colonoscopy that revealed multiple growths and a complete blockage in my colon. The ICU doctor said that they were going to keep me through the weekend and that I would have half my colon removed the next week. My world grew smaller as he spoke, but I had been preparing myself for big news like this.
After he left, my mother said, “Wow. What do you think?”
“I think I’m going to have half my colon removed before I get out of here.”
“Yes. He just said they are going to keep me over the weekend and do surgery next week.”
“Do you want to get a second opinion? Don’t you think you would want one?”
“What? No. I was bleeding out of my ass when I got here. My colon is completely blocked. We’re looking at the pictures right now. What is another doctor going to tell me? It has to be removed. Getting someone else involved is just going to cause delays.”
It was overwhelming news, but I was not going to hope that it went away or search for advice that was less invasive. These were the experts. Between the doctor that did the colonoscopy, the ICU doctor, and the surgeon that took half my colon, their experience on the subject of my colon was more than I could comprehend. At some point in this modern world, I just have to accept that someone else knows more about this subject than me.
How far could second guessing go? After I had the colon removed, did I need to see the adenocarcinoma cells myself through a microscope. Did someone need to show me video of those cells travelling through my blood to my liver before I’d believe that I had Stage 4 Colon Cancer?
Do I need to take a tour of an ICU in PPE (a term most of us didn’t know before March of 2020) to be convinced that COVID-19 was dangerous? Does every American need to see everything with their own eyes all of the time?
“We all need to stay home to slow, and possibly halt, the spread of this virus.”
“I’d like a second opinion on that.”
“Well, you know. I went on the internet and found a couple videos that told me that my desire to stay home is justified by this cursory amount of research I’ve done on the internet.”
Everyone becomes an expert with the limited scope of information that they can find on the internet. Who cares if people have spent their whole lives researching this subject? Who cares that some very smart people wrote a document and created a plan for a response to a pandemic? Fire the team and make excuses. Don’t build on anything. What is the point of anyone developing expertise in any field?
Climatologists are only in it for the money. That’s why they all agree. They just want to fund their grants. Pharmaceutical companies just want to make money on vaccines. We don’t need them, and they are poisoning us with those vaccines. The cancer industry knows there is a cure, but they are hiding it from us because they make billions of dollars treating cancer. The coronavirus is a conspiracy to control us.
If someone walked into my office and started telling me about my job that I have been doing for the last 22 years, I would be pissed off. I know what I’m doing. I couldn’t possibly explain all of the science behind everything that I’m doing. It wouldn’t matter anyway.
“Well I’ve been doing my own research…”
People are becoming self-appointed experts on all kinds of subjects. I have no doubt that people can educate themselves. In fact, I haven’t taken any courses in computer science, geology, or engineering. But I didn’t take a weekend course from Google either. I dug into the subjects for ten years before my opinion was taken seriously by anyone.
It’s like people have to see 2.4 million people die before they can believe any expert projections. They have to see slides in the lab and be present at the autopsies, having in depth explanations of what happened to each organ and how we know what caused everything.
South Houston has to become beach front property. Hurricanes have to level entire cities. Every case of autism has to be proven it wasn’t caused by vaccines. Video footage of vaccine related antibodies stopping the flu from infecting the human body. The world’s infrastructure needs to be crippled before we fix a date size in every computer chip in the world.
It has to be okay that an expert can tell us about a preventable imminent threat that we don’t quite understand, and that we act on that advice to avert disaster. It is okay to question that expert. He/She is a human being. But we question that expert by asking other experts in the same field, not by doing a Google search or watching a video on YouTube that corroborates our outrage.
The world averted disaster by fixing date sizes in computer chips. Computer corporations and I.T. consulting firms made a ton of money fixing the problem. Because of the efforts of many experts (not me, I just did what I was told), nothing happened. That doesn’t change the fact that there was an imminent threat.
I only had the words of doctors to inform me that I had cancer. I had no symptoms before I started bleeding on that morning in August. By the end of the second day in the hospital, I had seen some blurry images that the doctors said revealed unknown masses in my colon and liver. I could only take their word for it. I don’t recall ever seeing a human liver, and I’m sure I would not be able to locate one in a CT Scan. Then they showed me some high resolution pictures of many growths and a complete blockage of my colon. Those could have been pictures of anyone’s colon. I don’t recall seeing my name inscribed anywhere on the colon in those pictures. I could only take their word for it.
When I went to MD Anderson, I had a recommendation for an oncologist. During the intake, the coordinator asked me if I had a preference for an oncologist. I named the recommended oncologist. The coordinator told me that she was no longer with MD Anderson.
“Well then I don’t know. Who else is there?”
“Well I can read you the list. There’s Dr. Kee and …”
“Dr. Kee sounds good.”
I threw myself at the mercy of the system. Other than calling an ambulance, I have no idea how to deal with blood flowing out of my asshole. It turned out that Dr. Kee was one of the leading doctors in the world on the subject of colon cancer.
“You have cancer.”
“I don’t know if I believe you. I’d like to have your expertise vetted. I’ll have my lawyers call you, because my colon feels fine.”
“What kind of verification would you like that you have cancer?”
“I’m pretty sure the only way I’ll be convinced is when I die of cancer. Can I be present at my autopsy, so I can verify that I actually had cancer. I want to see the tumors with my own eyes.”
“I want to see polio come back. I want to see the seas rise. I want to see the date size computer systems failures at the banks and hospitals and other infrastructure. I want to see masses of people die from COVID-19 around the world. I want to see the world fail and people die before I accept anything.”
Yes, the solutions will cause other problems, but we’ll solve those too. Do we really actually have to have a world at war before we come together for anything?
Justine, Iggy, and I lived in Hong Kong from 2003 to 2005. I had a contract at Shaw Brothers Studios. It was a wonderful experience, but I didn’t want to spend my whole life there. I love Hong Kong and miss it often, but it was time to go.
Each time we came back to the States, there was a feeling in LAX. It’s an aggression that doesn’t exist anywhere else I’ve been in the world. It’s difficult to describe, and it’s difficult to resist. Within months, it’s easy to forget that there is any other way to live. There is chaos in Hong Kong, and we lived one subway stop away from one of the most densely populated places on the planet, but I never felt the aggression like here in the States.
I feel like Americans are sold this idea that the world hates us. That has not been my experience overseas. People always love talking to Americans. All of the media in the United States is directed toward a threat and proving that threat. It’s a daily competition to see who can come up with the worst thing that has happened every day.
With cancer, I dropped out of consuming news. I needed to focus on recovery, on creating an environment where I could heal. The news that matters still filters through to me. Our apartment has very little conflict. It’s as quiet as it can be with Memorial Drive right outside my window. It’s been so quiet, and we have been out so little that we were unaware of what the world was like.
On the Saturday before Mother’s Day, we drove out to see my friend James in Tomball to pick up a bass that he was lending me and then over to spend the rest of the day with my mother in the Woodlands. I was really struck by that LAX feeling of returning from overseas.
Why do people drive like that? What’s the point of driving ninety miles an hour to tailgate another car doing seventy? It seemed worse. What has happened that made people so aggressive in this time of coronavirus quarantine? Or am I just coming back into the real world of United States aggression? Tailgating and self-righteousness. Social media trolling. The celebration of being able to upset people. Second guessing everything and arguing every point.
It’s no wonder that there is an epidemic of cancers and other inflammatory diseases. The stress that is our culture is out of control. We are all the cause of this in our us and them mentality. It’s so easy to see right now that everyone would be much better off not arguing every single point as if it were an existential threat. I’m not sure that I want to participate in that world any longer. I don’t know what I want in particular, but I do know that with the days I have left, I want none of that.
But I know how easy it is to go from that returning to America culture shock to willing participant. From reasonable restaurant portions that you walk around a city to consume to expected monstrous portions that you drive a car six blocks to get. Right now, I’d like to drop out and find a beach or a mountain someplace quiet and forget that this world exists. I’d like for Iggy and Lucy to be able to choose a life that isn’t so stressful and full of unrealistic ambitions and expectations. I may be dreaming an impossible existence, but it just doesn’t seem like it should be so unobtainable.
I have to say that it is incredibly difficult writing about the end of my treatments. It is also incredibly difficult to adjust to the treatments being over, even knowing that it’s possible that the treatments are not over. The treatments gave my life purpose. Writing about cancer has given my life purpose.
Finishing projects, or anything, is always very difficult for me. I didn’t finish high school. I didn’t finish college. I like to do things right up until about 98% of it is done. Then I just stop. I don’t have a good explanation for this, but I find finishing things incredibly painful. It’s just grief. I get really attached to whatever I’m doing, and I drag out the end.
I certainly don’t want to drag out the end of cancer. I want this to be over, but I wonder where to end this narrative, because I don’t know where cancer ends. I do know that I’ll be dealing with cancer the rest of my life. CT Scans every three months until they decide I’m in remission. An annual colonoscopy. I still have a port in my chest that is tapped into my jugular vein. I have been told that I should hang onto this port for at least a year in case they need to do some more chemo.
Where does the narrative end? It ends when I say it ends. There will be updates and epilogues as the test results come in. I have a CT Scan and blood work on May 26th. I’ll certainly report those results.
I have often talked about the feeling of disintegration and federation from the chemotherapy treatments. A chemotherapy treatment strips my identity. The days following the treatment are a process of federation as the pieces of me return.
I am slowly feeling a federation of pieces of me from before I had cancer. The obligations, responsibilities, plans, hopes, heartaches, and desires. The pieces of me are not coming back together as the same human being. I feel myself discarding some of the pieces.
Then there are the people. I have had so much support throughout this last ten months. As with any other time in life, there are people that are drifting away, there are people that remain, and there are new and unexpected acquaintances. I feel very lucky to have everyone. The responses to my writing have been overwhelming and encouraging. I feel much closer to a lot of people because of it.
I won’t even know if my immediate journey is coming to an end until the end of May. I’m sure if I have to continue treatments in some way that I’ll continue writing as well. Let’s hope I have bought some time in remission with these treatments. I have been very lucky throughout. If I had not started bleeding in August, it might have been another year before I found I had cancer, then the tone of this narrative would have been completely different.
I will report the results as I get them at the end of the month, but right now I am going to start something new. I got to the end of this treatment cycle. This book is done.