It’s amazing how quickly the world can turn.
On Friday, Oct. 1, I spent the day running around town with my camera, snapping photos of Charles City High School’s Homecoming celebration. The pep rally, the King and Queen, the parade in the rain — it was fun. I felt great.
Less than 48 hours later, doctors were telling my wife to call my family and friends so they could gather by my side. They thought they could keep me alive long enough for everyone to tell me goodbye one last time.
I was unconscious in a hospital bed, and they doubted I was going to survive. They told my wife to prepare for the worst.
That bed was my home for the better part of the next two months. Four surgeries, two or three procedures, a whole lot of pain and needles stuck into every part of my body — and somehow I’m still alive.
Thankfully, I can’t remember most of it. The entire month of October is pretty much washed out of my mind, as is most of the first half of November. Bits and pieces flit back into my memory, mostly short scenes of misery.
I am home now, but not too mobile. I am currently being fed through a tube, and there are other tubes hooked to me for various reasons. A nurse visits me a couple times a week. There’s at least one more surgery waiting for me in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, I’m just trying to live, trying to stay alive.
I get up and about when I can. Yesterday I buzzed down the street and took some photos. Thanks to phones and the internet, I am able to talk to people and even interview them for work. I can sit in on school board, city council and other public meetings, via ZOOM, write about them at home and never have to go into the office.
I am grateful that my bosses at the Charles City Press allow me to do what I can for them. I need to work.
I’ve been fighting cancer for almost six years now, and when you fight cancer, you win some and you lose some. Even when you win, however, cancer takes another piece of you away. Bit by bit, cancer is stealing me from me.
And I’m reminded of a speech once delivered by college basketball coach Jim Valvano, when he was fighting cancer.
Valvano admitted that cancer was taking away all of his physical abilities. But, he said, “… it cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, it cannot touch my soul …”
Cancer has beaten the hell out of me, but I keep getting back up. I don’t know how many more times I’m going to be able to do that. Maybe I can last another year. Maybe six more years, maybe 10, maybe 50. Maybe, though, I’m down to my last 48 hours.
Medical science and prayers and positive thinking — as well as just plain stubbornness and determination — can carry me a long way, and have gotten me through the last six years. Every day, there are cures, there are breakthroughs, there are new procedures. I don’t feel like I’m at the end of my tether quite yet.
But I didn’t feel sick when I was running around taking homecoming photos, either.
Valvano said that there are three things you should do every day. You should laugh. You should think. You should cry.
“If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heckuva day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
And so, there you go. I’m going to laugh today. I’m going to think today. I’m going to cry today. And I’m going to stay alert — for the last six years, I’ve been telling myself that the main reason I fight to stay alive is the simple fact that I don’t want to miss anything.
Big things, little things. Kids growing up. Grandkids getting born, going to school, playing hockey and gymnastics. Nephews in the batter’s box, or on the stage. Friends succeeding — and failing. They need me either way.
The love of a wife. Hugs from a parent. Cool wind against your skin on a sunny day. Snow. Stories I’ve never heard. Stories I can tell. Sunset by a lake. Gentle rain on the rooftop.
The pleasure of making new friends. The warm familiarity of spending time with old friends.
Pep rallies and parades. Pretty young women smiling. Spring Grove Soda Pop. The smell of burning leaves. Greasy hamburgers. Football games. Kind words spoken in whispers. Music — sweet, sweet music — from piano concertos to heavy metal power chords.
Moments of Zen. All things worth staying alive for. Things to make you laugh, cry and think. It’s why I fight today, it’s why I”ll fight tomorrow. And the day after that.
Or until the world turns again.