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A Decade Without Balls

No Balls Courage

So today is my 37th birthday.

Obviously thirty-seven is not one of those generally celebrated, monumental birthdays. I mean, it’s not launching into a new decade. There is no surprise party or black balloons. I’m not getting my drivers license or the right to buy smokes or drink beer or anything else (am I?).

No, birthday number 37 (like 8, 14, and 22) is one that just happens. Nothing really special other than the fact you’ve survived another year.

Which, actually, for someone like me is pretty sweet.

Because once you’ve been dead or nearly dead, surviving another year is something to celebrate.

And even though 37 is not really special, for me it’s actually something… well… interesting, at least.

Because on this day exactly 10 years ago, I had the last of my testicles removed.
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How Ya Feelin, MCA?

illustration by Troy DeShano

There is something that happens when you cross a dark valley.

If you’re lucky enough to reach the other side, you discover all these other individuals who had been in there with you. People you know, some you don’t and some whom you never will. They are all down there together, you just can’t see one another through the pitch black.

But when you’ve made it out, whether by scraping and clawing; being dragged or drugged, the valley leaves you charged with static electricity.

You don’t know it’s there, and you don’t know the next person has it until you come in contact… and then something pops.

Whenever I see or hear stories of cancer, I get really emotional.

I somehow managed to make it through that movie 50/50 recently, despite the knots of familiarity in my stomach, but today when I heard that  that Adam Yauch (aka MCA) had died, it really got to me.

He was my favorite Beastie, and though I’ve always rooted for those guys as underdogs, I’ve been rooting just that much harder for him these past few years.

It’s tough to hear, man.

But little do you know about something that I talk about

I’m tired of driving it’s due time that I walk about

Five Years Cancer Free (sort of)

Five Years Cancer Free
Illustration by Troy DeShano

“Five years!” is something you’ll regularly hear celebrated by cancer survivors. To reach this landmark half-decade of remission is generally considered a good indicator you have a high chance to remain cancer free for the rest of your life (unless you’re still smoking, eating paint chips or working at a nuclear power plant).

At some point this spring I realized five years had passed since I’d had any indication of cancer in my body.

As much as I am grateful and hopeful and excited by that… the moment really just passed without any fanfare or even so much as a high-five.

Because I’ve been there before…

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Cancer Boy

When I was 21 I was diagnosed with cancer.

Testicular cancer actually, which was kind of en vogue in 2000. Celebrities like Lance Armstrong (hardly a celebrity before his cancer) and Tom Green (remember Tom Green?) were making national headlines enduring treatments and starting a very important conversation about the risk of testicular cancer among young men.

Turns out it really isn’t so glamorous.

In a lot of cases it is treatable though. If you can catch it early.

Of course, since most guys who have this type of cancer are cock-sure college age fellows who (like me) are in no hurry to get their balls checked out by the part-time nurse at the free clinic, it quite often goes undetected longer than it should.

My diagnosis and first surgery did kind of add to my celebrity around college. Whereas before I went pretty much undetected, I could now be recognized as “cancer boy.”

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Personal Update

I apologize for the sparse content lately…

I’ve been a little distracted…

hence this unusually prayer-chain-style bit of writing for those who have been wondering about my health.

About 4 weeks ago I received a call from my oncologist to alert me that some sort of nodule had shown up in my routine chest x-ray.

He wasn’t exactly sure what to do next… so I had my information and films sent to the doctor at the Cleveland Clinic who treated me during my last bout with cancer.

Then waited.

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Pretend it’s O.K.

Denial illustration
illustration by Troy DeShano

Right now I’m waiting…

Waiting to hear from a big-shot doctor.

Waiting to find out test results.

Results that probably won’t say much at all…

But at least we’ll be able to move on to Step 1.

Problem with Step 1 is that it changes your life.

Waiting is waiting.

But at least when you’re merely waiting you can still pretend.

That everything is ok.

Kids go to school.

Feed the dogs.

Work on some junk and stuff.

Pretend everything’s ok.

When the waiting ends… everything changes.

[Update 2012: I’m still kickin! also, this illustration is available as a fine art print.]

No Fear


One of the biggest truths I’ve been learning about myself recently is how I allow fear to make my decisions.

I have a lot of fear, usually irrational feelings about the imagined trajectory of my life.

Of course, when I get a call from my doctor like the one earlier this week

those fears are justified I think.

So at the end of a long day and dealing with a really scary phone call and imagining a really scary future…

It was nice to get this message in a bottle.

Thanks, Magic Hat.

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall


So I just got a voice mail from my doctor saying “something is showing up in your chest x-ray”

I’ve gotten a few of these calls.

Today was the first time in over three years since i’ve had anything but good news.

The weird thing is that it didn’t really surprise me… lately i’ve been feeling that something like this might happen…

that one of these calls was in my near future…

I don’t know why i’ve been feeling that way, i just have.

Maybe i’m a prophet.

Whatever I am, I’m not sure I’ve got enough lives left to endure another battle.

This illustration is available as a limited edition print. Set of only 12 available.

Why hello there, Death


On one of many trips from northern Michigan to the Cleveland Clinic, I was thinking about my surgery scheduled for the next day. It was one of two lung surgeries to remove tumors from the cancer that had spread through my body.

The first of these was a small mass, about the size of a dime. I had one of the top guys in the world working on me and it went great.

What really no one else knew was that the second tumor was much bigger… about the size of a walnut.

It was also wrapped halfway around one of my major arteries.

This is not cool.

So we’re driving down M-23 and I’m thinking about this and wondering if I’ll be alive tomorrow.

Then right at that moment, something happened…

I had to face death…

I was staring the grim reaper straight in the eyes… and I had to say, “ok.”

It was something I had absolutely no control over… and I had to find a way to embrace it…

not in the sense that I was “giving up the fight,” but more of just accepting the truth that I might die… and that it was ok.

That was almost 4 years ago now and I’m realizing how much truth I’ve missed in other areas of my life too.

The voices in my head have told me many lies over the years and I’ve believed a lot of them…

Most of which are about the imagined trajectory of my life (if i were to do this or that…)

or that certain parts of me don’t exist or that I can control them…

or selling other people short…

or that conflict will always end badly…

or that I won’t die…

I’m just now finally discovering the real truth.

The truth that the only way to be a hero is to dive headfirst into conflict. The truth that other people are more wise and compassionate than I think. The truth that there are parts of me that really suck… but it is me nonetheless.

The truth that I’m going to die.

Maybe today… who knows?

I hope not though, because I’m really looking forward to lunch tomorrow.