There are a lot of milestones in our lives: birthdays, wedding anniversaries, first date anniversaries, the day we began a new job, the day a loved one died, etc. Some are happy reminders, others not so much. Some have a bit of a mixed-bag impact on us. That's probably the best way to describe what happened five years ago today.
April 9th, 2010 was a Friday, much like any other. It was a couple of weeks before the annual Roger Ebert Film Festival, of which I am a regular attendee. Ebert was on my mind at the time, not necessarily because of the festival, but because he'd had thyroid cancer a few years earlier and, on that particular morning, I was rolling into Provena (now Presence) Hospital for a morning surgery to remove my own cancerous thyroid.
That morning was a particularly early one for Ashley & I. The surgery was scheduled for 7:30am and, like airports, hospitals want you to arrive at least an hour or two early. There was the check-in process, the interminable waiting, the flurry of staff who prep you for the procedure, and then the final approach into the cold operating theater wherein it's lights-out once the anesthesia takes hold.
The process of dealing with the cancer had begun a few months earlier, in December 2009. That's the strange thing with how the disease is often dealt with. When and if you are suspected of having cancer, you just want it out of you. Like, yesterday. But that's not the way the cookie typically crumbles. There's days, sometimes weeks, that go by. There's testing, consultations, scheduling, etc., until, in some cases, the surgery finally occurs.
My operation took about three hours, and went well. A small piece of thyroid, wrapped around a nerve, was left intact, but they wanted it neutralized, so that meant radiation. But they couldn't do radiation until my thyroid levels had altered, so that meant more waiting. In the meantime, I spent the weekend in the hospital, then came home to convalesce. At first, it was an accomplishment to be able to walk halfway around the block.
For the next two months, things were slow-going. I went back to work, but only part-time. I missed a fair amount of Ebertfest. My neck felt like someone was constantly pressing the heel of their boot against it. My energy waned quickly. And, on June 30th, mine and Ashley's anniversary, I received a radioactive iodine pill and then immediately had to seclude myself away from men, women and children (and pets) for the next three days. Fun times.
The radioactive iodine pill.... it's something else. The oncologist and a tech worker both sat and chatted amiably with me until the pill came. The person who brought it wore protective clothing, including gloves. The pill resided in a thick, grey metal cylinder. I was told not to touch the pill, that they would drop it from the cylinder into my mouth, and that I was to just swallow it as quickly as possible. Of course, this was a little unnerving.
Days went by, and a full-body scan was in order. That went okay. It helped that the two technician guys were young and hot (hey, I'm not proud of the shallowness, but when you're nervous, you cling onto anything that'll relax you). I went back to work full-time and, eventually, life resembled some of the normality that it had been before. Before the long, drawn-out whirlwind that was cancer. Check-ups every six months and adjustments to my medication are still fairly standard, but worth it.
Look, dear reader, I got off lucky. That's what I meant earlier when I described the experience as a mixed-bag. There are people who have gone through far more pain and discomfort than I was put through. There are people -- living, breathing, conscious beings who were fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, lovers -- who are no longer here because they received a cancer diagnosis and things never got any better. Some folks are enduring the pain and anxiety of cancer as I type these words.
For me, April 9th is the day that represented the apex of my time with The Big C, when it had me in its claws, and when I hit bottom and then slowly climbed back up and emerged stronger than before. It's sad that it can take something like that to make you appreciate the really important things in life (whatever those may be for you), but hey, if it works, it works. I am fortunate to still be here.
Some day, I -- like everyone on this planet currently and in the past -- will be gone. Something will get me, and it may indeed be cancer. As Chancellor Gowron once said in Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Perhaps. But not today."