Dave Watson is undergoing treatment for cancer. Part one of his story can be found, here.
Nobody wants to die. I’m pretty confident that’s true, although I am just extrapolating from my own opinions on this one. I know I don’t want to stop living, and I assume you are still hanging around due to a similar motivation. Which is kind of funny, since dying happens to be the only thing that being born guarantees each of us. The main thing nobody ever wants, we all get for sure. I don’t believe in God, but I have a lot of respect for His sense of humour.
Of course, accepting mortality is a lot easier when it’s an abstract concept about an eventual demise, perhaps something cinematic with a four-poster bed amidst a circle of family and friends. Maybe you’ll say something cryptic like, “Don’t forget to put the mustard away,” for your last words. Maybe not. Just me, then, trying to go off with some mystery.
The point is that we can compartmentalize this dreadful knowledge of our own demise and just get on with things. If you want to travel down a particular mental path, I guess that makes all our existences ultimately futile, but I’m not finding this experience is making me feel hopeless or mired in depression. Nor have I been prone to anger. I just don’t seem to have the energy—or time—to rail against something that’s so inevitable. I need all the strength I have to fight the disease, not to bitch about it.
That doesn’t mean there’s no emotion attached—I don’t have to think very hard to set off a struggle with my tear ducts these days—but I can’t function if all I do is feel sorry about things. In most respects, I had to reestablish that psychologically protective remoteness of death without retreating back into denial. Just stay in acceptance and be aware that any long-term planning is entirely speculative.
That was how I spent the winter, with 50-hour chemotherapy sessions every two weeks that did a good job of reducing my symptoms (or maybe it was the traditional Chinese medicine, or the return of mental focus and clarity as my liver started working again, or sheer force of will, all in combination). On the whole, I would’ve preferred a spring-summer respite, but maybe I’m all aligned for that starting now. That’s the way I have to think. This is a very irritating disease (frankly, I am insulted by this petty cancer sent to annoy me) and I intend to give it a miserable ride while I continue to enjoy my life.
The following are a few realities and realizations that have come out of the past few months.
Time Management and organization You have to learn a lot very quickly when you have cancer, which is not the easiest thing to accomplish when you’re still processing the emotional shock—not just your own, but also that of your friends and family. Notifying each of those folks is pretty exhausting, and it gets kind of repetitive, too. It turns out there’s a limit to the number of times you can stand hearing people tell you how sorry they are that you’re sick. Unfortunately, such notifications aren’t the sort of task you can easily outsource.
However, there are quite a few tasks where any and all help is appreciated. This disease is so time-consuming that it should come with its own administrative assistant. I was fortunate enough to have two helpers for the first couple of months, and when I say that my wife, Niki, and sister Joyce kept me alive in November and December, one of the major factors was merely managing the new details of my life. It’s not just your own diminished capabilities that make things difficult (but it sure contributes its share) but also all the appointments and tests and meetings that need to happen. Just when you’re at your worst, suddenly you need to adopt a new skill set—or get someone’s help. You’ll need it, I guarantee.
I’m becoming dolphinized People ask me about hair loss. Although I haven’t gone bald, I am dropping a lot of fur. When I take a shower, the tub ends up looking like someone tried to stuff a small dog down the drain. What’s left on top is most of a skull’s worth of limp and lifeless stringy hairs, all gradually becoming more distant from each other. I’ve also thinned out or said goodbye to lots of body hair, especially in places where my arms or legs get rubbed by clothing when I move around. Every day, in every way, I’m getting pinker and sleeker.
What to watch? It probably seems criminal to spend much of one’s limited time on Earth watching television, but the fact is, with cancer you spend a lot of time sitting around, so there might as well be a TV on in the room all day. The problem is that most programming during the day isn’t very interesting—at least if you’re not a fan of soap operas or news reports broadcast on an endless loop. Furthermore, you don’t want to get involved in too many shows with continuing story lines, just in case you’re not around for the final wrap-up. Nobody wants to be on their deathbed fretting about the Oceanic Six on Lost.
That’s why I recommend HGTV, the home and garden channel. Sure, it’s all home repair, home selling, home shopping, and decorating, but it’s also near-perfect TV: every episode has an ending, and it’s usually a happy one. Problems are discovered, then solved with a little labour and brand-name building materials. Plus, you get to look inside other people’s houses without risking arrest. Seeing as I don’t receive the Turner Classic Movies channel, HGTV is the best I’ve got.