Cancer....the Friendly Ghost
Cancer has been a friend to me.
But the insidious nature of the dread disease, and the devastation that it has caused in the lives of millions, make that difficult for me to even type. I have, however, been one of the fortunate ones, and the subsequent time that I have been given, has been a door opened wide.
Yesterday, I went to the radiation treatment center at the University of Kansas Medical Center for the final six-month follow-up assessment. Four years down the road, all is well, and now I will only be seeing my radiation oncologist, Dr. Shen, on an annual basis.
It’s been a bit longer than that since that evening in October of 2014 ,after arriving back from covering games 3,4, and 5 of the World Series, I sat down in my car at the Parking Spot at Kansas City International airport and idly scratched my face. I notice a small lump near my left ear under the skin, which turned out to be a cancerous invasion of my salivary gland.
My surgery and radiation treatment went well. Sure, there were hardships along the way, but good fortune would smile on me as it does for some, and doesn’t for many. I so much appreciated the well-wishers who congratulated me, but cringed a bit when they propped me up for having “beaten cancer”. I survived it. Others with great attitudes, in fine shape, and with excellent treatment, do not survive. I never was afraid, I always thought I would make it, but there wasn’t any certainty to that.
Earlier this week, I traveled to Marshall, Missouri for a book signing at Missouri Valley College. It was a cold, snowy night, and the turnout was light. It was about the fiftieth book-signing that I have done since the release of my book “Leaving Cancer for the Circus” in late 2016. Some have had large crowds, some, like this one, have not. But they have all have been rewarding to me, and those who come really want to be there, so the numbers don’t matter.
One thing that I say every time, is that, in the end, having cancer was a good thing. If I had not contracted the disease, I wouldn’t have taken the journey to the Black Hills without leaving a trace. That would have meant that the book whose template was that solo flight of fancy, wouldn’t have been written. I wouldn’t have revisited mentally some times of my life that were important and were also included in the book. And I wouldn’t have, two years later, repeated a version of that driving trip, this time with the wife I trusted to understand the first one doing the navigating.
The people and places that have entered my life due to the dread disease have been countless. Literally hundreds of people have, face to face, shared stories of how cancer has affected them or their loved ones. More than a few people have been inspired, or at least jogged a bit into taking similar trips, or have told me about excursions of the past just like mine.
I have spoken at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and in my home town of Framingham, Massachusetts. To education groups for senior citizens, and elementary school classes. The only thing they have had in common was engaged audiences who appreciated what I had to say, and an appreciative speaker delivering them.
There has been the discovery of disparate, tiny American destinations from Broken Bow, Nebraska to Hot Springs, South Dakota to Sheridan, Wyoming. There was my wife and I’s replication of my solo journey that saw us arrive in Saratoga, Wyoming, on a warm June afternoon, in the middle of a trip we were enjoying so much that we didn’t realize at first that it was our 15th wedding anniversary. We scattered from our late 19th century hotel in the town of 1,655 to try and find gifts for each other.
Much to our surprise, she found two fancy designer t-shirts in one shop, and I found high quality earrings in another, and we were directed to dinner at a gourmet Italian restaurant. During all this we found out that this tiny enclave had all of this at our disposal because just outside of town was a dude ranch for the wealthy, complete with a jet landing strip. The genesis for all of this was simple. I had cancer.
I know for a fact I wouldn’t have soaked in the details and emotions of the Kansas City Royals playoff run to a title in 2015 nearly to the extent I did while covering it, and certainly wouldn’t have chronicled them for posterity in my book if my life had not changed course due to treatment and recovery. I wouldn’t have shared with the world the crazy joy of bartering for an entire wardrobe with a lovely Korean woman in her thrift shop in Queen’s N.Y.
I wouldn’t have been inspired to take little replicas of my journey such as when I extended out covering the All-Star game in Cincinnati and played golf in Matoon, Illinois, home of Bagelfest. Or sat atop a Ferris wheel at the Southeast, Missouri district fair in Cape Girardeau, Missouri,before seeing 38 Special get bankers and executives boogieing in front of the fairgrounds stage.
I have only the slightest after effects of my disease. I have to wear an apparatus at night to keep my neck from tightening up. I get thirsty more easily since I have no main salivary gland. I have some tinnitus ringing in my left ear. They are small prices to pay for the joys that were created, and that I was inspired to create.
I was able to donate money to Coaches VS Cancer with some of the proceeds from the sale of my book, and they also have an advertisement on my website, which clicks through to theirs, perhaps providing information that will prevent people from suffering the disease, or maybe getting support if they do.
I had a very melancholy feeling yesterday sitting in the same waiting room where five days a week for six weeks I sat before thirty radiation treatments. I didn’t much like being there back then. But little did I know it was actually the beginning of a tremendous journey that continue four years later, to this day.