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September 14th, 2010

Everything is all messed up. And in the same breath, everything is perfect.

On the outside, looking in — and honestly, from the inside looking in too — it appears the misfortunes I’ve had over the past year have been devastating. Losing my job would be enough to throw me over the edge. Getting another job and having that paper go out of business after a short few weeks would appear heart-rending. My daughter not getting into the overseas program she dreamed about or us getting robbed in Paris both were punches to our familial psyche. Not getting a summer or fall teaching gig after finding my calling as a professor was a blow. Leukemia. Yeah, leukemia. You know the rest.

Sure, each of those losses held gifts for us hidden in the ruins. But I don’t always feel those gifts. I can’t honestly sit here and say I’m glad I don’t have a job even though not having one lifts an entire metric ton of weight off my shoulder in terms of needing to get things done, organized, taken care of, worried about.

Some days, like today, I can feel the equal and opposite weight on my shoulder of the cancer. I can feel it dragging at my heels as I sprint for the cure. And the one place where I normally get my solace, the people around me, are some of the ones doing the dragging. Talking to older patients today had the effect of putting the stink eye on my prognosis. Here they were, lined up with their bald heads and face masks — that I too will soon sport — telling me all the things that can go wrong. Each of them having had recurring cancers and at least two marrow transplants. How can you think everything will go smoothly? Do you know you won’t be able to cook meals for months? You’ll have to have someone around you 24/7.  You are susceptible to every disease out there. That hair that’s slowly growing back on your head, well it’s about to fall out all over again.

And on and on.

They meant no harm; they just smelled younger meat recently joining their club and like a freshman initiation, I had to walk the gauntlet. But mixed in with the “advice” were nuggets I could glean that made visceral sense. One guy said he felt like he was back to his normal self right away, even though he wasn’t supposed to go out and do things. It was winter time anyway, so that didn’t really bother him. Another person said attitude is everything, which I’ve often heard. Too bad that claim was immediately disputed by some of the others there, lined up waiting for their appointments. One of the participants even asked what type of anti-anxiety drug I was on. When I said I was anti-depressant-less, the others chimed in with their pharmacologicals. It seriously almost made me depressed.

I was thinking about all their jumbled words as I was later locked into a breathing chamber upstairs in an adjacent building. The plexiglass enclosure was supposed to test the many facets of my breathing. For a guy who has a few recent psychological issues surrounding not being able to breathe, you don’t really want to shut me up in a box with a glorified clothespin over my nose and a large tube protruding from my mouth.

“Now pant quickly, now inhale, now exhale even if it feels like you can’t force any more air out.” The machine actually stopped up and I was supposed to push as hard as I could against my lack of being able to breathe.

Where were those anti-anxiety pills?

I realized after my bell jar tests were over that this whole cancer and recovery thing really pisses me off. People telling me their horror stories really pisses me off. Not knowing how long all of this is going to take really pisses me off. Not having any control over it all really pisses me off.

And yet I have the time to write. And yet somehow we are making it work financially. And yet my daughter not being in England and me not having a job as a professor or photo editor seems to work to our overall advantage right now. I wouldn’t wish leukemia or recovery on anyone, but I definitely wouldn’t wish it on someone who’s busy.

I don’t know the cosmic plan. I don’t know my own plan. But I’m getting the impression that somehow this is all playing out perfectly, according to some unforeseen diagram.  And yes, that pisses me off too.

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