Monday, January 16, 2012


Most people would say Matthew keeps his feelings inside --unlike his brother whose emotional state is to open books what the Super Bowl is to football.

But that's not a true description of Matthew. He's actually far from stoic. When Matthew is happy or excited, it's pretty obvious. It's only when something's troubling him that he keeps it inside.

 Here's my theory.

 Matthew is an optimist. So when things are going well, there's no reason to hide what he's feeling -- it jibes with his overall outlook. But when things aren't going well, when your world outlook is sunny, but the world is giving you a skyful of dreary, what do you do? If you were to show that you're sad, upset, troubled -- that the world isn't as rosy and shiny as you like to make it out to be -- well, that just doesn't compute with your internal programming.  So you don't let on. You still project optimism, while internally you worry that the pessimists are right. You wage an internal battle of half-full versus half-empty. And if you're a powerful optimist, you can keep the pessimism at bay. But at times, the darkness is just overpowering and it escapes from the bottle it's been kept in.  (I'm trying hard to resist Star Wars metaphors here but they seem almost inevitable.)

Matthew, most people would agree, is a lot like me. And whether or not that's good for him is open for debate, but it's been helpful for me in dealing with my diagnosis. When I was first diagnosed, it was briefly overwhelming. Yes, it was a slow-growing lymphoma. Yes, it was treatable if not curable. Yes, I felt fine. But it escaped the bottle.


Then it got stuffed back in. With a relatively tight seal. I jumped at the good news of a potentially great new job close to home. I convinced myself that I might not even need to have treatment for many years. Maybe the somewhat ambiguous pathology was because it wasn't really cancer. (Never underestimate the power of the force.)

That's not going to happen. It is lymphoma. The enlarged lymph nodes haven't miraculously returned to normal (although my blood work has -- and I'm no longer anemic!) and a few nodes are slowly growing. It is going to need treatment sometime; if not in six months, then maybe a year, or 18 months. It's not going to be 18 years. But that's okay. I'm in great hands with Dr. LaCasce and with Dana-Farber. I won't go into the treatment options here, but there are many good ones, I'm told. And that's all I need to know right now.

In the last couple of weeks, Stacy and I have been talking a lot about how we share the news of my diagnosis. If you're reading this, then you know about it. But beyond a small circle of people who I see daily or weekly, I hadn't told many people. It's only in the last couple weeks, that I've started to tell my old high school friends, my college friends, my coaching friends, my old colleagues from Pohly where I worked for nearly 13 years... really anyone who will listen.

There are a lot of theories for this. Talking about talking about it helped. So did this great post from my colleague at Dana-Farber. But the biggest reason for the increased openness is that I've learned over the last six months how to have my bad news coexist not just with my optimism, but with my image of myself as an active, healthy person.

It's been a tough six months.Our cat of 17 years died; Matthew broke his elbow in such an unusual way that it's likely he'll never have full range of motion in his right arm; I was diagnosed with cancer; and I lost my job for the first time -- not just in my professional career, but in my life.

That's a lot of bad juju from Darth Vader's peeps.

But it doesn't change my outlook. It doesn't change me. I am an optimist.