Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Take That, Take Two

The East Bay Bike Path which runs
from Bristol, RI to Providence
Sometimes when I run,I feel like I'm running. Other times I feel like a runner.

Those are the days when the running feels natural, where my eyes wander off the pavement in front of me, and my thoughts tend to drift off into the wilderness. When I notice the goslings feeding on the grass by the bike path; when I see the sun painting shadows on Brickyard Pond; when I really hear the lyrics of the music playing in my ears.

This weekend I had a run like that.

Five miles in the hot sun. It wasn't that the running was easy -- far from it; it took me nearly a mile to find my stride and the last mile was challenging. But those miles in the middle, I felt strong, comfortable, like I could run all day. Even as I struggled to keep my pace the last warm mile (when I knew I wouldn't run all day), I felt like I belonged out there.

Dorothy Parker famously said, I hate to write; I love having written. There's a little truth to that in running, too, particularly on the days where it's a grind. But there's more to it than that. It's not just the release of endorphins, the runner's high. It's the satisfaction of rising to a challenge. And as much fun as it is to run in a cool, cloudy, 50-degree day; on days when the weather isn't so cooperative -- when driving rain is pelting your face; or when it's so hot that you're sweating from your first step -- there's even more satisfaction. It's as if someone has thrown some obstacles in your path and said, "Ha, bet you can't do it now."

 It's harder and in that hardness, there's more than a feeling of completion, there's a sense of assertion. And on those days when it all feels right, there's a sense of take that, cancer.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Infinite Loop

There are times when I get a song stuck in my head -- but not the whole song, just three or four lines that repeat in an endless loop. I can't play the whole song, but I can't not play those lines.

My next post has been in that same kind of loop.

It seems as soon as I made the blog public, I ran right into that giant wall of writer's block. It's been tough to find the time. It's been a busy week at work. I haven't been on the train as much this week (my usual source of quiet inspiration). I've been trying to tackle a tough topic.

All the usual excuses apply.

 But none of them are really accurate. The root cause is really all in my head. As soon as I made the blog public, I started thinking too much about who I was writing for. Instead of just writing what was on my mind, I was trying to craft something on topic.

When I started the blog, as I said in some of my early posts, it was to get the ideas circling around in my head and get them down on paper -- not because they're so profound or inspirational, but because by writing them, I can get my thought pattern off the hamster wheel. That's why I settled on Thinking Out Loud for the blog name. 

Sometimes the worst thing you can do with cancer is think.

The two most therapeutic things I do are run and write -- and I need to do both of them for me.

 -- Michael

p.s. I do realize that the Calvin & Hobbes isn't really about writer's block, but it's one of my favorite all time C&H strip.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What's In A Label?

A colleague of mine was talking about a friend of hers who has cancer - let's call her Jane. And Jane told my friend that she doesn't want to be known as "Cancer Girl." She doesn't want to be that girl that people say, "Oh, Jane. Didn't you hear? She has cancer." Doesn't want to be the one where a colleague she barely knows comes up to her and puts a gentle hand on her shoulder, and with a slightly cocked head, says, "Are you alright?"

I hear you, Jane. 

It's hard to understand the multiple layers and labels that make up any individual.  Each layer adds a voice to the complicated song that defines us -- and few people hear the chorus of voices. It's easier to hear just that one voice and to know what the voice sounds like. That's what drives us to labels.

You're a democrat or a republican. You're a Gen Xer or a Baby Boomer or a Millennial. You're a soccer mom or a working mom; a lawyer; a doctor. Each one conjures up its predefined notion of what that label is. But it's never that cut and dried. 

To really understand someone, you need to know which of the labels apply - you need to know the voices that make up their song. The problem with the cancer label is that it is always the loudest voice in the chorus. 

I don't want to be known as The Guy With Cancer. Not just because of the complications of people's reactions to that news. But because it threatens to drown out the other voices in my song. I'm a Dad, a husband, a son, a brother, a friend, a colleague, a manager, a coach, a runner, a writer, a soccer player, a center fielder and many other things.  

Will any of them be audible over the din of a cancer label? 

One of the ongoing challenges of cancer is to not let it define you. I can't control how people label me - and that's true with or without a cancer diagnosis -- but what I can control is how I perceive myself. And no matter how many people know I have cancer; no matter what treatments may or may not come, I'm never going to think of myself as "The Guy With Cancer."



Sunday, May 20, 2012

A New Name

Well, it's official.

I've flipped the switch. Anyone can find this blog, which is now officially: Thinking Out Loud: A Cancer Blog. I had toyed with the name, "Out of Control" but it seemed too pessimistic for me. So there you have it.
 I actually went back and read everything I've written since last June and except for a few typos and such, there was little I'd change. But it's interesting to see how my outlook has changed in the last nine months. 

Thanks for your comments and ongoing support.


p.s. - I added a link to Dr. LaCasce in some of the older posts (and here too). It's her profile on dana-farber's web site, including a short video of her.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Inching Closer to Public

Well, I shared the link to my blog post on Facebook moments ago. So now my tight group of friends and family who know is expanded to the 200 or so "friends" on Facebook, including a bunch of high-school friends who I haven't spoken with in about 30 years. 

It's not as if anything has happened recently that's driving this into a more public discussion. It's just that I might be ready.

It's hard to see your mindset change as it's happening. But over nine months, that's what's happened. In the beginning, I struggled with how to define myself -- cancer patient implies someone in active treatment; cancer survivor implies someone who has beaten cancer. Neither seemed right. I never said: I have cancer; I always said, "I was diagnosed with cancer."

Now when I look at it, I see why. Saying I have cancer is an admission of a current status. If I just say "I was diagnosed," it isolates it in the past (and in passive voice, at that). It's somewhat of a mental defense mechanism that I must have needed until I could wrap my mind around what it meant to have cancer.

I'd be lying if I said I know what it means, but I know what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean I'm getting radiation. Or chemo. It doesn't mean I'm losing my appetite. Or my hair.

Right now, it doesn't mean anything. So I think in the next day or so, I'm going to flip the switch on the blog and go from a private blog open to just you all, to a public blog. The title: Thinking Out Loud: A Cancer Blog. And I'm going to try to commit to three posts a week. (You don't have to read them all.)

We'll see what happens. Maybe two people will read it and it will help them. Maybe two hundred will. Whatever happens, though, I'm ready.