I went to my local hospital yesterday morning for some bloodwork. I have a “standing order” for the same tests monthly to monitor my kidney function, or as I call it the “how much have I lost this month” tests. The laboratory waiting room was small and crowded, I swear the room was built as an afterthought. I checked in, surveyed the room, saw a lot of sniffling people and the germaphobe in me chose to stand in the doorway until called.
When called, I trudged through the sea of inconsiderately outstretched legs, carefully dodging the onslaught of germs that I sensed were targeting me as if I had disrupted a wasp’s nest. After my blood was drawn I was led to the door and the Nurse said, for all the waiting room to hear, “ok now head over to Oncology they’re expecting you”. All eyes were on me. As I again navigated the sea of people standing between the door and my exodus an elderly gentleman softly said to his wife,
“he doesn’t look sick”.
I thought about responding but decided against it. Maybe it was the word “Oncology” that threw him, he didn’t know that my iron infusion was administered in the Oncology lab. After I checked in to the Oncology clinic, I sat down and reflected on a similar incident many years ago.
I was treated for Cancer in 1998 at age 31. At that time, I was the proud, doting father of an 18-month-old little girl and my wife was pregnant with my son. I was working full time at the restaurant at night, my days consisted of playing with my daughter and hitting the gym during her morning nap. I was in great shape, the best of my life. I was training for power at the gym, moving a lot of weight for at least 90 minutes a day. One day I was training legs and I attempted a press of 1300 pounds. It was a lot of weight, the kind that requires a guy on each side of the machine to bail you out if your knees pop off and stick to the ceiling. I completed 3 reps, rolled off of the machine and immediately threw up all over the floor. The pain in my core was excruciating. I called my doctor immediately. After I was examined, my doctor asked what my plans for the afternoon were. I told him I was going to work. “Call in sick,” he said and suggested that I call my wife next. I knew it, Cancer.
That nagging pain in my groin was actually a golf-ball sized tumor. It was my favorite, “Lefty”. “Lefty” had to go, regardless of whether it was benign or malignant. My blood work had already indicated that it was malignant. I was asked if I wanted a prosthetic Lefty, I declined. I was married after all, who is going to see? As an aside, I would like to borrow Mr. Peabody’s time machine right about now.
The surgery was scheduled for 10 agonizing days later. To know that you have something inside that is silently trying to kill you and having to wait 10 days to have it removed is torture. I was incredibly aware of it, as if the creature in Alien was planning its moment to pop out of me and wreak havoc. In the meantime, I went to work and acted like everything was just fine. I told one person what was going on, my boss, because I needed to schedule the time off for surgery. He told some people and sure enough, it got out. People started treating me differently. As the kitchen clown, I was a lightning rod for jokes and abuse. My days were always full of banter, it made the day pass. We were all like that. Now, everyone was being so fucking NICE to me I couldn’t take it. I was now the sick guy. People get like that when they hear the “Big C”. There’s nothing they can do and they don’t know what to say. I let them do their thing and I did mine, I deflected it and moved on.
The surgery was successful. And timely. The words “Just in time” were used in conversation. Now in a specimen jar, Lefty was indeed malignant. I would not need chemo, only a long steady regimen of Radiation therapy to my abdominal region.
The Radiation therapy would prove to be a breeze for me. My Oncologist was noticeably shocked at how well I handled it. He would tell me of how patients had to stop treatment due to fatigue and nausea. I was going to the gym and then work after a mere week after my surgery.
Work would prove to be difficult, but not for the reasons you would expect. My strength wasn’t there but I was able to do my job. If they let me. My co-workers, who normally abused me were offering to help me lift things, giving me easier assignments, asking me if I wanted to leave earlier. The worst thing of all is they were being so nice still. No abuse of any kind. I couldn’t take it so one very hot August night I decided to put end this nice stuff.
We were all sweating, it was 95 outside and we were inside a kitchen with 8 ovens, 4 fryolators and 12 saute stations going full tilt. I was sweaty and miserable and I knew I had to pick my moment. I walked into the back kitchen area during a lull and they were all there. I dropped my apron to the floor dramatically and said, “Jesus, I’m sweating my BALL off here!” They erupted in laughter, the tension instantly disappeared. My buddy Joe looks at me and says “so it’s on?”
“Yes, it’s on. Stop tip toeing around me I hate it!”
The abuse was rampant and apparently retroactive. “Billy one-nut” was born. And I loved it, things were back to normal, finally.
One day soon after, as I was leaving the radiation center, I hugged my dear nurses’ goodbye and walked through the waiting room. As I passed an elderly couple, the husband leaned in to the wife and said: “he doesn’t look sick.” I stopped, turned to him and said’ “that’s the idea”.
To be continued…