Bad is Bad (and Good is Good)

IMG_4136 (1)I have a small ask: if we perchance run into one another, please don’t greet me with sympathetic eyes and a sad voice and  say “How are you doing?”  It’s different than when you do say the normal “How are you DOing?”.  The sad version makes me feel weird, as if you are saying “You poor bastard, you look like shit and I want you to know how sorry I am for you”.

Now of course, I don’t know if you or anyone is actually thinking those words when we meet, but it sure feels like it when the words are accompanied with that certain face and voice. Sympathy makes me feel really uncomfortable.  I’m not feeling sorry for myself (usually). Confused and unlucky? Absolutely. Missing the lifestyle of work and travel and health I had only a few months ago? Of course.   I suppose 58 years of training as a rugged individualist has conditioned me to bristle at being sympathized for. But I’m still operating from an “I’ve got this” mentality, so when I see looks or expressions of sympathy directed at me, it messes with my mojo. I don’t mean to seem ungrateful. The gift of your support has been amazing, healing, restorative and fun. But easy does it on the sympathy.

You can say or do just about anything else, incidentally. A friend in one such chance encounter just the other day said “Holy crap man, you look like shit”!  I laughed so hard I thought I was going to pee.  In a different encounter at the grocery store, I ran into a friend and his 4 year old son. The boy was tracking our conversation better than I thought. He asked “what’s WRONG with you?” I laughed and said “They are giving me medicine that makes me look like my thumb, see?” – and I held up my thumb and we both laughed.

“Bad is bad” is what I am learning and comparisons of whose Bad is worse are meaningless. Sure, going through cancer treatment again is bad compared to the privileged existence of my life, but I can think of a LOT of things that would be as bad, or worse. Just a few weeks ago, two colleagues whose love story parallels our own were walking together when one of them unexpectedly fell down, had a heart attack and died. His Love apparently gave him CPR to no avail. He was Moe’s age.  I can only imagine how I would feel if that happened to Moe.  But I haven’t felt that kind of bad yet, so my Bad will have to do, just like whatever tragedy or adversity has befallen you that you feel defines your Bad. I don’t need to know my Bad looks much worse to you than your Bad, but it is helpful to know you have felt bad before and you can empathize with me. That feels awesome, actually.

And incidentally, I think the same thing applies to good.  Good is good, and your version of Good doesn’t have to outshine mine, or vice versa.  The point is, have you felt joy, and love, and affection, and other positive emotions.  I have, and you are part of them.


May Days – The Privilege of Overdoing It

“How’s your energy level?”

“OK” I say, “I think I overdid it last week and I paid the price for it this weekend.”

“When is your next chemo again?” I answer “two weeks from yesterday”.

The next question kind of depends on how much you like hearing about the details. One is “…what are your counts?” but more generally people ask…”what are your doctor’s saying?”

“Creatinine is coming down, white count’s low but coming back and red count’s low but to be expected. The Dr. says I am doing fine…” I report. It feels almost rote to say these things, I say them so often.

I don’t mind people asking at all, they’re trying to get a sense of how I am doing and how it’s going. And I am grateful when the conversation moves on to other topics. It’s uncomfortable getting so much attention and being the focus. I am also endlessly grateful for the friends I have and how they show up for me. Thank you.

The truth is, the grind of the treatment is starting to show more. One of my step kids, making a dark joke that we all laughed at during one of my low points, said “you are looking pretty cancerous today, Jimmy”, and I do sometimes.

I walked a hill with a friend earlier this week and noticed I was really working. That same friend, Jim Cogswell, lent me his cycle cross bike so I can bike around town during my treatment. Bend is sort of situated on the side of a gradual hill, and we sort of live near the top of that hill, so whenever I come home, I have to suck it up a to get there. If I’m not well hydrated when I have to expend a lot of energy, I can feel my energy almost literally decrease with each exhale.

Canyon TrailI know what it feels like to be treated with chemo and NOT be able to overdo it. I feel privileged to be able to get out and overdo it, even when I don’t use good judgment.

People warn me not to overdo, but I do.I think this is pretty normal, or at least that’s my story. I’d rather find out where the limit is than to be too passive or conservative. Thanks anyway. Moe just rolls her eyes. She almost always sees what is happening before I do, and we end up in a married couple banter that probably says as much about our male/female dynamic as it is about our marriage.

“Do you think you overdid it today Jim? “ she says. I go straight for the innocent ignorance strategy, “…no, not really, what do you mean?”

“You just seem pretty low energy now, and your cough seems to be worse” she says.

I pivot to the its just a flesh wound strategy “Nahh, I’ll be fine, I just need to eat something and get more water on board.” Then the eye roll. Why she stays with me is a mystery.

It’s another beautiful day today. Thank you world, thank you body, thank you.