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A Few Things I Would Have Done Differently When I Had Cancer

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Dana Neely via Getty Images

They say that hindsight is 20/20. They mean that once you look back at something, you can finally see it clearly. They... are liar holes.

It has been twelve years since I battled cancer, and when I look back at the whole sordid affair, I still have questions that I have not been able to answer. Part of that comes from the sheer amount of time that has elapsed since my diagnosis and treatment. Clearly remember something twelve years ago that happened in a fog?

Pfft.

And that is part of my problem. Many of the stories that I share with you in this blog were the biggies... the cathartic moments, or the milestones, or the moments I'd like to forget. Curse you spank bank failure! And your crappy magazines!!

But for the day-to-day survival, I have fleeting glimpses of what happened. The reason is simple: I never created a history of anything that happened. It is one of the greatest mistakes of my life, though it didn't seem so at the time. Because you see, when I was going through my battle, all I wanted to do was forget that I was going through my battle. I had the clear mindset that once my fight was over, cancer would never enter my life again.

I could not have been more wrong.

So with that in mind, and with hindsight being...well...you know, I have come up with a list of my own stupidity to share with you so that you will at least have the choice that I no longer have.

1. Take pictures.

When I was asked to give a TEDx talk last year, I thought that it would be easy to find some pictures that would tell my story. Yet when I went to go find some, I was all but shut out. I ended up finding a total of three. And of the three, only one was taken of me without a baseball cap. And then I remembered that I refused to let anyone take my picture. At the time, I thought I was being smart by not giving the cancer any power, especially with my memories.

The reality is that while I was in the fight of my life, some very wonderful things happened during that time, and I have almost nothing but my thoughts by which to remember them.

Now in fairness, these were also the days before everyone had a 500 megapixel camera in their pocket, but for me, that would be a cop out. As it turns out, I was pretty vain, and I always had been. In high school, I had the kind of braces that went all the way around my teeth, and I wore glasses. I so despised having my picture taken looking like that. In fact, I didn't even bother getting a copy of my Junior year yearbook. I don't have a clue of how my picture even turned out.

Looking back, I don't know which was more destructive... my delusions with cancer, or my delusions with vanity.

2. Write stuff down.

Now when I had cancer back in oh-two, the word "blog" didn't even exist. In fact, if you wanted to write anything, there were two ways: journaling, or keeping a diary. I hated the word journal, as it reminded me too much of high school. (See above for my feelings on that time in my life.)

And a diary? As a 29 year-old boy? I can see it now...

Dear Diary,
Today, my entire future lineage was on the line as I went to my local sperm bank. When I arrived, Nurse Ratched walked me into a room with a cup, a chest-of-drawers filled with sub-optimal filth, and a couch with more human fluid than a Huggies convention. A circus monkey could not have met the requirements to seal the deal. Needless to say, I ended up with scorch marks and an empty cup. Will try again tomorrow. Maybe I'll use my left hand so it feels like someone else is pulling it off, no pun intended.
Sincerely,
Useless

It is only now as a blogger that I realize the importance of writing things down for several reasons. One, it's been cathartic for me to remember this stuff. If anything, it allows me to see the humor and ludicrous nature of battling cancer. Second, as I've said a million times, it's imperative that we tell our stories. If just one guy on the "Physically Unable to Perform" list reads that I was unable to "perform" at the Hotel Spankifornia, it will help him feel that not only is he not alone, but that it happens way more than anyone will ever say.

And lastly, it's easy. Anyone can write a blog. Anyone can publish a blog. All you have to do is be willing to put yourself out there, and then take the time to write a few words. And trust me, those few words don't have to be brilliant; they just have to be you. You don't have to be Shakespeare, or Joyce, or Grisham. All you have to be is Smith, or Kurumochi, or Patel.

Just don't write like that Duffy bloke. He's not as good as he thinks he is.

3. If you have an itch, scratch it.

There are many times during my little skirmish with cancer that I gave in to the physical beating. Friends would call and ask me to do things, and while my heart wanted to say yes, my brain would say "No. I'm too sick."

I'm not saying that my heart was more intelligent than my brain. There are times when you just have to say "No." But more often than not, when I told my brain to back off, I made memories to last a lifetime.

I will never forget one Sunday afternoon. My now-wife/then-fiancé Stephanie had some friends in from out of town. They were going to a now-defunct place called S&P Oyster Company to drink a few drinks, eat a few appetizers, and have a few laughs. Steph asked if I wanted to go, and I politely declined. "I just feel like crap."

As I laid in bed, succumbing to my nausea, I realized that what I was doing was not helping my situation in the least. Whether I sat in the sun or slept in a cool, dark bedroom, I was still going to feel like crap. So I put my big boy pants on, grabbed a cap, and drove out to meet her. This was at 2 p.m.

So at 1 a.m. was it the smartest thing I ever did? On the surface, no... but in the deeper meaning of what life is really all about, I could not have made a better decision.

I just wish I had done it more often.

***

When I look back, I realize that I made a lot of silly mistakes on my journey. I could cop-out and say that no one told me any of these things, but I'm not sure I would have listened anyway. As a 29 year-old boy going through this, only my doctor and I knew best... or so I thought.

I thought wrong. Don't be ashamed of being bald. If you are, blog about it. And a few beers are awfully good for nausea.

Oysters on the other hand...

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