A couple of months from now, I probably wouldn't even bother writing this post. My 25-year-old son's cancerous testicle would be gone and whatever vestiges of cancer would have been duly zapped by chemo, never to return, and Jack would be surfing, fly fishing, teaching wilderness skills and getting on with his life as if nothing had ever happened, just like thousands of young men 15-35 who've survived testicular cancer.
But that's a couple of months from now.
Today, it's a different story. A story that perhaps shouldn't even be happening if the doctors on duty at the urgent care clinic in Santa Cruz had done a sonogram on June 6 when Jack came in complaining of a hard, painful left testicle instead of jokingly blaming his symptoms on STDs and prescribing a course of antibiotics. Had they done a sonogram, they might have seen the beginnings of two distinct solid masses in the testicle that, by the time Jack returned to the clinic upon his return from a 10-day steelhead fishing expedition on the remote Dean River in British Columbia, were the size of almonds and, according to the doctor on duty Thursday, Aug. 15, were "99 percent certain" to be cancerous. A urologist concurred, and on Monday the 19th, after chest X-rays and an abdominal sonogram turned up nothing unusual, the tumor-laden testicle was removed and biopsied to reveal a lush garden of different types of cancer. Next, Jack will get a CT scan to determine if the cancer has spread (though the biopsy indicated that it was contained in the testicle), and in a couple of days, my wife and I will return to Santa Cruz to meet with the doctor and determine the course of treatment.
So, if the story isn't over, why tell it? If testicular cancer has a 98 percent cure rate if caught early -- that's "cure" as in "goes away and never comes back" -- what's to post? What's the big deal? I can understand why this little post would be a big yawn to the outside observer. If those questions are rattling around your cerebral cortex, my apologies, but this post really isn't for you.
It's for your parents.
As every truly indoctrinated, authentic, born-to-be-a-parent knows, there's nothing worse than having a sick kid. From that first ear infection to the projectile vomiting to the pants full o' stink and the sore throat/runny nose/green snot boogie monster blues to the coal mine whooping coughs and sizzling fevers, up to the broken bones, twisted ankles, torn tendons, then further and further to the edge of leukemia, Hodgkins, lymphoma, MS and the bad-blood-gone-criminal until it's cancer -- of the blood, the lymph nodes, the bone, the brain, the lung and the pancreas, the liver, the vagina, the kidneys, the breasts, the ovaries and the uterus, the prostate and the tiny, innocent unassuming testicles of your only son -- nothing makes the professional parent feel so utterly powerless and frustrated.
It doesn't take a parent to know that there's nothing like feeling powerless and frustrated to bring out a little suboptimal behavior. Patience can be short. Tempers may flare, tummies are upset. Booze may be over-consumed while tasteless anti-humor builds a fortress around our raw and sensitive hearts to ward off the primordial fear and crippling pain. Parents may even find that everything that once made us a little snarky can now trigger a regrettable episode of violent self-pity that may include threatening to smack anyone that mentions Lance Armstrong's testicular cancer and matching clothing line, or anyone pontificating platitudes about 98 percent cure rates and the fact that babies can still be made with one testicle or, worst of all, we may piss off the folks that are doing their best to help.
As a friend put it so succinctly: "There really isn't anything that can be said that will mitigate the raw fear and anger that we experience when a loved one is dealing with something like cancer. It stinks... and when it is your child, the pain and the fear is all the more intense. I will keep you in my prayers. Hang in there and take care of yourself as well."
Take care of ourselves? Perhaps that's the one thought that trumps all others, and probably the one thing that parents of sick kids, especially sick adult kids, lose sight of. And it's probably the only thing in this whole horrifying cancer dance that a proud parent can actually control to some degree. To me, a card-carrying member of the "Drown Your Sorrows" philosophical society, taking care of myself in a healthy fashion is counter-intuitive. Then again I've never had a cancer patient in my family, and both Mom and Dad checked out on my watch so perhaps I should look into an alternative, more positive, healthier approach. Maybe this would be a good time to quit trying to be so goddamn clever and just shut up for a change.
Uh. No. That would be going too far. Besides, the least I can do is put this megaphone that the nice folks at HuffPost have bequeathed upon me to work and solicit a few "likes" for my boy, Jack. As always I'm happy to return the favor because as we know this parenting business is a life sentence and we're gonna need all the help we can get.
Jeb Harrison is the author of the "amiably profane" and "sidesplitting" novel Hack and the "so corny it's husky" blog, Adventures in Limboland. His next novel, American Corporate, is deep in the fermentation process and might be on the real and virtual shelves at any time.
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