Friday, July 27, 2012

What, Me Worry?

This week the hilariously funny man Tom Davis, half of the Saturday Night Live writing team of Franken and Davis, died of throat cancer. He was diagnosed around the same time I was. He fought the good fight, but ended up succumbing to a fatal tumor that lodged in the bones of his spine and pelvis. I’ve been told that my throat cancer, currently in happy remission, might reappear in my lungs, or liver, but no one said anything about tumors down there.
Franken and Davis, insanely funny guys. “I wake up in the morning, delighted to be waking up, read, write, feed the birds, watch sports on TV, accepting the fact that in the foreseeable future I will be a dead person,” Davis wrote. “I want to remind you that dead people are people too.”
    Robin Roberts of Good Morning America fought her own cancer battle five or so years ago, only to learn recently the chemo treatments that arrested her breast cancer had planted the seeds for a new version, this time in her bone marrow. So she’s back in Cancer Land. I know you can recall people in your life who’ve gone in and out of Cancer Land a few times. It’s not unusual to hear of warriors with multiple tours in Cancer Land. Like my friend Dr. Sandy Shultz once told me: cancer is an adversary every bit as cunning as Al Qaeda. When you understand that, you gain the ability to sit back and relax. It really does no good to imagine what might or might not happen next. And even if nothing at all untoward happens cancerwise, there’s still the specter of old age and, inevitable death, the final chapter on everyone’s horizon.

    My husband Michael visited Cancer Land nearly fifteen years ago. All these years later he enjoys a cozy and practical relationship with the reality of death. This is good for me, the recently reprieved, the tentatively hopeful. Such intelligent rationale and healthy fatalism is ultimately comforting.

    Last Sunday, a mostly gray day punctuated with angry squalls of rain, thunder and lightning, Michael noticed a break in the weather around 5 p.m. and suggested a walk on the wide, breezy promenade at Smathers Beach. I picked my head up out of the book I’d been reading, and told him I was afraid of being struck by lightning. So, no.

     “Oh don’t worry about that,” he said. “If that happened you’d never even know it. And it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Think of all the misery you might miss. You’d avoid the risk dying a lingering death of cancer or of drying up of old age.”

    I came out from under my quilt, sneakered up and followed him out the door. By the time we arrived at the beach I sort of hoped I would be struck by lightning. What a great line for my obituary!

Who would notice this?
    My old friend Lois Kline celebrated her surrender to cancer with a huge party for family and fans. She was 86 years old. Lois and I shared a friendship of the sort that transcends time and space. We bumped into each other every two or three years. It never mattered how much time or circumstance separated us between visits. We had rapport. Lois had rapport with life. She was a fan of my writing, and she always let me know. I was a fan of her joie de vive. She was the kind of woman you call “real.” A few weeks after her big party she died. Her obituary, which she wrote, appeared in the paper. It made you feel happy to read that obituary. It also made you wonder about yourself: have I done everything I wanted to do with this brief appearance on Earth?

Two years down the road from Cancer Land. (Thanks, Alyson, for the happy picture,)
    The last time I saw Lois, just a few months ago, we chatted merrily, as we have dozens of times before, and she mentioned she’d been terribly sick with gall bladder disease. I now surmise it was the prologue to the pancreatic cancer that took her life shortly after that. On that day, she did not know she was terminally ill. Nonetheless, said she was thankful to have lived for 86 years. She said being old was rough. She said she had begun to be curious and ready for what comes next. After a few minutes Lois paused for a beat or two and then, cocked her head to the side and demanded: “What in the world happened to your neck, woman?”

    She’d apparently not heard of my visit to Cancer Land. Surgery on my neck has left me somewhat rearranged. Cancer treatment, after all, is always a deal with the devil. So I’m not the same as I used to be, but who is? In any event, since that surgery, husband, family, friends, and coworkers have all assured me my scar and tissue deficit is barely noticeable, unremarkable, and certainly no one meeting me for the first time would suspect from my appearance that any bad thing had ever befallen me. But Lois, with the spirit of a soaring eagle, and the keen eyes to match, noticed. I laughed out loud. Thank you, Lois, for your unerring honesty. And thanks for acknowledging those hard-won battle scars. Thanks for reminding me to live till I can't.
Miguel Perez and his grandfather, Miguel Perez.

    My ex-father-in-law is absurdly healthy, also is in his mid-80’s. He doesn’t do much anymore. He lives quietly, and often consults his doctors with health issues that have so far turned out to be not life-threatening. Still, his patience is wearing thin.
    “How’s your life going, Grampa,” my son, his grandson, might ask him.
    “It’s taking forever!” Grampa always answers.

    One of these days I’m going to write myself a brilliant obituary. It will be long, and probably expensive, because the Key West Citizen charges by the inch for obituaries. But that bill won’t be my problem. And right there, you’ve got something else to like about being dead!

1 comment:

  1. As a reader of your blog (and books), thank you for allowing me to introduce myself at the yard sale on Rose Street this morning. It was really nice to meet and talk to you.

    I've added my newly purchased treasures to my existing stash and will wrap them in a few months for "The Springer Family Garage Sale Christmas".

    Have a great week.