So, last week, I found out that I have cancer.
I’ve heard stories about the realities of the discovery, but never really internalized them because the journey was never that personal. It was always a distant family member of a friend. The degree of severity was never actually driven home until I became a member of the club.
Now, I have multiple myeloma.
I thought long and hard for about a week about I would, and how to, share the news. My wife and I had to explain it to our teenage kids. We had to explain the realities of my upcoming chemotherapy. We had to explain that “Dad may not be his usual self” for a while. I smiled all through the discussion. After doing so, and studying the varying communities where I chat and play, it occurred to me that a cancer diagnosis is not a widely shared struggle. Most do so surrounded only by the closest of family and friends.
Honestly, that’s just not me.
In a previous life, I was a master karate instructor. I only retired back in 2012. At my prime, I used to tell my students that if I can inspire just one person to keep training and become a black belt, then I’ll feel accomplished at my work. While I left the practice to focus on my family, a lot of black belts now claim me as an early influence.
So, I took the same approach with this cancer diagnosis and started posting about it on Twitter and Facebook. If, in my journey, I can inspire just one person to fight back, then I’ll have contributed. Yes, I’m going to make this personal. Yes, I’m going to push past this and live a long life. Yes, I’m going to take you along for the ride. If you don’t want the details, don’t read my posts, unfollow me on social media; but SOMETHING I say just may light a fire under someone and convince them to not give up.
I used to say that the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was running a triathlon. Then it was taking my Master’s test in karate. Then it was maintaining a good marriage. Then it was raising two healthy kids.
Today, I realized my whole life has prepared me for the challenge of cancer. Y’all come along for the ride.
I come from a large blended family.
I have six siblings- four brothers and two sisters. I’m especially close to two brothers.
November 19, 2017 will always be the hardest day of my entire life. You see, early that morning, I got a text from my mom asking me to call her; it was very important. I called her immediately, expecting that my grandfather, who is already in terrible shape, had fallen again or had another stroke.
When I called, the first words out of my mouth were, “Is it Pappaw?”
It wasn’t. It was Eli, my youngest brother, just 25.
He had committed suicide in the middle of the night.
I screamed for hours it seemed. I couldn’t stop screaming.
My baby brother, and one of my biggest supporters, had chosen to end his life with no signs of depression or struggle beforehand. I cried myself into one of the worst migraines of my life.
I was in the ER that evening seeking treatment.
As if that earth-shattering day wasn’t enough, the next day was just as bad.
My dad, 66 years old, had gone to the ER complaining of back pain and unable to walk. I mean, his legs wouldn’t support him or move, not that it hurt to walk. After scans and exams, we found out that he had stage four cancer. His bones were riddled with cancer.
He went straight from the ER to radiation.
Now, this is a double whammy. Not only am I reeling and numb from Eli’s loss, but now I have to hold myself together to support Dad. He’d always been my greatest supporter, it was my turn to help him.
I immediately began packing bags to go to his side. After a cluster of idiotic errors and misjudgments by the doctors, he was finally given an accurate diagnosis regarding the type of cancer and I stayed with him as much as I could during the next two months.
Dad died January 30, 2018.
Since losing these men that helped shape who I am, I’m barely breathing some days.
There are times when it all seems like a nightmare. There are times when I’m drowning in tears. I’ll never be the same. I don’t know how to live in a world without them. As crazy as it sounds, I’m reluctant to seek grief counseling. I’m worried I’ll hurt more if I’m forced to talk about it. I am on an antidepressant that takes the edge off this utter depression.
I distract myself with movies and books to get through the day.
every time i try to start a post for this new community, i erase it and start over. i literally do not know where to begin.
i am an addict. i am a cutter. i am clinically depressed. i have ptsd. i have anxiety disorders. i am the child of an alcoholic. i was physically and emotionally abused. i couldn’t stop my friend from being raped. i went to my first funeral at the age of 5. my parents are divorced. i have had 16 suicide attempts. i have a younger brother and he is my best friend. i have an awesome husband, and he is my other best friend. i have sold drugs. i have had sex for payment. i was on welfare. i have had sex in a church parking lot. i have done cocaine off the back of a public toilet. i have cheated, lied, stolen, broken, taken, left a path of destruction around me.
but i am here. i don’t know what to make of that most days. am i a survivor? a survivor of what? of life?
life should be lived, not survived. you survive a disease. you survive in battle. you survive an accident. you don’t ‘survive’ life.
i guess this is as good of a place as any to start: i’m fucking crazy. batshit crazy. yes, you read that right. i own my craziness. but i don’t know what to do about it. i take my pills, i blog (which is my new free therapy), i exercise, i try to be a productive adult. and i fool most people. the pills help, they do. but it’s like lying under the surface, there’s always this blackness waiting to grab me and pull me under again.
i’m always treading water: surviving.
i don’t know why i’m crazy. i know that outside factors have not always helped. my dad was a highly functioning, non-abusive alcoholic. we left when i was 6. i got a new step mom when i was 7. and my mom found a new boyfriend when i was 9. we moved in with him when i was 10.
that first summer, he was home sometimes during the day. mom was at work, brother was at daycamp or some shit. i don’t remember why it happened, but i do remember the first time he hit me. it was kind of like a spanking. i was a bit old for that at ten, and had something to say about it. he told me that my mother had said he could discipline us, and she knew that he was hitting me.
so i didn’t say anything.
when i was 11, he flung a heavy piece of thick plexiglass at me while i was sitting on the stairs. i jumped down, and the plexiglass broke the banister. he would call me names – tell me i was fat, i was a whore, i was stupid, i was ugly. he would hit me. my mother finally noticed something was wrong, that i was acting out. she did the right thing and called a child psychologist.
i went to the psychologist three times. back then, i didn’t know what she told my mom or why i stopped going. now i know: she told my mom that i was a pathological liar. i was not being hit or abused by my stepfather – i was making it all up for attention. my mother was told to continue disciplining me, but not to give me that attention that i supposed was acting out for. i had no idea.
then he started getting me high. he first offered me pot when i was 12. he supplied me until i was 18. i was high for six years. and it didn’t help.
he was a functioning alcoholic. he almost never seemed drunk, and i didn’t even always register it. we’d smoke a joint in the basement, then each grab a beer while he cooked dinner. we’d be friends for that time. but it never lasted. i stopped respecting him because of the way he treated me. so i started mouthing off to him. he threw a pot of cooked rice at me at the dinner table one night. my mom saw it, but what she saw was me goading him into doing it. in reality, i just didn’t care anymore. i ran away about once a week. he would follow me outside to the gate, tell me he loved me like i was his own daughter, please come back inside.
one time, i walked out to clear my head after a confrontation. i must have been 14 or 15. when i came back in, he said, ‘i thought you were running away’. i told him i just went for a walk, but i’d leave if he wanted me to. he got mouthy with me, i got mouthy with him, and he threw a butcher knife at me. in front of my mother. i left then, and stayed at a friend’s that night. i called home five times, hanging up every time he answered. finally, my mom picked up and i told her where i was.
his defense to my mom was that if he wanted to hit me with the knife, he wouldn’t have missed.
one time, i told him i’d call the cops on him. he got in my face, and told me he’d already been in jail, it didn’t scare him. they’d never believe me anyway – i was crazy. i told him if he ever touched my mother or my brother, i would kill him or die trying.
he never did lay a hand on them. only me.
one night at dinner, he shoved our wrought iron table into my ribs multiple times, bruising two of them. we just kept eating. he told me he wanted to get some mushrooms (not the cooking kind). i could get them, but my source wanted my stepdad to roll blunts for him. he agreed, and my source gave me cigars to be rolled. my step dad showed them to my mom, said he’d found them in my room (he had – in my underwear drawer. he routinely went through my things) and that i needed to be punished. he made me eat the cigar. and when i wasn’t eating it fast enough, he lit it and exhaled the smoke into a plastic bag. he then made me hold the bag over my nose and mouth for what seemed like three or four minutes.
i spent the night vomiting in my room. i never got him the ‘shrooms.
i tried to put the iced tea back in the fridge one night. he got within arms length of me. by this time, i was 16 and had a panic attack when he got that close to me. i started yelling at him to get away from me. he trapped me behind the fridge door and shouted at me. i started screaming obscenities at him. he hocked a loogie in my eye. when i ran screaming to the bathroom to take out my contacts, he followed me and threw me across the bathroom. i bruised my lower and mid back on the side of the tub when i fell in.
he threw me out when i stole $1000 from him. i thought it was his, but it was actually the rent money for our house. he took everything i owned – all my artwork, paintings, sculptures, and threw them out. he got rid of my bed. he dumped all my clothes into plastic garbage bags, and emptied an ash tray into each bag. i ended up with two laundry baskets full of clothing, my senior year english notebook, two sketchbooks, and some cd’s. i lived in my car for a few weeks, sleeping over friend’s houses when i could – but most were away at college. my boyfriend’s mom took pity on me, and let me move in. until his grandma found out a few weeks later why i was thrown out of my home – then she threw me out too.
i was 17 and going to be put in a girl’s home. when they called my mom to tell her, HE insisted that i could not go to a place like that and let me come home. my room had my old dresser and desk, a lamp, and my bookcase in it. my boyfriend took a mattress off a cot his family had so i didn’t have to sleep on the hard floor in my own home. i lived like this from october 1997 until august 1998.
i’m focusing on my step dad here, so there are lots of things missing – me doing drugs, me stealing, me raising a bit of hell. but i’ve never laid this all out before. i’ve never actually gone through it all like this.
i was kicked out again in 1998. i lived out of my car for weeks this time. i slept on the road near my boyfriend’s house. i’d call friends to sleep over and shower at their house. i wasn’t allowed in his home at all – not even to pee. his grandmother wouldn’t allow it. we’d drive to a local taco bell so i could use the bathroom. every night, his mom would send him out with two dinner plates, and we’d eat dinner in my car. i finally went on welfare for housing in september 1998 and was in the system until june 1999. i was hospitalized for a suicide attempt. the only person who came to visit me in the hospital was my boyfriend. i didn’t see my stepdad much during this time.
in 1999, i moved within a few miles of my mom’s new home. i was invited over occasionally for dinner or something like that. i’d pick up my brother to hang out with me and my boyfriend. little by little, i was allowed in the house more. i would come over to do laundry. my step father would make passes at me, comments about us being alone together. i made sure that wouldn’t happen.
i was telling my mom one day that it had been so long since i cut, i was feeling better. we were having a dialogue, and that hadn’t happened in so long. my step dad put a knife on the table in front of me, and walked away. he’d come up behind me when i was in the family room alone, using the computer, and put his hands on my shoulders and whisper nasty things in my ear. we’d go to a family dinner for thanksgiving at my aunt’s house, and he’d hand me $100. it was a confusing relationship.
after the last time i was kicked out of my house, he never struck me again. but he was as emotionally and verbally abusive as he could be. my mother never really saw it again when i was an adult, but he was inappropriate with me up until he was diagnosed with bone cancer in june of 2003. he died december 28, 2003. i was at the house helping my mom that day. things did not look good, our hospice nurse was concerned. i usually did not go into their bedroom, ever. i hadn’t since i was 10. i went up to say good bye to him before i left. when i poked my head in the door, he waved me to the bed. i walked in, and he reached his hand out to me. i held it for a moment, and he said, ‘good bye’.
i said ‘good bye’. i drove home. he died about five hours later. my boyfriend – the same one all this time – drove me over there at 2am. (i ended up marrying him.) for my mom and my brother, it was a release – he’d been so sick. it was sad, but it was good. it was over.
i was the one who broke down.
i will never know why he chose me.