“I’m a cancer survivor,” or one hell of a year

That phrase still freaks me out a bit as I write it.

“I’m a cancer survivor.

It doesn’t feel like words I should say or type. I am and even though I am, I feel I’m stealing a bit of glory from those that have fought much harder problems than I.

Flashback to Christmas 2017. After a rough summer plagued with intestinal issues I get under my stocking a new one. Diverticulitis. It’s not a great present. It can be a really nasty problem if left untreated but I wasn’t one to just try and ignore a strange, nearly constant, stabbing pain in my gut. So I went to the doctor, got diagnosed and went on antibiotics.

Part of the process is to verify the existence of the inflamed diverticula in my gut. It’s a super simple CT scan, not unlike the one I had a few months earlier for my previous intestinal problems. Only it found something that they thought might have just been an imaging issue in the last scan: a tiny little lump on my left kidney. Only now that they had two pictures of it, it was very clear it wasn’t something to take lightly.

It’s possible to have a non-cancerous lump on a kidney. About ten percent are benign. But when the odds are 9 out of 10 you have cancer, you take every recommendation your doctor gives you for treatment.

The only kidneys I want to talk about for some time to come. Photo by Kaur Kristjan on Unsplash

I met my first urologist just a couple weeks later. Over the next two months, he would become a familiar face to me. He broke down the options. They could verify with an MRI or a biopsy or just cut the thing out considering the chances. I went for the MRI first, but it couldn’t prove the lump wasn’t cancerous. Worse, it’s always possible that if it wasn’t cancerous it could become so at a later time. Being one that didn’t really want to have two surgeries in the span of a few weeks, I decided to get the damn thing removed.

February 14. Eleven days after my youngest daughter’s ninth birthday. Valentine’s Day. My wife got to spend it driving me to the hospital for a surgery before most people woke up.

Kidney surgery is no joke. Back in the day it would involve months of recovery. Laparoscopic surgery made it safer, but we’re still talking about a chunk of the thing going away. If anything went wrong, they would have to cut me open and take the whole thing.

Everything went fine. By the time Valentine’s Day was over, I was just another post-op patient with five new holes in me.

I may have had the luckiest case of diverticulitis ever. The tumor was found five to ten years before it would have become noticeable if not for that CT scan.

“I’m a cancer survivor.”

It almost doesn’t feel fair for me to say that because of my luck. People pull through far worse circumstances than I ever faced, or hopefully, ever will. But it doesn’t change the factual nature of that phrase. Every check up and doctor’s visit since and ongoing will involve me checking one extra mark on those previous condition sheets.

“I’m a cancer survivor.”

The phrase did so much to frame my mind for much of the rest of the year. The second half of 2016 and 2017 were the worst writing years for me in a very long time. But as lucky as I got, cancer is still a wake up call. I have a lot I want to bring the world. I have a lot of writing left to do. It focused me to return to the pursuit I loved and lost.

Yet outside a few articles, I had exactly one published release this year, in the pages of the Pen & Cape Society’s The Good Fight 4: Homefront. That’s the least new work I’ve released since the aughts.

But it is with purpose. I have a lot of work ahead, much of it being released first on my Patreon to supporters before it heads out into the greater world.

All fueled by that simple phrase.

“I’m a cancer survivor.”