There Are No Words: A Cancer Tale

Day C-2: 2015.07.27

On Monday July 27th, 2015 I didn’t know I had cancer.

It wasn’t a particularly noteworthy day. My 4 year old daughter was in Norway with her moms. My wife was at work. I was futzing around at home.

I knew there was something not right about my airway, but didn’t know what. My breathing had been noisy for a while and my voice had started getting quieter again, after nearly two years of improvement. I’d had a persistent earache that had not been relieved by a mouth guard (we thought I’d been grinding my teeth and that the pain might be referred).

I did the stuff you’re supposed to do about this stuff. I’d gone to the doctor. She sent me for tests: the ultrasound of my neck and lymph nodes didn’t show any problems And my blood tests were fine. In General I felt fine. Energetic and healthy.

Day C-1: 2015.07.28

Tuesday July 28th, 2015 was a bright sunny day. I know this because I posted to Facebook about getting my axe sharpened:

Today I had to get my axe sharpened, so I used a yoga-mat strap to sling it over my back, and set off down the street with the dogs.
You may not know this, but wearing an axe on your back tends to get you some really interesting looks. When asked about it I said, “Zombies.”

I also posted about having had a great weekend with Livé.

On the weekend Livé and I spend some time on the beach climbing rocks and jumping into the (very very very cold) water.

I didn’t know that was the last time we’d go swimming together.

Day C+364: 2016.07.27

Today, coming upon the eve of that anniversary, I feel numb and sad. Maybe depressed? Today certainly lacks the joie de vivre that I often feel. Traumatic anniversaries have that effect on me. On most of us, I guess.

Instead of being the kind of productive I intended to be, the day so far has been spent socializing with online friends, planning my next move in renovating the backyard, and taking a salty bath. That’s where I am as I write this, in fact:

If I’m going to wallow in my lack of joy I might as well wallow in comfort.

A year ago I had no idea what was in store for my family and for me. I don’t particularly want to relive those experiences. I didn’t enjoy them the first time around. But I’m going to relive the last year no matter what I want.

Last year I decided – after consulting with my wife and family – to have this experience in public. In part it was a pragmatic decision: I’m not a great communicator when it comes to family and friends, but I could have an open diary on Facebook relatively easily. I also knew that what I was going though might be pretty terrible. It would be therapeutic for me to write it out even if no one read a word. I suspected that some people would read it though, and might find some insight in what I was going to go through. I have always wanted to do something useful – to have a positive impact on the world. Maybe this would be a way to do that.

Over the months since my surgery and radiation and chemo my writing trailed off. I suppose that there are a lot of complicated reasons for that, but the sum up to something simple: I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. Now – get ready for it – I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired of being sick and tired. (Feel free to draw brackets around the phrases to make it make sense. I did, and I wrote it.)

This Journey, This Journal

You’re invited to ride this ride, then and now, as I collect and recollect each day as it happened. Each day will be it’s own little chapter, including what I wrote a year ago, my current thoughts on that that day, and what I’m doing with my life now.

If you keep a journal, I’ll also invite you to join me in your own journey of recollection. Go back to a year ago, or five years ago, or ten. Read what you wrote, and write what you think of it now. I have done this before (in longhand, long before Facebook and the like) and can tell you it is a profound and disturbing and enlightening experience.

If you don’t keep a journal, look at your calendar, your online photos, or your Facebook feed. Grab a notebook and scrawl a little note about what you did last year, and what you think of that now. Draw a picture. Doodle your feelings. And then leave a couple blank pages.

Next year, go back to the year before, and do it again. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find out more about yourself than you can imagine. More than you could though therapy, more than you could through deep conversation, more than you could through contemplation. If you’re comfortable with it, I’d be honoured and grateful if you shared your experiences here. I’m not asking for the kind of detail I’m sharing. Perhaps a note about what you remember feeling about your life at this time last year, and how you feel today.


If I turn this into a book one day, you just read the introduction. That hypothetical book will have at least three blank pages following my words. They’ll be labelled something like Last Year, Today, Next Year, and ___ Years.

Those will be your pages.

Also, despite feeling down, there can be moments of happiness. Aside from having a two hour bath there were sirens going by earlier. I know that means someone is having a very bad day. It also means that Walter is going to make me smile.

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