Nine radiation treatments down. Six more to go. This is what they call the “home stretch” and, fittingly, that’s where I’ll be for the next few days. After careful consideration of my not-so-careful work ethic, I’ve elected to take off the next five days while I’m doing my radiation treatments, a decision that provides both relief and a fair measure of guilt as I hate taking time off from work unless I’m near death. I just figure that working in a pharmacy, around a couple of hundred sick people every day, might not be what my compromised immune system needs right now. Also, based on the extreme fatigue I’ve been fighting just going through my daily work schedule, I could use the rest.

So, I now have a glorious stretch of five days in which to do whatever I want. I assume that mostly what I will want is sleep, but I do hope to salvage enough energy to do some other things I’ve been putting off. I still have the finished manuscript for Gifts of the Hirakee sitting on my hard drive, collecting cyber dust, and I would very much like to send out some queries to agents this week. So far, I’ve only sent this one out to two agents, both long shots, and the time has come to put some real effort in getting this story back out there, if for no other reason than to alleviate my guilt for having sat on it so long. I may also find some new outlets for Dead and Dying, which my friend and editor, Remla, has encouraged me not to give up on. I think this her her polite way of saying that GotH (purely coincidental initials) is better than DaD (again, purely coincidental), but I also agree that there are avenues out there that I have not explored. Perhaps my cancer ordeal is God’s way of telling me to get my story of Paul, also stricken with cancer, back out there. Regardless, I’ve had three full requests for that manuscript and some wonderful praise for the story and my writing, so anything else that comes along from it will be an added bonus, especially if I land an agent.

Also, I hope to get back to writing this week. I’ve taken the last couple of weeks off due to the all-consuming fatigue from my treatments and I’m starting to get that itch again, that little voice in the back of my head that says, “Quit slacking off and write something”. I’m 20k words into my new novel idea, a story about a superhero and his nemesis who aren’t quite what the public makes them out to be, and I’m having a good time watching what is taking place. The problem, and the reason I stopped for the time being, is that, to write well, I have to be able to really see what’s going on. It’s not as if I’m creating the story, more like I’m watching it and recording what I see with little control over the outcome. Lately, thanks to the sapping effects of the radiation, I haven’t had the energy–physical or mental–to get into that state of mind, to clear my head enough to see what is happening in this other world. I can pick up the occasional voice or see a shadowy figure here and there, but not enough to write with the kind of automatic detail that separates good writing from just words on a page. My best writing is that which, when I go back over it, I don’t remember writing. Therefore, I hope to get back to Gabe and Arch (and their alter egos) this week.

I have some other loose ends to check on, as well, including two short stories that I sent out for submission a while ago and haven’t heard back on. I was expecting to hear something this month, but thanks to the glacial pace of publishing, even among the smaller magazines, I’m not surprised at the delay. Still, I think they are good stories and I would very much like to see them in print, especially as I prepare another round of queries. Publishing Credits = Increased Chance of Agent = Good.

I have been reading while I’ve been out. I’m about halfway through Stephen King’s Just After Sunset, hoping that his return to the short story format will spark the same in me. I’m more of a novel guy, myself, but there are certain advantages to shorts, as evidenced in the previous paragraph. I’m also reading another book that shall remain nameless (although it is the third in a series) because I know the writing is bad and, frankly, it makes me feel better about my own work. The hard truth is that success in writing comes down to three factors–talent, work ethic, and confidence–and I’ll take the third one where I can get it, even at the expense of other, published authors.

Now, I must go to bed and try to sleep a few hours before my alarm beckons me for another round of cancer-causing radiation meant to prevent cancer from spreading in my body. I believe in literary terms that’s called irony.

Since I don’t have time to describe everything that has gone on with my treatment since my last post in detail, I bring you this summarized version:

Wednesday, August 12th: Went to Jackson to the Cancer Care Center for my “Planning Session”. This is where I strip down to my socks and a hospital gown while the nursing staff plays tic-tac-toe on my abdomen with permanent markers. Actually, they had place marks on where to line up the equipment for my radiation treatments the following Monday. I go to work looking like a curved, flesh-colored radar screen.

Thursday, August 13th: I commented to my wife how the marks on me look like targets. She spent the next twenty minutes shooting me with a Nerf dart gun while saying helpful things like, “Roll a little to your left”.

Friday, August 14th: I went to the Cancer Care Center in Paris for them to line up their equipment to my targets/marks. Not thinking that I would be stripping down again, I wore my glow-in-the-dark, smiley face boxers. The nurse said that I “must have personality”. I told her that I have oodles of personality–and that she’d have to wait until thong day to see just how much.

Saturday, August 15th: I worked. A lot.

Sunday, August 16th: I proposed to my wife exactly ten years ago at the Biltmore Estate. Had I known then that she would, a decade later, use me for target practice as I lay preparing for radiation therapy from my recent cancer surgery, I would have done it anyway.

Monday, August 17th: On the one-month anniversary of my surgery, I went to Paris for my first radiation therapy following an overnight shift babysitting the store while our floors got stripped and waxed. I lay on a table, aware that I was being judged solely on the character of my underwear, and got zapped for ten seconds on either side, the X-ray machine rotating and making me feel like a rotisserie chicken. I slept most of the day, awaiting my second (and final) overnight shift.

Tuesday, August 18th: My daughter, Alex, turned 14 and my mother turned older than that. Following my long night, I had my second treatment and asked why the X-ray machine had a “Broil” setting. The nurses laughed. A few hours after the treatment, I began to feel tired and a bit queasy. I went to bed and slept for most of the day and all night.

Wednesday, August 19th: Off from work, I went to have my treatment and spent most of the day at home feeling lousy. Tired and queasy again, I did as little as possible.

Thursday, August 20th: I went for my treatment early and then to work immediately following. I was feeling tired and queasy again, although this time I didn’t make it through unscathed. Crouched in the bathroom floor at the store, I vomited while holding a paper towel in one hand and a can of Lysol in the other. I know what kind of stuff happens in that restroom and it’s bad enough crouching in the floor without thinking of the nastiness I’ve had to clean off the toilet from time to time. Vomit, spray, wipe, repeat. Then, I finished my shift, feeling like that word minus the “f” and went home. I was feeling better later in the evening, but felt as though someangry biker had kicked me in the gut a few times with steel-toe boots.

Friday, August 21st: My middle daughter, Haley, turned 12. At 3am, I was sick again, going back and forth from the bed to the bathroom, trying not to wake my wife, as the storm system in my belly moved south. At 6:30, when my alarm went off for me to get ready for my treatment, then work, I was exhausted and still sick, so I called the CCC and was told to not come in that day because I likely had a stomach virus that has been going around rather than the effects of the radiation. I then called work and told them I would not be in as there would be no sense paying me wages for sitting in the restroom all day. I slept until about one in the afternoon, got up, and made a wonderful chess pie. I always feel guilty about calling into work, even when I need to, and baking something for my wife seemed like a good way to alleviate some of that negative feeling.

Today, August 22nd: Went to work this morning and listened to my boss rant for two hours about how he had to take a cold shower because his water heater went out. I didn’t mention any of the above, because anyone who would be so self-indulgent probably wouldn’t have anything close to perspective, even if it was handed to him. Still, except for a little fatigue, I felt almost normal today.

So, there it is. My apologies to anyone hoping for a day-by-day rundown of my underwear selection. If demand is high enough, I’ll post pictures of them on here as soon as possible. In the meantime, just know that I’m working my way through the radiation and will hopefully be back on top of the world very shortly.

Also, to those of you who have told me that you would like to comment on my LJ posts, but don’t have an LJ ID to reply, feel free to email any comments, questions, concerns, or credit card numbers (with expiration dates and any applicable PINs) to leesmiley@gmail.com. Thanks!

After sending my two younger children off for the first day of the new school year, my wife and I (and my mother, who came down the night before) all went to my first visit with the radiation oncologist today. We drove over to Paris (the other one . . . no, the other one) and arrived at the Cancer Care Center just in time for my nine o’clock appointment.

The office is nice and the medical staff seems very friendly, two good things in a place accustomed to dealing with severe sickness and impending death. I’m not there for any of that, though, so I can appreciate the finer aspects of the place, such as it’s sea green roof and assorted cancer-related fund-raising items available to raise money for Relay for Life. Nothing like a captive audience, I guess.

Still, the import of where we were was not lost on my wife.

“I can’t believe we’re at a Cancer Care Center about to see an oncologist,” she said as we sat in the exam room.

“Well,” I replied, scooting just far enough away that she could not swat me, “he wouldn’t come to us.”

And that’s how it’s been through this entire process. Despite the scary disease and the almost-scarier treatments, despite the cramps in my hand from filling out so many medical forms, and despite being stuck by needles so many times that I feel like a bleeding pin cushion, I have worked very hard to maintain a sense of humor. In doing so, I believe I’m accomplishing several goals. First of all, humor is how I diffuse stress in my own life. I’m not an anxious person by nature, but I, like just about everyone else, have my share of stresses. To keep myself from worrying myself sick, I make jokes–sometimes tasteless, sometimes not very funny, but always with the intent of lightening the mood.

I’m also managing to help my wife and those around me deal with the reality that I’m being treated for cancer. It’s easy for me to be strong about it when I feel it’s necessary for those who care about me. Amy doesn’t always appreciate my humor, particularly in such cases as the above, but she understands that while I’m not taking the situation too lightly, I am trying to keep things in perspective. I have a very treatable cancer and I will go on from this and live a very long, happy, and hopefully profoundly wealthy life.

Finally, I’m dealing with doctors, nurses, and support personnel at these places who are used to people in a depressed state of mind. They may put on happy faces and talk about recovery, but a good many of the patients they see are not as fortunate as I am. Many of them are only prolonging the inevitable and that, regardless of how you deal with it on the outside, must be both mentally and emotionally draining. I can only imagine how difficult it is to put on that mask of hope every single day knowing that this patient may be receiving his or her last chemo treatment or that patient came in too late and will not live to see his or her children grow up. Oncologist offices are, by their very natures, places of despair, so if I can shed a little light on the people there with a self-deprecating joke or a bit of lively banter, if I can, just for a moment, dispel that darkness and bring life back into their daily regimen of death and sickness, then I feel I must do so. I am entrusting these people to take care of me and it’s only right that I, in whatever way I can, work to take care of them.

So, my treatment plan is set. I got to Jackson next Wednesday for the “pre-game walkthrough”–a few scans and x-rays to see exactly where they will be shooting the radiation into me. The doctor today told me that, unlike in the past, they now target the lymph nodes near the middle of the abdomen as seminomas tend to skip past the inguinal nodes farther down. Then, starting a week from Monday, I’ll go into the local office in Paris (no, the other one), get radiated, and be back out again in about 20 minutes. This will go on for three weeks–a total of fifteen treatments, with weekends off to rest and recover.

I asked a few questions at my appointment, the most important being whether or not I would be sick from the treatments. The oncologist was rather vague and I understand why–different people react differently to the same treatment, so there’s no real way of knowing if I’ll be sick or, if so, how severe it will be. There are other side effects to consider–skin irritation, fatigue, and insomnia are among the possibilities–but the main one I’m worried about is the nausea, which will make it very difficult to work either at my day job or at home on my growing novel. Luckily, I talked it over with my boss today and we have a tentative schedule that will allow me to work when I feel up to it without leaving my coworkers scrambling to cover my shifts if I miss. My doctor says I should be fine the first week, as the effects of the treatments are cumulative, and I hope he is right as I plan on working a full schedule that week, including two overnight shifts while work is done on our store. I have enough paid time accrued to take the full three weeks off, but I want to use as little as possible in case I run into complications down the road, or if another emergency arises. I do not plan on being sick, but I want to take every precaution so that, if I am, life around me continues on without a hitch and I don’t have to worry about what I’m not doing while I’m paying tribute to the porcelain throne.

At this point, I’m just ready to get this all over with. I feel good now and I know that won’t last through the radiation, but I know I’ll feel better still once the treatments are behind me and I can go about my normal business again.

In other news, I’m still writing nearly every night now and am sitting one about 12,000 words on the new work. I still don’t have a title, not even a working title, although I will say now that it involves a conflict between a superhero and a supervillain, one that stretches back before they were super anything. I’ve even figured out a way I can work my treatments into the storyline, adding a little verisimilitude for my trouble. So far, the story has been very fun to work on and, more importantly, I seem to have found that groove again, that out-of-body feeling that I hadn’t been able to conjure while Mr. Seminoma was growing in my nether regions. My head is clear, for now, and I’m making the most of it before I start getting nuked. I may feel fine during the treatments and not lose any of my momentum, but I want to be sure that, if I do have to take some time off from the story, I have something fun and alive to come back to.

In other other news, I turned 33 on Monday, which is only significant if you saw me get pelted by a whipped cream pie at our local Mexican restaurant that evening. Other than that, my birthday was just another day–I worked and I wrote and I had dinner with my family. That–to be able to do all those things–was all the gift I could have asked for.