I attended my second Relay for Life Survivors’ Dinner this evening and my wife and I enjoyed a good meal along with several inspirational stories of people dealing with cancer.

Before last year’s dinner, my first since my cancer diagnosis in July 2009, I was told that I might be asked to give a speech about my experience with the disease.  I had most of the speech prepared, but found out shortly before the dinner that I would not be giving it after all.  I was a little disappointed, but upon further reflection, having a large group of mostly elderly cancer survivors listen to me talk about my nuts was probably not the best idea.

Still, I thought the speech was pretty good–entertaining, at least–and I decided to go ahead, finish it this evening, and post it on here.

And so, I give you my Relay for Life Survivors’ Dinner Speech That I Was Not Asked to Give:

Good evening, my name is Lee Smiley and, like the rest of the speakers tonight, I’m a cancer survivor.  My experience, however, is a little different.  It is a tale of laughter and tears, of hardship and triumph, of sickness and health. 

And it all started with Legos. 

Well, that’s not entirely true.  The Legos came later. 

When you tell a friend you have cancer, the question you most often hear is, “What kind?”  For most of us, our answer is usually followed by a story, some personal anecdote about someone close to that friend who has battled the same disease.  “Oh, my sister is battling breast cancer,” they might say, or “My father had prostate cancer.” 

But when you tell someone you have testicular cancer, that pretty well ends the conversation.  There are no follow up questions.  Nobody asks you, “Oh, which side?”  What you usually get is an awkward silence, maybe a smile, and a quick change of subject.  

In early 2008, I started having troubles in—to put it nicely—my nether regions.  What began as a mild discomfort gradually grew into serious pain, to the point where any impact stronger than a light breeze would double me over, near vomiting.  It reached the point where my children would run up for me to hug them and I’d recoil in terror as though they were about to mug me. 

After much “suggesting”  from my wife, I did the un-male thing and went to the doctor, who diagnosed a bad case of epiditimytis, a bacterial infection of the testicular lining immortalized in the Mary Poppins song, Supercalifragilisticepiditimytis.  I can tell you, it was quite atrocious, but after a round of antibiotics, I was back to normal. 

Or so I thought. 

A year or so later, I was back at the doctor.  When asked about my symptoms, I told the physician that I was having similar pain to before, but now it was accompanied by serious fatigue.  I may be a little chubby, but don’t let that fool you.  I play tennis, chase my four children around, and have a somewhat physical job, so for me to be winded after ten minutes of hitting a tennis ball made me fairly sure that something was wrong. 

My wife, bless her, wanted to contribute to the list of symptoms.  She told him that “it feels like a Lego in there.” 

“A Lego, huh?” the doctor asked as he checked for the offending toy. 

“Hey, I’m a mother,” my wife told him.  “I know what a Lego feels like.” 

She got me to wondering if, perhaps through some unfortunate childhood swallowing accident, it could actually be a Lego in there.  The theory did nothing to explain why, if it was a little plastic cube, what was supposed to be there wasn’t, but it did make me dredge my memory for something that could explain what was going on.  Nothing came to mind, so I started, instead, to think of what I could build with it once it came out.  A Lego fertility clinic, perhaps. 

After a few tests, I was referred to a urologist in Paris, Dr. Mobley, who sent me immediately to the hopsital there for further tests.  One of these was an ultrasound of the Lego, which was done by a attractive young woman who took me into a dark room and told me to take off my pants and underwear.  She gave me a bath towel and told me, “Lie down on the table and use this to cover yourself.”  I thought about asking her if she had anything bigger than a bath towel—a king size sheet, maybe—but she was gone before I could think of anything other than, “Okay.” 

When the attractive ultrasound tech came back and began scanning for the Lego, I did everything in my power to not think about the attractive ultrasound tech scanning for the Lego.  We talked, though, and to hide my unease, I tried to be funny. 

“Can you see the baby?” 

“Is it a boy or a girl?” 

I thought about asking if this counted as getting to second or third base for her, but thought that might take me too close to thinking about what she was doing.  Instead, we talked about her family’s farm—what they grew, how they grew it, and how it had nothing to do with where she was touching. 

With the ultrasound done, I went back to Dr. Mobley’s office and found he already had the results from the test. 

“You definitely have a mass there,” he told me, and that was all it took to set my mind off again.  While my wife was crying over the diagnosis, I was imagining rows of sperm, all sitting in little pews, while another sperm cell in a priest’s robe stood before them reading the Gospel.  Before I could decide whether my testicular mass would be in English or, for a more exotic experience, Latin, I realized that my wife was about to come apart if I didn’t say something. 

“Well,” I said.  “What now?” 

Dr. Mobley told me he thought the mass was a seminoma, a rare form of testicular cancer, and that he wanted to remove the Lego. 

“Okay,” I said.  “When?” 

“How about tomorrow?” he asked, and when he didn’t smile or anything I knew he was serious.  I had started vacation that day and would be off for another eight days, so I told him yeah, I could do it.  We had been planning on going to see my father-in-law in Kansas that weekend, but that plan vanished with those three words from the doctor.  In a matter of minutes, I had gone from complaining of a child’s toy stuck in my body to having cancer and surgery less than 24 hours away. 

So, back to the hospital we went, this time to preregister for the surgery.  There were more tests, to the point that I told them if they wanted to take any more blood from me they were going to have to put some back in.  And I told jokes.  Jokes at the registration desk.  Jokes with the nurse in charge of my prep work.  Jokes that were inappropriate and, I suspect, in danger of getting me hauled off to the psych ward as soon as the surgery was over. 

The next day, we went back to the hospital for the surgery.  Step one, once I was placed in a room, was to have a nurse come in and shave virtually my entire body.  Despite having a surgery that required about six-inches of incision, this lady acted as though she was mowing her lawn.  I couldn’t tell if she thought she was prepping me for surgery or sheering wool.  During this process, a dozen or so people came in and out of the room for various things—bringing supplies, asking the clipper-happy nurse a question, checking that the remote for the television had batteries—and I’m sure all of them stopped outside my room to snicker about what they saw.  On top of this, my wife and mother sat nearby, unsure of whether to laugh at me or cry. 

Soon, they came to haul me away, but not before I assured my wife that I would see her soon, as long as I didn’t die on the operating table.  Somehow, she found this less than reassuring. 

As they wheeled me to the surgical suite, I made hand signals to mark which way the bed was turning, just in case there was another bed headed that way that needed to know our intentions.  For some reason, the staff thought this was hilarious, as did I until they wheeled me into a room that looked like a torture chamber from a horror movie.  Everything was stainless steel—the tables, the shelves, the surgical instruments, even Dr. Mobley, who had donned a suit of armor and was talking to an assistant about proper jousting techniques.  Okay, I made that last part up.  Sue me. 

Next came the anesthes— 

I woke up in another room.  Despite having a large bandage covering a sewn-up hole in my abdomen, I felt pretty good.  Several hours had passed, more than they expected, as I reacted strongly to the anesthesia, strongly enough that I became sick when I tried to go to the restroom.  A nurse brought me some phenergan for the nausea and I was— 

I woke up again a little while later.  I still felt pretty good and this time, when I went to the restroom—which I had to do before they’d let me leave—I managed without being sick.  I got dressed–feeling myself and thinking of the tagline from Highlander, “There can be only one”–and received permission to head home, along with a prescription for some mild pain medication.  Still under the influence of the meds, I asked my wife, “What do a confused squirrel, an asylum on high alert, and I have in common?”

“I don’t know,” she answered.

“We’re all missing a nut.”

I thought it was funny. Her, not so much.

They brought a wheelchair for me, but I wasn’t ready to leave.  Not yet.  As I was having part of my overproductive reproductive system removed, my next-door neighbor was giving birth to her second child, and I insisted on seeing them before I went home to begin my recovery. 

As I looked at the little newborn girl, I thought of all the wonders of modern medicine, how doctors can save a life, while just down the hall, they bring a new one into the world.  I thought of all the amazing, everyday miracles that happen every day in hospitals and doctor’s offices all over the world.  Diseases are treated and cured.  Hope is given back to those who have had none.  And babies are born.  Babies like this one. 

Then, I thought, “I should really get her some Legos.”

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.

I went back to the day job on Saturday. The doctor has placed me on light duty for a few weeks, but there are a few things I can still do that fall within the requirements set by my physician and, more importantly, my wife. The problem is that, to some degree, I’ll have to look very hard to find them.

I’m used to doing everything at work, which is not to say that I don’t practice effective delegation–I do–but I’m always the dynamic one, the person who can get as much done as any other two people in the store. Right now, that’s not possible and I’m having to delegate even more out while I search for things that I can do without straining myself. Saturday was particularly rough. My job, though I’m not digging ditches or playing linebacker or anything like that, is a bit more physical in nature than some jobs. There is a great deal of walking, lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, squatting, climbing, and twisting that I normally do without thought or concern. Saturday we received our weekly shipment of merchandise from our warehouse and I was not able to do much of anything with that. Too many boxes over fifteen pounds, too many carts full of merchandise too heavy for me to push. So, I mostly walked around feeling useless and doing the few things I could to make sure things got done. All that movement, something I had not done much of during my week recovering at home, took a harsh toll on me and by the time I left Saturday night, I was in a fair amount of pain.

Yesterday, though, was better. I managed to pace my activity a little better, setting aside some tasks that I would normally delegate out because they would be easier for me to accomplish. Any heavy lifting–hell, any lifting at all–I gave out to the staff, although there is something very non-chivalrous about asking a 105 lb. girl to lift a box of detergent for you. Thankfully, my staff cares enough about me to understand what I’m going through and is not giving me too much grief over it.

I’m getting ready to head back to work now and, even a little sore, I’m at least glad to be back in some semblance of my normal routine. I get up, take a shower, get dressed, go to work, and come home to write, making all right with the world. The only added task to my day is the fifteen minutes or so where I have to lie down so my wife change get me bandaged up for the day, her chance to play Nurse Ratchet or Florence Nightingale, depending on her mood. She is taking good care of me, though, and for that I’m grateful.

I also have about 4000 words on the new new novel idea and I’m having a great deal of fun working on it, so this may be the project I stick with for a while. It’s not looking like I’ll have another book to submit to agents by the end of the year, with everything else going on in my life, but that’s okay as I haven’t really submitted my last one all that much. I’ll eventually get back around to submissions, but for right now I’m too busy rediscovering how much fun it is to create to worry about what to do with my creation.

It’s been one week since I had my surgery and I went back to the urologist today for a follow-up visit. All things considered, I feel pretty good. I’m starting to get some of my old energy back and, though I’m still working on building up my stamina post-surgery, I don’t feel that extreme fatigue that I suffered before the operation. I’m itching to get back out and do things like tennis and even mowing the yard that I’ve been unable to do during my recovery. Also, thanks to the hair growing back in the area they had to shave for the surgery, I’m just itching. Worse, as the hair grows back around the incision, my bandages are sticking to the hairs, making my nightly wound care feel like someone pouring napalm on my lower abdomen.

Still, it’s better than having cancer.

Today, the urologist came in, checked that the incision was healing properly, and gave me the news I had been hoping for—I can take a shower again. A week of sponge baths is more than enough for me. He confirmed that what he took out was a seminoma, a rare, but highly treatable, form of testicular cancer. I was then scheduled to have a CT next week to make sure the cancer has not spread anywhere else and to see a oncologist the week after to discuss radiation treatment. Seminomas, I have read online, respond very well to radiation, so hopefully the duration of such treatment will be kept short and the side effects will be minimal. I was also cleared to go back to work tomorrow, although I’ll be on light duty—no more than fifteen pounds—for about three weeks, which may prove to be a problem in a retail environment where nearly everything I do requires lifting more than fifteen pounds. Part of me is anxious to get back to work, back to a routine that feels like a normal life. I visited my store yesterday and told the staff members there what I had surgery for—only the other managers knew before—and I’m sure everyone there will know by the time I get back tomorrow afternoon.

In other news, I thought up a new idea for a novel last night that I may start working on this evening. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve had the idea for some time, but I didn’t start fleshing it out until last night, running it by my wife while she changed out my bandages. I’ve been at a complete stop on the writing front for the past few weeks while I try to figure out how to fix the first part of Wielder and wonder about what project I want to work on the most. Most of all, I think I’m having a lapse in confidence, a little voice in my head that tells me no matter what I write or how good it is, it will be impossible to sell it in this economic environment. I find myself looking for the most commerically viable option, when what I should be doing is listening to whichever story speaks to me the strongest and writing that, no matter what happens after it is done. Still, as an unpublished writer today, I must take into account how sellable a manuscript is nearly before all other factors and keep an eye on what trends are out there. The most important thing I can do right now, though, is to force my ass into a chair for a thousand words a day, regardless of what I’m working on, so long as I’m working. I think returning to the day job, reclaiming that schedule, however irregular, will help me commit to more productivity on the writing front.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I will continue to post updates on my ongoing treatments and my hopefully triumphant return to the writing life. In the meantime, I thank everyone who has sent good wishes my way.

As of Friday afternoon, I am a cancer survivor. It seems a bit odd to be saying that, at 32 years old and feeling pretty darn good, all things considered, but it’s true.

I went to the hospital in nearby Paris Friday morning. The surgery was scheduled for noon, but I had to be there early to get ready and generally entertain the hospital staff with my off-color humor. My wife and I were led into a recovery room and I was told to take my clothes off by a young nurse that obviously did not know what she was getting into. After a few jokes about liking forceful women, she left and I changed into my hospital gown, almost tied in the back. I then threatened to start flashing people on the walkway outside before another nurse gave me the disappointing news that passersby could not see inside.

A few more nurses came into check my blood pressure and such, while another came in to “prep the area for surgery”. This involved shaving the hair off of nearly half my body for a five-inch long incision. I think she enjoyed it.

I waited. My wife and my mother sat nearby discussing restaurants, knowing that I had eaten nothing since before midnight. I read for a bit, then was about to take a nap when nurses came into move me to the holding area. I had to give up my glasses for this, leaving me virtually blind, but that did not stop me from making hand signals every time they turned my hospital bed.

In holding, they brought another guy in next to me who was there for a colonoscopy. He sounded considerably more anxious about his procedure than I did mine. After a short while, both the nurse anesthetist and my urologist came in and briefed me. The urologist held up a pen and said he was going to make me a marked man. I told him he was a bit late for that.

I was then wheeled into the operating room, a squarish place full of cabinets and instruments and, in the center, a small table over which hung two massive light discs that resembled, to me lying beneath them, UFO’s. My view didn’t last long, however, as the mask was soon placed over my nose and mouth, the instruction to breathe deeply was spoken into my ear, and I bid goodbye to a part of me.

As I lay mostly unconscious back in the recovery room, the urologist told my wife that he was mostly sure that I had a seminoma, a very uncommon, but highly treatable form of testicular cancer. The surgery had gone well and, thanks to our coming to him so quickly, he believes he caught it in stage 1, not giving it time to spread elsewhere. Sometime after this, my wife and I had several conversations, none of which I remember, and she has since grown frustrated over having to repeat things she has already told me several times before. I learned that, sometimes, it’s better to not ask.

When I fully awoke, I felt surprisingly good. The nurses told me that I would have to use the restroom before I would be allowed to leave, so I got up and shuffled to the toilet. During that shuffle, that good feeling abandoned me and nausea rushed into replace it. My mother has always reacted poorly to anesthesia and, apparently, so do I. I retched the few sips of Coke I had managed to swallow and a fair bit of stomach acid before being helped back to bed by the nurse and my wife. My face, apparently, had gone quite green and the nurse rushed to give me something that would settle my stomach.

I slept again. This time, when I woke, I sat up slowly to see if the nausea would return. When it didn’t, I realized that I was alone in the room. My wife, tired of watching me sleep, had gone to see our next-door neighbor who had given birth that very morning in a fair example of irony considering why I was there. When she returned, I felt well enough to be wheeled out of the hospital, stopping by to see my new neighbor on the way.

Since returning home, I have felt moderately good. I went to church yesterday, surprising most by the speed of my getting up and about, but pressed a bit too much climbing the steps to Sunday school. Still, for the most part, I have relied very little on the pain medication and can now move about with little to no discomfort, so long as I go very slowly and take care in rising or sitting.

I go back to the urologist for a follow-up on Friday and will get the lab results from the surgery then. Hopefully, I can return to work on Saturday and not use up any more of my paid time off. I will also find out Friday if I’ll need to do radiation, another good reason to save my sick days and remaining vacation.

In the meantime, I’m reading a lot and, hopefully, can return to writing as early as tonight. Hopefully, that will help take my mind of things when the bills start rolling in.

Everything was planned out. We were leaving Friday night, driving to Kansas to see my father-in-law. On the agenda: sleeping late, eating well, and having a few laughs. We’d come back Tuesday or Wednesday, just in time for me to get ready to go back to work on Thursday.

Then I went to the doctor.

I mentioned a few blog posts ago how I thought I might need to see a doctor about some issues I’ve been having. So, last week, I did just that. I had some bloodwork done and a part of me checked out that guys normally don’t want anyone but their wives or girlfriends (or boyfriends, for my gay readers) checking out. I was referred to a urologist, who then schedule me for the very unpleasant-sounding “scrotal ultrasound”. I did that one today, after another round of bloodwork (the last one was a bit botched) and before another trip to the urologist for interpretation of the ultrasound. When I got to the urologist, I received the news I mostly expected, but didn’t want to hear.

A tumor. Most likely testicular cancer. Surgery scheduled for tomorrow.

Now, one thing those who know me well realize is that I use humor as a tool to diffuse stressful situations. Therefore, when I was given this piece of information, the jokes began. Soon, the urologist’s staff was laughing. They sent me to the hospital for some pre-op tests–more bloodwork, EKG, chest X-ray, SAT, English Literature final, Olympic time trial, etc. The woman in registration laughed. The admissions nurse laughed. The lab people laughed (she didn’t believe me when I said my name was Abraham Lincoln). The X-ray tech had jokes of her own and we both laughed. The EKG people, deprived of a sense of humor, did not laugh, but I do believe I heard one of them giggle once.

Most of all, my wife Amy laughed. I knew the only way to keep her from crying tears of anxiety was to make her cry tears of laughter, so I bombarded her with jokes ranging from idle threats (“If my testicle shows up on eBay after this, I’m going to be pissed!) to asking the admissions nurse if, even though I can’t eat or drink after midnight, I could get completely drunk before then. Through it all, she laughed and shook her head and acted wholly embarrassed to be with me, even as she clung to my arm for support. Tomorrow, I’ll come out of surgery to go home and she’ll have to help me in and out of the car and into bed. Today, though, it was my job to support her.

I’m not overly worried or anxious about tomorrow’s outcome. Even if it is cancer, this type has one of the highest cure rates of any and I am confident in the doctor and staff who will be taking care of me. I should know in a week if radiation is needed, but until then, I’ll be able to catch up on some sleep and maybe, once my head clears, read and perhaps write a bit. I already had vacation scheduled for this week, after all, and at least I’ll be able to recover without too many worries about what I’m missing at work. Believe me, I won’t be missing it.

In the meantime, if you are reading this, please be sure to check out my flash fiction entry at The Clarity of Night. So far, the reaction to my little odd tale has been very positive. It would be nice to win, even if I’m too drugged over the next couple of days to know.

Until then, take care and let me know if you see anything of mine on eBay.