Lifting My Head; or, The Hairless Ape 2; or…

…I don’t know, I could’ve come up with so many clever headers for this post. I could not pick one. A couple of other front runners were I Am Not Lance Armstrong and If You Want To Help, Buy A Few Copies Of My Book!

I’m kidding. No, I’m not. Okay, I am. Really.

So, where to begin? Let’s begin with the flashback…

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Lifting My Head

When I was in college I had to take something called a movement class. For any of those of you out there who may not know, I have a degree in theater, so such a thing is not so strange. I really enjoyed this class — probably because it was intellectually simple, and physically and emotionally stimulating. One day, our instructor had several of us get up and walk around the dance studio that the class was held in so that our peers could judge our walks. What they were looking for was our “lead” — or, what part of our bodies we tend to lead with. The purpose of the exercise was to learn how we could change the physicality of our walk in order to create characters by leading with different parts of our body.

As I walked around the room, I noticed immediate nodding heads, and the instructor said something like, “Okay, Mike is easy — what’s he leading with?” It was my head. I lead with my head because, although I was consciously trying to walk as casually and “normally” as I could, I have always tended to walk with my head tilted downward, and often I look directly at the ground. I’ve known this about myself for years, and sometimes chastise myself, thinking Lift up your damn head, Lawler, look around, observe the world. It doesn’t always work, and I’m quite intimate with many sidewalks of the world.

But yesterday, as I walked the mile or so to the clinic for the PET scan, I suddenly looked up. And it was not a struggle to do so. I kept my head up, looking forward, looking around, and it was a fantastic feeling. The cool, crisp Autumn weather felt great, and even the dingy parts of the walk along Fish Hatchery Road (yes, I know, isn’t that an odd name?) looked beautiful. It’s crazy the kind of power a little word like cancer can have on your life. I remember when my dad died last year, I walked around in a daze for a couple of days and I thought a lot about life and what it means. But this time it is more intense, and I look at my wife, Dawn, with an extra dose of love and a feeling of gratitude and blessing. Even the cats seem cuter. With those thoughts in mind, here’s a photo to give you an idea of what a lucky guy I really am.

dawnjana.jpg

Isn’t she beautiful when she sleeps? It’s that sort of thing that really strikes you even more in times like this.

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The Hairless Ape 2

The shaving of the needle areas of my arms didn’t really work. You see, they are always trying to poke me in a new spot, and I suppose I didn’t judge well. The area I shaved was not large enough, and hair was once again targeted at the PET scan. The left arm was beginning to look particularly ridiculous since a large portion from the wrist and up my arm six or seven inches was already shaved for the surgery IV. It’s beginning to look like it all has to go for the sake of conformity. Wait. Is that the right word? Anyway, I’m on my way to hairlessness…

Here’s one arm done…

The first picture was a compromise, since my dear old friend Lisa Griffith wanted to see what it would be like if I shaved my arms but not my hands. That thought scared me, because if you know or have ever met a Lawler brother you know we have hairy hands. It would have been like a werewolf thing, and let me just say shaving your arms and hands seems like a simple task — but, it isn’t. So, I shaved one first, and took a picture. Then I shaved the other, took a shower (which in our home is known by the Aurelia-Dawnese term Shoo-shoo), changed and took the second photo below, which looks so odd to me. I must have been twelve the last time my arms looked like this.

The t-shirt in the above photo comes courtesy of Tara, one of my oldest and closest friends who is a big, big fan of the sarcastic t-shirt. She gave this one to me before I was diagnosed but was having intermittent pain issues with my testicle. Unlike other shirts she has given me, this one has been worn in public. In fact, I wore it to the hospital the day of my surgery. I also wore it to one doctor appointment, but was cold and never removed my sweatshirt…oops. It may interest some of you to know — especially those of you who have mentioned friends you have who have battled and survived cancer in hopes of relieving my stress — that Tara is a very recent cancer survivor, and it has only made our nearly twenty year friendship even stronger to know that we now share this unkind twist of fate in addition to all of the other chapters in life we have seen each other through.

By the way, you can click on any of these pictures to see a much larger version.

 

 

both arms hairless

 

One interesting thing I’ve discovered today is a bunch of scars on my arms. Who knew? There is one real doozy on my right arm, that conjures vague memories of pain, but I can’t recall how it got there. There are really only two scars I’ve found that have memorable beginnings: one was inflicted on my left hand by the cute little white cat named Jana (also known as Belos, or El Diablo Blanco) sleeping with Dawn in the first photo. She was not interested in being held when we first rescued her, and she really let me have it. I took pictures of my hand the night she did it, but I won’t share them here. Some of you have seen them anyway. The other scar is much older and is not as noticeable. It was inflicted on the same hand by Bill Williams — anyone remember him? Ms. Leaper told him to stay after class one day in the fifth grade, and he took off. Since I was the teacher’s pet that year, I chased him down, caught up with him half way across the field at Newcomb Elementary, and demanded he go back for his rightful punishment. He disagreed. I still carry the mark of Bill Williams’ booger-mining fingernails.

Man, am I digressing or what? For those of you still reading, you’re champs, and thanks for indulging me. This blog has been quite therapeutic for me.

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I Am Not Lance Armstrong

Okay, I did it. I checked out Lance Armstrong’s book about his battle with cancer from the library today. I haven’t read much of it yet, but I’ve already had to close it several times so that I could catch my breath. I don’t feel any sort of kinship with Armstrong, nor do I think that I will be facing the same battle and slim odds that he did with his cancer. Armstrong waited a very long time before seeing a doctor, and the cancer had riddled his body. He had to have an orchiectomy, but also underwent brain surgery since they found the cancer there too. I think treatment has improved too since he was diagnosed in 1996.

That said, the opening of the book has lots of things in it that give me pause:

“Good, strong people get cancer, and they do all the right things to beat it, and they still die. That is the essential truth that you learn. People die. And after you learn it, all other matters seem irrelevant. They just seem small.”

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: Oh, Mike, don’t read this stuff! My mother-in-law, Georgia, advised me the other day to not listen to the news either, because it would just keep riling me up and affect me negatively. But I don’t think that’s an attitude I can adopt. I need to keep going as much as possible like nothing has happened. Aside from being sure to eat right, listen closely to the doctors, and overcome as far as possible my fear of needles and hospitals — I need to carry on. And reading Armstrong’s book will help me do that too, I think.

Again, Armstrong: “My illness was humbling and starkly revealing, and it forced me to survey my life with an unforgiving eye. There are some shameful episodes in it: instances of meanness, unfinished tasks, weakness, and regrets. I had to ask myself, ‘If I live, who is it that I intend to be?'”

It’s funny, because I had a conversation with my new boss at Borders just the other day. (For those of you who don’t know I took a “real” job with Borders just two weeks before being diagnosed as the store Events Coordinator, charged with organizing and setting up author readings and signings.) This is a man who had thyroid cancer twenty years ago, and also underwent open heart surgery just last year to repair a birth defect in his heart that suddenly became a life threatening problem. In other words, he has been extraordinarily sympathetic to all of this. But the other day, he asked me point-blank: “Mike, I know things like this have a tendency to change a person’s perspective, and I’m wondering what you’re thinking about this job? Do you think it is something you are still going to want to do when you’re through your treatment?”

Holy crap, I thought. He’s right. Is this the time in life that you look around and take the leaps you’d always been afraid to take in life? I mean, listen, I’ve not exactly followed anyone else’s path in life, and I’ve taken my share of leaps — a few of them obviously foolish for sure. (I’ll never forget my dad’s disbelief when I told him I left a good paying, full time job with Costco’s photo labs to start driving a cab in Portland — I was glad he was a thousand miles a way at the time, because he might’ve strangled me just to prove his point.) But are there leaps that I really need to take? Are there leaps that I’ll regret not having taken if I make it to old age as my oncologist is confident I will? I don’t know, I don’t know. And I know that my boss at Borders had more than one reason for bringing the subject up, but I’m glad he did, because it forced me to be honest. I told him, “Well, that’s a very good question, and to be honest, I don’t know.”

Don’t worry, I’d say to my dad today, I still have a job. In fact, I’m going back in on Tuesday — my second day of chemo — just to see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted….

Thanks again for listening (reading). And oh yeah, one more thing:

If You Want To Help, Buy A Few Copies Of My Book!

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6 Responses to “Lifting My Head; or, The Hairless Ape 2; or…”

  1. Gorgeous T-shirt, cat, and wife (in the reverse order, but this order makes me seem more ego-centric, which is more accurate. ahem). And the arms look good, too, but dude–it’s called depilatory cream. Get some. Especially if you want your hands clean-“shaven.”

    I guess you won’t have to worry about it growing back for awhile anyway, but sheesh!

    I read part of the book about Gilda Radner. I think reading the worst case scenario is not always such a bad thing.

  2. What am I? A girl? I don’t think of things such as depilatory cream. I’m not sure I even know what that is. Besides, I think it came out okay. Dawn said it looked nice. I picked up a book today about cancer, and as I was flipping through it in the bookstore (not Borders!), there was a chart that listed the chemo drugs that are known to cause hair loss, and they were rated “minimal,” “moderate,” and “severe.” One of the drugs that I will be fed is one of the four listed as “severe.” The other two were there, but in the “minimal” column. I guess Dr. Arbaje wasn’t kidding when he said flatly, “You are going to lose your hair.”

  3. Here’s another link for your collection: http://www.clevelandclinic.org/cancer/scottcares/

  4. Thanks — that looks like a good one. It actually has lots of information about chemo, its side effects, and how to deal with them.

  5. There is definately a great deal to find out about this subject.
    I love all of the points you’ve made.

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