Archive for July, 2013


Posted in art & community, cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , , , on July 16, 2013 by lawler

In 2008 and 2009 I listened a lot to Wilco‘s 2007 release Sky Blue Sky. The title track has a line that resonated with me in an almost obsessive way at the time: “Oh, if I didn’t die/I should be satisfied/I survived/That’s good enough for now.”

As with any song lyric that sticks with you, it meant something very real to me that likely was hardly connected to whatever Jeff Tweedy meant when he wrote it. What I knew was that I had, in fact, survived–and although that survival meant that certain things would necessarily change, that my outlook and commitments would change (for the better I hoped, I planned), it also meant the hard work of life was ahead of me. And it would be doubly hard because I had a new perspective on what it meant to be alive at all. It meant that dreams would no longer suffice. Taking action, moving forward, listening to myself and making myself heard was what mattered more than ever. But that’s a daunting place to be. So, that lyric from Wilco helped me relax into the moment of simply living, knowing that “for now” being alive was good enough.

Now I am forty. Almost six years have passed since my diagnosis, almost five since my recurrence, and over four since my last bit of treatment (the infamous RPLND). Lately, I’ve been asked about turning forty. The questions (or comments) obviously fall within two camps: those from people not yet forty, and those from folks over forty. The under forty crowd ask things like, “how does it feel?” The over crowd says “trust me, you’re still a kid” or,  “welcome.” A friend recounted her brother-in-law’s thoughts when he turned forty. She said, “for him it was all about options.” I said, “what, like he was running out?” She said, “no, just that he was thinking a lot at the time about what his options were.” I’ve done a lot of that lately as well. I haven’t been rolling my options over and over in my head because I knew I was about to turn forty. It wasn’t a conscious thing. Somehow my gut was just telling me to do it. So I did it to the point of ridiculousness.

But the thing I kept coming back to was whether or not I lived up to the decisions I made about life when I was sick (while a mere 34 & 35 year-old kid). I haven’t combed through this entire blog recently, and I know I wrote about many things while in the throes of treatment and recovery, but my recollection is simple enough on this point: I decided to stop waiting. Stop waiting to write, stop waiting to take risks, stop waiting to tell people you love them, stop waiting to try ice skating or making a friend or moving on. Don’t wait because you’ve been given a second chance. Take it.

And I believe I have. It’s not the stuff of hollywood movies, of course, but I’ve taken risks, I’ve written my ass off (albeit in fits and bursts), I’ve said I love you to people more times than I could possibly count (my son hears it at least ten times a day), and I’ve made friends I might have been too shy to meet before my second chance. The struggle continues to be holding on to the feeling I had when I finally could stand up straight again after the RPLND and go back to work. It was a new era, a new chance–the kind of feeling you get only on rare occasions. It’s a hard thing to keep hold of over the course of years.

Thankfully it’s an effort that has been usurped by something different: being a father. Becoming a parent is by far the most important thing that’s happened since my cancer (in spite of my cancer). The difference between those in my life who are parents and those who are not is far greater than the separation of the under forty and the over forty crowds. Being a parent is profound and life changing in ways that getting older is not (at least so far). While the comparisons to my own father roil in my brain quite persistently now, it has more to do with myself as a parent than myself as a man. My son reminds me every day, by his simple presence, that things are not just good enough any more. They are good. Very good.

Three very important people in my life: my son Jack, my oncologist Dr. Arbaje, and my father-in-law Hartmut.

At my 40th birthday party, three very important people in my life: my son Jack, my oncologist Dr. Arbaje, and my father-in-law Hartmut.