Don’t you hate it when a song gets in your head and won’t leave? Yesterday morning when I woke up, this Tennessee Ernie Ford song running through my brain:
You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store
It’s the second line that I’m stuck on at the moment – “another day older.”
Yes, I am feeling older today. If I were to point to any single event that got me feeling that way I’d have to say it had a lot to do with the fact that my birthday was last week. Just something about a birthday that gets a man to feelin’ his years, fer sure, fer dang sure.
Yes, sir, I’m feeling mighty old ‘bout now…
Sorry – the song started my brain thinking in a bad country accent. I have to say that my birthday has just been making me feel weird all week. Yes, we all have birthdays – they are inevitable – but this year it’s not just about getting old. It’s about memories, unfulfilled dreams, desires, wondering if I still dare to dream big, survival and wondering if I’ve won.
The ghost that popped up for me this week was my radiation treatments. One year ago I was getting up at 5:30 every morning so I could be at the cancer treatment center for my daily 7:00 am ride in the radiation machine. Last year’s birthday started with a trip to zap them nasty little cancer cells into oblivion.
Those memories and my birthday are now forever intertwined. Next year on my birthday I’ll be one year older and two years away from treatment.
It’s kind of like Argentina.
Oh, guess I need to explain that one. When I was in the sixth grade I had to write this report on Argentina for social studies. That year the song, “A Horse with No Name” was popular and I listened to it many times while writing the report. Now, whenever that song comes on the oldies – er, “Classic Rock” – station, the first thing I think of is Argentina and that their big export is beef and that they call their cowboys, vaqueros.
I fear that I am now doomed to think of my birthday and cancer in the same thought. In time I’d expect the association to dim – if it wasn’t for the fear in the back of my mind.
Fear of the question, “Did I beat it?”
I can give you a number of answers to that – some sarcastic and some reassuring but nothing with any degree of certainty. The problem with this disease is that we usually can only speak in percentages and probabilities. There is some testing that can be done and so far mine are all good. There is a strong possibility that I have had a successful treatment and I am nearly fully recovered from the treatments (expect for a few side effects like hemorrhoids which I am sure you don’t really want me to write about).
So, did I doge that bullet? Can I call you back in four years on that? Generally the doctors say that if you don’t have a reoccurrence within five years you’re good and can consider yourself cancer free. That’s where the fear comes in for every PSA test and birthday for the next four years – what if?
Well, that subject won’t come up again for a while, so it’s time to do what ‘being touched by cancer’ teaches so well – live. Just live life with everything you have. Dream big. Do everything you’re able while you’re able. Now is the only time we have.
So today I spent time at church, in my shop and with my wife. Tonight is our pizza night (a healthy spinach one with a rice crust and low-fat cheese, but it’s still a pizza) and we’ll work on finishing a puzzle while the TV is on. Simple pleasures of being alive.
That’s the part of my birthday this year that I’d rather remember – the card my Heather gave me, the cake my co-workers surprised me with, dinner out, the marquetry workshop I attended yesterday, the work I did in the shop and all those little things that show that I am still alive.
As the calendar page turns, I look forward to all the events that are written on the pages of the months to come and all the life that I have to enjoy. There fear will remain for a time and as the years go by I hope that the “c” word becomes less in my life.
It’s my dream that I’ll be writing less about my health and more about the trails I hike, the things I build and the life that I am living. That would be the best birthday present ever.
Till next week,