Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Everything I Know Is Wrong

Trauma redefines you.

It resets everything you know—each standard, basis, paradigm is renewed…different.

Cancer is trauma.*

There’s a list (isn’t there always a list?) somewhere that identifies modern life’s great stresses. Birth of a child (parenthood), death in the close family, major illness, loss of job, major relocation, marriage, divorce**… I’ve been through most of them.


Cancer has been…different.

And I’m feeling it.


I’m in the 11th hour and 58th minute of a divorce. I’m on the train to get a PET scan that will define my future. I’m in an epic financial crisis.

But I woke up this morning.

I’m in constant, low-grade pain. Sometimes my brain just…stops. I have the unpleasant kind of pins and needles in my feet, and sometimes it feels like someone is driving a nail into my toes.

But I’m here.

And it is so very strange to be here like this.


I’ve never been a “glass is half full” kinda guy. Maybe more a pessimistic pragmatist. I’ve long passed my moaning Morrissey phase. Yet, over the years I’ve known despondence. I’ve ventured deep, exploring my personal darkness. And I could go there now.

But I don’t.

And I’m not sure why.

I’d be lying, were I to write that I’m now a “half-full” kinda guy.

Yet, so many of the clichés are becoming in me.

And it is so very strange to be here like this.

I don’t know where the balance will settle. But I suspect that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; and a glass is halfsies.


It’s expected of you, resilience. We’re supposed to be able to suffer the slings and arrows. Outrageous fortune befalls, and we meet it. Otherwise, we’re seen as weak and needy and a whole lot of other words; there are many synonyms for “pathetic”.

To cope, we eat too much, or drink too much, or watch too much TV, or immerse ourselves into video games. We consume. And Gluttony and Lust are mere words for the excruciating passions we feel—the desperate needs that possess us…as we lubricate our resilience.

To cope, I fight…quietly. All the passions bubble and squeal. They’re there…right there. And it’s nothing to embrace them…and it’s everything to not.

I don’t always win.

But I’m winning those fights far more often than not.

Does that make me resilient?


Recovery is not what you think it is.

You think it means sleep and detox and quiet and rest.

And it does.

But that’s merely plot. It’s the rest of the play that matters.

I have passed through, from the two-steps-forward-one-step-back phase to the one-step-at-a-time phase. I no longer have a good day and then sleep all the next. I’m now functioning…a lot like you. But I’m diminished. Less. Compromised.

I push myself, but there’s only so far I can go.

And it is so very strange to be here like this.

Everything and everyone has changed. Everything I know is wrong.

Childlike, I’m exploring my world. Eyes are open. I’m redefining.

(And I know that the changes are in me. It’s my perception…it’s altered.)

And knowing the past, I much prefer the world I see before me.

But that past encroaches. Long shadows loom. (I want them gone!) Clarity is clouded, and those shadows weigh…heavily.

Oh, so heavily.

And it’s now, today, as I approach New York, that it grinds.

And it’s soon, when they slide the slab bearing my irradiated me through that tube…slowly, oh, so slowly…that the weight crushes.

And it’s when I’m lying motionless, surrounded by industrial sound, instructed to relax, so they can accurately measure my metabolic rates, to learn if my cancer is dead, or not… it’s in those moments of mandatory quiet that the shadows scream.

And if you were there with me, observing. You’d think all was well. I’d be dead still. A fly could land on my face, and I’d not move.

But I’d be Norman Bates, living a waking nightmare with a riot between my ears,

And this is survivorship.

Every day is new, and every day is fraught.

I’m redefining, not relearning.

I’m fighting.

I’m releasing.

I’m becoming…

Alone…and Not

I’m completely alone…as are we all.

I’m connecting…as few of us do.

I’ve been all around this one. I am absolutely certain that I am alone.

When I am in that tube later today, no one is with me. Even if you were there to hold my hand (as has happened before), I’d be alone.

And that’s OK.

In fact, it’s necessary.

Your life’s journey is your own. You may choose to share it with others—to varying degrees—but it is yours.

And sharing it is the greatest gift we give to one another.

And enabling ourselves to accept that gift from others is the greatest gift we can give…to ourselves.

I’m getting through the latest phase of my journey, because I share it with you. And because you share yourselves with me. And because I’m letting you in.

Cancer changes things. It grinds down your defenses. It opens you to possibilities.

It opens you.

And for me, that means connecting.

It means accepting that I am alone.

And accepting that I am with you.

And being at peace with a contradiction.

And it is so very strange to be here like this.

But maybe, together, with little effort on your part, we can banish the shadows. Or, at least contain them. Or, ignore them. Or…in time…accept them.

What a beautiful thing that would be.

What will be will be what will be...
...I got this.

*Cancer is myriad things. Trauma is one of them. Here I seek not to limit cancer’s influence, but to corral it. A bit.

**War seems to never be on those lists. I think those who have been in combat would offer a different view…


  1. Ray, I know the feeling you describe when you're all alone in those big, industrial, cold machines getting scanned. It is lonely and scary with possibilities. I have only my solidarity to offer you, and yet it falls short.

  2. therein lies the rub...

    My heart is with you as I recall similar feelings. It's an exciting and terrifying place- to be alone. My mother would say it's life-defining- these moments which hang completely on one breath. Your life is yours and no matter what happens in it, you still choose to fight. Your vulnerability, realness, and the heaviness of this is the laboring of your journey. That is what I will celebrate about you in this moment. The pushing forward, halfsies or not- you got this.