Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Sorta-Annual Party

The first sign was the flatulence. Really rank.

That's untrue. It was the 2nd sign. The first sign was angina pectoris. The medicos use Latin to sound like they know more than they do. The first sign was chest hurts. But I work in a sedentary profession and most of my avocations are pursued in a seated position. Thus being a bit winded and pained with exertion can be explained by insufficient exercise. So I did nothing.

Or it can be explained by a heart condition. I shared this with my doctor and he scheduled a Stress Test. I flunked this Stress Test, because I got an incomplete. A preliminary blood test indicated that I had iron-poor blood. So, I took iron pills for the anemia and I felt great! But why did I have anemia?

I think the 4-billionth reason why I'll never be a gay porn star is a reticence toward putting stuff up my butt and taking pictures of it. I failed the colonoscopy, too. They found a blockage about half-way up my colon. Took a biopsy and it was cancer.

The cancer was so high in the colon that it had reabsorbed the lost blood so there wasn't any in my stool. A couple weeks later I went under the knife, and they removed a grapefruit sized tumor and found cancer in three lymph nodes. This explained the bowel obstruction and the flatulence and the cramps I had been ignoring.

Denial is more than a river in Egypt. I knew I had a heart problem because my grandfather Poling died at a young age from a sudden-death heart attack. The idea never occurred that my mom had died of cancer and that my father had just 4 years before fought off the disease. I came out of surgery, recovered and started six months of chemotherapy. Mom went through about a year and a half of chemotherapy hell only to die at the end of it. Chemo hit Dad hard, too. It felt like I had the flu with an acute case of diarrhea for six months. I never appreciated scatological humor before or since.

But I got through it, the chemo nurses gave me a little ribbon and I was relieved to have chemo behind me. It messed up my summer, so I decided to have an after-chemo party. I had three. One for friends at church. One my boss threw for me at work. And one for my friends at two local Writers groups. That was the first After-Chemo party.

A few weeks later, I learned that Dad's cancer was back. This time he was a lot weaker and the chemo was a lot more toxic. He spent the next few months on a long, slow coast down the exit ramp. We buried him right around Thanksgiving. Two days later my mother-in-law died of a stroke.

The next January I felt wrong, consulted with my oncologist, got cat-scanned and had a lymph node biopsied. The cancer was back. Time for another round of chemo.

This time everything was different. The nurses were loving and lovely, but I could sense well-hidden fatalism. The first time around I could think, Dad survived this, so can I. This time my thinking was reversed. I started giving away my books. I stopped because this terrified my friends. Instead of two chemo poisons, they gave me three. They fitted my chest with a port for directly infusing poison into me. I got a pump that pushed poison into me every 2.5 minutes.

I also had the elders of my church anoint and pray over me. Baptists don't have "last rites" but we used the same Bible passage the Catholics use for it.

Chemo was much worse the second time. No diarrhea, but my hair thinned out and turned white. I looked like a cancer patient. I was clumsy and slow. Dropping everything made me more patient.

When you have cancer you cannot control what they'll cut out of you. You cannot control what poisons they'll pump into you. Or when. Or how long. You cannot control the course of the disease, but you can control your attitude. I chose to appear to be optimistic despite knowing better. I had everyone fooled.

Finding TimeChemo ended for the second time about a month later than it did the first time. I wasn't feeling as spry, so I only had one party for my writer friends, and I called it (with mordant humor) the Second-Annual After-Chemo party. I half expected the rest of my summers to be lost to chemo.

Then I didn't die. A year went by and everyone asked about the party I didn't have.

Another year went by and I had my "Sorta-Annual After-Chemo Party." And so it has gone ever since. Except two years ago when I was in England every first-Thursday of August I have a celebration of writing and of surviving another year.

This year I'm combining it with the release of my anthology Finding Time. If you're reading this, and you're a writer, and you can find my house, drop by at 7:00pm. I'll have burgers and chicken patties on the grill for you.

p.s. This is not a Whig Party. That's something else.


  1. Thanks Steve, we'll see you there! Karen

  2. It isn't summer without your party. It was great! Thanks for hosting it.

  3. Great blog on the Annual Picnic and its history! The picnic was good, too. Maybe better b/c it didn't require the contemplation of 6-months of misery! Cheerio! -RSH

    1. Really wish I had been able to come. Your story was tragically familiar.


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