Hard to believe.
I'm titling this "happy," even though my wife says it's crazy to even think about this day in those terms. When I woke her this morning, I asked if she was going to wish me a happy cancerverary. "Oh God," she said. "You're going to want to celebrate, aren't you?" But, like I tell her every year, we're not celebrating That Day. We're celebrating TODAY, and the other 1459 days that have come and gone since That Day.
One thousand, four hundred and sixty days? Wow. I've thought about cancer every day, for 1460 straight days. I'm more than half way to being the Cal Ripken of cancer.
It's true -- I do think about it every day. I can't not think about it -- I check in with my support group every day, and on those days when I can't, I think about not being able to. I write in this blog every two or three days, and plan out what to write on the others. I think about cancer every day. That doesn't mean I think about having cancer - that's walking on the edge of victimhood, and you all know how I feel about the term "cancer victim." It's only on days like today that I really focus on having cancer, and what it all means.
Last weekend, very much unlike this frigid weekend, we had one of those rare, upper-40's January days, and I took the dog for a nice, long walk. I put my iPod on "shuffle," and just listened to whatever came up. One song that came up early in the walk was "Superman," by Five for Fighting. It's a nice song:
The lyrics are a monologue from Superman. He kind of laments having to keep up the appearance of being a Man of Steel, and in a vulnerable moment, admits that he's really just a man in a silly red sheet. I remember downloading this song a few months after being diagnosed, because some of the lyrics really hit me:
I wish that I could cry
Fall upon my knees
Find a way to lie
About a home I’ll never see
It may sound absurd…but don’t be naive
Even heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed…but won’t you concede
Even heroes have the right to dream
And it’s not easy to be me.
Up, up and away…away from me
Well it’s all right…You can all sleep sound tonight
I’m not crazy…or anything…
I could -- and can still, in some ways -- feel Superman's pain. I think it's a Guy Thing; we're not supposed to be vulnerable, at least on the outside, because there are too many people depending on us, and a show of vulnerability ("I wish that I could cry") is going to trickle down, and it's all going to crumble. That's how a lot of men feel in general, and lots of cancer patients feel that way even more so. But really, there's nothing Super about us. I think the end of the video kind of bears this out.
That's what I was thinking about as I walked the dog and listened to my iPod. I feel a little bit less of that these days, less of a need to be a Man of Steel. But that vulnerability, and a fear of being -- or seeming -- vulnerable never really goes away.
I've always loved music, and I've always found a way to use music to help me emotionally, whether it's to build myself up, or revel in a good dark day, or just help me understand whatever it is I'm feeling, but don't fully understand. Sometimes I'll latch onto a song and not know why. Sometimes it's just because I like the song, but sometimes it's because it's helping me work through something. "Superman" was like that.
It's not on my iPod, but another song from my early cancer days came into my head as I listened to "Superman." It's "The Rainbow Connection," sung most famously by Kermit the Frog, but covered by a whole bunch of people. For a while, I was listening to this almost incessently. It started at my daughter's dance recital, about five months after I was diagnosed. She was not quite 7, but she was at an age when she and her dance classmates were no longer babies. No more knock-knees and pot bellies. They danced a ballet piece to Kenny Loggins singing "Rainbow Connection":
And even though they were only six or seven years old, they were graceful, with their long skirts and flowers in their hair, and their arms flowing as they danced. I watched her and, in the dark, tears streamed down my face. Part of me just marveled at how much she was changing, so quickly, and part of me cried, five months after being diagnosed, wondering how many more times I'd get to see her dance, or dance with her, not really understanding yet what this disease was all about. And part of me cried because...I didn't know why.
For weeks after that recital, I listened to "Rainbow Connection" over and over again. And one verse kept haunting me:
Have you been half asleep? And have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same
I've heard it too many times to ignore it
It's something that I'm supposed to be...
And I'd wonder, over and over again, What am I supposed to be? If cancer changes who you are -- and it's pretty damn hard to be the same person once you hear those words from a doctor -- if I'm someone new, what am I supposed to be? If those voices are calling my name -- and never mind who the voices belong to -- what are they calling me for?
"Superman" asks the same question, even if it doesn't come right out and say it. If I'm not really Superman, if it's all just appearances, then who am I really? If I get called upon to stop a bullet or a train, what's going to happen?
I spent a very long time, when I was first diagnosed, trying to answer those questions. Heck, I spent a long time trying to formulate those questions. I didn't even know which questions I was being asked....
Four years later, I still don't have answers to those questions.
The difference, now, is that I don't ask them as much, because I know the answers don't really matter. The answers will come to me, sometime, somehow. Or not.
And I guess that's what's changed over four years, not so much about me, but about how (and why, and when) I think about having cancer. My response isn't so emotional anymore. I've learned so much about cancer, and about Follicular Lymphoma, that I don't need to be emotional. I can reason things through, understand where I am and where I might go next.
So, the answer to What am I supposed to be? is irrelevant.
The more important question is, What's next? I mean that in a couple of ways. First, I know that there's a next phase to my cancer, and I don't dread it. I have plans for dealing with it. Lots of plans. And second, I mean, what's next in my life, apart from cancer? I'm living my life, making long-term plans, not worrying about whether or not I can possibly carry them through.
And my music now isn't about asking questions, or worrying about answers. If I listen to Cancer music at all, it's got a very different focus. A few weeks ago, someone in the support group asked for suggestions for songs that inspired. This is the one I offered:
The song isn't about asking questions -- it's about taking action.
It's about getting to the next.