And sometimes they are actual rock stars.
About three years ago, Tony Iommi was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma. Iommi was and is lead guitarist for the band Black Sabbath, and on his three-year diagnosiversary, he is talking about his cancer battle.
I was a Black Sabbath fan growing up (which helps explain my dwindling ability to hear as I get older), and I adored Iommi's opening guitar riff to "Iron Man." (Though, to be honest, once Ozzy Osbourne left Sabbath, my guitar loyalty shifted to Ozzy's new guy, Randy Rhoades. It's funny how things change -- when I was 18, I probably could have written 1000 blog posts on metal guitarists and their bands. I think that would have been more fun than writing about cancer, to be honest...)
Anyway, I was a Black Sabbath fan growing up, and so the headlines about Iommi getting lymphoma really caught my eye. He was about to begin recording a new album with Sabbath when he found a lump in his groin, which was eventually diagnosed. In 2012, it was announced that he had "early stage lymphoma," with no other details.
In how most recent comments, he reveals that it was Follicular Lymphoma that he was diagnosed with. He was going to ignore that lump, but Ozzy Osbourne convinced him to get it looked at. And when Ozzy thinks you have a health problem, then you really can't ignore it.
What really struck me, though, was the fear that he still has. It's something all of us can relate to. He says, "Every day I feel around for lumps and bumps. Every time I get a pain in my stomach I think, ‘Oh God, it’s cancer.’ It’s horrible." I think we've all been there -- and maybe we're still there.
For me, though, at some point that I don't remember, that "feeling every day for lumps" was able to stop. I don't think I've ever gone a day without thinking about cancer -- this blog and my daily check-in with the support group make sure of that. But at some point, I stopped obsessing over my cancer. I am at the point where I don't call my oncologist when I feel a lump or a bump or I have a strange feeling. My policy now is to wait three days, and if I'm still worried, I'll make the call.
I haven't called in a long time.
The other thing that struck me about Iommi's most recent comments was this: He's back on tour with Black Sabbath. He says, "Sometimes I wonder if I should try to live a more peaceful life. Then I think, ‘I don’t want to let the illness take over’. After all, I enjoy where I’m at now."
And I remember those days, too, saying No to a lot of things, wondering if I'd be around to finish whatever I started. And again, one day I decided that no doing things just didn't make sense. If I kept up with that same attitude, I'd end up never getting out of bed. I say no to lots of things now, but never because of cancer.
I know a lot of you, or your loved ones, are pretty newly diagnosed, maybe even just a few months out. I hope you're lucky enough to be dealing with something slow-growing enough that you'll be able to not obsess. It took me a while, but I got there. And now I'm coming up very quickly on the 7th anniversary of my own diagnosis. And I feel OK about it.
I wish that same small sense of peace and patience for all of you.