There’s this polar bear, a great big dirty, white monster of a polar bear running around on what little ice there is left up there in the Arctic. You don’t wanna mess with this dude. Mama Grisly? Say hello to Papa Polar!
I’m sitting in the waiting room, waiting for my name to be called. They already took my blood and vitals. It’s just a follow up visit after one of my umpteenth CAT scans.
The magazines are old and faded and talk about people who are young and beautiful. I’m no longer interested in people who are young and beautiful or the magazines that those people are in. I have much more in common with Papa Polar, up on the TV screen. He’s old and he’s sloppy and lacking in social skills. But he’s a survivor.
When you get cancer the whole world stops. Anything outside the confined orbit cancer dictates gets relegated to the stuff you never gave a thought to before: Your social calendar goes from dinner with the Borings on Thursday night and the Katz bat mitzvah this weekend to Dr. Metz on Monday, Dr. Giantonio on Wednesday, Dr. Fry on Friday – funny how even though you get the weekends off, you don’t dare think of venturing out of the house for more than a stroll with the wife around the block. The safety and security of home is your world now. And, that’s where the toilet is.
But it isn’t just a shift from the social world to the medical world. The medical world too, or the rest of it, the part of it that has nothing to do with cancer, also comes to a screeching halt. If you’re mowing your lawn and happen to run over your foot and sever a toe, you let go of the mower grip, shout to your wife and kids to come out and help you find the missing little piggy in question, tie a makeshift tourniquet around your ankle, and it’s off to the nearest E.R. – What’s that you say? You have a dental appointment at one?
Each one of my cancer doctors had remarked to me how “lucky” I was that cancer was my only problem. And indeed, it was. My blood pressure was fine. No sign of diabetes looming on the horizon. Six feet tall and 165 pounds. Hardly overweight. Indeed, maybe ten pounds under. There was nothing to distract them from the task at hand. But it’s a cautionary tale. Cancer is mowing your lawn and running over your foot. It’s having your kids running around frantically searching the grass for that digit. It’s a homemade tourniquet and the E.R. and doctors and nurses running around like … well, like you just cut off your toe! That cleaning at the dentist’s can wait.
But it can’t wait forever. Cancer can kill you, that’s for sure, but it’s not the only thing that can kill you. And those other things don’t defer to the “star” in the room.
Cancer has a way of moving in and setting up shop and taking over, like an uninvited in-law, oh so politely intruding and insinuating himself into your daily life and, before you know it, you’re house is running on his schedule. But, as with an intrusive relative, you must learn to set boundaries and strive to keep cancer an unwelcomed “guest”. And … never give it a key to the front door.
Hey! That’s my bear! What happened? Seems the crew from National Geographic came back a few months later to check in on Papa Polar and found him cold dead, lying in the melting snow. They’re completely befuddled. There’s no sign of trauma or disease. What could have brought this giant down? This magnificent creature, so powerful he could snap up a seal and rip off its head in one swoop? But there he lay, motionless.
It wasn’t another animal that did it; his only predator is man and it wasn’t man – or even manmade. It wasn’t global warming. It wasn’t the shrinking polar ice cap. It wasn’t dwindling habitat. He had plenty of food. All the signs pointed to the fact that he was fat and happy and out for an arctic spring stroll, perhaps with Mama Polar, when he simply dropped dead.
I think it’s normal for us to believe that once we get cancer, we can’t get anything else. God wouldn’t let you get cancer and then start piling on? God is like … Knute Rockne, right? Play hard – but by the rules! Sure, a guy can catch a bad break but hey, you never kick a man when he’s down, right?
Turns out, God aint Knute Rockne. Just ask the “Gipper”.
Then they open his mouth. Abscessed molar. They can only assume that the infection somehow found its way down to the great big bear’s great big heart, made itself at home and started a fire in the hearth. Fifteen hundred pounds brought down by a simple toothache.
I hope my dentist has better magazines.