Ringing the golden bell
My 30th and final radiation treatment was Thursday. Right outside the door of the room where I got all my treatments, there’s a little, gold-colored bell hanging on the wall. By custom, all patients ring the bell right after their last treatment. So I pulled the chain, and the other cancer patients and their relatives who happened to be sitting there at the moment in the waiting room started clapping and cheering for me like I’d just won some big award. The radiation techs even handed me a little certificate that looks like a diploma, signed by all of the people who have been zapping my brain since August 20. In this world, just being able to ring that bell qualifies you for celebrityhood.
My sister Ellen was there to record it all simultaneously on video and still camera, which added even more to the paparazzi atmosphere. She’s a great photographer, so all of her pictures are better than the one here. Unfortunately she’s not in any of them, so I’d rather use this shot. That T-shirt I’m wearing will be instantly recognizable to anyone who was working in the newsroom of the Orlando Sentinel during the historic hurricane season of 2004 when we were hit by three major storms in the span of about six weeks. In those days of widespread outages, “Got Power?” seemed to be the only question anyone was asking, so the graphics department just decided to have T-Shirts made up to save us all some breath. I love the shirt. It’s an especially great shirt to be wearing on your last day of cancer treatment.
On Thursday morning I also took the last chemo pill I’ll be taking for at least another month. I get a break now to help me recover and get over this fatigue that’s really hit me hard the past two weeks. It will be a slow process. The medical people said the side effects of the radiation will last at least 2 to 4 weeks beyond the final treatment. But at least I know I’ll be feeling better every day starting today (thanks Fish). My goals for the next month are to ease back into an exercise routine, take my bike out for a decent trail ride in the cool weather and maybe even sneak in a round or two of golf.
I’ll also keep this blog going for a couple more days (maybe one more letter on Saturday and then maybe one last video on Sunday), and after that I will use this space to provide people with updates on my progress as needed. I still need to figure out a way that anyone who wants to can sign up for future bulletins. I cannot thank everyone enough for all the wonderful comments here in addition to the cards, e-mails, food and gifts that have been sent to my home. Your support has been the main thing that has kept me going.
One major lesson driven home to me so far in this process is that when you get cancer, it’s not just a scary thing that happens to you. It happens to everyone you love, and on some level it happens to anyone you’ve ever known or touched even indirectly and who still cares about you at all. And everyone just needs to be allowed to process their own feelings about that in their own way. Keeping up with this blog has been my way. Your individual response, whatever it is, has been your way. Lots of people have been praying. Some folks like my sisters and brothers have come to my house to wait on me hand and foot. Other friends have done things such as start Scary-Mary spreadsheets that assign rotating, caregiver responsibilities that result in mountains of food being pumped into my house that I could never, EVER expect to eat no matter how long I live. Lifelong friends have come to my house to pull weeds in my garden or help me install a new TV set. Or they’ve made me world-class quilts or get-well cards. People like my friend Annie Burns have sent me things such as edible fruit arrangements that have arrived on a Saturday afternoon, making them just perfect for football-watching parties. Still others have decided that the best possible response to my situation is to come to my house from far-flung places (such as Seoul, South Korea) to mix me Bloody Marys, help me wash my dogs, and to just hang out quietly because I’m too weak to accompany them to nightclubs. Whatever. I’m not judging anyone. It’s a big world out there and everyone is different.
Some people have just been thinking about me and sending me e-mails or blog comments or just keeping their thoughts to themselves — and not doing anything else. I don’t care if you haven’t sent me a card, or an e-mail, or a fruit basket, or said a formal prayer. If you have even just been thinking about me, for even one second in one single day, that’s all a prayer really is. So that’s all that matters. I love you for caring. Thank you.
Since I’m kind of weird, I ultimately look at having cancer in an inside-out sort of way. I see it like throwing a party. At this particular party, I just happen to be the host — and you all just happen to be the guests. But the secret of a good party has always been very simple: It’s an experience that the host and the guests must create together. There’s no “guest of honor.” It’s just us.
I think pretty much the same secret applies to coping with cancer or dealing with your own feelings when someone you care about has cancer. That’s why I’ve been diligent about sharing my story and my other random thoughts and experiences with you on a daily basis, and why I’ve been so appreciative of your support here and through other channels. If we do it right — and so far I think we have — we can turn any piece of crap that life hands us into a golden bell.