Upon initially learning of my diagnosis, I didn’t even cry. I remember being surprised by my lack of emotions as I talked to my doctor. However, I’ll never forget the conversation. It was around 5:30 pm on Thursday, June 2 and my doctor called to give me the results of a recent lymph node biopsy — “Well, Steve, it’s cancer…or more specifically stage IV Metastatic Melanoma”. There were no tears and my voice didn’t even crack. So you’re probably thinking that I’m either tough as nails or some strong spiritual sense gives me everlasting internal peace. Well, neither of those statements is true. The truth is, I didn’t cry because I halfway expected my cancer diagnosis. I had been sick for about four weeks and various doctors kept telling me I had pneumonia. I knew something was wrong…the coughing, the wheezing, the shortness of breath, the pain in my chest, the fatigue…all resulting in my daughters only being allowed to see me twice a day (first thing in the morning and right before their bedtime). But I don’t think I truly ever believed that I had pneumonia. I knew something was wrong…and it felt deep down to be something much worse than pneumonia. My doctor had just told me that I had life-threatening cancer and I didn’t even cry. That was, until I hung up.
Suddenly, I couldn’t stop crying.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to that conversation on June 2nd and remember what it felt like to be able to have a conversation with another human being without being on the verge of tears. My wife came into the room after I got off the phone with my doctor and saw the look on my face. She just gave me a hug as I cried on her shoulder. I never told her this (the internet reveals all, I guess), but in that moment I felt I was saying goodbye to her. And goodbye to my two beautiful daughters…to the future I had always envisioned with them (soccer/basketball games, high school dances, college graduation, future careers, marriage, grandchildren — yes, hoping those are listed in chronological order!) And goodbye to the thirty-nine years I had already spent on this planet…regretting that I probably wouldn’t live to see my next birthday.
Okay, so I was getting a little over-dramatic. The truth is that I was naive. I had no idea what stage iv metastatic melanoma even meant…although early google searches did not give me much reason for optimism. We hadn’t even met with a single oncologist and I had already resolved myself to the worst-case scenario: impending death. That’s not me. And my spunky wife certainly wouldn’t let me keep that mindset for long. The pity party had to end before we could even take a whack at the cancer-stuffed pinata. After all, we still had to get our girls ready for bedtime. Potty…Pajamas…Brushing Teeth…Story Time! Back to reality. Sigh.
In the weeks that followed, I cried. A lot. And despite the occasional moment of weakness that allows a negative thought to enter my mind, most of the tears I’ve experienced lately are positive tears. What do I really have to cry about? One look at my Facebook account and you can see hundreds of friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and former students/athletes surrounding me with their love and support. A peek inside a recent crowdfunding website that was set up for my family (You Caring) and you can see that people have been willing to extend beyond their means to assist my family in our time of need. I’m positively overwhelmed by the love and support of people I’ve been fortunate enough to build relationships with over the years. I don’t feel like I deserve the love and support…and there are people that could use all of this attention a lot more than me.
So, I have cancer…and it’s the bad (read: aggressive) kind that doesn’t discriminate and seems to enjoy screwing with the human body. My human body. I’m done crying for the wrong reasons. I’m ready to cry because, well, because I feel sorry for cancer…it’s about to get its ass whipped. Get your war paint on — we’re doing this.