So said Dr. Finger when he burst into the room as he flipped me a print-out of test results that had otherwise been kept secret. “Get-T-F-Outa-Here!” I shouted in awe as I threw a Town & Country magazine across the room. For 6 weeks, they had directed me through a new regimen of tests, scans, and procedures chasing 2 kinds of possible cancer that have nothing to do with the previous one. Not all clues along the way suggested we were headed toward this happy conclusion.
I know what you’re wondering. Why was Kirk reading Town & Country? Well, just to set the record straight, I hadn’t seen one in years, and it carried my shaky mind away to memories of comfortable homes and splendid dinners (or at least coffee tables). That said, the magazine may have been upside-down for all I know—although I did notice the models keep getting younger.
I was prepared enough for bad news that the above headline was already mosh-pitting in my head. And I’d reverted to the ABCs of considering scenarios. Like, I alerted Support Squad A. Obligations and travel arrangements had a Plan B. And if drafted, I was ready to jump back into the C zone, like a soldier re-enlisting for battle, in hopes that we might mop this sucker up by the 4th of July in time to move on to the important things, like floating.
Now, some might dub that pessimism. But PCSD does that to you. So does the pursuit of fearlessness, which features rigorous workouts in realism: Seeing and accepting all possibilities, even the ones you don’t like. It’s quite empowering, really—moreso than well-meaning sideliners who chirp, “Just stay positive!”
Women worry about breast cancer. Men fear the prostate. Both are common, and the male problem runs in my gene pool like good looks. So when my “blood work” in December showed some new, elevated numbers—perhaps caused by friendly fire from all the treatments—I had to board the P Train toward exams and destinations unknown.
Along the way, the search thickened when one scan unexpectedly discovered something concerning in my sacrum. I’ve learned to become concerned when doctors say concerning (though I’d never heard concerning and sacrum used in the same sentence before). Prostate is bad enough. But can’t we leave my sacred sacrum out of this? It didn’t help that a friend of mine, as we speak, has both prostate and spinal cancer. Stage 4. He put off seeing a doctor. The Bad Thing spread. He’s going to make it—I believe. But first he’ll go through hell and back again.
In my case, I was fairly fearless about bone cancer. There are many reasons, but the most intuitive one is that my back suffers from a condition that, if I were a noted doctor, I’d name “BackF*ck.”I achieved this condition through a lifetime of combative sports, risky activities, nasty accidents, gardening abuse, and of course, genetics. (When all else fails, blame your kinfolk.) Like many of us, I live with this annoyance well enough and work to keep it in check.
Fortunately, my hunch was right. (!!!) So when Dr. Finger explained that the back issue was not cancer but asked, “Hey, did you know you broke your tailbone?,” I could only shrug. “No, but I’m not surprised. But, may I ask, is it…concerning?” “Naaah,” he answered, “I wouldn’t worry about it.”
Fun fact: When you’re dealing with doctors about cancer, you could come in carrying the arm you just severed off and they’d say, “I wouldn’t worry about it.”
That’s another phrase doctors like. It’s code for, “This might make you scream.” Nonetheless, when it came time to strategize the prostate biopsy, I chose to be awake. How could a stupid, short procedure I’d been afraid of all my life be a bigger pain in the ass than what I’ve been through? And the protracted process of knock-out surgery? S0 tedious (a different kind of pain in the ass).
Now, my guess is that very few writers have gotten rich and fabulous writing about prostate biopsies. And most folks probably don’t want to hear about it. So instead, let’s talk about animals. Everyone loves animals, right? Like, the remarkable porcupine. If I had to choose an animal that the procedure reminded me of, I’d definitely go with porcupine.
So if a porcupine should cross your path and need to enter your body, take my advice: Take valium. Scarf them like Sweet Tarts. You won’t scream as loud and you’ll enjoy a nice nap later—at about the time the porcupine retreats back to his proper hole, wherever that is.
Throughout these weeks, I kept the Zen poem, Hokasai Says, close-at-hand. It states:
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda…
(Spoiler alert: The stanza ends with, “It matters that you care.”) Funnily enough, a Minnesota-dystopian thing happened: Disgusting, nuisance, winter ants left the veranda and moved into my house. This I learned when I awoke one morning and they had carried me down the stairs and were trying to shove me into their little ant-hole.
They’ve also invaded the cat’s food (no matter where you move it). The trail mix. The kitchen counter. The sink. And yes, even the Triscuits. So I’m like, screw the war on cancer: I’m at war with the ants! Hokasai might disapprove. But he’s been dead for centuries. And if he’d had a chance to snack on Rye and Caraway Seed Triscuits with avocado, smoked salmon, sweet-hot mustard and capers, I think he’d understand.
I must confess: Sometimes, I smash them. With my fist. It takes effort; they’re fierce, tough buggers. Earlier today, one blew me away. He (I’m pretty sure it was a he) was carrying another ant, a dead one. At full speed. I pounded him anyway. But it only half-worked. So you know what this half-smashed ant did? Smashed Ant just flipped me off and kept right on carrying his dead cousin toward Mount Triscuit.
Now that is fearlessness! Now that is strength! Now that is a desperate metaphor for what a guy must do when, not nine months after kicking cancer’s ass, the healthcare team decides we need to run six weeks of new tests for two other kinds of cancer.
Dr. Fingers was a riot. Doctors are so much funnier when they bring good news. “We’ll need to see you occasionally,” he said, “about every six months.” “Bummer,” I responded as we shook on it, “You have such damn big hands.” He slayed me with a ready comeback: “Well, if you’re really lucky, I won’t order a second opinion” as he held up two fingers.
Oh, this guy is good. I’m definitely considering taking him on my cancer comedy tour as a warm-up act.
Every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.
Wise man, that Hokasai. Fearlessness don’t come easy, but, like so many intentions, maybe it becomes easier with practice. And perspective. Like this: I had lunch with a friend last week who showed up uncharacteristically out of sorts. So I asked about it.
Turns out that, right before our meeting, she had visited a close friend who’s son had taken his own life the day before. At age 20. I have no idea, no idea, how one carries on after that.
In comparison, going through some unpleasant tests and a health scare is a blessing.
Fearlessness. I got this. (Right, Hokasai?)
Thanks for caring…