Good Grief (or, Basketball is a Young Man's Game)

I've always fancied myself as being self-aware. I’m good at knowing my faults and limitations, and at understanding most of the underlying motivations that drive my behavior. I questioned that self-assessment this week as I tried to place myself in the Kubler-Ross grief model. According to some of the materials I’ve been given, the cancer patient often undergoes similar stages: Denial > Anger > Depression > Bargaining > Acceptance. The problem is that I can’t really tell where I am on that spectrum. Here’s my take:

I’m not in denial. I’M NOT IN DENIAL! But seriously, I’m fully aware of what’s going on and what my prognosis is. I suppose, however, there is a chance that I am in a very deep subconscious level of denial that is allowing me to maintain an even keel. There is a difference, however,  between resolve in the face of tough situation and the denial of that situation. Verdict: Denial? A river in Egypt.

As a man who is prone to fits of temper, the fact that I skipped the anger stage is somewhat surprising (I feel a bit cheated). I keep reading that people often ask “why me?” when faced with a tough situation. Strangely, that question never really occurred to me. I must admit, however, that from time to time when I see a douche bag walking down the street I think to myself “why didn’t that guy catch cancer?” I immediately feel ashamed for the thought, because that’s not what’s in my heart and I wouldn’t wish this on even the worst Delta Bravo. (but I will cop to getting a comedic kick out of it).  Verdict: Anger? Only that we live in a world where Beiber and the Kardashians are “newsworthy”, and Sandra Lee has her own cooking show (two, if you can believe).

A casual observer of my preferred playlist last week might think that I am in deep depression. I’ve been very heavy on The Smiths, Depeche Mode, and The Cure.  Those who know me well, however, know that I would have listened to them during a rainy, overcast week anyway. I’ve been in a great mood and I feel outstanding. Verdict: Depression? Not even on Chemo Mondays.

Bargaining is the one phase that has never made much sense to me. I can’t really see the utility in trying to wheel and deal with God to improve a situation. If you believe in God then you understand that he has a plan. It seems to me that the ask should be for the strength and insight to handle a situation rather than be removed from it. To be fair, I do have hope that our plan for treatment will be successful, and in some of the grief models that is considered bargaining. Verdict: Bargaining? I don’t think so, but I suppose that depends on your definition.

In the end, we have acceptance. I now realize the fault in the Kubler-Ross model. The model works best with an inevitable outcome. I feel like I've accepted the news and the possibilities. I haven't, however, accepted that death from this tumor is inevitable. I suppose the model then dictates that I’m in denial (or bargaining). So, F the model (am I in anger now?) Verdict: Acceptance? I accept that I have cancer, and I accept that death from this tumor is statistically likely. I think, however, that I'll beat it.

When all is said and done, the model is a useful for people and those who care about them to understand their feelings and what they’re going through. Frankly, after this exercise, I don’t have much use for it. I know I’m facing a challenge, and I’m prepared for it, come what may. That behind us, on to the weekly update...

This was my first week of chemo, and it was a good week. The treatment session itself wasn’t a bad experience. I got to sit in a fairly comfy reclining seat while hooked up to the IV pole for a few hours. Having brought my computer, I got to work for a bit, listen to some music, and watch a bit of Netflix. It was somewhat disconcerting as I was, by at least two-decades, the youngest person in the treatment room that day. Around lunchtime, a group of volunteers brought in homemade sandwiches and snacks for us. Oh, the comfort to be found in a good pimento cheese sandwich. In the end, the first day of chemo wasn’t a traumatic or profound experience- just another step on the journey.

The day after chemo I felt great. Good enough, in fact, to join my buddies for a game of old man basketball. The games resembled the first scene of Saving Private Ryan; we had men dropping right and left. My homie blew out his ACL, another strained a glute (no lie), we had a man go down with a back, we twisted an ankle, and I strained a calf. In the end, we played for a couple of hours, and I didn’t hold anything back. After the game we went off to get something to eat and tell lies about how well we played.

My last recorded dunk in July of 2013.
Video Credit: Spence (I was showing off for him)
This was the first time I’ve played where I actually felt my age. Since my mid-thirties, I have attempted to dunk on (or near) my birthday each year. This year (42) was the first that I couldn’t, but I got close and my legs still felt lively. On Tuesday, the legs felt flat. Flat, I tell thee. I am certain that this has more to do with age than chemo, though. I think it’s safe to say that serious basketball is behind me. Don’t cry for me though, as I suspect that this is more a natural function of age than cancer.

The first week of chemo has come and gone, it was a breeze. I didn’t feel the fatigue that doctors forecast, but I did get drowsy a few times. I suspect things will get more difficult in the weeks to come, but for now I’m living the dream. Off to Houston to see the kind folks at M.D. Anderson this week, wish us luck. 'Til next time, keep it ill.

This week's chemo soundtrack provided by my all time favorite Noel Gallagher (who has an excellent new album out). I'm really digging on Ballad of the Mighty I right now.

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