Never a dull moment…

9 10 2008

Narrator: When people think you’re dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just…
Marla Singer: – instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?

Fight Club

Here’s the funny thing about having a serious illness: people are really, really, really nice to you.

I don’t mean polite. I don’t mean not cruel or unfriendly. I mean nice. I mean, they treat you better than they probably treat your spouses.

“If you ever need anything from me, Tim, just let me know,” Belinda told me after hugging me for the umpteenth time. At this point the news had spread at my job, and being that I worked at a school and my co-workers consisted almost entirely of middle aged women, they showed their sympathy through concerned questions, pitying looks, and hugging. Way, way too much hugging.

Also, the questions. Beyond their concern for my health, which was genuine, there was also the unmistakable air of: This is some juicy gossip, and I must know all the details. It’s fine, I don’t begrudge them. Co-workers at risk of dying is interesting water cooler talk, and after all, these ARE middle aged women. And I had suddenly jumped to being the most interesting thing in their work day. So I answered the questions: When were you first diagnosed? What sort of treatment are you on? For how long? You had surgery where? What stage are you? Where did you what and how?

Even better, every one of them has a story clearly designed to make me feel better: My [friend/cousin/neighbor/celebrity crush] had [cancer type] in [his/her] [body part] and it spread to [his/her] [different body part] and they had treatment for [amount of time] and now they are cancer free and [working/married/retired/taming tigers]. I love these stories, even though I know they are all some combination of made-up and rare.

One of the teachers at the school, a ridiculously cheery and kind lady named Jenny, says to me, “If you ever feel sick or just get tired, or just need a break, you go ahead and lay down in the break room, Tim.”

“Jenny,” I say, “that’s very nice, but don’t tempt me to abuse this.”

“Oh, abuse it, Tim, you go right ahead.”

Well…okay. So I wouldn’t say I’ve abused it yet. I’m currently writing this from my bed, where I have been laid up for the past week from side effects from the chemo. Stupid, feeling like you’re going to throw up all the time. You know what sucks about nausea? Even things that should taste delicious, don’t taste good anymore. Why, hello there, Arby’s Market Fresh Ham sandwich with mystery sauce. What are you doing out in this cold, lonely air, when you could be warm and comfy up inside my belly? Oh, wait, no, I can’t get you in there, because it feels like the entire contents of my stomach could come shooting out my mouth like Mt. Mauna Kea at any moment. So, I use this occasion to eat things I don’t like but should eat, because what difference does it make? Broccoli? You make me puke normally, but I’m grossed out anyway so come on inside. Also, I was so sick earlier this week that I didn’t change my underwear for about three days. Does that constitute abuse of my condition? I’m not sure where the line is here.

Quick health care financial report aside: The cost of the drugs I am taking, when I am taking both drugs, is at least $1,000 a night. It comforts me in my time of crisis to know that big pharmaceutical companies are making mad money off of my cancer. No, seriously, I’m not being sarcastic. I enjoy that people are getting rich from me desperately trying to cure myself. NO..I am super super super serious. This is not sarcasm. Some white, middle aged, Republican male gets to buy a new ‘Vette while I cram tiny pills I can’t afford down my throat so that I can not die. I love it. I am totally serious, people, why won’t you believe me?


Another thing: I have had no fewer than half a dozen people or groups of people claim that they are “praying for me.” That’s nice. And since I know they mean well, and are just trying to say the right things, I don’t tell them that I think praying is the MOST ridiculous part of the ridiculousness that is religion. I don’t even think it. And I won’t go into the inarguable logical reasons why praying makes no sense, even if you are a spiritual person, in this blog (I’ll save it for another one). So instead, in my brain, I just choose to hear: “I’ll be thinking about you.” But even that, though well meaning, is kind of dumb. I mean, why would you want to spend a significant part of your day thinking about someone dying of cancer if you didn’t have to? How depressing. I don’t even like spending a significant part of my day thinking about that. I’m just not given a choice by the numerous doctors, family members, pill bottles, insurance forms, and and surgery scars that serve to remind me every single day.

Stupid insurance forms.

But again, saying you will think about me is nice, but does little to help me out, unless you have the power to cure cancer with your mind, in which case I think there are several important members of the medical community that would like to have a word with you…

It’s about this time, after dozens of hugs, several well-wishes, numerous promises to pray for me, offers of “if there is anything I can do for you…” and blah blah blah that I suddenly start to get annoyed. Why? Why would I get annoyed at people being extremely, unbelievably, out-of-this-world kind to me? And then I know why:

These people are being so nice to me because they think I’m going to die.

For real. I’m not saying they are bad people…far from it. But let’s be serious here: if I was suffering from kidney stones, or alcoholism, or asthma, or any other serious but not necessarily life threatening disease…they’d be concerned, and kind…but they wouldn’t be bend-over-backwards-pull-out-a-chair-for-the-sick-guy-and-do-you-want-something-to-eat-or-drink DISGUSTINGLY NICE the way people are treating me now. They are treating me like a dead person already, and I’m pretty sure I don’t care for that. They think I am going to die.

I’ve got big plans on disappointing them.

My favorite reaction to this whole “Tim’s Got the Cancer Thing”* has been from Larry, who is the work program supervisor at my school. Basically, some of the higher functioning students have jobs during the day, and we have to take them out to these jobs and make sure they are behaving themselves. Larry is the one that sets all these jobs up.

(BTW…”Tim’s Got the Cancer Thing” is the name of my next album. Look for it to drop early 2009.)

Larry is a middle aged man with snow white hair and just a bit of a paunch. He’s one of those guys that you know is telling dirty jokes and is otherwise just a cool guy to drink with when he isn’t working in a school. The kind of guy that is constantly winking at you after another of his semi-lame one-liners. “Tim, you’ll be taking Reuben to work at this old folks home…it’s the type of place I’ll be staying at about this time next year.” Wink. “Old, fat guys like me don’t watch ‘American Idol.'” Wink. “Right after lunch we’re taking these kids to the strip club.” Wink.

I love it.

While riding on the bus back from a job one day, he asked about what was going on with me, having heard a few rumors from everyone else. I gave him a brief summary of all the fun details: melanoma, spread to the lungs, chemotherapy, no more Mountain Dew for me, etc etc.

He listened intently and with appropriate concern. “Jeez, that’s a shame, Tim. I’m really sorry to hear that.” Then he shook his head, winked at me, and said, “Never a dull moment, huh?”

I laughed. I think that is the by far the most appropriate summary of situation I have heard. Never a dull moment. True that.

As a quick ending note, for those of you who read my blog regularly…all two of you…and are worried that this space is going to just become an endless cancer bitch fest…well, I can’t promise I won’t talk cancer here, because it’s sort of what’s going on at the moment. But I can promise I will try to space it out to at most every other blog or ever third blog. And I can promise it will always be funny. Because I have other avenues to cry and complain and feel sorry for myself. Because without laughter I might as well be dead now. Because I can’t help but try…and mostly fail…at being funny in this blog. Because laugher is the best medicine…right after penicillin and aspirin and NyQuil and Benadryl and every vaccine every created. Because I’d rather make other people smile rather than cry, even if cancer is the thing making them smile. And mostly because…I mean, I have cancer, and when you think about it…I mean, really really think about it…

That’s pretty fucking hilarious.