Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand, Six Hundred Minutes

"525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes -- how do you measure, measure a year?
"In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
"In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
"In 525,600 minutes -- how do you measure a year in the life?" -- from "Rent"

One year ago today, just after noon Central time, my life changed forever. I didn't really know it at the time... but I kind of did, too. That lingering voice that tells you, "your worst fear is no longer what you thought it was."

A year ago today, just after talking on the phone with an acquaintance in New Mexico, I took a shower... and noticed something wrong "down there." The actual diagnosis would follow six weeks later, after I'd made one trip back to Omaha, two trips to Albuquerque, and had two different doctors say it was probably nothing to worry about.

But one year ago today, the first evidence presented itself that I had testicular cancer.

You could give me nothing that would make me want to relive the last 365 days. Nothing. I wish every day I hadn't gone through it, and that I didn't have to face the uncertainty for the rest of my life that something may crop up yet again. Yeah, I know the odds of that are about the same as they are for everyone else out there... but I've gone through it already, and I have to face the question "what if it comes back?" every month as I get another x-ray or CT scan, and have to hear the results from Dr. B.

If this sounds pitying, it's not meant to. It's meant to sound angry. Pissed. Resentful. But at the same time, I also want to rub the devil's nose in it. You tried to scare me, and succeeded. But I'm still here, and everyone tells me I'm healthy. For two days out of every month, I'm scared... but I do all I can to live my life as usual for the other 28 (or 29... or 26 in February, except on leap years...)

The past three months, in particular, made me question a lot in my life... including the very question of whether I wanted to continue on this path, period. The uncertainty and fear from the news "we see something on your lung" made me feel every emotion under the sun... and for every moment I felt confident, there are three where I wallowed in fear and self-doubt.

But I still woke up every day, I still did my job, and I still managed to laugh at jokes and cry for reasons other than my own situation. There is a victory in that, a big one. And without realizing it, somewhere along the line I think I grew up a lot more than I ever had before.

"I was scared, not only because of what you were facing, but also I was scared how you'd handle it," my friend Lee told me this weekend. "You'd call and sound so depressed, and then I wouldn't hear from you for days... but just when I would say that I was going to find a reason to be in your neighborhood, just so I could drop by and check on you... you'd call to let me know the latest. And you always sounded stronger."

"I've seen how you've handled adversity in the past," Lee said. "Not very well." (OK, so there was that ONE time he rescued me from Fresno... and he's also seen me in the aftermath of three other breakups... yeah, he has a point.) "But this time you faced it, and you handled yourself very well."

That floored me... but not as much as something my Mom told me, the night before she went back home last month.

I didn't want Mom to go back home, but I knew there was really no reason for her to stay here. I was recovering from the biopsy well, the incisions were healing nicely, and I was due to go to Palm Springs in the next week.

But for the moment, I was little Robbie Finfrock again, who didn't want his mommy to leave him at kindergarten alone with the other kids. This time around, I wasn't crying... on the outside, anyway... but I also felt less than confident I could resume life as normal.

I will never forget what my Mom told me, as I grabbed a drink from the refrigerator while pretending to be a lot more self-assured than I really felt.

"You're my hero."

She could tell I was about to question her by the look in my eyes. "Throughout all of this, I know you've been scared. I know there were times you cursed God, and felt sorry for yourself, and felt so depressed you wondered why you should go on. But you've also shown how strong you can be. You have handled all of this so well, Rob... better than I ever could have. I'm so proud of you... and you're my hero."

I don't think I'll ever be able to tell that story... or type it on a computer screen... without my eyes welling up. They are now. Both of my parents have never failed to be supportive of me, to be there for me. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to say that.

And I know that, had I gotten cancer two years ago... I don't think I would have been able to handle it the same way as those around me say I have handled it now. The same way I know I've handled it today.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes ago... my life changed forever. And in the minutes since, I proved to myself... and to those I love... that I could handle it.

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