I took advantage of some down time on a business trip this week to read Stuart Scott’s memoir, 'Every Day I Fight'. Like Lance Armstrong’s cancer memoir, ‘It’s Not About the Bike’, that I read when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I piled through this one in a single day, too. I actually didn’t read it just once, I read it twice - the first time just to take it all in, and the second time to mark pages in the book. I didn’t even have a highlighter or proper stickies for books like this, so I just started tearing up obsolete business cards that don’t even have the right company logo on them anymore.
I never cease to be amazed by how so much of the cancer experience is shared by all, transcending gender and type of cancer and everything else. From all walks of life, we feel so many of the same things when cancer affects us, and are all more similar than we are different. From the initial shock and horror of a cancer diagnosis and fearing we’re going to die and not be around for our families, to the grueling nature of survivorship and surveillance in the years after. The mental and emotional toll that it takes on you, and just how many cancer survivors end up being affected by things such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress, was all so familiar. I lost track of the number of times I teared up a bit and thought to myself while reading, “I feel you, man. I feel you.”
I can’t tell you how reassuring it was for me to read the same thoughts from another man, whose reflections about life and cancer were so similar to my own. This is okay, this is normal, everybody goes through this. I don’t want to spoil the book for those of you who plan on reading it (please do), but one of the most eyebrow raising things in the book was one of the conversations Stuart had with Lance Armstrong. While struggling through a few years of surveillance after his initial diagnosis and treatments, Stuart asked Lance how long it took him to get to the point where he didn’t think about cancer every day? 12 years, replied Lance. I had to pause and re-read that line a few times. Twelve years.
This past Monday, March 16th, I got into work and just couldn’t think or concentrate at all. Something had been bothering me, and I didn’t know what it was. I thought it had been the anniversary of the passing of a friend from cancer the week before, which no doubt was part of it, but there was something more. And then suddenly at my desk, I started having painful flashbacks of going through chemotherapy, and not just the visuals but the feeling and all of the anxiety came back as well. What if this doesn’t work? Am I still going to die anyways? I just collapsed at my desk and wept for a few minutes. I wondered what had brought that on, and then I realized that that day was the day I started chemotherapy four years ago. I hadn’t given it even a single conscious thought, but my sub-conscious just knew, was remembering it and dreading it, and maybe wondering if we were going back? Our minds are amazing things. PTSD, not so much. I went and ran like the wind to burn this energy off over lunch, and ended up doing the fastest 5K I’d done in a long, long time, just dumping all of that anxiety and nervous energy from cancer into my run. I’m 4 years out. I wondered when this was ever going to end, if there was something wrong with me, and if maybe I ought to get in to see a therapist or something. Hearing that it took Lance 12 years to get to the point of being able to NOT think about cancer every day certainly made me feel a whole lot better about still thinking about it so much, and even having occasional PTSD meltdowns after merely 4.
Much like Staurt’s post-chemo workouts in the gym, or doing MMA or P90x, my lunchtime 5K walks or runs or whatever I can do that day have very much become a ritual for me as well, and my private “FU Cancer” time. It’s my hour of peace just for me, to get fresh air, to exercise, to meditate, or to sort out whatever is on my mind. Stuart wrote much about how important it is to do things that nurture your soul like this, to do what’s right for you, and to keep away from people or situations that aren’t going to be healthy for you, spiritually. Cancer pushes all of us beyond our limits - we can’t have people or things in our environment piling on top of that. It just doesn’t work for us. It's okay to be selfish with our lives and our time. We have to do what's right for us, because what we're dealing with inside is beyond most people's ability to comprehend, unless they've been there somehow, too.
I’m coming away from having read Stuart Scott’s memoir feeling refreshed and reassured, knowing that another man has felt just as I have in so many different ways. It’s normal to be like this. It’s normal to feel this. And perhaps most importantly, 'it's okay to just be.' I ran out of business cards to tear up, marking things that resonated with me, and had to start splitting them into thirds. It reassures me, gives me a bit of extra spring in my step, and some extra wind in my sails. Thank you, Stuart Scott, for dropping all of your knowledge, and for sharing your journey and all of your struggles in such a deeply personal and intimate way. You were right. Your cancer journey was so much bigger than you, as you had the ability to help, inspire, and reassure so many of us out there still fighting, and still struggling in the aftermath. God bless you and your family, and all those who have loved and cared about you.
Definitely pickup a copy of ‘Every Day I Fight’. It’s a must read.