What Happened When I Found Out I Had Cancer
There are certain things men don't discuss. Divorce is one of them. I don't mean between confidantes and brothers — everyone requires a shoulder, at times.
I once read that you never forget the moment you learn divorce is imminent. It's true: hunched at my desk, a wood keyboard stand, the beautiful Los Angeles summer sun attacking the blinds. The questions, unanswered.
You don't forget the moment you learn you have cancer, either. When the doctor calls and asks if you're driving you already know the news.
You build a new vocabulary: germ cell tumor; seminoma; orchiectomy; cryogenics. The lingo of testicular cancer.
Cancer doesn't discriminate. It is not an outside force invading our bodies. It is us creating more of us too rapidly.
You cannot rid yourself of cancer cells. We are all susceptible as its biology is the result of the same physiological Darwinian processes that allowed us to flourish: aging, healing, regeneration, reproduction. The very features that define our humanness contain within them the shadow that consumes them all.
Men don't discuss divorce because it directly calls into question the facade we've spent a lifetime building. The same of cancer, especially one that, quite literally, returns you to the world one half the man you used to be.
It makes you vulnerable, exposes the dark underside that rarely sees the light.
But you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. It's the only way to grow.
In the past decade I've watched two friends die from cancer. Both had no health insurance. One could never raise enough money for proper treatment. The other did, but it was simply too late.
Thirty years ago I too might have died from this. Despite all the generous well wishes, prayer didn't save me. Medicine did. Which is why it startles me when friends hedge on purchasing health insurance or visiting the doctor, thinking instead their bodies are strong enough to withstand forces they can't even comprehend. If only they understood how delicate this entire thing called life really is.
As Susan Sontag writes in Illness as Metaphor, "Cancer, as a disease that can strike anywhere, is a disease of the body. Far from revealing anything spiritual, it reveals that the body is, all too woefully, just the body."
Now that the surgery is complete, I sit awaiting the verdict of chemotherapy and cat scans. Waiting is torture: it reduces you to moments, shatters your perception of the person you believed yourself to be.
And that too is OK. You have to rip yourself to pieces to remove the excesses you never really needed: the filling of yourself with all the useless trinkets and symbols of affirmation that only the facade demanded. The endless barrage of selfies, the daily affirmations, the you that you are when the lights go down and all the chatter fades to silence.
You need so much less, because you're so much more than any of that.
Go ahead, be vulnerable. Grow.
Derek is crowdfunding for his book-in-progress, The Warrior's Path: Living Yoga's Ten Codes to help offset his costs for cancer treatment. If you're interested in learning more, click here.