Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Last Tuesday night I realized I'd had my phone off for hours, and it was midnight before I turned it on. One voice mail message. It was from mom, but no specifics, just that she'd call back tomorrow.


I knew what this was all about. Mom doesn't call on a weeknight out of the blue--we're in a regular "once a week on the weekend" pattern of phone calls, as we've been for years. I called first thing Wednesday morning, and it was pretty much what I expected.

I have only a weak layman's understanding of my dad's (or anyone's) bout with prostate cancer, but here's how I've been led to understand it. First you get prostate cancer, and that sucks and makes you incontinent and has all sorts of problems, but it doesn't kill you and it's slow-moving. If you can't get rid of the prostate cancer, it'll eventually spread, and the likely place for it to spread is the bone. Bone cancer is awful, but that's not what you have--you have prostate cancer that has spread to the bone, which is also awful but maybe not quite as awful as bone cancer per se. Now you're susceptible to a whole lot of pain from the out-of-control cells growing in your bones, and a whole lot more pain when those bones get weak and start breaking. But still, it doesn't kill you.

Unfortunately, the bone marrow provides a vehicle for the cancer to spread throughout the body and eventually work its way into the internal organs.

That kills you.

Last Monday, Dad had a CAT scan to see what was up with the prostate cancer of the bone. We've been in the "matter of time" stage for a long time now (and not just in the Keith Olbermann sense of "he's day-to-day, but aren't we all"), and the chemo and the morphine and the decreasing mobility have all been difficult steps. But the CAT scan results from Tuesday told us what we knew was coming but still didn't really want to know was coming. It's in the liver.


So why am I telling you, fair readers, all of this? Well, one is to get it off my chest. Two is to pay penance for the fact that I'm way happier than I should be under the circumstances, given what I've been doing for my own self. And it's not even a matter of denial, but rather a matter that we've been expecting this for so long that I've already learned how to anticipate the next steps in advance, I've already been sad about the whole process including what hasn't happened yet, and I've already made peace with it as best that I can. I've gone through the Kubler-Ross steps in advance, I think.

Three is not to elicit pity or sympathy or anything like that--please don't tell me you're sorry, because as Demetri Martin has pointed out, a funeral is the only time that saying "I'm sorry" and "I apologize" are different. And we're not there yet.

Three actually reminds me of when I was seven years old and something happened that my little kid brain couldn't quite get around--the NFL players went on strike for 8 weeks. Somehow even then I understood how much TV controls sports. Even though my parents had the news on every night, and there's no bigger news in Pittsburgh every fall than the Steelers and the NFL, somehow I was afraid that we wouldn't notice when the strike ended. So every week when we got the Sunday paper, I would immediately look at the TV listings section. I did that because I wanted to see if the paper would have a (t) next to the Sunday NFL game listings. The (t), the footnote told me, meant "tentative" and my mom or Mr. Webster's explained to me what that meant. Somehow I thought that if the (t) wasn't there, there had to be football, because no document on Earth at that age seemed less likely to lie to me than the TV listings section of the Sunday Pittsburgh Press.

That's a rambly way of saying that number three is that any plans any of you happen to have with me over the coming weeks and months have a big-ol' (t) after them. And if that means that I end up canceling on you due to the (t), I apologize in advance.

And that's when you can be sorry.

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