Over the Fourth of July weekend, several friends liked some Facebook photos I was in, commenting that I “looked good.” I do look good. I don’t say that boastfully, but kind of ruefully, having just come from the MD Anderson Cancer Center where I got my third major cancer diagnosis. This time it’s pancreatic cancer.
There are no good types of pancreas tumors, but mine is the worst. These cancers don’t have good survival rates, even when caught early.
While waiting for appointments and test results at the cancer center, I had lots of time to read news reports about the bizarre developments in the presidential race and about the horrific violence from and against police, starting with a shooting in Baton Rouge, the city where I live, and continuing with an ambush of police here last weekend. I couldn’t look away from the news and yet I couldn’t really focus on it, either. Big stories often trigger the reporter instinct, an urge to rush out and cover the story (or at least blog about it from afar or read and watch the news insatiably). But when you’re hooked up to an IV, on the lookout for pathology results, or awaiting exploratory surgery, even that instinct turns numb.
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Some friends and family have expressed anger at my facing another type of cancer so soon after finishing my last round of treatment for lymphoma. I won’t say I haven’t been angry or sorrowful myself. But one day this month I was called from the waiting room to get my CT scan along with a boy who looked like he was 7 or 8, accompanied by his mother and a brother who looked just as frightened as the patient.
Let’s save our anger and sorrow for them and other children facing these awful illnesses. From my hotel room in Houston, I could see Texas Children’s Hospital, which looks like it’s about 15 stories tall, every floor filled with stories sadder than mine. I lost a nephew at 16, another at 19, and a great-nephew at age 7. I’m not going to whine (much) if I’m running out of time in my 60s.
I’ve lived a good life, and I can handle whatever Cancer 3.0 deals me. (Cancer 1.0 was my 1999 diagnosis with colon cancer; 2.0 was last year’s fight against lymphoma.) But I’m angry about children facing a mystifying disease that this old man can’t understand, children who won’t get all the opportunities I’ve already had.
I’m angry as well about the people grieving after this month’s violence. However much time I have left, I’ll get a chance to say goodbye to the people I love. Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the slain Dallas and Baton Rouge officers didn’t get to do that.
I don’t know how much time I have left or whether I can move beyond a third major cancer. But I’ll savor every day, even the tough ones.
Steve Buttry is director of student media at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication. This article was adapted from his blog post, Cancer 3.0.