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cancer treatment

When you need a pep talk who do you listen too?

I go to Rocky Balboa for the good stuff.

When he started out with, Let me tell you something you already know,he had me hooked.

It’s like the doctor telling me I’ve got HPV16 tongue cancer. He had my attention.

He told me what he already knew, then I knew. He didn’t need to go any further, but he did.

And so did every other doc I’ve seen. It felt like they were all channeling Doctor Balboa.

“Yes, Mr. Gillaspie, this is what we see.”

What does he see? Where does he see it? Why can’t I see it? I’m looking but I don’t see anything.

All I saw in the beginning was the end. Maybe tomorrow, next week, next month.

I didn’t share what I saw because it seemed too early, too raw.

And it sounded vaguely suicidal if you want to know the truth, which wasn’t an option.

Still, it all felt so final.

A chemo buddy told me she was in the IV chair once and said she felt like going home and swallowing every pill in the house. A little too loud.

She got disconnected and shipped to the psych ward for evaluation.

“What was that like?”

“People were crazy. I could feel myself slipping away just being with them.”

“How long did it last?”

“Until I got an interview, then I came back here. The staff has to respond to certain words. Suicide is not uncommon around here.”

I suppose it’s hearing the words Stage 4 cancer. What’s the next stage?

I looked it up. Death is stage five?

Dr. Balboa explains:

The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.

This isn’t news to everyone, but it bears repeating.

What do you feel like after meeting someone who explains why the world is all sunshine and rainbows, or could be if you had a better attitude?

P16 tongue cancer, like all cancer, takes a toll on a good attitude.

I promised myself I wouldn’t let my bad day ruin someone else’s day.

Not an easy task in this business.

The only comfort was not hearing sunshine and rainbow talk from the experts.

“This is the course of cancer treatment we think will be most effective,” isn’t the same as, “would you like sprinkles on your ice cream cone?”

It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.

For proof of a cancer beating, visit a radiation waiting room, or chemo clinic.

The beating began immediately for me the way it had for everyone else who looked more beat.

They were down because they were further along in their cancer treatment.

At first I held out hope I’d be one of the rare patients who cruised through the whole ordeal untouched.

You know, sunshine and rainbows.

You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.

Dr. Balboa couldn’t be more right.

Left jab to right cross combo.

Even though I’ve never been punched out by any of Rocky’s opponents, the combination of life and cancer fighting it out on the inside felt epic.

Uppercut. Another, then another.

Day after day it’s the grind of hope and despair. I hope this stuff works. But what if it doesn’t? But it will.

Double up on the jab like Muhammad Ali.

And if not, I’ll be very disappointed.

Roundhouse right.

But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.

How much abuse we can take is a big surprise. I’m not talking about verbal abuse and hurt feelings, which is too real too often.

It’s the science of the treatment that wobbled my knees.

The chemo works it’s way into every cell in my body, or not. Didn’t matter, it felt worse.

Something bad’s going on when I get advised to flush the toilet twice after each use.

People get something called chemo-brain. If they live through it, they laugh it off.

“Oh, that’s my chemo brain acting up.”

That’s gonna be my brain, too? I don’t have that much to spare for chemo brain.

But chemo doesn’t ask, it just takes. Like a body blow delivered to a fighter’s liver, it disrupts things.

How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

How much can you take in cancer treatment? All of it. At least that was my start point.

Give it to me.

The staff explained later in treatment what that means.

I didn’t listen.

Give it to me. All of it. Let’s find out how much I can take and keep moving forward.

If I could represent as well as my treatment pals I’d be happy.

Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody!

I’m pointing fingers here and giving thanks to the nurses and techs supporting the mission of cancer treatment.

Everyday this crew comes in to face death and not blink.

That’s winning and I tapped into their energy.

On the other hand I noticed people who did blink.

My wife wanted us to attend a group counseling session of cancer people in different stages of treatment.

I resisted then agreed to go with one condition. I’d go after we heard from the doctor about this group session.

What I heard was if I was feeling particularly bad, I might come out feeling worse.

I like people who aren’t afraid to read other people and give their opinion, though I’m not a tough read by any stretch.

People in cancer treatment have a few things in common that tip their hand.

And…I was more afraid of cancer counseling than I was of treatment.

I’d be a bad fit in a hurting group and that’s never a good combination.

Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!

The last thing I wanted to happen was turn into a bigger downer than I already was.

I slipped once when a fellow patient decided to go Fox News on a cancer patient support person.

He berated her on a day when I wanted to curl up in a corner and pretend I was in the land of sunshine and rainbows.

Instead I waited for the room to empty except for he and I. Then I took him to the land of decline and Rambos by gently ripping him a new one for spewing hate on an innocent bystander. And me.

After I finished he told me his own awful story and made me feel like the bully he was.

I got the complete backfire.

When I took my turn in the radiation room I mentioned the incident.

“We know. We have a camera in the waiting rooms to make sure we stay on schedule.”

Oh, great.

I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life.

And this, dear readers, is the key.

Whether you live in Junction City Oregon, Nairobi Kenya, or Kawago Japan; call Canada, Indonesia, or South Africa home, you’ve got to believe in yourself more during cancer treatment. A lot more. Believe you have potential you haven’t realized. A lot more.

No matter where you’re from, or where you lay your head to sleep, you need to believe in the choices you’ve made.

I started out with a great plan in mind: beat the crap out of cancer with alternative methods I’ve read about online.

My wife disagreed with my idea. Two men she knew developed HPV16 neck cancer and treated it with methods they believed would work.

“Great. Now we know another path. Let’s call them,” I said.

“They died, but not before trying to begin conventional treatment. It was too late.”

O-o-o-o-o-okay then. We won’t call.

‘I wanna have a life’ is what I decided right then.

Dr. Gillaspie and Dr. Balboa always read me so well.

What’s the last word from the scene before Rocky walks?

“Don’t forget to visit your mother.”

Always good medical advice.

About David Gillaspie


  1. […] I’ll use cancer treatment as an example. […]

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