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WRESTLING WITH CANCER via Coping With Cancer Magazine



image via Coping Magazine



(The following is the text from Wrestling With Cancer. The article appears below.)


Cancer and the sport of wrestling have at least one thing in common: there are situations you get in that you can’t easily get out of. At least wrestling has a final whistle to end the match. Cancer doesn’t come with a whistle, so I bought one to blow.


A neck cancer diagnosis in late 2016 was as shocking as any cancer diagnosis I’d heard of. We take for granted so much work the neck performs until it’s under threat. From all of the scans and probes and tissue samples over a few months it would have been anti-climactic if it had all been for nothing.


Until the phone call otherwise, that’s what we all hope for and what I locked onto for my mental health.


Once I got the cancer news I prepared for the promised ordeal of chemo and radiation, with a keen interest in how mental health could change. What exactly did ‘chemo-brain’ mean? I’d find out eventually.


“You’ll have a sore throat,” said the ENT.


“Food might taste funny,” said the chemo doctor.


“You may have more saliva than you’re used to, and may lose weight,” said the radiation doctor.


They were all accurate in their forecasts, just severely understated. With the experience of cutting weight as a high school wrestler, along with college and a tryout with the All-Army team, I could handle the ordeal. Some sports make you feel invulnerable; wrestling is one of them. It’s not a realistic feeling, but neither is cancer.


An old joke from the first Greek Olympics says they were held with only two events, running and wrestling. If you couldn’t wrestle, you ran from wrestlers.


Facing off against cancer isn’t the same as staring down an opponent on the mat because cancer is a merciless foe. In the spirit of ‘fake it until you make it’ I told myself I’d take cancer down. The only problem was I didn’t anticipate the venue. Instead of a mat, a backyard, or a living room for wrestling, cancer invited me to a pool and tried to drown me.


Once I started the match, cancer pummeled me until my head spun. I say cancer, but it was the chemo. I got bent into contortions I’d never felt before, and I’ve been in a few. From all-American high school days as a Greco-Roman state champion and third in the nation, to college freshman year and the Army the next year, I gave and took the usual bumps and bruises.


My match against cancer didn’t go according to the rules. It never does, but we all start out with the same goal. I planned on wrestling cancer, but I needed to prep for cancer, chemo, and radiation. Two of the three were supposed to be friendly, but with friends like them, who needs enemies?


Well, no one ever asks because cancer arrives uninvited. Like the movie character who shows up to gunfight with a knife, cancer sets the tone.


The doctors/coaches kicked in along with therapists and techs. My wife is a naturopathic doctor here in Portland, Oregon, and with all the new ideas of treating cancer, she was having none of it. When the news hit she knew mainstream treatment was the correct choice. Chemo and radiation were the only topics we talked about, avoiding surgery talk.


I asked, “Why not try something else?”


She’d had two colleagues contract the same strain of neck cancer as me, hpv16. They used alternative treatments at first. By the time they decided on mainstream treatment it was too late. Their health had become too fragile; cancer had them on their back and wasn’t letting up.


The feeling of ‘too late’ is what cancer survivors fight against. We can’t give into the notion that we’re too late to make a difference, too late to save our own lives. Every time the notion of ‘too late’ crossed my mind, I switched immediately to ‘just in time.’


Moves made ‘just in time’ to cure the cancer working in my neck felt like everything was saving my life. There’s nothing better for cancer survival. Say it with gusto: “Just. In. Time. Again.” And there’s no better sound than blowing the whistle to end the match.


A year after treatment I’ve talked to friends and strangers about the most awkward cancer. It has a vaccination younger parents embrace. Older folks express doubts of an effective cancer vaccine. I win them over with, “Imagine fearing the jolting pain in your throat with every swallow, every tear inducing sneeze, and trying to hide it so your loved ones don’t share the agony. Now imagine it in a child or grandchild when it could be preventable. That’s an hpv vaccination you need to know more about.”




That was the text from the Coping With Cancer article ‘Wrestling With Cancer.’ This is what it looked like in the magazine:



About David Gillaspie
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