The train ride from home to the hospital was one of the longest trips of my life. I just knew I was going to die. I figured that the surgeon could not remove all the cancer during my operation 10 days earlier, and it finally struck me: I am a cancer victim!
The doctor never called me with the results from the operation in the Veterans Hospital of Philadelphia. I spent five days and four nights there, mostly recuperating from the surgery. When I left, I had hoped to hear from the physician, but she didn’t call. I believed she was afraid to give me the bad news over the phone.
I never once opened the book I took with me to read on SEPTA’s R-6 rail-line connecting Conshohocken with the 30th Street Station of Philadelphia. Nor did I open it when I sat on the bus that took me and several other veterans to the hospital in West Philadelphia. Who cared about reading when you only have so much time left? Who cared about anything in life when you’re facing death?
Nor did I check any of my e-mails on the cell phone I carried. How many people do you know that can go a full hour, let alone an entire day, without giving in to the social media addiction? I know some who turn on their phones before getting out of bed in the morning. They just can’t live without seeing the latest text message or input from a Face Book friend or e-mail contact.
But, there I was with no contact with the outside world as I made my way to the oncology ward, sat on an examination bed and awaited the verdict from the doctor. I meditated as much as I could, hoping to calm the jitters I had all morning. It helps to block out all thoughts. It helps not to think because I usually tend to think the worst in a situation like this.
That’s it, Michael J. You got your breathing under control. You have been able to let all thoughts drift by without grasping onto them. You’re a blank slate right now. You’re living in the present moment. You’re safe and sound in a hospital office. No one is shooting at you, trying to kill you . . .
You know, the greatest benefit of having served in combat is that during the worst times of my adult life, I have always been able to compare it to the fire fights I faced while in Vietnam. Nothing compares to it. No divorce, no death in the family and no serious illness. Did I just mention illness? Yes, even an illness such as a life-threatening one as cancer. At least I’m not suffering pain at this moment. I’m not hurting. I’m not sniveling like a baby who hasn’t got his way for good health and a long life.
I am simply alive. And I can “be” alive for as long as I am able to keep my mind away from any and all negative aspects of death.
Uh oh. Someone just opened the door. It’s Doctor Carter Paulson. She’s smiling. She touches my arm and I am now set for her pronouncement.
“You’re cancer free,” she says. “We got it all.”
No cancer means no chemotherapy . . . no radiation . . . no negative thoughts of an impending death.
Now what do I do with this second chance I got from this bout with cancer?
What would you do?