Friday, June 26, 2015

Et Tu, Cancer? Part 1 - The Birds

Recently, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. But, you know me, not just any ol' cancer, but a tumor that started to grow in an pre-existing diverticulum of my bladder. A cancer that is aggressive and not treatable with chemo or radiation. A cancer that can only be removed by removing the bladder itself. And the prostate. And the pelvic lymph nodes. Now, I should have had surgery many months ago, but that story is not what this article is about. That story is found here in this excellent article.

With these series of articles, I wish to express how I have felt during this time and will feel in the times to come. It won't often be pretty and my prose will not often be below an "intense R rating". Past and present and future tenses might be maligned somewhat, but so what. These articles will also not be in any particular chronological order. I'd like to begin with a story just before and after my oft-delayed surgery; what wound up being my first surgery.


When the surgery with my new urologist was finally set, May 20th (a month after my birthday), I was also awaiting my biopsy results. Two days before the surgery, the obvious (to some) was confirmed: the tumor was malignant. That didn't surprise me much, but I was more than a little fucking pissed off because when the tumor was first seen (in February) it was about 1cm in size in the diverticulum. Now it was well over 3cm. My urologist/surgeon was concerned he couldn't remove the entire tumor without perforating the bladder. The surgery was scheduled to be day surgery and it was also non-invasive. Think of a long tube-like instrument that goes you know where and then into the bladder.

It was partially successful. The doctor removed as much as he could but not the rest for fear of the perforation, which would have been bad, going from stage 2 to stage 4 cancer with all those cells now floating around my body. Also, the tumor had now grown to 5cm at least. So, I went home. On some pain killers and such. I sat in my room for awhile - in a daze. My mind wasn't quite remembering everything due to whatever it was they had knocked me out with. I recall labeling it "alien probe forget drug". I think after sitting awhile, I had a swig, then a smoke and fell into a strange semi-drugged induced and mostly exhausted sleep. The next morning, only in slight pain, I made some coffee and went outside whereupon I saw this:

During the last two days, when my mind was upon other things, two very industrious birds had built a nest on one of the support beams above the front porch. I became instantly fascinated by this post-op discovery of a new house being built. I knew that my next step with removing the cancer was going to be removal of my bladder, so maybe I was caught up in some sort of nostalgia or melancholia, or both. But, I decided to run with it. So, the next day I spied this:

That's right, five eggs in a nest not more than 5 inches in diameter. Of course, every time myself or one of the roommates came and went through the front door, which ever parental bird was nesting would fly off. At night, the momma bird would stay on the eggs. Someone told me because the night causes a bird to sleep even though their eyes are open. By this time, I knew the course my cancer treatment was going to take, and I wasn't very happy. But, I wanted to be at least generally happy, so I found more and more solace in the birds. Because the very next morning, some births had occurred!

From four out of the five eggs, there were now very tiny birds, slick with some moisture, puffy feathery-like puffs and eyes still not open. I was rather ecstatic, but respectful. I didn't dare risk scaring off the parents or touching anything but did manage to catch a fleeting photo of the momma bird nesting the newbies. It's just too hard to make anything out, it's rather blurry. And blurry is what my future seemed to becoming more and more, so I was relying on this progression of life, more and more.

From thereon, it was a daily check on the nest and how things were doing. I was amazed at the daily growth. The baby birds would begin to poke their heads up above the nest's rim and wobble about like a bunch of drunken sailors, albeit without the salty language, as it were. They were getting their feathers, too. Then they were craning their necks high in anticipation of being fed.

I realized, after a time, that something wasn't right. That something was amiss. That one of the four baby birds no longer was craning their neck. I discovered that the four were now but three. One of the babies didn't make it. In bird world, it meant, in this case, that the dead baby bird was simply left in the nest to let nature take its course and too soon became just a dried up outline of a baby bird with little feathers. Meanwhile, the remaining baby birds were hopping on the edge of the nest with their new coat of feathers and looking for all the world that flight was next on their agenda.

Flight sometimes appeared on my agenda, too. But, in spite of it all, I knew I simply couldn't run away. I had another surgery fast approaching and if no insurance shenanigans were to rear up, I'd be facing the most difficult few months of my life. Beginning with a nine hour surgery of removing an organ and gland and nodes and reconstruction. Then, weeks, perhaps months of recovery. With that in mind, and barely a month after I returned home from the first surgery, I made my daily check of the nest. This is what I found.

The cycle was complete. The nest had been built. The eggs had been laid. Three baby birds had survived this far and then they had found flight. They were now out there, surviving, preparing for the day when they too would build a nest and start the whole process over again. What better metaphor could I have asked for, what better event could have I witnessed, as I prepared for my new process, my new life.



molitor said...

"I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars."

I can't do any better than that.

Joel Applegate said...

Best thing you've done, Rod. Beautiful.

Rod Harrel said...

Thank you both.

E.J. Westlake said...

This is a beautiful series. I do love your blog. And I hope things get better.