When I was 21 I was diagnosed with cancer.
Testicular cancer actually, which was kind of en vogue in 2000. Celebrities like Lance Armstrong (hardly a celebrity before his diagnosis) and Tom Green (remember Tom Green?) were making national headlines enduring treatments and starting a very important conversation about the risk of testicular cancer among young men.
Turns out it really isn’t so glamorous.
In a lot of cases it is treatable though. If you can catch it early.
Of course, since most guys who have this type of cancer are cock-sure college age fellows who (like me) are in no hurry to get their balls checked out by the part-time nurse at the free clinic, it quite often goes undetected longer than it should.
My diagnosis and first surgery did kind of add to my celebrity around college. Whereas before I went pretty much undetected, I could now be recognized as “cancer boy.”
Unfortunately I graduated a couple weeks later and was never able to really use my new-found fame to take over the entire school…. or the world.
After a summer of chemotherapy, my doctor assured me that my chances of living cancer-free were really good. Something like 98% of testicular cancer patients live cancer-free after that first series of treatments.
So each month or year at my regular checkup, I never felt anything other than complete confidence that everything was o.k.
During this time a lot of friends and family would say how amazed they were at my attitude and faith. They’d ask me what I was learning through the experience and I’d rattle off some systematic answer about God’s sovereignty and control in my life, etc., etc.
The truth is that I wasn’t learning much at all.
I was just staying alive. (hah hah hah hah… stayin alive)
I went to my treatments, went home, felt sick for a while and tried to act like I was perfectly healthy.
I don’t think I was necessarily in denial. I was just really young, able to physically handle the treatments well and mentally unable to really understand the severity of the situation.
As I approached the landmark 5-years of remission (you know, the point they say you’re “home free”), I knew something was wrong.
I was in that 2% where they all but promise you’ll never be.
Never again would I approach a checkup with confidence. I was on the bad end of the statistics.
And when the standard treatments for my new case didn’t do the job, I was in the 2% of that 2%.
Which is not a very comforting place to live.
But it’s not bad.
Because in that 2% is where I really started to learn some things.
I faced death and my own mortality. I came to terms with the fact that I may never make it past my 40th birthday, and even now as I may or may not be infected with the cursed disease, I have peace.
Because I’ve relinquished the lie that I have control of my own destiny.
and the lie that I know what is best for myself.
and the lie that my family could not survive without my hilarious wisecracks and dashing good looks and brilliant words of wisdom.
and the lie that the comfort and security promised in our American dream can fulfill a man.
No, real life isn’t comfortable and real adventure isn’t found in security…
It’s found in that 2%
MORE SELF PROJECT
Check out the entire introspective self-portrait photo illustration series. Among other things, you’ll find out about my Fonzie obsession, my golden retriever tendencies, and how I somehow managed to write about giving a dragon the finger.