Eight years ago today, I competed in the wild horse race at the Red Lodge Home of Champions Rodeo. At the time, I was between chemotherapy treatments for a life-threatening case of large B-cell lymphoma. It was, shall I say, an interesting time in my life, which I wrote a newspaper article about three years ago [update: the article is now here on my blog]. The oncologist had informed me that the treatment (CHOP chemotherapy plus monoclonal antibodies) had about a 50% chance of success in cases like mine.
I didn’t win anything. But I set my sights on being there that weekend, doing my part, and walking away under my own power. It meant a lot to me, and I still wear the buckle I bought myself to commemorate that event almost every day. They say fighting cancer is all about your attitude. Perhaps they’re right.
The whole experience of having cancer in 2003 changed my point of view on what’s important in life. Family and friends count for a lot more than money and possessions. Enjoying life is paramount. I’ve become less concerned about what others think of me, and my attitude these days is generally “live and let live.”
That is probably what upsets me so much about legislators hurting people who could have used help instead (see my post about the changes in Montana’s medical marijuana laws), or vicious personal attacks during political campaigns. Unfortunately, many diseases still carry social stigmas with them (e.g., AIDS), and it seems like most of the attention — and money — goes to just a few hip diseases. I see more posters, ribbons, news articles, bumper stickers, and talk shows about breast cancer than all other types of cancer combined. Ever see a fundraiser for non-Hodgkins large B-cell lymphoma?
My other bout with cancer happened just last year, and it was one of those that you don’t generally discuss in polite company. Prostate cancer is one of the “icky” diseases. Your average man on the street doesn’t really know what his prostate gland does, and if he’s heard anything at all about treating prostate cancer, he’s probably heard about the dangers of impotency and incontinence as possible side-effects. I know that scared the heck out of me when I was diagnosed.
Now, I have received my second “all-clear,” leaving the current score at Gary: 2, Cancer: 0. Although I wouldn’t call either experience enjoyable, the side effects have been minimal and my life can continue as normal. But not as it was before.
In our little town of 2,300, our “Pints for Prostates” fundraiser pulled in over $1,200, and over 50 people showed up to have a great time, hear my quick talk about prostate cancer, and leave with some discount coupons for PSA tests at the hospital. That made me feel pretty good, and I’m hoping to do even better next year.
Although I like to think of myself as a generally easy-going kind of guy, I have a lot less tolerance for intolerance these days, and virtually no tolerance for incompetence. It’s a good thing I haven’t set my sites on public office, because I’m too darned blunt for it. Legislators from Federal level to city level are passing laws that don’t address the problem they were purported to solve. We’re spending billions of dollars interfering with other countries when we aren’t doing an adequate job of fixing problems at home. Our health care system is badly broken, and legislators are working overtime to fight attempts to fix it rather than working together for a solution.
Ah, well, I’m rambling. I’ll go back to my regularly-scheduled posts with a focus next week. I hope you all enjoy your Independence Day weekend!