Bucking the Bucket List

Number 8 on my bucket list: This lovely model from Home Depot. (photo: degrassi.wikia.com)
Number 8 on my bucket list: This lovely model from Home Depot (degrassi.wikia.com)

 

This weekend we bought the Globe and Mail because of an article headlined “The Good Death.” It chronicled a Canadian woman who spent the past year preparing for her death, which came this month. Hoping for insights that would spur me into some inspired final gesture, I read her story. And was disappointed.

Here was her  “good death”: she wrote her will, went on a final family holiday and maintained an upbeat attitude. Isn’t that exactly what most palliative patients do? Dying 101. I am criticizing the newspaper, not the woman. The Globe’s headline promised depths it never plumbed.

Ever since my diagnosis, I’ve been putting legal and financial affairs in order, writing letters for Will to read some day, and scouring the house for flaws to fix. As for leaving behind a heroic final legacy project, I’ve got nothing. Some nights I don’t have the energy to watch the shows I’ve PVRed.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had a year ago, while recuperating from lung surgery. My roommate was a 60ish gent with many health issues. His wife was a younger, somewhat impatient woman who reminded him “this was not what I signed up for.”

One day she peeked around the curtain and introduced herself. She was civil, but blunt and brassy, like the monthly sales leader at a realty office. She asked why I was in hospital. And then: “So Mike, do you have a bucket list? Something you really want to do?”

In fact, I do have a bucket list—dubbed the Fucket List—that describes small projects, big trips and classic books I want to savour before I go. The most important item on the list is to do more things with Will, since we’re likely to be short-changed some father-son time. And I told her that.

“Honestly, I just want to spend every moment I can with my son.”

She looked at me as if I said I didn’t eat food.

With her chin in her hand, she said “Hmmph.”

I guess I should have said “I’d like to swim with dolphins while skydiving and learning a second language.”

I think she would have understood that answer, but it’s a lie. I would much rather teach my son how to skip a flat rock on a lake.

While the Globe oversold its story, the woman in the article had it right.

A good death is much like a good life. It doesn’t have to be a huge production.

 

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Why me? Why not them?

One phrase forbidden in our home is “It’s so unfair.” Of course cancer is unfair, but saying that aloud is self-pitying and likely invokes bad kharma. There’s nothing fair about cancer. Short of smoking or using your microwave to make a roast, there’s not much people do that invites this disease.

That said, I am granting myself a one-day exception. Today, I am asking:  “Why me? Why not one of them?”

Here are ten people more deserving of cancer.

10) That guy who talks on his cell phone LOUDER than in his normal voice. Wouldn’t it make more sense to lower his voice during a private conversation? If there’s any justice, he will catch cancer from his phone.

9) Anne Hathaway. Everyone loved her, and then everyone hated her. I don’t know why, since she seems really nice, but I’ll go along.

8) Movie talkers. Every one. Cancer of the tongue. When their doctor enters the hospital room for the first time, they can whisper “Who’s this guy?  Have we seen him before?”

7) Vladimir Putin. Because he’s lived a good, full life, and yet it still seems like there’s so much more he wants to accomplish. I know this one seems really unfair, but that’s cancer.

6) People who generalize. All of them.

5) Hitler as a baby.

4) Anne Hathaway as a baby.

3) The world’s oldest living person. I mean, come on!

2) A mean blind person’s seeing eye dog.

1) Former leaders of the Khmer Rouge who talk in movie theatres.

And that’s it! If they can’t get cancer, maybe a really bad toothache or dial-up internet.

Thank You MJ

egg by robin summerfield

Thank You, Michael Jordan. Thank you for that day in the 1980s when you showed up on court without your thinning pelt of barely-there hair.

Instead, you gleamed, the court lights reflecting off your smooth dome, like a halo. Your sweat even looked regal.

Gone were the days of Fudd-like comb overs, as practiced by every balding NHL player n the 1970s. Instead, here was a new, unashamed look. This was bald, and it was beautiful. From that moment on, men actually shaved away that which they once tried so hard to hold on to. Michael Jordan made it cool to be bald.

(Mind you, he owed me one. When I was a toddler, I often dunked from the foul line, sometimes with my arm tied behind another kid’s back. Years later, Jordan stole this move and made it cool. You’re welcome.)

Jordan’s smooth melon has been a comfort to a generation of male chemotherapy patients like myself.

Similar thanks go to Patrick Stewart, the most authoritative, charismatic bald leader since Mussolini. And Bruce Willis, who proved that even without hair, you can be attractive. If you’re funny, rich and muscular with chiselled features.

These are the men who influenced modern tastes, but let’s not forget the pioneers—the guys who first braved the sting of a cool breeze on a smooth scalp. The Hall of Fame: Yul Brynner, the Silver Surfer, Caspar, Mr. Peanut, and the little loser who never quite pulled it off: Charlie Brown.

Together, this brave, shiny army made it cool to be bald. Now, if only the Evil Queen from Snow White had done the same for gnarled cracked fingernails….

Chemocide

Chemotherapy is the ultimate frenemy. One day it hangs out with you at the mall. The next day it tells your friends you’re a bitch. It can save your life, but it will make you so very sick.

I was initially on chemo for 12 months and then off it for 13 months. Then new tumours appeared, and I began a second course in August, 2013. That’s 19 months of chemo, or about 24 rounds and counting. The drugs in question are ifosfamide and doxorubicin.

Here is a list of all the side-efffects I have experienced, in the rough order that I encountered them. Some were temporary; some appear after every round.

Fatigue: I had an infant son, so this was nothing new.

Nausea: Not as bad as you think, thanks to six different pills.

Infertility: That one hurt.

Hair loss, head: For a few terrible days, I became one of those knobs who wears a fedora.

Sore mouth: Gargling salt helped.

Abscessed tooth: With a depressed immunity system, a minor infection ballooned and I lost a molar. It made a crunching sound when the dentist pulled it from my jaw.

Dehydration: Which lead to…

Constipation: The worst. So bad that I have twice gone to Emergency. Both times, I walked out after a six-hour wait, because Emergency nurses prioritize the guy with the gunshot wound above the guy who can’t poop.

Change in taste: Even water tastes gross after chemo.

Infection: The port implanted in my chest to receive chemo injections became infected. I went septic. My doctor, who can be dryly funny, called it “a minor life-threatening incident.”

Hair loss, eyebrows: I officially looked “sick”.

Hair loss, eyelashes: My eyes compensated by secreting a protective goop overnight. Most mornings, I literally pull my crusty lids open.

Cracked, soft fingernails: This one costs me money, as I cannot pick up a dropped coin from a flat surface.

Neuropathy: Tingling “pins and needles” feet.

Hair loss, everywhere else: Great, it’s grade nine gym class all over again.

Mucositis: Inflamed esophagus caused heartburn and made every meal feel like I was swallowing rocks.

A blood clot in my leg: I spent a week on the couch, unable to move. Painful, but what really hurt was daytime television.

Low platelets: My nose bled like water. My doctor called this “a major life-threatening incident” that could have triggered a stroke. He reduced my chemo load by 20 per cent.

Rashes: Two types at once, on my face and body. Itchy!

Then there’s the most dangerous side-effects: the ongoing damage to my heart, kidneys and bone-marrow.

On the plus side, the periodic loss of appetite has me at my ideal weight!

Some side effects you work around. (Photo by robin summerfield.)
Some side effects you work around. (Photo by Mike O’Brien.)