by Jason Tudor
Your whole life, you never thought you’d be in Mississippi for any reason. Now, there are a dozen people in a Biloxi hospital working to save your life, and you had to drive yourself here to have them do it.
Surgeons hauled out that golf ball-sized tumor three months ago. Soon they’ll tee up the jokes. Take your ball and go home is still No. 1. You’ve been scratched onto the list of the 7,500-8,000 diagnosed every year. You’ll never be able to say the words “radical orchiectomy” to anyone because they’ll think you’re talking about a snowboarding trick.
At least you’re two weeks in. The Greek gyro payoff at the end of each session is worth it now that you’re not dry heaving your way to a stroke every day and you’ve stopped bleeding out of your eyes. (Hooray, pharmaceuticals!). The lead blanket’s not so bad. It’s that lead ostrich egg they wedge your privates into that could use a happier face (Well, maybe “face” isn’t the right word …). And who thought that thing up? “You’re going to need radiation therapy, but we want to avoid radiating your joyboys. So we’ve created this lead Pac-Man to encase them. We’ve got three sizes. Oh, you want the largest? All guys do.”
Everyone is kind. Helpful. Warm. They smile. It’s not like you’re in this alone. They reach out and ask how you’re doing. They seem to mean it. That matters. The 85-percent survival rate jumps to 100 when someone holds your hand to help you through the tough moments. You’re 320 miles from the nearest person who loves you, and at least for the hour you’re lying there being partially cooked by some medical Transformer spitting radiation, they help you remember you’re human and not some slab of ribs they’ll sauce up later with a few Coronas.
Having an oncologist who’s a woman turned out fine. Sure, she’s attractive. All of your guy friends said if you were assigned a female doc, every meeting would turn into a scene that would make a Vivid Video reel. “Hey, doc, I brought us some pizza.” Fortunately, you leapfrogged over 7th Grade intentions (including your own) and it’s just a weekly visit.
You’re working again, even if it's just something to do after treatments. Two weeks ago, at the same time of day, you were smashing your fist against the rim of a toilet, wondering when the vomit, pain and tears would get flushed permanently. Now you’re writing and helping out wherever you can (and that line about “the island is really no bigger than the period on the end of this sentence” is genius).
Is there some life-affirming change on the horizon? Will Jesus or Buddha or the Flying Spaghetti Monster suddenly stroll through the door with a Mai Tai and a club membership in hand? Will you want to climb mountains or hack Samson’s hair? Go on some sort of spiritual journey? People say that happens. I don’t know. There are two weeks to go. You’ll still have go to work, mow the lawn and change the cat box. If some greater force is going to put itself front and center, he/she/it should probably bring a few bags of Fresh Step Scoopable as incentive.
Your whole life, you never thought you’d be thinking about these things. Mortality, being humbled and gaining even the slimmest glimpse into humanity will do that.
Have a ball.