Year.

Posted on November 5, 2015

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Cabo San Lucas MarinaI have to tilt this computer screen towards my belly button just so I have a chance to read it due to the reflection of the morning sun off the Sea of Cortez. Cassie’s still sleeping in the air conditioning on the other side of the curtains darkening our room. It’s November 5, and I can’t help but be reminiscent; one year ago, at this very time of the morning, I was on the surgical table to remove cancer from my body. A surgery without a known outcome.

Today, I’m sitting on a fourth floor balcony, already sweating fiercely by 7:42 in the morning, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Getting here was unusually smooth, not often do you fly internationally from Butte with only one layover, but getting to this point-this one year anniversary-  was a rougher ride.

I’m happy to write that I’m doing well. My blood tests have come back clear multiple times and my oncologists has even told me that on paper, “I wouldn’t even know you went through cancer.” I suppose that is a reason for celebration-and deservedly so, I’m extremely lucky. However, I can’t help but think that you never truly ‘beat’ cancer; once you’re diagnosed, you’re in the club… period. And in my case, one who has ‘beaten’ cancer, there is never that feeling of walking off the field, grass-stained and battered, as a victorious competitor.

I don’t think there is ever a real ‘beating’ of cancer. You don’t win, celebrate with a “Wick Kicked Ass Cancer’s Ass” party and simply pick up life where you left off. It’s always lurking in the shadows, an undeniable presence blurring the edges of your reality. I’ve been told I’m NED-no evidence of disease-which is the greatest three letters anyone in my position could imagine, it’s the closest thing we have to ‘being cured.’ That’s the thing, it’s not a cure; NED simply means that tests can’t currently find any evidence off cancerous cells in my body. Currently. That is not to say that it isn’t hiding behind a dark lamp-post and will pop up in five years as lung cancer or pancreatic cancer. There’s just no way to know.

FullSizeRenderThis stage of cancer “fallout” is a tough one for different reasons than the actual fighting of the disease. It’s not as though you have beaten this thing and the next day you can go back to life as normal. I’m changed, physically, mentally, emotionally. There are all these unforeseen intangibles that linger unresolved from the side effects of being pumped full of poisons, gutted, shot with deadly radiation in my sensitive parts, sewn up water-tight, and forced to poop out of my stomach. It continues to be difficult to wrap my head around the reason this happened, to wonder why I deserved this, to wonder why I was spared.

And for me, I have a constant reminder of a past year of standing eye-to-eye with my own mortality each time I take a knee in front of the toilet to empty my colostomy bag. On good days, I consider it a trophy I received for winning the battle. On days when the clouds of depression settle over me, it is a valid scapegoat for my anger. Now, clearheaded, my colostomy bag is the means in which I’ve been able to survive, to stay alive, and to continue to create and benefit this world I call my own.

I will say, a colostomy bag does come in handy while camping… but that’s another story.

It doesn’t come without its frustrations. There are nights I wake up at 3 a.m. and peel off poo-encrusted bedsheets because it failed somehow and leaked everywhere. There are days the skin around my stoma is so raw from touching the acidic output that it is weeping fluid uncontrollably. Then, there are the times of emptying the insane wretchedness inside the bag and it infiltrates the entire house for hours… and there are times I just miss sitting on the toilet with a magazine. All in all, though, I’ve circled back to the same model of bag provided at the hospital one year ago today; it sticks well, it’s easy to change every few days, it’s the most tolerable, effective, and subtle. And in those few moments each day I don’t need to think about, I almost feel like myself again.

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my thug needs some work, eh? I just look cold…

When I was a chubby little Wicky, I wore shirts when swimming. As the circle of life continues, I’m back to being a t-shirt in the pool kind-of guy (let’s be honest, no one wants to see a poo-bag floating in the same water you’re sitting-trust me).

365 days since I couldn’t pull myself up from the bed I was laying in; when walking the 20 feet to the mailbox was a feat of, honest-to-goodness, epic proportions. I’ve gotten back to bugging my design clients again, teaching a few classes at the college in town, and hopefully out of Cass’ worries until the next middle-of-the-night bag explosion. I’m continuing to learn about this weird new body I’ve got, trying different kinds and amounts of foods, and I’m slowly starting to get back in the gym and exercise regularly-going for a bike ride again is as important a milestone as any for a person recovering from rectal cancer. As strange as it sounds, there’s a brilliant shift in perspective now, as I look at myself in the mirror and I’m more concerned with my weight than I am of dieing.

IMG_0642But no weight concerns this weekend. This weekend I will eat, and drink, and celebrate the wedding of two of my favorite people on earth with my incredible wife, surrounded by the love and happiness of new and old friends, in a beautiful setting.

Because I can.

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Posted in: Cancer, Think