Ten days ago I was diagnosed with lung cancer. Ten days from now I will go under the knife. Were that not scary enough, I don’t smoke or toke. It’s an environmentally caused cancer. The years of second hand smoke while growing up? All the adults then smoked like chimneys. The chemicals in the factory I worked in after college? The asbestos from the said same factory? That crap used to fall like tiny snowflakes when the machines shook, which they did every day. Exposure to pesticides in the early seventies? I worked the fields and may have been exposed. How about the DDT I was exposed to as a child? They used to fumigate campgrounds in the summer with big trucks spewing the white clouds of the stuff. We used to run through it and play. Maybe the Agent Orange used to kill the weeds at my elementary school? That stuff stunk and I had to walk through the residue to get home from school every day. Or even the volcanic ash we were exposed to on Hawaii during the last great eruption? Frankly, I don’t know and probably never will.
I saw the x-ray of the tumor today. If that does scare the hell out of you, nothing will. The surgeon says it’s a little bigger than a ping pong ball, a little smaller than a golf ball. I’m assuming she is correct, because what I saw took up a good third of the lung space it’s growing in. I’m thinking tennis ball sized. But if it was just a round nodule, the term they have been using, it wouldn’t be nearly as frightening. The little bastard is irregularly round with tendrils reaching out to my lungs, like a parasitic plant. It definitely looks alive and not very friendly.
My surgeon carefully explained the operation to my wife and I today. There was the expected small incisions here and here, followed by a slightly longer incision over there. Then she got into the details. The lymph nodes that get removed and their unexpected location away from the tumor. A chunk of my lung is coming out with the tumor, somewhere between a quarter and a third of the lobe. It gets sealed with tiny stainless staples. I almost wish I could be awake to see that. They probably won’t let me see the tumor afterwards. I know that sounds a little twisted, but I an trained to be a scientist and part of this is fascinating. Finally, the warnings. A less than 1% chance of dying on the table. A possibility of throwing a pulmonary embolism. The slim possibility of heart failure. You know, the stuff that makes hospitals so cheerful.
So, what does this have to do with writing? Things like this either spur a writer on to write even more than before, or slow the entire process down to a crawl while you focus on the cancer. Both ways are acceptable because we all deal with stress in our own way. I can’t really drink and I don’t do drugs, so instead I’m awake too late at night while my wife softly snores, trying to work out my fear and dread through writing. Don’t get me wrong, the recovery rate from this sort of tumor is near 100%. But I worry just the same. I’ve written my will and the other assorted documents and need to get them notarized, probably tomorrow. One tends to get very efficient after the initial shock. So, I go back to working on Alice when I can. It is getting closer to completion all the time. The story twists are amazing, but the foreward stinks and I need to rewrite 99% of it. So much to do and so many to do it to!