Sucker Punch

Late June – Early July

I was in the carpool lane on cruise control.  Feeling like this whole chemo journey was going to be smooth sailing from here on out, but I forgot to check my blind spot.  I still had challenges to overcome, like being on some stupid diet, right in the middle of Food Network:  Grilling Week.  I don’t deserve this!

I finally felt comfortable telling everyone outside of my inner circle about my diagnosis.  I feel awkward calling someone up just to tell them I have cancer, but I’d be pissed if the tables were turned and a friend didn’t tell me.  I announced this news on Facebook to a lukewarm reception.  I assume everyone didn’t want to “Like” me having lymphoma or they thought my humor had reached a new low.

I understand cancer doesn’t have the best PR, so dropping this news on someone can lead to stiff conversations.  What do you say to someone that has a tumor sitting in their chest?  Does it hurt?  How long do you have to live?  Is this a bad time to tell you that you still owe me money?  I’m sure there are plenty of thoughts running through the other person’s head.  Usually everyone treads lightly.  Having swum these waters so many times before, I usually know what to expect:

“How are you feeling?” (Please say, “good.”  Please say, “good.”)

Seeing someone struggling with this news isn’t much easier on me.  Luckily, I have the gift for making light of any conversation.  Translation:  I’m immature.  I see that I can take a load off everyone’s shoulders just by letting them see that I’m still the same person…sans eyebrows.

Since my diagnosis, everyone’s been eager to help out.  Since I’m such a pushover, I usually try everything everyone suggests.  I can hear my sisters now, “You just like the attention!”  I hate to say it, because I know everyone just wants to help me, but sometimes it can get overwhelming.  Whether their medical license is hanging on the wall behind their desk or not, everyone’s prescribing me something.  Giving me cancer fighters like green tea, broccoli, apricot seeds, millets, you name it.  I didn’t check the background of their sources, but I’m sure they’re all legit.  Then there are the pamphlets, books, websites, and movies that everyone wants me to check out.  No wonder I’m on disability, being popular is a full time job.

Everyone reacts differently to the news of my diagnosis.  Here are some of the more memorable ones:

  •  I was asked to send an email to my dad’s friend, authorizing him to pray for me.  I guess God doesn’t want a lawsuit on his hands.
  • My friend’s nice, Guatemalan mom was very concerned about me.  English is her second language.  What I could make out from our conversation was, she had this macheen that makes yuices that are bery, bery good for me.  She kept insisting I go over to her house.  That’s when my Spidey Senses started tingling, warning me it’s a multi-level marketing trap.  I just pictured myself getting ambushed by some Tahitian Noni sales reps in her living room.  I know this only makes me sound like a total dick, but I had enough appointments on my calendar, none of which were for a financial freedom seminar.
  • Then there was the time my landlord came over.  I told her I have lymphoma and her jaw dropped, along with her purse as she stood in the doorway.  She gave me a long hug and then asked if I had any olive oil.  Huh?  She blessed the oil, dabbed some on her finger and marked a cross on the front door.  Then she took the holy oil, said another prayer and marked a cross on my forehead.  If the evil spirits make it past the front door, I’m sure to scare them off with the cross of pimples on my forehead.

This whole journey has been a vignette of unpredictable moments, covering just about every emotion on the spectrum.  Some have been easier for me to handle than others.

It was my friend Mikey’s birthday.  Yes, he’s a grown man and yes, we call him Mikey.  No one seemed to care it was his birthday, so we had to lie and tell everyone that the Cancer Kid was going to be there, signing autographs of his PET Scan.  The usual crew was there for the Sunday BBQ:  Mikey and his wife, Audrey, Regan and his wife, Niny, and Ian.  Ian and I have been close since high school.  He’s a real friend.  At least that’s what I keep telling myself.  I must be a masochist or something because you take a certain amount of abuse being friends with Ian.  Actually, that’s just the nature of our relationship.  Talking shit is the glue that keeps us together.

Mikey's Birthday - Me, Mikey and Ian

Later that day, Ian’s mom, Teresa, came to pick him up.  Yes, he’s a grown man and yes, his mom still picks him up when necessary.  Ian and I stepped outside when she got there.  She jumped out of her car and greeted me with a big, “mijo” and an even bigger hug.  She wanted to know how I was doing, so we stood outside as I read her the script to my excellent adventure.

I was a few minutes into the details when I realized Ian was rather quiet.  He had his back to us the entire time.  He turned around and I could see why he was so quiet.  His sunglasses weren’t enough to hide the tears.  His lips pursed together tightly as the rest of his mouth quivered uncontrollably.  He was bawling.  Tears racing down his face faster than he could wipe them away.  And I haven’t even gotten to the good part yet!

It took a second to register.  I paused and looked at him with a perplexed look, tilting my head like a dog does to better understand the situation.  Where was this coming from?  Then I started to panic a little.  This could get out of control and I wasn’t about to have a meltdown right in the middle of the street.  Keep your composure.  Breathe.  Be cool.  Tranquilo.  Why the fuck is he crying?!

I rushed through the rest of my story.  I just wanted to get back inside.  You know, where I could cry like a man in private.  I gave her a hug good bye, avoided any eye contact with Ian and ran inside.

I went to tell the others what just happened.  I closed the door behind me and as soon as I turned around, Erica asked, “what’s wrong?”   Apparently, I’m no Phil Ivey.  No problem.  Just explain that Ian was outside crying like a baby.  Yes, the same Ian that was just in here farting.  I started to explain, but I couldn’t.  Conflicted between breathing and speaking.  The tear levels in my eyes started rising.  I was struggling to make any sense – repeating the first words over and over.  Then the dams broke.  It all came pouring out on the living room floor.  Erica wrapped her arms around me and did what she does so well – she comforted me.  Her voice turned into whispers that I could feel.  I closed my eyes, alone in the dark as the soothing echoes of “it’s okay, baby” pulled me back to reality.

Mikey and Audrey enter and surround Jeff and Erica completing a group hug.  FADE IN:  SARA MCLACHLAN.  Camera pulls away to medium shot.  Jeff appears to say something funny.  The group laughs and wipes the tears under their eyes.  END SCENE.  Cut to ABC Family Originals promo.

This wasn’t the ending to my day I had anticipated.  Getting sucker punched in the heart by the person I least expected.  Maybe he was just taking the drunken, “I love you man” to a whole new level.  Whatever it was, it messed me up.  Seeing Ian like that was not easy to get over.  I would replay this episode back in my mind and each time I would immediately tear up.

It’s not easy wearing this “C” across my chest.  It can affect those around me in many different ways.  Seeing someone you care about in an unfortunate circumstance can be painful, but there’s a realness I admire.  It can rip a person down to the core – exposing a tenderness they would normally hide.  It can awaken nurturing instincts you might not even know you posses.  There’s a juxtaposition of raw, visceral reactions that are terrifying and beautiful all at the same time.  In a way, I feel fortunate to be able to experience this, but then again…I still have cancer.

7 thoughts on “Sucker Punch

  1. Ok wow…I thought I was done crying over you. But this made me realize how much I’ve missed your stories and how thankful I am that you are ok. I can so relate to Ian…I think in some regard we all can. This was a good one, Boo! Hurry up and finish your story so we can get to the happy ending! (that’s what she said!)

  2. this is powerful, jeff. your effect on ian is one of the few you saw but i know you impact everyone’s life thru this experience and your story. i can’t thank you enough for how much you enrich our lives.

  3. Laughter and tears in the same sentence. What magic you evoke within others, including me. Keep these stories coming — Please. And with the stories progress toward a full recovery.

  4. Wow….tears running down my face. All your friends are like sons to me and this chapter with Ian, my shit grinning son, who always wanted to bake brownies at midnight and I never knew why. (I know I’m clueless.) You guys are a Band of Brothers and I am so happy for you that you have been blessed with such good friends.

    (And, I didn’t you knew words like juxtaposition and visceral and used them in the right context, wow….I’m so proud.) I thought you slept through your English classes. Good to know you actually learned something.

    Love you,

  5. Well now that I too have stopped crying. Jeff, I so remember that night. I was so happy to see you and hug you. I wanted to tell you to that I love you (which I know you already know) and that I was praying for you and Erica. I wanted to cry too but I knew if I cried I knew Ian would cry. I didn’t realize that he was already crying. Ian was heartbroken. He loves you Jeff. You’re his brother. You were sick and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. Ian rarely shows his emotions to any of us – so I know that was hard for you to see him cry. Sometimes when we’re at our weakest is when our friends need us to be strong. Funny how that works, isn’t it. I read your mom’s comment about Ian shit eating grin and think about your shit eating grin. One of my fondest memories of you Jeff is the phone memory, I knew then that I loved you hahahaha you have been a blessing to my son and my family. God bless you my sweet son.

  6. Harry Chapin’s song Cats in the Cradle came to me today and I remember you holding on to my leg as I sang that song in the little church we attended when you were about 3. And I wish I could say along with the song “he’d grown up just like me!” but Pal you are exceeding me by light years! Your grasp and clarity of our human condition astounds me. And your grasp of your own condition floors me. Your words are a tonic to my heart and they remind me how precious the heart is. Your words, they are beautiful.
    You know, I never questioned the friends you chose and always marveled that you guys stayed in touch for as long as you have, but now I want to acknowledge you for your excellent choice in brothers you have picked. I was with you when they were younger of course, and we always had a great time together, but I never dreamed how very close you would become in your friendship and brotherhood.
    Well done, my son. You have a lot of stories to tell and they shed so much love and light. Keep on keeping on.
    Love you, mean it

  7. That Ian guys seems really cool and loves you very much Jeff. You sure have a good friend right there. Think u need to cook that guy some great meals i hear you make. Keep up the good writing Jeff, i have plenty stock of kleenex in here.

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