Cancer Contest

From my mother I inherited a light skin prone to keratosis – pre cancerous cells that if not treated can become more serious.  I have it, or someimtes it’s more advanced stages, treated wherever it turns up at least once a year.

 When I would come home with a small part of me dug out somewhere, or a red face from a shower of liquid nitrogen, I would say to Nancy “You know, you’re not the only one around here who can have cancer”.  She’d say “pffft – your cancer is wimpy – it’s nothing.  It’s not even really cancer”  I’d rebuff “You’re just a cancer snob.  Nobody’s cancer measures up to your cancer.  Lance Armstrong – what does he know about cancer, out there riding his damned bicycle”.  And she’d say “Now you’re getting it”.  
I am going through a month or so of topical chemotherapy with a common treatment called Carac, which, whatever the pages of medical jargon that comes with it says in that 4-point type, kills a lot of the skin on your face to wipe out Keratoses.  There’s a lot of blog chatter about the suffering associated with it – mainly that your face hurts, your body is in general not itself and not in a good way, and you look pretty ugly when the stuff is really working.  

The Buddhist “become the fire” viewpoint is helpful to me.  There are many things worse than a cancer treatment that works.  Specifically, ones that don’t work.  My advice is to enjoy the fact that it’s working, and that you’ve got what it takes to go through the month or so of symptoms with some aplomb.  And a few tips:

 – limit looking in the mirror to a maximum of 2x per day.  Less is better.  Your face is not your problem – you don’t have to look at it all day.  So don’t.

– Enjoy your free education in being an “other”.  Watch how people look at you and treat you differently just because a few square inches of skin is different.  Imagine being in a wheelchair, black in white America, a recovered burn victim, or just very short or very tall, or very heavy or very thin.   

–  Greet people as follows:
 • them:  Hi, how are you doing
 • you:  OK.  It’s not contagious. 

– You can’t make a 500 mile bike ride wishing the whole time you were home watching the game on TV or sitting with friends and the  Sunday times at Peet’s Coffee.  Picture yourself as a domestique on a leading team in the Giro d’Italia.  Ace cyclist out there doing what you do best – covering those miles.  Yes, it hurts sometimes, and it rains some times, and hydration and food don’t always happen when you want.  But overall, you trained all year for this week, unlike all others on your calendar.  This is the week you’ll remember all year round.  And too soon it will not be real, it will just be a story you tell about your past.  Don’t waste it moving your brain to some virtual reality.  Live it in its transient coolness.

You only have one month to be Mr. or Ms. Carac.  Don’t cover with makeup and creams.  Your MD won’t approve, and it’s not going to work anyway.  Be the fire.  This is your month to feel weird, look weird, and do something good for yourself.  You emerge from 500 miles on the bike in great shape – you are what you were meant to be physically, before your brain and civilization took over your primordial physicality.  You’ll emerge from your Carac month (and a couple weeks to get over it) with the best skin you’ve ever had – and the most appreciation for healthy skin you’ve ever had.  Meanwhile, go with it, tell your Carac to go for it With Gusto!  After all, it works for you, not the other way around.  You’re paying for the ride – enjoy it.


3 Responses to “Cancer Contest”

  1. Marge Fiore Says:

    You know, Rick, some Hollywood folks pay BIG MONEY for a deep skin peel. This sounds like it’s going to have the same effect (along with the necessary keratosis cell removal). Glamour!

    Yeah, it is interesting to see the reactions that you get with these sort of things… After nose surgery to correct a deviated nasal septum, I had 2 black eyes and other facial bruises for a couple of weeks. You can just see the questions behind their eyes.

    Hang in there! And I hope your pelvic bones are not adding to the pains? More or less healed?

  2. Aurora Says:

    Hi Mr Fleeter,
    wise people say health is something linked to our souls, so I’m not too worried for you because you have courage and streght to sell, as usual. Wish you the wind always pushing on your back, while you go by bycicle! Actually my boyfriend likes it too, so I’m learning, at the moment I can only stand 50 km at time, but I’m praticing….
    Greetings, Aurora

  3. Sue Nail Says:

    Hi there, Rick,

    Ten years ago I stepped on a nail (with my shoes on) and ended up in the hospital for 2 weeks facing the possibility of amputation. I was released on April 1…no joke!

    I ended up in a wheelchair for a year, crutches for the next year and then eventually a cane. It was interesting to observe people while in the chair, on crutches or using a cane. When in the chair, everybody was helpful with opening doors, wheeling me around work, and helping me in lunch lines, etc. Some asked me what happened but most of the time people just wanted to help. They were very respectful without being overly curious. They tried not to make too much eye contact and I figured it was just because they didn’t know what to say to me.

    When I was on crutches, people were good to help me open doors, carry my food tray, carrying groceries, etc. They were all curious about my injured foot. Strangers would walk up to me and ask me what happened. I’d tell them different stories – I broke my foot in a skiing accident, I hurt it kicking a football, a car ran over it, etc. It was always a joke and people would laugh with me, not at me.

    BUT, when I started using a cane, things changed. Nobody would hold open doors, help me with carrying groceries or even when standing in the lunch line, nobody offered to help. They averted their eyes and refused to even look at me…some even held their head down and stared at the ground rather than make direct eye contact. It was if I had the “plauge” and that if I touched somebody, they’d catch what I had.

    It was really a strange experience to go thru those stages. People just treated me differently depending the on what I was using. It was consistent and not just a fluke.

    Now, I consciously make eye contact with anybody who is disabled because of my experience.


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