free statistics

One Soldier Down: Breaking up the Team

May 14th, 2009 by Jeff Simmermon

I’ve noticed that every time something awful happens, something really surreal happens, too. I saw a guy get a bumper upside the teeth at a demolition derby once, spinning his head around suddenly and breaking his neck. They had to bring a helicopter over the mountain from Charlottesville to take the guy away. And while everyone stood around gasping with horror, and old woman behind me said “this is an awful day. This is an awful damn sad day for the sport of the demolition derby.”

When my great-uncle died, all I could really notice at the funeral was that everyone’s face looked like a cartoon mask — like they were doing it on purpose.

The driver of the shuttle bus that took me across town from my urological oncologist’s to the pre-surgery appointment was CRANKING the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” at maximum volume. Doctors and patients were yelling into their cell phones, fingers jammed in their ears and the driver, he didn’t even give a damn.

Tomorrow I will have had a pair of testicles for 32 years and 50 weeks. Tomorrow, a doctor will be breaking up the team. One day when I am in my late ’60s, I’ll realize that I’ve only had one testicle for longer than I ever had two. Hopefully I’ll be able to celebrate with a few jokes, an embrace from someone that loves me and a couple stiff drinks.

At this point, I’m okay with it. Or as okay as someone gets. I’ve been feeling fatigued and sluggish for the past several weeks, my crotch aching like I caught a bad one on the crossbar of a bicycle a few hours ago. All I really feel like doing is sleeping, eating, and taking Advil. I’m reducing into a shade. And even though the thought that my energy is waning and my spirit is dying is terrifying, at other times it feels so relaxing.

Once I catch myself thinking that way I feel like I’m harboring a malignant parasite that’s taking over its host. It’s all I can do not to snag my roommate’s scissors and take care of it myself in the tub, frontier-style.

But for a guy with testicular cancer, I feel really, really lucky. I’m living in the best place in the world for this sort of treatment — and I have a great job that provides me the health insurance to go to Memorial Sloan-Kettering for treatment. The place is unbelievable. It’s clean, efficient, run by essentially friendly people. And it’s local, too.

My friends and family and girlfriend are being immensely supportive here, too. Maggie (my girlfriend) is also a cancer survivor, and is, as it turns out, the perfect person to talk to about this. My mom flew up tonight just to see me through surgery tomorrow, and my man Eric upstairs is lending her his apartment. So many people have called, e-mailed, texted, or even dropped a couple syllables on Facebook on my behalf, and it’s so, so great.

I’m not much of a religious person. But the scroller ball on my Blackberry is like a very expensive glowing rosary bead for me — I sat there thumbing it and moving my lips all day in all kinds of waiting rooms today, reading and rereading people’s emails and comments.

While all of them mean a lot to me, a few might appeal to a wider audience, too …

From my friend Brad:

I found a series of Euro-Porn one time and this one dude kept popping up, and it took a couple of viewings to realize that this guy who was in like every other scene, had only one ball. From that evidence I would say A) performance unaffected (seriously unaffected and maybe even air streamed) and B) pity was not what I felt about this guy’s situation. After all I was the one all alone watching him have sex with hot girls. Anyway, my other thoughts are with you but I will save them for over drinks.

From an ex:

One nut less is no problem, I have a past boyfriend that showed me his one testicle years after splitting up and I saw him the other day with a four year old that looked exactly like him on his shoulders. Good time to freeze all the sperm in that sack, so you can still have a baby at 70 to your third wife.

Hope your recovery is quick and painless.

On the other hand, I’m kinda bitter, too. Angry at times, sad at others. It feels so pitiful and strange. There’s so much psychological baggage surrounding virility, fertility, and its physical counterpart — and I’m getting it all slashed in half.

But then there is this:

I was sitting in the waiting room tonight, drinking down this weird dye mixed with Crystal Light so I could have a CT scan. A giant flatscreen blared bad news about the economy, and in the corner, an Indian woman with short, thinning hair sat in her chair in a meditative, prayerful position. Her husband came over to sit next to me, ostensibly to watch television. A nurse led his wife away and we began talking. I told him what I was in for, and he winced. Most guys do.

Then he looked me right in the eye, and said this:

I don’t speak of this to too many people because I don’t want to seem like a crazy person. But I cannot say that this cancer has been entirely bad.

I raised an eyebrow, and he continued:

In our religion, we believe strongly in destiny. You cannot control what is going to happen to you at all, all you can do is accept it and find something positive. When my wife was diagnosed with cancer 8 months ago, it was terrible. But now, I am not so sure that this has been as bad as we thought it would be. So many wonderful, good things have come. Our adult children are closer to us than ever before. And, I mean, we have been married thirty years. And some ups and downs can be expected. But now, we are closer than ever before and communicating on an entirely new and deeper plane.

We are moving into a place in Manhattan with our son and daughter-in-law this fall, and we never would have considered that, any of us, before all this. Our lives have become so much more enriched, so much more disciplined. We are eating better, sleeping better, taking more regular exercise. And everything is such a wonderful gift.

There is suffering, to be sure. When she is hurting and I see her hurting and know that I can do nothing, I suffer tremendously. But we are together in that suffering. And when it stops, we are still together.

I asked him if he would take it away if he could, get into a time machine with a cure for cancer.

Well, you know, that is a tough one for sure. But I can tell you this: I would not say that we were happier before this cancer came into my wife. I can honestly say that we weren’t at all.

Then he took his hand and placed it over mine and looked me deep in the eyes and said

Something good will come of this. It will, I can guarantee it. All you have to do is find it and welcome it into your life. You are young and strong and your other health is very good, I can see that. And your life is going to get very, very much better if you will let it.

And all of a sudden, right there in the waiting room holding hands with a stranger, I was finally able to cry. Just look this sweet, wise man in the eyes and finally release all this stuff I’ve been carrying around for these weeks while I’ve been trying to figure out what’s even happening to me.

Then the nurse took me away and he gave me one more powerful handshake, a thumbs-up and an enormous smile. And now I’m afraid I’ll never see him again.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been exposed to some of the worst behavior online that people are capable of. Just vicious, mean and lazy attacks on my character, and it was really painful. In some ways I’ve seen humanity at its worst, hiding behind anonymity and showing its real face.

But now, something tells me that I’m about to see the best that mankind can offer. And maybe get to be a better person in the process myself. And I am not lying when I say that I can’t wait.

Comments are closed.