On the straight (jacket) and narrow

January 22, 2019
  • January 22, 2019
  • Living with Cancer Blog

By Ian Robinson


It was your typical Wellspring moment.

Three of us, sitting in the art room after open studio, not quite ready to head home. Talking.

And if a civilian had been listening … they would have thought we were batshit crazy. Not just me. All three of us.

One of us was a woman who had just marked a decade after her breast cancer diagnosis. This is a good thing. A wonderful thing. But the journey there was not easy.

Radiation. Chemotherapy. Mastectomy. Reconstructive surgery. Disfigurement both permanent and temporary. Pain. A great deal of pain. Suffering and fear.

Another was a woman who had the all-too common experience of reporting pain whose origins were not readily apparent.

And whose pain eventually was so discounted by physicians that they settled on that old stand-by: It’s all in your head.

I’m not one to default to assuming the worst of doctors, but this kind of thing seems to happen more often to women than men. Just saying.

Finally — after she started dropping weight like a runway model with a too-intimate relationship with her index finger — they figured out that hey! That pain was cancer! And she’s had whacking great chunks of her digestive system cut away.

And then there was me. You know. Stage IV metastatic and all that. Doomed to die but also doomed to have a great time.

And this is why we would have sounded batshit crazy to an outsider.

Because our conversation had spontaneously turned to how lucky we were. How grateful we were.


That just doesn’t make a bunch of sense now, does it?

But we were united in looking at the world through this lens of hope and happiness and joy and rebirth and rejuvenation.

The list of things we were grateful for was long. There was a new career inspired by cancer. The part where a correct diagnosis and treatment were finally discovered, albeit a little later than it should have been. The part where we found our way to Wellspring, there to be surrounded by people of strength and character that we would not have otherwise met. The way cancer caused this great falling away of the irrelevant so that we could better focus on things that genuinely mattered.

Cancer is about managing pain and loss and sorrow and fear.

It is also about managing hope.

For me, I look at my son and hope I live long enough to see him graduate from university.

It is a reasonable hope, based on how well I’m doing and the abilities of the Amazing and Wonderful Dr. N.A. — the oncologist so embarrassed by praise that I’m not allowed to write her name in these things.

I used to look at my son and assume I would be there, not only for that, but for his wedding day and for the birth of his children. I had every intention of swooping down into his life to change diapers and mow his lawn and cook meals and all the other stuff a grand-dad can do to take the pressure off a young couple dealing with their first baby.

But that is most unlikely now.

But like my compatriots in the Wellspring art room, I choose not to be crippled by loss. By the things cancer has stolen and will steal from me.

I choose to look forward to that day that he crosses a stage wearing that dumb-ass hat and accepts a diploma that will set him on a course in his life that I hope will be joyful and filled with meaning.

It will be enough for me because it has to be enough for me.

And if that’s crazy … when you go to fit me for the straight jacket? I’m a 44 long.

In the Wellspring art room.

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