"Left, Right" by Todd J Hanna, [a Cancer Story]

Old School photo of Todd!
You know those people in your life you connect with. My Uncle Todd was one of them. He had such a great sense of humour that I adored about him. My Uncle was 38 or 39 when he was diagnosed with colon cancer (colorectal cancer that metastatic into his liver - stage 4). Today in Toastmasters I gave a speech in memory of my Uncle. I recited his story about his life with cancer. It is a pretty powerful story today as it was when he wrote it (over 10 years old). As I was practising this speech in front of my cat, my cat winked at me and I knew it was Todd. This is a long story but well worth the read... miss you Todd!

Left, Right

Starting out, after my diagnosis, walking the beach with Tom, pouring my guts out to him about my fear; thought this was it, I’m dying.  I’m spinning into a depression, can’t function, tearful, but trying to keep up a brave front for other people.  Sleep deprived; why go on?  Sarah Sample (counselor) tells me there is always hope but I don’t believe her.  I talk the talk, but I really just want the easy way out.  When the despair becomes too great, I check myself into the hospital suffering from emotional and physical exhaustion.  People stream into my room to visit me, to let me know that they love me and want me to keep on the fight.  Two days into the stay, I turn my attitude around (still don’t know why).  Then I start walking with a purpose, a cadence forming in my mind:

Left, right; left right, I’m not going to die, I’m not going to die; left, right; left, right.

A sense of control, as long as I can put one foot ahead of the other, I’m still going to hang around . . .

Left right, left right; I’m not going to die, I’m not going to die.

Out of the hospital and back to 5FU and Leucovirin, exhausted as they really pour it on; no other choice, I’m 4th stage, high risk to die, they have to do this.  I’m too tired to walk, but then, Tom, best friend and thyroid cancer survivor on leave of absence, calls and it’s time to leave my sick bed:

Left right, left right; I’m not going to die, I’m not going to die.

Tom’s leave of absence ends and I’m on my own.  Down to the beach and, left, right; left, right.  After a time, I look around and begin to smile at people, -left, right; left, right- hi!- or a nod of the head.  Hey, I wonder how many people will say hello or nod if I make the first effort.  Amazing!
Left, right; left, right; I’m not going to die, I’m not …oh, hello Karen, Catherine, Frank...what a nice old couple…hey, look at the cranes on the beach…left, right; left, right…Wow!  A family of eagles (who return each year of my recovery to raise a new nest of young)…

Left right, left right; I’m not going to die, I’m not going to die.

The months pass…

Left right, left right…

The crab fishers come and go; the seasons pass; I swim out to the old flat pool off Crescent Beach and feel the water against my skin; families around me, teenagers check each other out and flirt outrageously and I don’t feel so much like a cancer patient; I can still walk and I can swim; I can still have a mid-life crisis!

But more chemo, more time in bed with nausea and weakness.  My mother puts a golf tee upright on the top of my TV set and tells me that I will become well enough to play again.  She’s right, the chemo is working and Dr. Melosky and I become cautiously optimistic.  I try golf: first at the driving range, then a par three and finally, as my stamina builds, a full course.  Again, Tom is there, taking time from his own family to keep me going…All of a sudden, left right takes on new meaning!  Bob and Bart call it military golf.  Left, right, left, right is where I hit the darn ball all the time; never up the middle (if I hit the stupid thing at all).

For 2, 3 or 5 hours, however long we play, I forget that I have cancer:

Left, right; left, right; I don’t care if I’m going to die, Lord; just let me shoot under 100, once!

And then I do, and just like everyone predicted; now I want to shoot under 90.  INGRATE!

But after one year of treatment, out of the blue, emergency surgery for bowel obstruction and a painful recovery.  In addition, I get a bad infection.  I’m very weak again and it’s back to walking:

Left, right; left, right; one tumour out and three in the liver to go. . . left, right; left, right.

More chemo and now I have no hair – anywhere!  The walking feels good.  Friends take me sailing through the San Juan islands; great exercise; life is good!  I’m feeling stronger and stronger.

Dr. Melosky tells me that I can have an eight week break after almost two years of treatments.  Off to the gym and a prepared program.  Cross trainer machine like cross-country skiing:

Left, right; left right; go my arms and legs in tandem: I’m free from chemo; I’m free from chemo.

I start to get into shape;

Left right; left right; I feel normal, I feel normal, I feel strong.

Eight–week hiatus turns into four months, as my condition remains stable.  My hair grows back (sort of); like going through puberty again (my 11-year-old son tells me, this is too much information, Dad!);

Left, right; left, right.

I’m well enough to go skiing at Mt. Baker two times in one month.  Cold fresh mountain air in my lungs, skiing over moguls, the sun shining brightly on the snow; this is a miracle!  Thank you, Lord!

Feeling so strong that I volunteer for a clinical trial for a new chemo drug that is supposed to have fewer side effects.  In some ways it does, but now I’m almost as anemic as when I was first diagnosed.  No more gym; all I do is sleep and sleep and sleep…getting depressed; I want to give up.  Two-and-a-half years of chemo and painful survival are enough.  Why should I go on?  I can only take so much; I’m tired of being a toxic waste site!
But my son needs me.  Back to walking; it is all I can do right now;

Left, right; left right; I have to live, I have to live. . .

Lenore needs me; she and Ronnie are in my life now.  So back to Crescent Beach or White Rock beach:
Oh, hi, how are you?  Hello Karen, Marisa (my, has William ever grown!)

People still like it when you say hi first or nod.

The eagles are back this year, but with only one baby.  Same herons and crab fishers; the air smells good.

Left, right; left, right; I’m coming back; I’m coming back;
I want to live; I want to live; left, right; left, right. . .
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