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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Every now and then, you just STOP in your tracks and can't believe your eyes...

At one of the Spingsteen shows this week, we laughed and joked about the life and times of our rock-show-attending careers and the fact we've all had what we decided to call, HOLY SH*@ moments (HSM). For lack of a better definition, a HSM is part of the show where you just can't believe what is going on in front of you. For me, Jungleland on Wed night was the one, maybe Derek Trucks playing, "These are a few of my favorite things" on a slide guitar was the all-time "HOLY SH*@ moment, but then I read this column and it sorta changed things in my mind. Read on.

This was on

Why I've slacked off, and thanks for asking

By Tom Sorensen

Posted: Saturday, Apr. 25, 2009

It was a Thursday, late afternoon, and for some reason I stopped what I was doing and paused to look around. The sky, the clouds and the grass were perfect. And I'm talking about the grass in my front yard, which is never perfect. I leaned against my car and thought about the people I love and the time I've wasted and the things – and there are so many – I have yet to do.

“I like this too much,” I said aloud even though I was alone. “I can't give this up.”

I figured I was entitled to one melodramatic moment and this was it.

I have squamous cell carcinoma. Last week, doctors removed two cancerous lymph nodes, one cancerous tonsil and a mass of cancer along the base of my skull. (A third cancerous lymph node had been removed during a biopsy.)

My doctor, William Caldwell, an ear, nose and throat specialist, found more cancer than he anticipated, but is convinced they got it all. Even though my first inclination was to call him Doogie because he looks so impossibly young, I think the guy is brilliant, and what he says, I believe. The surgery was a huge success.

Alas, Dr. Caldwell also removed the best excuse a writer ever had. How do you expect me to make deadline when I'm cheating death?

I don't like to tell people I have cancer. The disease comes with such gravity. Somebody says, “I have cancer,” and voices hush, lights are lowered and mean people pretend to be nice.

Like many of us, I've watched the disease slowly kill people I love. My dad died of cancer when he was 53. His parents died of cancer when they were in their 70s.

They smoked. I've never smoked a cigarette, never chewed tobacco, never stuck a pinch between my cheek and my gum. I knew cancer could still get me, of course. But I didn't expect it to. Disease is what other people get. If I had a business card, and it were at all accurate, it would include the phrase “blissfully ignorant.”

As soon as I finish telling people I have cancer, I tell them I'm fine, and I am. But I haven't told many people. My job is public. I'm not.

I haven't written a column since the Masters, however, and several of you have noticed. You've e-mailed to ask if I've been laid off, and I don't want to mislead you. That's why, after considerable debate, I decided to write this column.

We have a relationship, you and me, developed over more than 20 years.

The relationship began when you told me why you liked a column or why you didn't.

But over the years, it has evolved. You've told me about your mean sister, your wonderful daughters, your son's job search and your mom's health. You've told me about the rare beer, bar, book or barbecue joint you know I'll love. You've told me about your favorite city, beach and hideaway. You still can't believe I have “Waterboy” and “Happy Gilmore” ranked in my top 10 sports movies of all time.

You know me. And I know you. And when the column is right, it's like we're talking. Some of you have found out about the cancer. For weeks, you told me what the Carolina Panthers should do with Julius Peppers. Now you tell me what I should do. You insist I try the Naked Juice at Harris-Teeter, the milkshakes at Carolina Soda Shop and the fruit smoothies at Dilworth Coffeehouse.

A man I don't think I've met or, until now, corresponded with, tells me that a member of his Bible study group brought up my name and illness. All 12 members have prayed for me.

Do you know how deeply this moves me? I don't even pray for me. I've prayed only once since the disease was diagnosed, and I'll get to that later.

As a Catholic school kid, I prayed all the time. “Oh, God, please let everybody have enough to eat, please make all the countries get along and, if you let me start at shortstop on the all-star team, I'll never do anything bad again. And if I can't start, please don't let Timmy.”

I'm not comfortable praying for me. But I'm flattered if you do. I meet with an oncologist next week; preliminary indications are that I'll undergo six weeks of radiation, two hours a day, five days a week, and chemotherapy is a possibility.

At 57, I'm not prepared to lose my hair. But if I do, I have a Secret Service cap I was given by a real, and really cool, Secret Service agent. Tell me that if I put on the cap, the Oakleys, a dark suit, shined black shoes and say, “Coming through,” you won't get out of the way.

I'm on a liquid diet. I've been on liquid diets before, but they revolved around draft beer or chardonnay. Now it's smoothies, soup, oatmeal and milkshakes. I drink a milkshake almost every night and still lose weight.

Oddly, I have little interest in alcohol, which could be a byproduct of the powerful painkillers I take. But I tell you, there's nothing like sitting at a bar with a large, refreshing glass of water.

Oh, and I can't talk. Sometimes I sound like me, sometimes I sound like Mike Tyson and sometimes I sound like a space alien. The lone time I prayed, I offered a silent prayer for the return of my voice.

Although nobody likes a mime, the grace with which people have responded is overwhelming.

My family has been wonderful.

The staff at Presbyterian, and everybody associated with Presbyterian, has been exceptional.

Women friends want to hug me and tell me I'll be OK.

Guy friends want to talk about the scar on my neck, which looks like an eight-lane freeway on an atlas

“You look like a Somali pirate,” a buddy said.


Friends gave me a care package that included, “Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boys” because their 6-year-old daughter insisted. She had her tonsils removed, and the book comforted her during the boring recovery.

Every time I get tired or sick of water or can't form a word the way I want, I think about a conversation I had in the gym. It was my second day back, and I had nothing. A guy I don't know well saw me and saw the scar and asked, “Are you OK?”

“I'm fine.”

“I know you are,” he said. “You like life too much not to be.”

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