I don’t want to write about cancer, but the disease is forcing my hand.
I fear illness and imagination are disparate states. Despite treatment for prostate cancer 13 years ago, I am still learning what I’m up against this time around. But maybe I’m just being whiny about wanting it to be like the cancer-free days, with a clear head, sentences forming in my mind, needing only a walk in the hills, my trusty iMac, that nifty American Typewriter font and a cup of black coffee to let 400 words roll onto the screen clean and fast.
Fortunately, my head did clear on the way home from the oncologist this afternoon and the whim that ensued was not to log on to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network website and read about tumors but to have that cup of coffee and sit down here.
Now, I’m not going to suggest this is real writing — the brain-challenging kind. This site is still an outlet and an exercise, mostly for me. I am not asking anyone to read it or publish it. But there is something that makes it more real — more tested — by putting it on the Internet (Isabel). Plus, this site I call dreamranch is the only archive we Robertsons have, and we’re now down to only two — my ever-so-quiet brother, Pat, and me.
My friend Larry Calloway at larrycalloway.com doesn’t like his website of smart and well-written individual pieces being called a blog. He is a journalist, a writer, a thoughtful guy up in the mountains of Colorado. I’ve always been a fan. He is too good of a writer to be called a blogger.
I don’t know what the hell I’m doing down here in Placitas, so I’m willing to go with blog and blogger labels for the time being. My plan had been to retire from 41 years in the newspaper business, let my imagination return, and spend my remaining years writing short fiction and essays — 400-500 words of controllable, doable prose.
Then came lung cancer.
Although I quit smoking 18 years ago, I know the likelihood is that the cancer was brought on by my indulgence in cigarettes. I quit drinking alcohol 30 years ago, but neither does that let you take back all the damage you did when drunk.
So, I’m stuck with cancer at the outset of what I envisioned as golden years, when I would be free to create and write and think about life mostly in terms of art after working since a teenager to earn that freedom. The real future arrived head-on at age 65.
But far too many people I knew, or knew of, never got a chance. Fate arrived sooner. Far too soon.
I choked up on the way home tonight when I pulled along side a cop car and thought about a police officer friend and a child abuse case — how my friend so admirably dealt with it but how sadly it ended, out of his control. I know my friend did everything he could to help the kid, but the child ultimately died from his own mother’s abuse. The boy was 9, (A prayer for politics, children and free-roaming horses), far, far short of the 65 years I’ve had to enjoy and try to make more of life.
My friend and late colleague Susan had a good start, but it was cut way too short by cancer. She was 47. My old firefighter buddy Pat …. cancer … at 60 and only a couple of years after we met up in the eastern Sierra for a reunion, hiking on sore knees with other old friends to a cherished place. Steve, Mike .. damn, it’s a long list. And how many of my colleagues today, and people I’ve covered and liked (Jim), are confronted with the same challenges? I hope not to forget. Of course, we all die of something, at some time. For me, cancer, now, is just looming large.
Perhaps I am undeserving, but still what I hope for is a few more years with a clear head, legs to walk on and eyes to see. I am greatly comforted and cheered by the concern and support of my family, friends, co-workers and employers. Then the nurses and docs. I feel roads rising to meet me and the wind at my back.
I also live to take care of my herder dog pal Cooper, who shares my house in the hills and my habit of gazing into the distance. I am convinced some very good doctors are going to apply their amazing knowledge and skills to try to bail me out this probably self-inflicted mess and help me make it through. And making it through is certainly what I aim to do.
I may be writing out of anger. I am generally in a good frame of mind. I am optimistic about treatment, But, I admit, part of me is just pissed.
So, forgive the intrusion of cancer into my thoughts. I used to think the annual legislative sessions I’ve dealt with since 1977 interfered with imagination and creativity. I think I might have encountered a new culprit.
And, look, Mr. 400 Words has gone to 800. Probably need an editor. One of those surgical ones, please.
Update: I wrote this in 2015, just after my lung cancer diagnosis. I have since learned that cancer is no excuse.