Michael Irving had to believe that he could stand taller than his disease. And, long story short, he did.
In January 2010, at age 34, I underwent surgery for colon cancer. I’ve been in remission ever since. I am grateful for those who helped ground me in gratitude for the many things and many people I have in my life. Being shorter than most other people throughout my life taught me to look up—I had no other choice if I wanted to see things from other points of view. In reflecting on this lesson learned early in life, I realized I had to take the same mindset in beating cancer—I had to look up. I had to believe that I could stand taller than my disease. And, long story short, I did. Below are some personal insights.
The chemocation: When I was ready for chemotherapy, I entered a treatment room that looked more like a beauty parlor than a medical clinic, with recliners lined up across the sparkling floor. Granted, two days later I would feel awful from the medicine catching up with me. But for the first three hours, I had nowhere else I had to be, and the loveliest nurses in the world pampering me with blankets, beverages and medicine. This was my vacation—my chemocation.
My feminine side: My oncologist’s strategy for beating my cancer included an aggressive regimen of a drug administered in a portable chemotherapy pump, which I wore over my shoulder in what looked like a purse. I could make jokes, saying, “Yes, I am comfortable enough in my masculinity to wear this purse over my shoulder.”
The butt of all jokes: I knew I had to preserve my funny bone with a supplement of humor. Who knew that a 4-foot-7-inch dwarf with colon cancer was in danger of falling short on jokes? So, I stocked up. I paced in the front of grocery stores right where smokers congregate. As they lit up I would say, “You know, that stunts your growth and causes cancer.”
If only this were a sport: I tried taking different perspectives on my fight against cancer. For one, it was as though I was a boxer trying on different flashy robes or different entrance songs as I made my way to the ring. Yes, I had an opponent inside me that was pushing me to fight for my life.
Personal perspective: A burrito is just a burrito, but if you’re 6 feet tall and I have to stand in line behind you waiting for the bathroom, a burrito can really stink. It’s a matter of personal perspective, and it’s a matter of being positive. I tried to keep the end of my 12 chemotherapy treatments in sight. The cancer made my stomach hurt, but relief was in sight (throwing up). I could not stop throwing up, but relief was in sight (the $50-a-pop pill for extreme nausea). So, while it is important to be positive, it is just as important to be realistic in order not to feel let down. Cancer is a very serious illness, but humor can be a reprieve to anyone who has experienced it.
—Michael Irving is a marketing representative in Knoxville, Iowa.
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