I Didn’t Expect to be Dropped Back into the ‘Cancer Blender’


A recent injury reminded me that I could be dropped into the “cancer blender” at any time, though I should not focus on all the “what ifs.”

Nothing in life is predictable. Nothing. We foolishly think we are in control when in fact we are in control of nothing.

This is all too true for us cancer survivors. One day our life was moving along as everyone’s life does in fits and starts, then we weren’t feeling well, or a routine test came back with unexpected results. In a blink, our lives went from routine to surreal as we were dropped into the cancer blender.

I remember this too well when nine years ago I got the news no one wants: not only did I have cancer but pancreatic cancer, a type of cancer so lethal that some considered it a death sentence.

While I thankfully remain cancer-free, I recently discovered how any medical emergency could drop me back into that blender.

A month ago, while patching a small area of drywall I stepped off the second step of a two-step utility stool thinking I was standing on the first step. My body dropped to the floor like a dense sack of dog food as the stool shot out from under me and hit the wall before crashing on the floor next to me.

Hearing the ruckus my wife came running only to find me lying on my right side unable to move. Always the optimist she said, “You are OK. Can you get up?” To which I replied, “No. Can you call 911?” Beside herself, she handed me the phone and I called.

Laying there with sweat dripping off my face waves of pain surged through me. I surmised I had broken something but had no idea what. I could wiggle my toes, but I could not get off my side. Breathing through my teeth I explained to the 911 dispatcher what had happened. Within minutes two fire engines with their support trucks along with nearly a dozen firefighters, likely constituting the whole local fire department, showed up.

After dumping a raft of IV pain meds into me they rolled me onto a backboard and strapped me down. Did I mention I almost passed out when I was put on the backboard? Once secured, they hauled me out to the waiting ambulance and loaded me into the back.

Strapped down in the back, I began the 20-mile trek to the nearest ER. Every bump felt like a canyon-sized pothole as my leg jumped with pain. Surgery followed the next morning. After six days in the hospital followed by an excruciating 13 days in rehab I am learning to walk again, one step at a time with the aid of a walker. And yes, I am wondering how I could have been so foolish to step into the air.

But in all this, what has struck me the most is how a tragic accident like this could thrust me headfirst back into the heart of my months of endless cancer treatments. Much like back then, waves of anxiety flooded over me. First, I thought I had broken my hip. But as funny as it might sound, I was relieved to find out I had only broken my right leg, as if that weren’t serious.

To get through this, using the coping skills I honed years earlier to handle my unending months of cancer treatments, I focused on the known, instead of the volumes of unknowns. In any medical emergency, whether it be for cancer or something else, it is all too easy to be overwhelmed by all those unknowns. There are dozens of things we don’t know along with a host of things that could be.

Instead, it is much better to focus on the known versus the unknown. Trust everything will be OK. Endless handwringing leads to nothing but more handwringing. Said another way, one step at a time. Get the news, no matter how grim, explore the options, develop a plan, and then execute it.

Much like this unfortunate accident, looking back on when I got the news I had pancreatic cancer, I had little time to find a surgical oncologist with the high level of skill required to do a “Whipple procedure” necessary to remove my pancreatic tumor. Of such complexity, this procedure is widely believed to be one of the most challenging surgeries done today. Only the most skilled surgeons dare attempt them.

Fortunately, the hospitalist (hospital doctor) referred me to a local surgeon who at the time I didn’t know but people came from states away to have him do their cancer surgeries. I wish I could take some credit for selecting him, but I had nothing to do with it. Even if I had wanted to get a second opinion or to look for the best of the best surgeon, being an absolute walking medical wreck, I was far too sick to travel to one of those cancer mega centers to see some surgeon of renown known for their technical brilliance. Instead, I got what I got.

Much like my earlier bout with cancer, I had nothing to do with the selection of a surgeon to repair my broken leg. For now, I am staying clear of stools and ladders of all types while I put one foot in front of the other and learn to walk again one step at a time.

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