The Longest Year

Male breast cancer survivor Khevin Barnes looks back on the longest year of his life.

The longest year of my life is over. It had nothing to do with my calendar but instead earned its name from yet

another “C” word.


To be sure, it was like any other year of the sixty-five I have now collected. There were 365 full days in which to live. But for this year, the days were longer. And the nights started earlier, ran later and were frustratingly slow to pass.

Many who have received a cancer diagnosis can relate to this slow motion living. As our surgeons or family physicians first revealed the stage and grade of our tumors, the words stretched out like old taffy and carried a stickiness that would linger in our hearts for a very long time.

As for me, that simple sentence, "You have cancer” was uncaged to slither deftly from tongue to ear and make its way into my life, only to be worn forever like a badly inked tattoo.

It was permanently etched and it wasn’t coming off.

Oddly, this was also a year of hope, joy and laughter. How crazy is that?

But this is partly why things moved so painstakingly slow. The irony of a drag-you-down disease tempered by a burst of surprising survival energies makes for a head-spinning adventure. There are enough opposing forces there to make one rethink Newton’s Laws of Motion.

With so much packed into this long year of mine, there were new feelings, new thoughts, new fears, new hopes, new medicines, new friends, new pains and new plans. All of this newness swelled up like the ball of lymphedema under my arm and filled my days to the brim with uncountable possibilities.

New possibilities bring new decisions and they cluster and fester, filling up our heads and stretching out our days and the end result is a very long year indeed.

I want to be clear: By and large, my extended year was filled with positive and promising moments. I met dozens of new acquaintances and friends through the cancer blogs and magazines that I read and write for. All of these people had inspiring stories to share. I acquired a fresh and remarkable new relationship with my wife, my sisters and brother. I felt creative and fulfilled for much of the time.

That is precisely the nature of cancer — it comes and goes. It reveals itself, then vanishes like a whisper. It rises and falls. So the lesson I’ve learned over the last twelve months is simple, really:

Don’t count the minutes.

Throw out the clock.