Stopped Reading "It's Not About the Bike"

Monday, January 19, 2009

I put down Armstrong's book late last week.

At the moment, I couldn't explain myself, but the reading was very unsettling.

I quit about 100 pages in, not long after the beginning of chapter five "Conversations with Cancer."

Armstrong and I went through the same treatment for testicular cancer: bleomycin, etoposide and cisplatin.

Here's how he (and his ghost writer) describe the drugs that comprised our treatment: "...they were so toxic that the nurses wore radioactive protection when handling them."

Reading that line triggered memories of plastics gloves over soft white flesh as I received slow, ten-minute injections of bleo, memories of the chemical cocktail arriving every session via a large, clear plastic bag. I recall how, to ensure I was receiving the right meds on the right day, nurses would ask my name, type of cancer and date of birth before each round. Nurses new to me were always a little startled at my age.

The nurses kept strict notes. Down to the minute the injections began.

I never asked about the toxicity of my meds, though one surgeon, hoping to convince me to go with a proposed invasive surgery, told me that the long-term side effects of chemotherapy is just now being discovered. Doctors say the darndest things...

It took me about six days to figure why Armstrong's book started to bother me. I realized it was a line I read on page 13.

This line: "...testicular cancer was a rare disease - only about 7,000 cases occur annually in the U.S."

Something about being part of such a small club bothered me, about being stricken with something rare. But I couldn't tell why, at least not for a few days. I always knew the numbers of those with the disease was small.

Then I started to unravel. I've recently acknowledged the severity of what I went through, in no small part through the pushing of my therapist.

The shock wasn't the number. I already knew that. It wasn't that I was part of small circle of people. I knew that too.

What was shocking, for the first time, is that the things that have become normal to me -- the memories, the scars, the mutilation, the tests, the questions, the fear with every pain near my genitalia, constant thoughts about cancer, cancer, cancer-- uh, it shocked me to realize that what has become normal to me isn't so for most other young men.

That my worry about setting up another blood test soon, because it felt like it had been too long, is a worry Matt and Armando don't have. That this wasn't just a rite of passage, like hazing in boy scouts or drinking in college.

That nearly two years later, none of this will go away. ever.

That in fact my experience and my thoughts are exclusive to a small group.

Reading, a year and a half later, that I am part of a minority of young men stricken with this didn't make any sense. It doesn't.

None what so ever.

It's not a poor me sentiment. Far from it.

Am I making sense?

The only way for me to move forward through this trauma is to rationalize it as "normal." As a survivor, I accepted the situation without questions and moved forward accepting what is, unwilling to look back on what was.

Now I am looking back and am frankly shocked at where I am.

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