A weekend of putting life into my years

For someone who is supposed to be resting to heal, I had a pretty active weekend. This summer, Pearl Jam released their tour dates around the same time the NFL released its schedule and the Bishop Eustace Class of 1993’s 20th reunion was being planned. As fate would have it, the NFL put the Cowboys-Eagles game squarely in the middle of a Saturday night reunion and Monday/Tuesday concert slate at the Wells Fargo Center. My first thought was, “Sign me up!!” but then I remembered I was on a relatively short leash with travel and excess activities. With the shows, reunion, and football game all the same weekend, though, it was a given to fly up for all four - it was almost an “unthought”. Known risks for travel and health being minimized/mitigated made the decision to come up an easy one – at least for me.

When I asked Jen what she thought, she was on board AFTER assuring her there would be an easy, even flow to the trip and not 72 hours of back to back to back shenanigans. I could have stayed home on our porch, watched the full yellow moon, and let the records play in relative health while listening to “Lightning Bolt”. But that would definitely not qualify as putting life into my years, so she gave me a reluctant blessing on making the trip up with my college friend Dave. As the pilate took off, though, even I wasn’t sure how well I could keep the promise of taking it easy. Once the sirens of an eventful weekend go off, it’s not easy to tune them out, especially considering what I have been through and what I got. Id impulses are hard to subdue sometimes.  

My mother wasn’t thrilled; after all, the last time I came up for Pearl Jam (the final Spectrum shows), we kind of partied like an animal all weekend. “Why go put your body through this, it’s not for you right now,” she told me. “Use your brain!” Of Jay and mine’s plan to go on the field before the Cowboys-Eagles game (thanks Ari!!) she reluctantly understood how special of an opportunity it was for us.  As we left for South Philly, though, she shook her head and muttered to her friend on the phone, “Off he goes again to these games and concerts, like he puts his recovery in the rearview mirror to have fun; it’s crazy, Mary!” I was going to reason with her like only an Italian son could, but decided instead to heed her “mind your manners when you talk to you mother” advice I have received many times before.  

As I told everyone at the reunion (thanks Kristen, Katie, etc..!), the pendulum is swinging, and just being able to be this active really makes you feel alive. I know talking about cancer isn’t easy – especially in a bar setting when you’re seeing people for the first time in many years. Heck, I could even tell a few weren’t sure how to bring it up, or if they should at all. It wasn’t like I was the man of the hour or anything, but I definitely got a lot of love from my classmates, which was much appreciated and gave me a huge lift. Plus, there were a few that didn’t know the back story, and answering “So what has been going on with you?” and NOT talking about cancer was refreshing. Don’t worry Meg and Jeff, I will fill you guys in at our 25th!

My friend Dave has a connection to the band, and got us backstage passes for the Monday night show.  Since we were eye-level with the stage, the sound was a little less clear, but the view was awesome, even with the low light.  Standing up the whole first set, I felt like an elderly woman, since there’s no seats in the little “bullpen” area they put you in right on the side of the stage.  From “Lukin” through “Spin the Black Circle” I had to head backstage to go to the bathroom and just rest up for a few songs.  Still, those are pretty nice problems to have when Mike McCready points to you, or Eddie Vedder walks over during “Sonic Reducer” and hands his tambourine to little grade-schooler Otis, who was at his first show with his mom and will probably spend the rest of his life thinking this is how concert experiences are. 

After the show, we waited around for almost an hour; Mike McCready had seen Dave from the stage and knew he was there, so we hoped we could get a quick hello.  Sure enough, just before security told us it was time to go, Mike came out and talked to Dave and I for five minutes. I’m not exactly sure what I said, but we had a bit of a common bond with being an advocate (McCready is a leading activist for the Crohn’s & Colitis; here’s him talking about living with the disease) and he was extremely encouraging about what I am going through now and that I am willing to share this with everyone. I didn’t exactly get cancer to have a moment with Pearl Jam’s lead guitarist, but to be able to talk to Mike not as the musician I’ve listened to for twenty years, but as someone who has also walked through medical difficulties was touching. It shows just how human we all are, no matter how successful, no matter how sick, and no matter what obstacles may not be readily apparent.

This mental and emotional boost more than offsets the slight physical toll (like not eating much dinner; we were 1/2 full from a huge lunch with Phil, a board member from the Melanoma Research Alliance who is connecting me with melanoma experts).  It’s not like there is an indifference to keeping in top health, or feeling infallible now that PD-1 is working. But I believe in miracles and this is going to be one more small inspiration that keeps me going. Christmas came a little early for me — cross another item off my wish list.

P.S. if this post sounds a little odd for some non-diehards, click here: http://pearljam.com/setlists/1077/2013/22023/wells_fargo_arena

T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »