Not medically remarkable but still a milestone

“It's nice to know life still has small windows where everything is simple. You have your closest friends in life; the people who know the most embarrassing things you've ever done are still the same as 20 years ago, just a little older and fatter.”  - Cuz

Last week saw two unrelated events pass that are both small footnotes in this story. Neither was medically remarkable or milestone-type accomplishments. They served as complementary reminders of the lousy conditions I have faced, and the health I aim to recover.

A year ago, I participated in a golf tournament benefitting A Prom To Remember, my first real “activity” following the surgeries and the initial clinical trial. It was most noted not for the lousy golf I played, nor the pair of NFL’ers that were my partners, but for being the first time the colostomy prolapsed out. If you haven’t been following along, prolapse means the last part of my large intestine was actually hanging outside my body, contained in the colostomy bag. 

It has prolapsed pretty much every day since then – I have gotten used to it, and although extremely annoying, it isn’t the end of the world. Most of the time, you wouldn’t even know I had it, much less it was resting on my pelvic bone. If we’ve met face to face in the last year, then there’s about a 99% chance we talked with four to six inches of sigmoid colon protruding from my stomach.

However difficult that has been, though, it’s overshadowed by the physical recovery being made. Last March I was nearly 40 lbs. lighter and was lacking all kinds of strength. While I’m not back to pre-cancer shape today, the difference I feel is staggering. Knowing I recovered, with my guts literally hanging out, and could somewhat hold my own on the course with the likes of Dan Carpenter and Chad Henne was unbelievably mentally satisfying (“hold my own” is somewhat relative, and the next time you think kickers aren’t athletes, play a scramble with one and see who carries the team – my money is on the kicker every time).

The other “milestone” was much more prophetic, though not in a good way. My college buddies got together fairly often throughout our 20’s, but as family and work commitments grew, those guys’ weekends started coming together only for bigger events – mainly bachelor parties as the remaining few took the plunge. St. Patrick’s Day weekend in 2011 was the last get together we had, three days of golfing the Myrtle Beach area and three nights of party behavior more suited for the fraternity brothers we were than the middle-aged men we had become.

At some point during the weekend (it’s still a little fuzzy exactly when; my level of fun that weekend was slightly excessive), I sat on the beach in Pawley’s Island, SC with a couple of the guys BS’ing about life over après-golf cocktails. Noting the expanding waistlines and general lack of great health for this group of former athletes, and likely remembering my own initial melanoma scare, I vocalized the notion that, “You know, the next time we do this, we are getting to the age where one of us might not be here.” 

It wasn’t entirely ludicrous, considering the frequency of guy weekends would only decrease, but the general conclusion was we all had a solid decade before we hit mid-40’s and serious health concerns began creeping in. Or so we thought. Obviously, it wasn’t the case, and the change over those three years was evident. 

The last time they saw me, at Ninja’s wedding 13 months ago, I had no hair, little strength, a port hanging out of my chest, and a pretty grim prognosis. As a few of them told me recently, the probability was high I would make my prophecy a self-fulfilling one. This past weekend, I still had no hair (at least on top of my head) and some of those smart-asses will say I never had strength to begin with, but otherwise it really wasn’t much different than the numerous other adventures I had been on with this band of merry fools for the last two decades. 

The one noticeable change, aside from slowing down the shenanigans, was the time spent appreciating the moments for what they were and who they were with – the simple things. Sunday, we went our separate ways, back to wives and kids and jobs and a normal diet (I don’t think any of us could handle another unhealthy meal, which yet again reveals our aging). We talked about doing this again, and not in the “take it for granted we will be able to drop everything and hang out” way so common to many of our previous goodbyes. Perhaps with the aging body comes the wiser mind that realizes the windows Cuz described weren’t just into singular events, but the accumulation of a half a lifetime of moments that were much greater than the sum of the individual parts.

On the way out, I made sure to tell each of those guys thanks, for the support they have collectively shown these last two years, and that I can’t wait to see them next trip. With 40 just over 13 months away (or as I prefer to think of it, almost two years from now), there’s a new target to add to the goals list. Thinking back on the ocean-side forecast from three years prior, and just to cover my bases, I added, “And the next time we do this, maybe one of us will have won the lottery.”

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