“This is it? No forms? No discharge?” I asked.
“Not for chemotherapy, Mr. Duffy. Have a nice day,” said the nurse.
Eleven weeks. Twenty doses of liquid poison had coursed through my body hell bent on destroying my stage three testicular cancer. Sure, it took out some hair follicles and every single while blood cell I had in the process, but it worked.
Only, it didn’t end like I thought. There was no fanfare, no cake. There was just life. Now that I didn’t have to spend four hours a day for five days a week sitting in an infusion chair surrounded by strangers I never in my wildest imaginings wanted to meet, I could go back to work, back to my fiancé, back to normal.
It’s just that normal wasn’t normal. There was a new normal, a different and unsteady normal. I wasn’t going to be that sick friend anymore. I could go back to working full time at a job I loved. The girl said, “yes” the day before I started treatment; there was a wedding to think about. I could go back to vomiting on my own terms, from Tequila, not Cisplatin. When my hair grew back, people would forget that I even danced with the beast.
They wouldn’t know… but I would. And they don’t have to live with me or stare back at me in a mirror. That was truly my blessing and burden, and I was damned if this malady didn’t happen for a reason.
Maybe it was because I didn’t get scared. I had the good kind of cancer, the one that’s easily beatable. Easily being relative, of course. I looked at my tumor as a foreign invader, a bully, and the only way to back down a bully is to bully it right back.
Maybe it was because I don’t believe in chance. I was thrown out of a Jeep at over sixty miles an hour not six years prior, and I walked away without a scratch. That doesn’t “just happen.”
Maybe it’s because I had seen cancer before in a friend and I ran away because I didn’t know how to handle it. And maybe it’s because I had never quite forgiven myself for that. Or maybe it’s because now that I had a unique skillset and professional education with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, I didn’t have to fear it anymore.
In the 14 years I’ve survived since my initial diagnosis, I have seen friends and family diagnosed and cured, and I have also had the unimaginable honor of filming the last goodbye of a mom to her family… twice. It’s not heroic or brave. I hate looking at cancer because I know what it can do. But that’s precisely the reason I keep running back into the fire: to let others know that they are not alone in their darkest hour.
I owe that much, thanks to the unlikely gift that was cancer.
Dan Duffy is co-founder of The Half Fund, a not-for-profit mission dedicated to telling stories about cancer. His first book, The Half Book: He's Taking His Ball and Going Home, is available on Amazon. This guest column appears on "Diagnosis: Cancer" through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for over 850,000 patients and caregivers.
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