A dozen infusions into this PD-1 whirlwind, and life is both slightly more normal and so much different than before. Adjusting to all the things I “need” to do has been challenging enough; this just counts the medical stuff – infusions, scans, colostomy, and letting myself heal.
The laundry list of “optional necessities” is more daunting – diet/food prep, supplements, yoga, exercise, acupuncture, rest, etc. (That last one may be the one we struggle with the most, the fine line between taking it easy and being inactive and absent.)
Of course, when you and your spouse have the same socially active personality, this line gets pushed. No one was really surprised when our Thanksgiving plans spanned 10 days and included a trip to NJ, Thanksgiving here, and then a “small group” of 50 or so friends (and 25 kids) over for the Florida-Florida State game and our annual flag football game in the park. Oh yea, infusion 12 was the day before Thanksgiving, too. One friend told me just hearing the list of events made him tired; I know it drives my mother nuts when we schedule ourselves out like this.
So there we were flying back and forth to NJ, celebrating Thanksgiving early and cleaning out mom and dad’s house. There we were Wednesday, getting infusion 12. There we were Thursday, eating waaaaay more than necessary and taking a slight hiatus from that diet. There we were Friday, setting up the backyard and cleaning the house all day. And there I was Saturday, walking out to Hortt Park and lacing up my beat-up old cleats.
Thousands play a Turkey Bowl every year on Thanksgiving or that weekend. I doubt many are brave or foolish enough to do it 72 hours after a cancer treatment, and guess there are fewer (if any) that do so with several inches of large intestine protruding from their body. I told myself, and everyone who passive-aggressively asked “So you’re just going to watch, right?” that I would see how I felt and not push myself.
Yea, right… the minute I woke up Saturday morning and felt rested and strong, “just watching” became a non-option. I might as well have thrown on “Appetite For Destruction” and started applying eye black, like Ray Lewis’ Xbox commercial. There was little chance I was going to sit idly on the sidelines, watching the kids on the playground and the wives socialize, while my buddies were playing the sport I love.
Pain and fatigue take a back seat sometimes, especially when those times involve the flood of endorphins. Football always has been a release, a sanctuary from real life troubles (and probably an unhealthy way to deal with problems, on occasion). Last Thanksgiving was the first that I didn't play some kind of football game since I was a too young to remember, literally - the Sharpes and Gees have played a Turkey Bowl every year since I was small enough to get the "kid's play" (the few years they chickened out because of a little rain or snow, we played anyways, even if it didn't count towards our lopsided victory total).
I didn’t totally overdo it; I was smart enough to sit out every other series, but certainly pushed my limits. It's not like I ran a lot – short patterns (aka picks) on offense, and a five yard short zone on defense meant I took no more than a dozen or so strides per play. I even grabbed an interception – it should have been a pick-six, but my legs didn't move nearly as fast as they once did. This was surprising, as I didn't think it was possible I could get any slower, sort of like dividing by zero. Just being out there, much less making a few plays, was a “Can you believe this?” moment — one that makes me smile each time I think about it.
Of course, it wiped me OUT. I napped on the sofa in the middle of a house full of people watching college football, and was asleep before 9 p.m. Saturday night. I thought Sunday would be clean-up all day, but I crashed for two hours mid-afternoon, leaving Jen to do most of it by herself (luckily Belle, Kim, and some of the girls had done a great job cleaning as the party went on, saving the house from being a complete disaster area Sunday). Exchanging a day of friends and fun for two recovery days was one I would make again, for sure – as long as they are occasional days.
When that competitive spirit is engrained in you, there's just no way to turn it off. I like to think the same dedication that I approached my obscure but meaningful football career has rubbed off on my "cancer career", too. Clearly, a pickup football game and a party for 80 don't fall under the "rest and give your body the chance to heal" guide we've tried to follow.
But the feeling of stepping out there, of competing, of being normal, of feeling alive… those feelings are important, too. Grabbing that interception was a rush of “I’m getting stronger, I got this”, made even better since it involved wrestling the ball from the receiver (who had no chance of prying the pigskin back). It was the personification of everything that has happened the last year, one littered with football metaphors and comparisons. Saturday, I showed myself that I had the strength to get back on the field, to compete, to take something back, even to be victorious.
Oh yea, the game? We won – crushed ‘em. Kind of a good ending for a metaphoric weekend.
T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »