Art’s Story IV version 1.18.03
I don’t know if I could count the hours I spent at Starbucks with my laptop plotting to write about the next saga in my life, or as I entitle them, Art’s Life. Every week I would sit down, gazing at the computer screen, trying to come up with something of substance. I had plenty of material. I was always getting into some mis-adventure filled with a learning point or two. It was the timing, though, that was the issue. I never felt comfortable writing a definitive work that would always be within arm’s link on the web site till I answered one question; would I be healthy or not? Would my next tests and scans be clear or would the cancer have returned again? Fearful of being overconfident but also fearful of being under confident, I waited.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t sitting on my hands all fall waiting for something to happen. The fall was good to me. After languishing all summer underweight with strange ailments and hurts, September arrived with optimism. My latest scans, in the month of August, were clear. I personally was insistent that something was wrong, based on aches and pains lurking around my body. But I was wrong. Nothing. Remission.
I was able to return to a normal routine. I started gaining weight and putting back on the muscle I had lost over the past two years. I was able to play tag football and basketball again. I didn’t have to go to the hospital but once a month. I wasn’t tired all the time. My hair returned dark, curly and unruly- a pleasant surprise. I felt great. More remarkably I felt healthy for the first time in years. Like all young men, I was starting to feel that air again, the air of invincibility. I was returning to myself.
Most notably I started to concretely plan for my future. That may seem strange to you, given that most people plan job changes, weddings, and vacations months, even years, in advance. I had always taken such thinking for granted in the past. For the past two years though, I had lived on a month (and sometime week-by-week) calendar, where at an instant anything and everything could change. For once I was able to think about returning to work, finding a career and moving forward, looking to the future.
After many years of contemplating it, I applied to Seminary and was later accepted. Given my talents, gifts, interests and passions- I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Excitedly, I was looking forward to starting school in June 2003. Before then, I was going to move home to Ohio, save money, intern at a church, work a little and take distance-learning classes to get a jump on school. It was exciting, so exciting. No longer, when I asked what do I do, would I have to tell someone ‘Ah yeah, I’m a disability retiree…’
So when my scans in November came up, I wasn’t nervous at all. Why would I? I felt great. Everyone, including myself, was expecting great news. A few nights before the tests and scans, though, one of my closest friends asked the question that to this day still haunts me. ‘What happens if they’re not clear? What happens if it shows the cancers back?’ I hadn’t thought of that. No way. I was feeling too good. I was feeling healthy. I didn’t have an answer.
The scans returned with a strange result. I knew something was up when the PET Scan showed activity. It wasn’t till a few days later when I felt something brewing in my body. Literally overnight, a few lymph nodes popped up in my groin area. They didn’t stop growing. The pain increased as the nodes pressed against muscles in my legs. I knew it. The cancer was back. And I wasn’t prepared. It was the Fall. It was a fall.
‘I Don’t Know’
It’s a freezing cold day here in Youngstown. As I glance out the window of the Barnes and Noble, sipping my bitterly strong mocha I reflect over the past six weeks and see a blur, of pain and painkillers, of darkness and depression, of confusion and acceptance.
I was pretty much devastated when I learned of the relapse. Why, when everything was starting to go so right, did I have my legs kicked from under me? It felt like a kick in the teeth from God. It was like a betrayal from my best bud. I had been through relapses before, but this one- this was (and is) it. I’m out of options. I can’t do any more chemotherapy or transplants. Very few therapies exist for someone in my situation, especially because I have Hodgkin’s Disease, one of the most treatable of the cancers. Because of its treatability, few new treatments exist for patients who relapse. The situation, my situation, had become that much more serious. Pick the sports analogy of your choice- it’s the bottom of the ninth, it’s the fourth quarter, it’s the last lap…time was and is running short and something, someone has got to come through in the clutch. It’s time.
Because of such a situation, I have had to wrestle with life’s toughest questions. It hasn’t been easy and even now I am constantly plagued.
- Am I allowed to be down and depressed?
- What really is faith?
- What really is optimism?
- How do I, Art, practically live, keeping an eye toward the future, yet knowing death is potentially looming overhead?
- How do you deal with people in my predicament? How do I approach relationships and friendships? What do I say? What do you say?
- How can there be a good God- given how my situation has played out on a mirco-level, and how the events of the world have played out on a macro-level?
I’ve thought long and hard. I’ve talked and question. I’ve researched and read (I’m such a geek). What have I found out? What did I discover? I don’t know. The more I find answers to the above questions the more questions that appear from those answers. Like a wet bar of soap which I think I have a hold on, the tighter I hold onto my pre-conceived answers, the farther the soap flies out of my hands. Whoever the sage was, he was right- the older I do get, the less do I know. I have written at one time or another on some of these and other topics. My answers have changed for some. Others they have stayed the same. Regardless, I most of the time don’t know the answer, or don’t know the full answer. (I’ve put up further links in elaboration of some of these topics on the previous web page…)
I’m not a psychologist nor do I have the necessary resources to write a great treatise on sadness, depression, and despair or faith and optimism. I will write this though, I think it is utterly natural and OK, to an extent. Emotions go in cycles and it’s OK to have a down day.
The frustrating thing is that most people don’t want to read that from me. They want inspiration for their day; they want optimism from me in my updates. Look, I don’t get fired up about too many things, but this gets my butt a-boiling.
Nothing drives me more nuts than hypocrites and fakes. We all know them. Everything is always great, no matter the circumstance. They could have a knife wound in their chest and all would be well. Puh-lease. I want to shake such people and say ‘BE REAL!’ Such people are one-dimensional in my mind, cartoon characters, afraid of what people will think. That’s not me and I will never portray that. If I’m down and I write about it, then so be it.
It reassures and helps me when I know people are struggling with their emotions and their situations. It reminds me that we are all in the same boat- we all have issues to deals with and therefore we can all be there for each other in those times. I find many more people try to create this aura of invincibility that they want people to be impressed with. Personally, I much prefer the company of someone I identify with than someone I idolize.
Faith and Optimism
As for faith and optimism, I am finding more and more that there is much much more involved in actually having true faith and true optimism. I find most people are blindly faithful and blindly optimistic. What does that mean? I find most people choose to ignore the whole of a situation. In doing so, they don’t understand the odds, the gritty realism of the situation. They’re not actually optimistic, they’re naive!
What is real faith and optimism? It’s believing despite knowing the full situation, the full odds, the complete story. It’s much tougher than I ever thought. I don’t know how to move up the optimism ladder. I’m working on it myself. I don’t know how to completely increase my faith. I wish there was an instruction manual.
How do I live ultimately for the present, but with an eye toward a future that may never happen? I don’t know. It’s an incredibly difficult balance that I have definitely not mastered. But, in the midst of talking about this with a friend, he said, ‘Ideally, shouldn’t we all live like that though?’
A friend e-mailed last week, confused as what to say to me and therefore she just stopped all communication with me. I replied, ‘I don’t know how to react to you. I don’t know what you are feeling toward me, so don’t worry.’
I don’t know completely, but I can’t help but think of the phone call I received today. An elderly neighbor, Mrs. Suhy, called looking for my mom. When she found it was me and heard my voice she almost started to cry. I hadn’t talked to her in two years. She exclaimed how she prays for me everyday and that she knows God is with me. She then tells me of her sister. ‘My sister oh she loved you. She was in her eighties and couldn’t leave the house. She would pester me every single day, asking, ‘How’s Art doing? How’s Art doing?’ And every night she would watch Mass on TV and take part, offering the Mass up for you. (by now she was crying) She died in August…’
Who was I to deserve this? I had never even met her sister. Goodness. I couldn’t help but think that if someone on earth can love me that much, and never have even met me, how much more would a God, who intimately knows me, love and care for me and therefore know what’s best for me. And if He knows what’s best for me, He ultimately has in mind that my good.
Yeah. I get anxious and distraught. Why does it seem like God is inactive, as thousands of you are praying out there? Why doesn’t He do anything? I don’t know, but I know He’s good.
I don’t know. ? I don’t know what will become of Frederick Arthur Canning III. I do know, though, that all I have is today and that I need to constantly remind myself to appreciate it. I’m not good at it; I’ll admit it. You think I would be by now, especially after all I’ve been though. But I’m human. I forget. And that’s why I need you. That’s why we need to each other- to remind ourselves of what’s important in life. Bono sang it best:
‘And love is not the easy thing
The only baggage you can bring…
And love is not the easy thing….
The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can’t leave behind…’