Friday, July 22, 2016

Breaking News

Don't let the title of this post fool you. I don't have big news to report. I expect to have some news to share in a few weeks, and it will be big. My next PSA number will tell me a lot. But that won't happen until the first week of September.

Is anyone else as tired as I am of the overused term, "Breaking News?" Everything seems to qualify as Breaking News these days. It's the cable news version of crying wolf. But I digress.

What I'm talking about is something that every cancer patient has to do over and over, and it's never easy. Breaking the news that you have cancer to someone you care about. I did a lot of that in the initial months after my diagnosis. And I was made aware yesterday that the job is not finished.

I'm coming up on the one year anniversary of my diagnosis. Just a little over two weeks away. When I was diagnosed on August 7th, 2015, I kept the news private for a while. I told family and close friends. I told my church family so they could pray for me. But I didn't go public until October. As I said in an early post, I kept it close because "I didn't want to be the guy that everyone feels sorry for." I'd never been that guy, and I didn't want to be that guy.

During that two-and-a-half month period, I did a lot of one-on-one news breaking, in person and over the phone. Each conversation was a difficult one, especially considering the advanced state of my cancer when it was discovered. Nobody wanted to hear it. Nobody wanted to believe it. But I had to keep telling it.

Once I went public on Facebook, started our GoFundMe campaign, and began writing this journal on October 22nd, 2015, the news spread fast. But I still had to let some people know individually. Unbelievably, there are still people who are not on Facebook, and don't read blogs.

Over the next few months, the times when I had to break the news to someone in person or over the phone, or maybe in an email, grew fewer and fewer. The news spread organically. Friends told their friends. I began to assume that everybody I knew was aware of my illness. That belief persisted until yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon, after an emotional therapy session, I had to stop at the grocery store on my way home. As I walked up to the self-checkout, I heard a voice say, "Hi Mark!" I turned around and saw an old friend who I probably hadn't seen for 15 years. We exchanged pleasantries. She told me what was going on in her life, and asked me how I was doing.

When someone asks me how I'm doing these days, I assume they're asking how I'm feeling, or how treatment is going. So I began by asking if she knew what was going on with me. She didn't. I was very surprised by this, because she and I have many mutual friends. I'm Facebook friends with her. How could she not have heard? Somehow, she slipped through the cracks. So it was up to me to fill her in, right there in the grocery store.

I told her my story. She was taken aback, and expressed how sorry she was. She told me about a friend who had prostate cancer, had surgery, and is fine now. This was meant to encourage me. I told her that my cancer is aggressive and inoperable. We talked for a few more minutes, and said we were sure we'd see each other again soon, even though we're neighbors, and this was the first time I'd seen her in our mutual neighborhood store in 15 years.

I was already close to tears from my therapy session. I hadn't taken a 5-HTP in a day and a half, so my emotions were close to the surface. So this encounter hit me harder than it should have. As my friend walked out of the store, and I still had to ring up my items, it took me a moment to collect myself. I didn't want to break down at the self-checkout. After a heavy sigh and a few deep breaths, I managed to finish my business and drive home.

It wasn't just my emotional state that did it to me. After I got home and took a 5-HTP to calm me down, I was still reeling from that encounter. It shook me up. Two hours later, maybe more, I was still feeling the effects of that conversation.

Here's the thing. I thought I was done telling friends that I have cancer. I thought that everyone knew, and I wouldn't have to break the news to anyone else. At least not anyone who I consider a friend. It's a hard conversation to have with someone that you care about, and who cares about you. And apparently, I still have people to tell.

Retail stores are not the place for those types of conversations, but is there any good place for that topic? If you've ever been in the situation where you have to give very bad news to a lot of people, one at a time, you know how hard it is. I think of my friend Tony, and two terrible phone conversations that we've had. One where he was giving me tragic news, and another where I broke news to him that he didn't want to hear. We've both been in that boat. It's a boat that nobody wants to row.

Thankfully, the times when I have to break that news are getting farther and farther apart. But it will probably never stop for as long as I'm still here, unless a miracle cure is in the works. And it could be.

If you haven't had to take a turn in the Breaking News Boat, I hope you never do. But most of us are saddled with that responsibility at some point in our lives. And sometimes, we're blindsided by that responsibility, like I was yesterday. When you've been as public about your difficulty as I've been about mine, it's easy to be incredulous when you learn that someone you know hasn't heard. Ten months after you shouted it to the world.

News like that is hard to hear, and it's doubly hard to tell. No matter how many times you do it, it never gets any easier. I had kinda forgotten that until yesterday. Probably about the time I let my guard down again, I'll have a chance meeting with someone who hasn't heard my breaking news. And this will happen all over again. I just hope that I'm in a better place emotionally when it happens. #waroncancer


  1. I'm sorry about the rough day. We love you.

  2. I hate it when I get blindsided too!