Thursday, October 6, 2016

Relentless Positivity

Reaction to my last post has been mixed at best. I was trying to be funny about a subject that many don't want to acknowledge, let alone laugh about. Readership for The Terminal Discount has been about half of what's normal for this blog now. I think I understand why.

Some of my cancer brothers who are in the same boat with me thought it was great. But others, even some I'm very close to, have been silent. It seems they don't like to hear me talk this way. I don't blame them. It hits too close to home.

The thing is, I made a living at comedy for 28 years, writing song parodies. I look at everything through a comedic lens. Even my cancer. Early on in this blog, I regularly wrote funny posts. See Welcome To Womanhood and Ridiculous, But Normal.  But lately, it seems that all of my posts have been deadly serious for good reason. So I've been looking for opportunities to get some humor back into this blog. I'd rather laugh about this than cry, and I've done plenty of both.

Mark Twain once said, "Humor is tragedy plus time." I guess not enough time has passed for some. Maybe my attempt at humor was too soon for you. Or maybe it just wasn't funny. Another old saying is that if you have to explain a joke, it's not a very good one. Maybe that was the case with that post. But some of you got the joke, and that made me feel good. I especially enjoyed the comeback from one of my best friends, who I call "my comedy partner in another life." She didn't rebuke me for accepting reality. Instead, in a two sentence comment, she was funnier than I was. But that's typical for her. That's why we would've made a great comedy team in that parallel universe.  I would have been her straight man, for sure. She's the one who coined the phrase welcome to womanhood. She inspired the post with that name.

One thing I've always loved about comedy is that, unlike other art forms, there are no objective standards. In music, for example, it's possible to recognize great talent without liking the music that that talent produces. The reverse is just as possible. I experience it all the time. There are bands for whom I don't have a high opinion of their musicianship, but I enjoy their music anyway. But in comedy, there is only one standard: It makes you laugh, or it doesn't. That's it.

You know you've failed as a comedy writer when you share a post that you meant to be funny in six different places on Facebook, and you don't get one "Ha ha" reaction. Plenty of likes, and a few hearts, but no ha has. The post got some "sads" too. It's not a good sign when a post that you intended to be funny gets sads, but no ha has.

It's not the ones who didn't think my last post was funny simply because they love me too much to laugh about my terminal illness that bother me. It's the ones who rebuked me for accepting the reality of my prognosis, especially in light of my last PSA result. I was told not to be negative. I was told not to count myself out. I was told that my doctor doesn't know anything. All of these comments, and others, were meant well. But they don't encourage me, as I think they were intended to do.

I think one of the most useful posts for cancer patients that I've written was one called What Not To Say To A Prostate Cancer Patient. The examples in that post are not all from me; I collected them from a support group, from the answers to a question that was posed there. One answer that came through loud and clear in that group is that cheerleading is not appreciated. A man with aggressive Stage 4 prostate cancer doesn't want to hear about your relative or friend whose cancer was caught early and is fine now. At least I don't. I was subjected to that by someone I met for the first time on Tuesday.

I had an appointment with a dentist to make sure that I can go ahead and get Xgeva shots to strengthen my bones. They took x-rays of my jaw, and found that I don't need any extractions or root canals. So I can go ahead with Xgeva. While I was there, I got my teeth cleaned. There were a few minor issues that don't cause me any pain or problems, but they wanted me to do everything they recommended, naturally. I talked with the hygenist who was cleaning my teeth, and explained to her that, given my prognosis, I wasn't interested in doing any dental work unless it was absolutely necessary.

If you've had cancer, you know what she did next. She proceeded to tell me stories of cancer patients she knew who beat the odds. I asked her how advanced and how aggressive their cancers were, and she had no answer. But she still wanted to give me a pep talk. I didn't appreciate it.

I've always had a problem with what I call relentless positivity, which runs rampant in the business world and the church world. I used to joke about a boss of mine from long ago who was so sickeningly positive, I alleged that if I told him my house burned down, he'd say, "Good!" It infects our language. Nothing is allowed to be called a problem anymore. Now there are no more problems, only challenges. As though a problem is something that can't be solved. But in math, problems are meant to be solved.

Cancer is not a challenge. It's a problem. In many cases, it's a problem that can be solved. But not in every case. To think otherwise is to ignore the facts. It feeds into the myth that prostate cancer is "the good cancer." I'm not going to quote statistics here. You can find them easily on the Google machine.

If your prostate cancer is as aggressive as mine, I am not saying that your problem can't be solved, especially if you are going whole hog with every treatment and lifestyle change possible. I'm cheering you on as hard as I can. But as for me, I don't believe my problem will be solved unless God solves it. I'm not pursuing every treatment available to me, or making radical changes to an already healthy lifestyle, for my own personal reasons, and with my wife's support. For me, accepting my prognosis is accepting reality. And all good jokes are based in reality.

If you know me personally, you know how much I love to make inappropriate jokes. I love to make them at my own expense, especially now. I was talking with my Comedy Partner In Another Life recently about a place both of us used to frequent, but neither of us wants to return to. I told her the only way I'll go back there is in an urn. She said I was terrible, but it made her laugh, and that made me happy. It's who I am.

Every day, people continue to read the introduction to this blog. I love that. In that introduction, I promise that you'll find hope, love, faith, and grace here. And jokes. I want this blog to make you laugh, think, and be inspired. I try my best to achieve that with every post. Sometimes I hit a home run, and other times I seem to strike out at T-Ball. I actually did that as a kid once.

Even if you didn't think my last post was funny, I think you might get a few chuckles from my next, when I talk about a new alternative treatment I'll be starting soon. There's plenty of comedy to be found in the treatment itself and the way it's administered. I hope you agree.

I don't think anyone who has read this blog with any regularity would say that I don't have a positive attitude. Someone told me yesterday that I'm a light to everyone around me. It was one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me. It's just relentless positivity that I reject. To me, it equals ignoring reality. I know that it will take a miracle to save my life, given my treatment and lifestyle choices, and the sheer numbers. I believe that miracle is possible. I believe that I can extend my life by doing some of the things I'm doing. But I'm also preparing for the worst, because I have to. It would be irresponsible of me not to.

While I'm at it, I'm gonna make jokes about it. If you don't laugh because you think all of us can beat this disease if we just have a positive attitude, you're missing the point. But if you don't laugh because you love me too much to find humor in the possibility of losing me in a year or two, I love you right back. #waroncancer


  1. I totally get what your saying.....this may be totally inappropriate, which if it is, my apologies, if you find it fun then listen up.....if I were in your shoes, I would not want to be surrounded by sad faces and well meaning tears....I would wanna hear laughter, jokes and light hearts. So here's to you Mark, I still giggle when I see you in my memory singing on stage with the choir at DFC and you would have this big ole Yemen and tried to cover it up with the mike.....I saw it...all of it in all of its glory! Hehe. Carry on my friend and in the end slide into home plate with a smile, a good belly laugh saying " what a ride!!!" Hugs my friend!!!

    1. Big ol' Yemen! You mean yawn I'm sure, which I did almost every Sunday! I was pretty good at covering it up with a mic, you must admit. LOL

  2. You've made me smile in the past and you make me smile today! I can't belly laugh, yet,but I can smile!

  3. I got it and enjoyed your sense of humor. I appreciated the reality of your situation and am a firm believer in laughing over crying. (Although not always successful) I love your heart and your perspective. You inspire and encourage me. I wish God would take this away from you. I'm also selfish because I feel pain thinking of you not here any more. I respect the choices you and Sharon have made. I pray that Gods arms of love and comfort wrap tightly around you both. Heaven will be all the sweeter for your presence. (Although, no need to rush those pearly gates anytime soon!) Oh what a home coming when all the rest of us catch up with you!! Thank you for your transparency and smiles.