I have spent the last couple of months engaged in the most creative, expansive, complicated project this near-70-year-old body has ever experienced.
With the support, guidance, and loyalty of a couple of dozen actors and technicians, I was at the helm of a world-premiere fairy-tale, fantasy, live experience that debuted here in my hometown, written by – and co-directed with – my sister. From the birth of the concept until the final standing ovation and triumphant critical reviews, it has been an intensive, immersive, magnificent memory that I will take to my grave. I wish you a long enough life so that you can share the joy of an event like that before your time comes to an end.
This brings me to my point.
While swirling and spinning with arms outstretched among the fairy dust, magic wands, and magical characters of Never After Happily, the real world oozed through. Like a gelatinous, ominous, malevolent, sticky goo rising through the floorboards in a horror movie, I received the shocking news of the results of a medical test I recently took. It is indeed the dark, oppressive yin to my starry, colorful, brightly-lit, fantasy-miracle world of yang.
I thought about whether or not this was appropriate fodder for my column. Of course, after one has written a regular piece like this for almost 20 years, everything that happens has the potential to be the basis of one of my missives. Yet, I hesitated because, well, is it a case of TMI to share my medical news with several thousand strangers? Is it anyone’s business aside from my family’s? Will they look at me differently? Does it matter?
Yet, the reality is that although we might never have met in person; you and I have not shared a cup of coffee or talked on the phone, or even exchanged text messages. We have not breathed deep the warmth of a shared hug or even smiled face to face as we passed each other on the street. Nonetheless, in my mind, you are family. I know not how you look. I have never heard the timbre of your voice, nor shaken your hand. However, when I write these words each week, I see you as clearly as the orange, blue, acrylic; star, planet, and comet mobile that hangs in my office. You are always with me.
With family, one shares.
So, to that end, my doctor wanted me to take a Cologuard test. At this age, that’s S.O.P. There was no advanced concern; I am not showing symptoms of colorectal distress. It’s just what one does at this age, realizing that there are fewer days in front than behind, and wanting to maximize the time we have left.
In my view, the only proper result for a medical test, is a bright red, circled “A+” emblazoned across the top of the page, the words, “Great Job!” handwritten nearby. It is certainly not to see the harsh declaration, “Positive – Abnormal,” in black and white on a computer screen.
Reading and re-reading the results, I felt flush. “Surely, this is for someone else,” I thought. “They must have made a mistake.” In reality, nothing had changed since before I knew my results. I merely had information I did not have previously. Whatever is going on inside me was already going on. Now, forearmed, I can make decisions; something denial would have robbed of me.
So that’s where I am as I write this on a Wednesday. My doctor returns to her office tomorrow so by the time you read this, it’s possible – likely – that more will have been unveiled. Yet, this is not a tick-tock of one person’s chronicle through the health care system. I’m sure, as I go forward, I will share what I discover; in part, because it’s how I process intense emotions, but more so, because, although I’m optimistic about what I will discover as further tests and procedures are undergone, I know I am not the only person who has – or will – go through this. Each of us faces mortality, sometimes we can turn the light on it to low, and other times it’s glaring, yet it’s always there. May my light illuminate for you a brighter road.
I have already discovered that for those of us who get a “positive” result, only four percent have colorectal cancer. Fifty-one percent have pre-cancerous polyps, removed easily during a colonoscopy (which will probably be my next step), and a full 45 percent are “false positives,” basically a shadow of something non-existent. Paraphrasing Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games, “May the odds be forever in my favor.”
Yet, no matter what transpires, I have already received a gift; my first-ever “health scare” has given me a heightened cognizance of smaller moments. I consider myself a sensitive guy; after all, I’m a writer and actor. We “creative sorts” are always considered to wear our emotions on our sleeves. I’m proud of that; the “feels” give a richness to life; without them, the flavor of our being would be stale, soggy saltines.
When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer (which is NOT what this is), as we sat at the aged coffee shop on what would be our last morning together, I asked her, “How is your perception of life different, knowing you’re dying?”
She put down her coffee, reached across the Formica table, rested her hand on mine, and smiled as she looked me in the eyes, “My sweet boy, I don’t think I realized how much love there is in the world, until now.”
I didn’t get it. She knows her days are ending; yet, her predominant thought is an appreciation of the love that always surrounded her.
I get it now. I, surprisingly, am grateful for this heightened awareness. My optimum outcome from this experience is to be one of the 45 percent who is running from shadows, while retaining the eyes and heart for the splendor and marvelousness that surrounds us always, in all things, at all times.