Friday, August 9, 2013

Master of my fate, Captain of my soul

 Leaving Midland at around 9ish Wednesday night to hit Houston around 5:30, feed, morning drugs, then a nap. Liz and I split the drive time we each had 3 or so hours of sleep in the car too. MD Anderson at 5:30 is busier than one might imagine. People are coming in to wait for early appointments, surgery, or getting to work. The drive is decent at night, and because you're not fighting daytime Houston traffic, about an hour quicker. So we sleep, read, check Facebook, and wait. It's not all that bad.
  My HR rep for short and long term disability goes out of her way to come see me in person, which I feel is a wonderful thing for her to do. She's a wonderful lady, and today (Friday) is her last day with Apache. It's a loss of a wonderful person, and a great asset to the company, and I wish her only the best in her future. She and Liz visit about all kinds of stuff, I write in where I can. Patti brought us Apache gear from the office and a nice carved cross for me to hold. She said, "I told them I was taking off to go meet Rocky Smith and his wife Liz in person, and I'm taking this stuff with me for them. Any problem with that?" I assume no, since she and the gear showed up, We talk about work a little, and how word around the HR office was that I'd beaten this once, and they expected every time they heard from Liz or I that I was sending a return to work form. The office area she works in was sad to hear the news about the return of my cancer. I tell people Apache is a good company to work for, and that proves it out for me. Any company can take care of you while you're productive, but the ones that really care are the companies and employees that care about you when you can't be there anymore. I like that.

Onward and upward to the 10th floor and the Medical Oncologist appointment. I don't see my regular Onco, since she's on vacation, but I see her cohort. She, too, is a nice woman, and we have a good chat. We talked about a Chemo protocol and a Clinical test. The Clinical test guarantees a lot of sick time, and only a 10% jump in making it a year or more. That's just damn thin odds to spend ill and not be looking at a lot more time. I ask about it being a cure. Nope, it's not, and since I Radiation Therapy will kill me faster than the cancer, I'm opting out of being sick for little gain in time. We talk about the regular Chemo, with is two that I've already had, Cisplatin and Toxerol. I can stand those, Toxerol makes me sick, but not violently so, and not for very long either. Maybe I can brew up some herbal tea to take the edge off that, so along with the anti-nausea meds, I won't be so sick or not sick at all. Something to look into.
 It's good, she says that the cancer is localized in my mouth and throat. For now, says I, and she agrees. Tough decisions these. I want to see my 80th birthday, but it's not worth being 80 if I'm too sick to enjoy the next 28 years, 2.5 months. Okay, it's close enough to say 27 years to see 80. I want to see my son graduate HS, my youngest daughter be on her own, the older 2 happy and doing their own things as well. I do not, however, want to see that through eyes dimmed by damn pain and nausea drugs. I'd prefer to be clear headed for those things. I'm a selfish bastard, some things in life aren't worth doing if you're too fucked up to truly enjoy them.

 Is this giving up? Not no, but hell no, it's not giving up. It's taking control of what I can control. I live my life pretty much as I damn well please. My end of life should be done in the same fashion. I know that the cancer hasn't taken my mind or my spirit, or my desire to be with my family and friends until we are so old physical contact runs the risk of broken bones. That won't ever change, but here's what has changed.
 I can't eat or swallow. That's not going to change as the chemo does it's thing, or as the cancer does it's thing. I've already been told no more surgery, not aggressive to get the cancer, or reconstructive to fix what's already been done. That's over. Eating and enjoying all kinds of food with friends and family was a big part of me. It's hard to beat the laughter, the serious talks, and just plain fellowship of a good meal well enjoyed.
 I'll never communicate like I did. That was not such a problem when it looked like I might get a prosthetic soft palate. That would have enabled me to not only swallow better, but given me a shot at speaking quite a bit better. I loved to tell a good story, make people laugh. I loved to tell someone I loved them just because it was true, and it made both of us feel good. If I needed to, I sure liked my voice when I could make it boom and people of lesser mettle trembled. Ask people that have been on the receiving end of that, apparently it was scary. My voice got me into the position at work where I was respected by my co-workers, and I hope my bosses. I miss it greatly. Michelle, my SLP, has helped me get back a lot of my ability to communicate. Bless her heart that can't have been easy, I'm a "right now, dammit!" kind of guy and speech/language skills aren't relearned right here, right now. She puts up with my frustration and makes me laugh while she does it. That's a special soul right there.
 They cut out part of my right quad. I can walk pretty well, but it still can make me hitch just a little in my get along. It's a bitch going down stairs with what they cut out, as well as standing up from a chair. Squatting clear down on my haunches, that's damn near out, and that's how I used to relax when I was working in the field. I can hold Fat Girl up okay, that's not a problem. But I can't spin and plant my right leg to throw anything. It folds up like a cheap knife. And while I respect the hell out of the Highland Games judges, and I did it a couple of times, I can't holler "MARK" or "FOUL" or the distances now. And besides, my heart wasn't in judging. The athletes and crowd deserve someone who's heart is in it. A good judge makes you a better athlete, that's what they deserve. I'll never throw again, even if I were miraculously cured. Would I go and volunteer? You damn Skippy I would, and will as long as I'm able.
 Since they aren't doing any more reconstructive surgery, my head and neck movement is limited. That's going to limit some of my arm and shoulder movement. All that ties into being a safe rider of Fat Girl. I've taken her out, and will again. But it's dodgy on how safe I feel. I can't whip my head around to see like I should. I can't turn my body to see like I can in the car. And I don't want to miss the guy that can't find me because I hit a blind spot in his door posts. Like I did the biker yesterday. First time that's happened, but Liz didn't see him either. Got lost in the blind spot, scared the shit out of me. I hope like hell THAT never happens again. Jesus. That's also why I wear leather a lot, and don't ride much in shorts, tennis shoes, and tee shirts. Even the most attentive of us might miss one. That still bugs the shit out of me, and will for several days. It's also why I give some people a break. Other's that stop, look right at me, and I know they see me, and still pull out, fuck them. But some folks are genuinely startled and scared when I've blown past them, or screeched to a stall behind them. They honestly didn't see me, even though they were looking.

 Those are the things the fucking cancer has taken from me. It hasn't taken my family and friends. God, I have a lot of friends. They are good folk, one and all, and I'm blessed to have them in my corner. My family is tough, and kind, and very afraid. I can't fix the afraid, I wish that I could. Afraid is bad. Anxious, nervous, worried, those are okay. Afraid not so much. Afraid clouds your judgement and insight. It makes it harder to do the things that need to be done. I think I can help them around that part. They are sad too, and so am I. The fight isn't over, it's just changed arenas. It's way more personal now than it was. I've still got faith. Maybe it's a different direction than it was before, but it's there.

 So, here it is: "I am the Master of My Fate; I am the Captain of My Soul". The last two lines of "Invictus". Very telling and true. In my case, my fate is up to me in how I live this next part of my life. I've decided to live it as pain free, as illness free, and as personally free as I can make it. I don't quit, I change strategy. In the long run, I win. The cancer can have my body, but it can't have my free will or desire to go on. In the end, when the body goes, so does the fucking cancer. I beat it by proxy. "I die, you die, Baxter, you stupid son of a bitch. You got the body you rat bastard, not me.".
 Captain of my Soul. Yes, yes I am. I steer this soul in the direction it needs to go. Toward strength, hope, faith, and hopefully, leadership for other people facing the same dilemma. I'm not all that brave, but I damn sure am stubborn, and some would say overly confident. I prefer "Humility Challenged". Which ever it is, my will and faith have taken me a long way so far. Maybe that will continue on. In this case I won't mind be told I lied, and didn't die from cancer after all. That kind of liar I can stand to be. I don't think God or man would fault me for that particular dishonesty.

 So, onward we rush. You and I, friends and family, we go forward toward Terminal Velocity. I carry the banner and lead the charge, you all are my army. Together, there isn't anything we can't conquer or vanquish. So we all fight, until Valhalla calls me up, and in that moment, I hope I'm deemed worthy.


  1. Again, well stated, Rock. Apache is a great company. They have the integrity to acknowledge the quality person that is you.

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