Normal, Explosion, Adaptation
I recently finished a class called Narrative Concepts and Development. In this course, we learned how to structure a story and recognize familiar patterns seen in most movies and television shows – a time-tested formula of storytelling that just works. These types of stories use the following three segments: Normal. Explosion. Adaptation.
A man wakes up every day at 6 AM. He takes his dog outside and starts a pot of coffee. He showers and brushes his teeth. He eats a quick breakfast, says goodbye to his family, and drives to work. But one day, while brushing his teeth, he spots his dog burrowing under the fence. He throws on a pair of pants and runs outside, but the dog has run down the street. He hops in his car – it doesn’t start. His dog is gone, and he starts the journey of searching for the dog.
I just outlined the normal and explosion dynamics of a story. When I woke up early on a Friday morning in September 2022, it was like any other day. I would let Finn out around 3 AM every day. He was dealing with lymphoma and needed frequent bathroom breaks. On this day I decided to use the restroom as well since I was up. But when I went to the restroom, I noticed something odd. My right testicle was noticeably larger than normal.
I won’t recount the entire story again – I feel like I’ve written about this at length – but things moved very quickly. I was rushed off to a different clinic to do an ultrasound, then days later had surgery, with countless tests and follow-ups to come. My normal was destroyed. The explosion disrupted everything in my life.
I lived in the explosion for a year. After my first scans post-surgery, I was told I would need to undergo chemo. Mentally I prepared for this, but then just days later I was told that chemo was off the table. Instead of being overjoyed, I was frustrated. I saw chemo as a way out, a finality, and now it was being taken away so I could…what? Wait? From December 2022 until about two weeks ago, I was frustrated and fighting, rebelling against doctors’ orders in search of peace.
The explosion ruined things for me. I felt like I was not a true cancer patient without additional treatments. I felt pain and guilt at the loss of friends who succumbed to the disease. I felt uneasy because for a while my medical team didn’t know what to make of me. And this summer when I did a PET scan that showed potential for cancer spread, I just sort of went numb.
In my numbness I still learned a valuable lesson – it is unhelpful to compare medical stories with other people. I caught my cancer early and without incident. I learned to love that about myself and to be thankful for this fact. The truth is that I probably still have it in my body. It just isn’t growing and that’s good. I want to keep it that way. But to compare my story to someone else isn’t fair to either of us. I caught mine early and it worked out. Others catch it early and it doesn’t. It’s a toss-up. I’m a lucky man.
Therapists and friends gave me methods to ease my mind. Sitting alone and praying helped, as did meditation. Other forms of therapeutic thinking helped. Running, too. All of these played a part in helping me accept the adaptation phase.
After the most recent scans, my doctor told me to be happy. My blood work showed that I was incredibly healthy. My scans still showed the lymph nodes, and yes they are still enlarged, but not any bigger than before. That was great news. I decided to take her advice and be happy. I decided to actually be the positive person I want to be instead of merely trying to seem positive.
The man fixed his fence. He made posters and posted online for help. He organized a search team. He combed the streets for three days with a community that decided to come together for the benefit of their neighbor and his dog. On the final day of the search, he found his friend in a field, limping but alive. He took his dog home and nursed him to health. The pup now needed a set of stairs to climb onto the bed, but that was a small price to pay. They adapted, and they were both happy.
That’s the third act of a story, adaptation, and that’s where I am. Right now I have peace. I am happy and thankful. I am fine with whatever happens next, or whatever doesn’t happen next. I am living my life as if I don’t have cancer. If and when it comes back, I’ll be ready. I’m going to remain vigilant and recognize when issues arise, but not live in fear.
On a different note, tomorrow is day one of Movember. I will be shaving my face and growing a mustache, but also will try to post more frequently throughout the month. I will be posting links to give to different organizations if you feel like donating:
The first is Movember, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing men’s health issues (such as depression and other mental illnesses as well as testicular cancer) to the forefront, and the other is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude does incredible work for children and their families who are dealing with cancer.
I may add more donation options as well as the month moves along. I hope you will join me this month in supporting these great charities. Thanks for all of your support!
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