Tag Archives: surviving cancer

Rodeo has enhanced my life—a cancer therapy digression

I swear out there ain`t where you ought to be / So catch a ride, catch a cab / Don`t you know I miss you bad / But don`t you walk to me / Baby run…. 

–George Strait

This is Taylor Swift singing her favorite George Strait song: Run

Consider the performance a teaser not on the importance of country music. Personally I love Mozart (five instruments or fewer).  I love country; I love what is happening to country music.

Here and now, I am trying to prepare you for my appreciation of the influence rodeo–yes rodeo–has had on my life.

++++

Consider the following first two paragraphs from a column I published February, 2011:

“The handler applies the fully charged cattle prod to the rear of a bull bred for ferocity. The cowboy—Slim really is his name—holds onto his hat with his left hand. In his right hand are the reigns, two strips of leather held on tightly at first, but capable of falling apart to help the rider jump away from the bucking bull to safety after the regulation eight second ride is complete.

“The maximum score is 100 points; 50 for the rider and 50 for the bull. A mean angry bull is the most desirable because he gives the rider the opportunity to make the most money. This bull is mean. When the bull jumps higher after the cattle prod, Slim smiles with optimism. The gate leading to the ring fails to open. Historically, when the gate sticks, a confined maddened bull has been known to break both legs of a rider. Slim, who attended rodeo schools, is aware of the danger.As a reporter at the World Series of Rodeo at Oklahoma City (before it moved to Los Vegas), I am sitting next to the handlers on the inside wooden planks of the chute. It took considerable effort to get permission to be this close to Slim—close enough to watch his pupils dilate into huge ovals displaying a fear he cannot disguise. The lead handler asks Slim if he would like to wait 20 minutes before beginning the ride. Slim nods him off. The gate opens.

“Sometimes it is prudent to know when to give up.”

++++

Later in this posting I will explain how I came to be sitting on the edge of the bull shoot watching the electric prod holder pressing his instrument against the mean bull’s huge hide and watching the fear in the bull riders eyes when he realized he was trapped with a maddened bull with the door to escape locked? What did I learn from that?

++++

Orientation note: I know I am missing something here. It feels as if I lost my car keys and am frantically rummaging through my stuff looking for the keys. Of course, what I am looking for here is some context.

Why is Joel [I am now going back and forth first to third person in describing myself clearly split in some way] writing about rodeo?

He just had cancer.

Doesn’t Joel have better things to do but type away words and words and words about the time he covered the World Series of Rodeo for a solid week of

  • Bull riding
  • Bronco riding
  • Roping
  • Barrel racing
  • Fervid pro-rodeo rhetoric
  • Groupies up from Dallas just waiting
  • a near-fight in the Gusher Club when the World Series Champion of Rodeo five years in a row nearly punched me for lifting the Champion’s $560 hat off the chair I wanted to sit on. It was a close call. “Never, ever touch my hat,” he said convincingly.

++++

Here is the Prologue Joel [that’s me] failed to provide on his way of introducing his rodeo theme.

++++

I have been thinking about my life. Next month I will be 66:

  • What have I accomplished?

  • What is left to be done?

For me the key to surviving cancer was the knowledge that I could not die because there was work to be done. The first cancer would not let me die because I had a book to finish under contract and my publisher would kill me if I defaulted. Nor would I have been alive to conceive my elder daughter Joanna.

If I died after the second cancer, I would not have had the opportunity to watch Joanna grow until next month when she will marry.

I am especially delighted that she is marrying Jade.

If I had died from the second cancer, I would not have been alive to conceive my younger daughter Amelia Altalena.

Amelia and I will see each other at the wedding after the cancer awfulness became successful surgery to remove the death threat of kidney cancer–an operation less than a month ago from which I am slowly getting better. Slowly.

Certainly, expert medical treatment and good odds were essential. I had the best medical care available during a period when advances were occurring rapidly and I was as close to those advances as possible.

++++

It is late during a very long day during which I made arrangements to attend Joanna’s wedding outside a horse barn in Mebane, North Carolina. I have been writing this posting automatically in the middle of serious stuff I am dealing with. For example, I have not yet recovered fully from major surgery and my mind does not have the attention span it once had. I find I am writing several things at the same time, saving the document, going away for a while.

When I went away for a while this morning, I saw George Strait play Amerilla.

I thought of the rodeo and what it meant to me. Sadly, I cannot leave you with more lessons learned and appreciation of rodeo, not to mention my life. I will return to rodeo. Do not you worry. I have a bad reputation for straying from the beaten path.

You can depend on it.

–30–

Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

Here  is the first stanza from George Strait song Amarillo, the best cowboy song ever written.

Amarillo By Mornin’ / Up from San Antone / Everything that I got / Is just what I’ve got on ./ When that sun is high in that Texas sky, /  I’ll be buckin’ at the county fair.”

How do I feel?

I do not feel real. There is a disconnect between my body, which does not feel good, and my mind, which does not feel good.

It is six in the morning. I am listening to Chopin’s Nocturnes; I am beginning to be not unhappy, but capable of realizing happiness will come.

My body feels as if it were hit by a Mack Truck—a brand new red truck exactly like the one friend Philip Moery and I saw just as it was driving off the assembly line lot–packing tons of raw power, initially a frightful yet beautiful sight.

All right, maybe the truck that hit me wasn’t red, but it still hurts.

Everything hurts.

++++

Amelia_Russo Office

++++

The fact that everything hurts is mitigated by the fact that I am no longer in excruciating pain the way I was two weeks ago.

The pills helped but not enough.

I took more pills and they did not help enough.

The pills caused my gastrointestinal system to go on strike—descriptions I will spare you.

++++

Yes, I realized my life had been saved as a consequence of the successful operation that not-so-appreciatively was making me wonder at my sanity to willingly submit to the aftermath of this surgery. Grappling two contradictory thoughts in my medicated head: The first was: I am glad to be alive. The second: I wish I were dead.

The glad to be alive prevailed throughout but sometimes only by a hair.

++++

Now, I am back at State College PA where I live. When I was in New York thinking about State College, I was in dread. The number of procedures required to get from there to here seemed overwhelming. Who, I wondered, was going to take apart my rear wheel drive scooter, my travel scooter, and my wheelchair and put them in the car?

At every step [sic] of the way, there were how-to-get-home questions ultimately only I could answer.

Dewy-eyed optimists might say that my problem solving was commendable because it was helping me reach my goal of saving my life.

Devastated, late in August, the problem-solving took on a distinctly unhappy feel. The problems had to be solved. I did not want to solve them. I had no choice.

++++

Upon arriving at State College, I was so relieved to be home. I had worried that everything with be dirty and a mess (on target), but it did not matter.

I no longer needed to receive permission to go to the bathroom and follow the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge rules requiring that I not bring my coffee from the common kitchen to my room.

Now, I can drink coffee as I type this and go to the bathroom without the nurse’s saying, “No.” No nurse. No No. Alone at last.

++++

Who am I alone? I am a 65 year old paraplegic (an active paraplegic) recovering from major surgery. It will take me two weeks more to recover to the point where I feel alive, an explication I will reserve.

I do not want to see other people. Slowly, I am emerging from this hermitage—going across the street for a quick Mediterranean plate with extra baba ganoush, inviting my friends to see me one-on-one and for a limited time only.

My body is not working well but is getting better. The key barometer to my well-being is the ability to transfer. Before surgery, I leapt out of bed and onto the wheelchair effortlessly.

Now, getting to the wheel chair is harder.

I do not fall.

I am weak.

While I am getting stronger, I really do not want to be outside home much until I master this key factor in being able to take care of myself, viz. transferring as effortlessly as before August 8.

It is happening.

++++

In some ways, I am surprisingly patient with myself.

Take for instance transferring from bed to wheelchair.

I methodically bend down and double check the wheelchair is locked in place.

When I put my left foot on the floor, preparing to swivel into the wheelchair seat, I check and double-check every move.

The consequences of falling; indeed, of falling frequently, is straight to the nursing home—the county home called Centre Crest; I do NOT want to go there.

Part of me is mindful of consequences.

++++

Before I discuss my emotions, which is the primary cause of my writing this posting:

The rank of football-rally-style cancer optimists is distressingly high.

Two apartment buildings where cancer patients recover or die are named Hope Lodge and Miracle House. I would prefer to have my conversations about hope and miracles with God and not  rely on some seemingly uplifting name to keep my spirits up.

This may be one of many unfair observations, which I will not spare you now or later.

Hope Lodge is run by the American Cancer Society and through its generosity provided my caregiver younger daughter Amelia had a place to stay when I was in the hospital and where she could be next to me when I returned to recover.

Hope confronting me everywhere….

One consequence of cancer survivor ebullience is the: Make every day count mantra.

The first every day I was somewhat functional upon my return, I had to fill out overdue forms–lots of forms from trying to obtain money to ensuring my continued employment.

Forms. Forms. Form

Every day I filled out forms I asked myself, not entirely ironically, whether I had survived cancer to fill out forms.

Yes, I realize that after I fill out enough forms, I can scoot to the florist on Allen Street and smell the yellow roses.

Inhale.

++++

I wrote a book about the importance of emotions while surviving cancerhttp://www.joelsolkoff.com/book-store/books/learning-to-live-again-my-triumph-over-cancer/

I know something about the subject.

This time, I prepared to protect myself emotionally and to provide my caregiver(s) with relief, orchestrating pleasant things to do.

Elsewhere, I may detail the preparations. Right now, trust me. I worked long and hard on emotional preparation.

++++

The big surprise to me is that I went crazy after the operation rather than before.

The craziness took the form my issuing barking mean and aggressive orders at my two caregivers, my daughter Amelia and my sister Sarah. I was polite to strangers.

The craziness reminded me of the time 20 years ago at the advice of the Chair of the Oncology and Chair of the Neurology Departments at the Chapel Hill Hospital for the University of North Carolina.

United in their decision both Chairs decided to put me on high doses of steroids to see whether they might restore my ability to walk. They did not think it would work and said so. However, steroids were the “miracle drug of the 1950s” and sometimes steroids have unanticipated positive consequences, so: “Why not? We have nothing to lose?”

Except my mind. I found myself saying terrible and abusive things—words I did not mean and knew I did not mean even before they formed on my lips, but words I was powerless not to utter because THE DRUG MADE ME DO IT.

Last week, I asked a secretary at the Department of Architectural Engineering whether she had a similar experience. “Yes, when my kids were born. I said awful things to my husband. Awful awful things.”

++++

Sarah_close

++++

The craziness appeared in the middle of the night as I was lying in my hospital bed, coughed, and my body felt as if it were split in two.

The craziness appeared as a wave—a fluctuating wave increasing in intensity until it reached a high and unpleasant peak before returning me two days later to reality shaken, not quite mindful of what I had said except that it was THE WRONG THING TO SAY.

++++

My sister Sarah told me on the phone on Thursday her feelings about me when I was crazy. “I knew that you were suffering. Yet you were mean and impossible to be around. I decided I never wanted to see you anytime again soon. If I saw you at your funeral, it would be too soon.”

Daughter Amelia asked: “Why were you so mean to me?”

++++

The expression I am in the dog house comes to mind.

  • I was crazy.
  • I was out of my mind.
  • I did not realize what I was saying when I said it and I did not mean what I said.
  • I had been through extraordinary pressure.
  • I went out of my mind.

My mind has returned.

Forgive me.

I am the brother and father you love.

Remember me?

FrankSinatra

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright © 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.