Giving yourself cancer does not do much for your self-image. I don't even have the will to call one of those 1-800 lines to see if I can join their class-action suit.
Should the bill come due, I will have to pay.
During those first days of chemo, with my mind racing at its manic pace, I became obsessed with the thought I had to do something, that I needed to tell them! Cigarettes will kill you!
Even in my manic state, my brain found a way to process the fact that, um, people pretty much know that already. But I did have an idea that might have legs.
What if we were to make a documentary about my treatment. Allowing people to watch me suffer could have value.
If they were to see what I'm being forced to endure, surely that could convince someone, somewhere not to smoke.
Even if it were just one person, knowing that we've saved a life would make it all worth it. It became, at least in my mind, too important not to do.
The written words -- this journal -- became a secondary endeavor in my mind. I know all too well that the reading habits of the American public have gone to crap. I thought I would keep a journal and then patch something together from the notes to publish in the paper or maybe even release the journals verbatim online, where they would likely be ignored.
But a documentary could have value. After all, people now have 15,000 channels to watch on their 90-inch TVs. They can choose to watch a billion online videos, a half billion of which do not have cats in them.
Let’s make a snuff film of sorts starring Mark With Lung Cancer. Let’s call it … “High Noon EMT” (Electronic Martyrdom Time).
My bosses embraced the idea and assigned Lynn, the talented and complicated videographer/photographer I had requested.
I asked for Lynn because I knew her best of the videographers on our staff. We’d worked and partied together in the early 1980s at the News-Herald in Willoughby. In the years since, we had become work acquaintances residing on different branches of the journalism tree.
Over the next four months, she got an eyeful. She stood on legs of steel in an operating room for four hours as a surgeon sliced and diced my left leg. She tracked me traveling back and forth to the loo dragging my IV pole during chemo. She pointed the video camera at me as I cried.
There is a large amount of unedited footage that is languishing somewhere on a computer. I’m guessing at least 100 hours.
And what will become of it? "Nothing" is the likely answer. Oh, well.
Edited properly, I still believe it could have been an effective tool that the American Lung Association or American Cancer Society could have used to scare off future and current smokers.
Just one life. That’s all I wanted to save. One puny life.
Lynn at least had the opportunity to meet the guardian angel who accompanied me on some of my trip through Cancer Land. Her name is Jeannie Hamker. She is the primary nurse for my radiation oncologist, Dr. Greskovich.
All Clinic employees are required to wear identification badges with their photos on it. I could not help but notice the woman on Jeannie’s ID badge was not her; or at least not her today. That woman had darker hair and weighed at least 100 pounds more than the small, trim woman standing before me. She seemed quite proud when I pointed out the difference.
While it might have been Dr. Greskovich sitting behind the wheel of The Big Machine, it was Jeannie waiting in the pits in her flame-retardant nurse’s uniform, poised to deal with the damage Big Machine had wrought. And she we warned me there would be damage.
Early on, I asked her how she could cope, day after day, with the seriously ill and dying. Her answer buoyed me.
“It’s easy,” she said “They do so much more for me than I could ever do for them.”
With that, we both had a little cry.
And it was Jeannie who provided me with the credo that I embraced all through treatment.
“You’re a man, and you’re used to being in control,” she said to me in a stern but motherly tone that demanded my attention. “You need to forget that. You're not in control any more.
"You need to leave all of this in the hands of God and the doctors.”
And that’s what I did. I became the most compliant patient on the planet. Some thought that absurd. Me? Compliant? I have a long history of rebelliousness.
But if the the docs had told me to put on a hula skirt, coconut breasts and stand on my head twice a day for 15 minutes, I’d have happily done it. I want to live.
So I followed her advice. I relinquished control and it seemed to work.
Thank you, Jeannie.