Al Batt: Three years have gone by like 1,095 days

Published 10:12 pm Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


I looked for signs in my wife’s burnt toast at 4 a.m., but was unable to discern any.

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I couldn’t enjoy a slice of toast disguised as peanut butter as I was fasting as required by a clinical trial appointment.

Three years ago, just when I’d reached a comfortable cruising altitude, I was diagnosed with cancer. That concentrates the mind. Sometimes, it seems as if the majority of the people I know have or have had cancer. It’s a case of what psychologists call the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon or frequency illusion. You’ve experienced it when you bought a car. Your brain takes note of your new car and alerts you when it sees another like it. This confirmation bias affirms that your car is suddenly ubiquitous, when it was around long before you noticed it so often.

No one’s high school graduating class votes a member as most likely to get cancer. I’ve heard most things get better by themselves. Cancer isn’t one of those things. Medical professionals warned me I’d have difficult days ahead. They couldn’t leave well enough alone as I wasn’t well enough to leave alone. Molly Ivins said that having cancer was massive amounts of no fun. Cancer cured me of ever judging anyone in a waiting room. I had surgeries, a few hospital stays and abundant chemotherapy. Most of us get our medical education the hard way. The surgeon was a serious fellow. His job wasn’t to keep people in stitches. His job was to keep stitches in people. On a good day, I felt like an old bruise that had become a piñata. I became skin and bones and a walking stick, but I set no records. Many of you have had it much worse.

I had insurance, but as I walked in a gown, I discovered I wasn’t fully covered. Hospitals are better at covering their own behinds than covering those of their patients. I learned one thing you don’t want to hear in a hospital is, “The gown is supposed to open in the back.”

I found strength in the words of Samuel Beckett, “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Family, friends, nature, books and writing filled the space where worry wanted to live. The thickness of those relationships helped. Each day, I wrote about the things I was excited about. I filled countless pages and I left out a lot.

A well-meaning man told me, “You have cancer? You’ll want to be careful with that.” A nice woman gave me a St. Peregrine coin. St. Peregrine is the patron saint of those suffering from cancer. I picked up another one at the Steele County Free Fair. I carry one always.

Every six months, I head to the Mayo Clinic for an action-packed day of testing. I become a hermit crab carrying a shell that is my health insurance card.

Trained professionals surveyed all my subdivisions. “Right up my alley” took on a new meaning. I told them to be gentle searching for my inner beauty as I’m a screamer.

On my last clinic visit, I knew some of the medical professionals and someone who runs an art gallery there, but other than that, I encountered no one I knew. That was a blessing. I’m happy to see familiar faces, but it’s nice not seeing them in the cancer treatment area.

I did TV shows for several years; now I watch myself on the clinic monitors as tests are done. My insides flashed by the camera — an adventure series, I guessed. A sister-in-law said the video caught my best side.

There is no end zone celebration dance yet. I practice Tapleyism when dealing with medical problems. It was named after Mark Tapley, a character in Charles Dickens’s “Martin Chuzzlewit” who was extremely optimistic. When I had a tough day, I counted my blessings often. Some folks keep a blessing jar. Whenever they recognize a blessing throughout the year, they write it on a piece of paper and stick it in the jar. They dump the jar out at the year’s conclusion and read them. I can’t do that. I’d fill a jar daily. Thornton Wilder wrote, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” I couldn’t have made it without my wife.

We are all broken. I wish you all good things and know that just as flowers grow back after being stepped on, so will you.

I hope you are going great guns.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.