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The I'm not Crying, But I might be Dying sure-fire Diet Plan, Pt. 1

Over the last couple of months I have lost twelve pounds going through what I, at varying times, have considered an unnecessarily cautious to tremendously frightening period. In short, I thought I was dying. Yes, to be totally honest and not soften the point, that is the no bullshit truth. Obviously, realistically, we are all on this earth breezily accessing two sections of an hour glass as sand continuously runs out of one end and into the other. Thanks to varying measures of spiritual and / or man-made efforts, occasionally, fate allows us to push some grains back into the top half of the glass from which our lives began their withdrawal. Inevitably, however, there is only so much dirt we are allotted to shovel, sweep, pile and shape in terms of the debits and credits we spend called time.

Okay, upon quick reflection, all the above sounds a bit too philosophical to express how I felt and what I wanted to relay; I thought I was dying and I was scared to death. Yes, that's more like it. I was a deer looking at headlights. It was not that we all eventually wind up at the same place or it's an "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" endgame, anyway; my body gave me signals that my mind translated into undeniable symptoms of cancer, more specifically, Lymphoma. Excellent research skills and a brain molded by years and years of acting and writing to recognize the drama in any potential situation had crafted a biopic starring me. After decades of smiling and laughing broadly on the outside, but moaning sadly and passionately on paper and to close friends that joy in life had largely passed me by, I suddenly found myself shocked to think it might be over quick, fast and in a hurry.

So now, Chris, you've written two paragraphs on how and what you felt, but you still haven't shared why. I've always possessed a crazy actor / writer / director sensibility to mentally step back and observe, evaluate and try to "capture" an experience so I could use it in a future role or story; even now, at this moment, that approach is hard to avoid as I attempt to believably share a reality I couldn't believe was happening to me...

About 2 pm on April 10th, as I was being treated to a late lunch by social studies teacher Margaret Land, after I had delivered a marathon of five consecutive 40 minute presentations Mrs. Land had asked me to deliver to her Plum Point Middle School eighth graders on Maryland Black history, I rested my chin in my right hand as we conversed about her students, my work and our lives in general. I felt a somewhat enlarged oval area just under by jaw line. The shape and size reminded me of innumerable times I had had swollen glands when I was a child. These occurrences had always been sure signs of an impending sore throat, cold, or worst case, a bout of strep throat. I had first noticed a slight growth in this exact spot a week earlier to the day as I sat in attendance at the 7th Annual Symposium on African American history symposium held in Goucher College's, Merrick Hall.

Plum Point Middle School Maryland Black History Presentation

Photo by Darwin Weigel • Plum Point Middle School Maryland Black History Presentation

A few more days passed and the swelling remained, grew larger even, and still there was none of the pain or discomfort I had come to expect. Mental discomfort, however, had started to creep in. A few different factors spurred me to begin scouring the internet for information about my condition after what was now only about a week and a half of puzzlement and both had to do with my father. He had passed away in April of 2010 from what, posthumously, I discovered to be an advanced case of prostate cancer. Upon cleaning out our father's office, my brother and I found a letter from his doctor that included the results of an October 2009 blood test. Our, to all appearances, healthy 78 year old dad had a PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) level above 200 whereas the healthy range is between 1 and 4. Based on this diagnosis, there was a recommendation in the letter suggesting that a surgical removal of his prostate would have a high chance for success. Unfortunately, my brother and I never knew this because our father never shared this finding with us and, sans operation, six months later he was gone. Twelve years earlier, after a horrible six months of failed diagnoses while watching our father's entire neck area below his jaw swell completely from ear to ear, a Howard University doctor aspirated a small section and found it to be the result of stage 2 to 3 Lymphoma. This time, however, my brother and I were fully aware of the situation and supported our father through a successful surgery and ultimately cancer-free recovery period that required the complete removal of his lower salivary glands and six weeks of chemo therapy. Two things my father's experiences showed me were that Lymphoma was a part of my medical DNA and that if I should ever believe myself to be stricken with it, I should be proactive.

So every day and every night, I was on the internet at home and at work searching to find reasons why I did or did not have Lymphoma. The first and worst symptom that led me to believe that I did was because the swollen gland in my neck did not hurt, apparently a key warning sign for this form of cancer; as horrible and uncomfortable as my father's growth appeared over the 6 month period, it never caused him pain. Accordingly, I called my primary physician (whom, ironically, I had just seen in late March for a semi-annual checkup and been declared A-OK) to schedule an appointment to have this checked. The earliest date would be more than a month away. This time frame concerned me; not only because of the wait, but as it meant I would have to endure my growing state of anxiety throughout an entire trip to Texas for a speaking engagement. For a few days I tried to rationalize that the wait would be fine because, ultimately, I did feel healthy and I had just completed a positive health examination. Gradually, however, every symptom I read about one day, already was, or became another sign I was exhibiting by the next.

(End of Part One)

Chris Haley - 7/4/2013 1:41 PM

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