Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Random Thoughts About Cancer

Sometimes I just do not know what to think about my struggle with cancer. Given that I have endured this evil disease for nearly three years, I have almost become used to it. Dealing with it each day has become a way of life, or death, for me. Daily it leans on me, pushing me toward my grave, and I push back, trying to maintain my shrinking physical beachhead. It is relentless in trying to define what is left of my life by throwing up daily roadblocks designed to gnaw away my remaining life.

I have learned that there are certain things I can no longer do, because my body is not as strong as it once was. I have learned to pace myself through the day. I never run. I walk. I enjoy my afternoon nap, most days, because I need it. I have learned how to get through painful, sleepless nights, which seem to be increasing in number, and I know enough to not even try to do some things I used to do.

I would like to think I am compromising with the disease, but that is only wishful thinking. It always trumps me, eventually. Maybe I win on Monday, but it’s back on Tuesday. It never

lets up. There is no slack and it gives no quarter.

I love building wooden boats. Constructing them differs from building furniture, as the tolerances are not so critical. I like to think that my mortise-and tenon joints, which are basic to quality furniture construction, are accurate to 1/64th of an inch. With a wooden boat, get it

within 1/8th of an inch and you are good to go.

Wood bends; it can be clamped in place, epoxy can be added, or a screw installed to close a gap. Building a wooden boat is stress free, compared to building good furniture.

After much internal debate, I am building another wooden boat, a 13 foot peapod. You can row it or sail it, depending on how you fit it out. The long term problem that I have is that I am in a race with the boat. Completing it will take three to six months. Can I finish it before I am gone? Which of us will win? Me or the boat?

The immediate problem is that I am running out of strength and stamina. It would be funny, if it wasn’t so pitiful. Today, I needed to handplane two pieces of wood for the boat. It used to be that I could do this simple task in just a few minutes. Five or six passes with my exquisitely sharp Stanley No. 4 plane would have made short work of the job.

Not today. It took me almost ten minutes and I was exhausted. I made three or four passes with the plane and I was gasping for air and had to sit down to catch my breath.


So, I moved a chair next to the workpiece and sat down. Five or six more passes and I laid my head on the workbench to rest. A few more passes and I was out of breath again. And so it went, until I finished the task. I got it done, but I was literally exhausted.

I remember once that I had not eaten in three days. I picked up my forty pound backpack and trotted 5 miles through the woods to pick up a 16 foot aluminum canoe, which I then carried by myself for 3 miles on a trail to a river. I paddled with my partner down the river for 12 miles and dropped off the canoe. Then I ran 10 miles through the woods on a compass course, finishing my Outward Bound school. I didn’t even breath hard. I was an animal back then. It was a lark. I may not have been the fastest, but I would never quit and I could go forever.

I remember swimming in college. It was the hardest money I ever made. Six miles a day in
the pool six days a week will turn you into a machine. I weighed 135 pounds and was cold all the
time. This was because I had no body fat. None. I was solid muscle tuned for one purpose--- sprint the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke. I could swim the 50 free in one breath, the one I took off the starting block. Those were the days when I was going to live forever and only other people got cancer.

Now I have to rest my head on my workbench and sit on a chair to accomplish a simple task.

The only thing I can say about the physical challenges confronting me is that I still may not be the fastest, but I am not going to quit, either. Maybe the boat will win and my friend, Brian, will finish it. Maybe I will survive long enough to finish it and sail it across Winona
Lake. Who can know? Time will tell.

Mike out.


  1. I'm betting on you, Mike... janis

  2. Mike,
    My mom and I always enjoy reading your prose. I think about your words often when I think I can't go on - mentally or physically. I think about sitting in the Miami County courthouse with you, listening to you recount the story about when you fell of your mountain bike and had to crawl for help with broken limbs. Your strength was amazing then; it's amazing now. Stay the course.
    Sincerely, Rachel Russell

  3. As long as you have breath, (easily or laboring), you'll have grit. That's just one of the things I admire about you...

  4. Mike - I really don't like boats much and the same goes for bodies of water. Water/Boat prejudice was stamped into my DNA from the fact that my maternal grandfather was a barber.

    Not sure of that thread? Let me continue. He took 2 weeks vacation every summer. My parents who had little money went with my grandparents on vacation. "Vacation" meant five people in a Buick towing a boat from Indiana to Canada to fish. Red Lake was the destination, I believe.

    "Fishing" meant this: @ 0500 hours as a 5 year old you had a choice - stay at the cottage and make clay elephants with grandma, or climb in the boat with everyone and go out on the lake until 2230 hours..."fishing".

    It also meant, that as a 5 year old you were supposed to stay up in the bow of the boat, in the cold wet air, be quiet for 17 hours, not move at all, and watch your line. The only consolation was a box of Sugar Crisp, dry with no milk.

    I chose clay elephants as often as "fishing". My fishing career terminated in 1958 and I have successully, in the main, avoided boats and bodies of water generally since. And I have not fished at all. An additional problem is my inner ear, but that's another story.

    HOWEVER, if you finish the damn boat, if invited, I will go for a ...paddle or ...sail or whatever in a body of water and if you ask me to do so, I will fish.


  5. Mike - I have ruminated over your post since the date of its publication. I've read it so many times, I've nearly committed it to memory. I carry your words with me throughout each day and still cannot find the appropriate words to tell you how much I admire you, how much I wish I'd had the opportunity to meet you and your Lynnie, and how fervently I pray for your healing, dare I say a miracle. Thank you for taking the time and energy to continue to write and to share your struggle with such honesty. Such trust.

    I send you and Lynn my heart.