After a couple of months of tests, innumerable blood samples, today I began treatment for my recently diagnosed cancer. I find many parallels to when I committed myself to a detox center for alcoholism in 1984. Perhaps the greatest similarity is the hope of moving into a recovery process. I remember being in detox with a copy of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, the only entertainment in those first couple of days. I skipped the early sections and went straight to the chapter A Vision for You. I distinctly remember a line in that chapter about how AA’s goal was to make addicts functioning members of society. Although my brain was fogged by the anticonvulsant dilantin all new patients received, I remember reading that line over and over and realizing that was the recovery I sought.
This morning I sat in the Infusion Center at Touro Infirmary here in New Orleans. I received my first injection of Xgeva to help prevent spinal compression fractures and to harden and slow the deterioration of my bones. This will become a monthly process, complete with a blood sample two days before to decide if my calcium level is suitable to receive the injection.
The visit included much intake information about everything from my physical condition to mental state and did I have thoughts of suicide. The latter discussion caused a well of emotion in me as I reflected how my suicidal tendencies and half-hearted attempts early in life had not surfaced in over 30 years of sobriety. I explained to the oncology RN the liberation I found in sobriety. She asked about my support network and contrary to my relative isolation in my 1984 detox, I smiled and simply noted that I could not ask for a better support network than I have today. I am truly embraced and lifted up by so many.
After setting more follow-up appointments with a nutritionist and my oncologist to decide the treatments that will likely include rounds of chemotherapy, I rode to my physical therapy appointment at the Touro Rehabilitation Center on St. Charles Ave. (As an aside, I was pleased they actually have bike racks where I can lock my ride.)
At the rehab center, I tell my story again to my new physical therapist and fill out more forms. And once again, I draw on my AA recovery experience to express the goals that I want to set. I note that in my alcohol recovery, I always tried to stay somewhere in a safe middle ground. I was not someone who tempted fate by hanging out in bars, nor was I someone whose life never got beyond the walls of an AA meeting room. In the same way now I wanted to maximize physical recovery stemming from my bike wreck this past spring, recognizing that I am 65 years old with a cancer diagnosis but I do not intend to sit at home afraid to move. The therapist got that and went to work.
As in the detox center of 1984 where an attitude of gratitude was infectious among all the staff, so to the cancer recovery team at Touro are truly incredible. They are knowledgable, kind, efficient, and just a bunch of really pleasant folks who already laugh at my very bad jokes and sense of humor. And we will all be seeing a lot of each other in the coming months – it seems I will have some sort of medical appointment at least three times per week for the coming period.
And like there was the initial euphoria that came with being sober, followed by living life on life’s terms one-day-at-a-time upon release, so too, I have to assume that chemotherapy, and living with cancer will bring challenges I can not yet appreciate. But as I have written before, my past 30 years of recovery from alcoholism has been the perfect training ground for what is to come. I am truly blessed and at peace.