Nine Hundred Miles: Reactions and Understandings–Three for Three

Third Step of Everest

The “third step” of Mt. Everest


As I said in the last blog, “Nine Hundred Miles: The Second Step,” I didn’t react that much to my diagnosis. In fact, I was somewhat giddy and excited to learn that it was treatable and I should have many more years of life ahead. I told my family first, of course, and they were concerned and supportive and continued to be so the whole rest of the way.

Next I told friends individually and in person if possible. I wasn’t ready to put the news out there on Facebook or in the church newsletter. That would come later.

My news greatly upset the first friend I told. She burst into tears immediately. “I don’t see how you can be so calm about it,” she cried. “It’s cancer and you might die of it!”

“I could,” I said, “but I don’t think that will happen.”

“But it could!” I couldn’t change her reaction (a foolish idea to begin with) and as is so often the case, women are more more in touch with their feelings than men. As a card-carrying guy all my life, I am a poster boy for the slooooow emotional reactions. But one arrived soon enough like a diesel pulling into the station.

Another friend gave me the best advice I received the entire time. “Don’t let this cancer define you,” she told me. You’re not Dan Verner, cancer patient. You are first and foremost Dan Verner, husband, father, son, writer, singer and friend. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.” I remembered her words and they served me well.

The giddiness lasted about a day, and then I crashed. Thoughts arose unbidden to my mind: what if the diagnosis is wrong? What if the treatment doesn’t work? What if the cancer spreads? “What if’s” troubled me for a couple of days, and then I worked through them, remembering my first friend’s reaction grounded in an emotional maturity I have to work hard to find.  Any disease involves loss, and we as human beings grieve losses. But we can dwell on what we have lost, or we can move forward, focusing on what we have and all that we can gain. I struggled up through the dark clouds of my new reality for about a week, and then broke through into the sunlight. My friends helped me achieve that understanding, and so, in the words of my man Gordon Lightfoot, I chose to “press on.”

I remembered my second friend’s advice and focused on family, friends, writing, singing and appreciating the world around me. I took long walks and, as the treatments went on, frequent naps with my cat Nacho, a Certified Writer’s Cat.

And so I got by with a lot of help from my friends.

Next blog: Foursquare–Treatment Begins

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