RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Are there three scarier words a person can hear than, “You have cancer”?
There probably are, and I won’t speculate on them, but for me, when I heard those words a couple months ago, I was conflicted. For years I’d been telling people, “Health is wealth,” feeling like I was still in my 30s — how could this be?
For years, it’s been me chatting with cancer patients and cancer survivors, or telling our readers about someone who succumbed to the “big C.” Now I was on the other side.
Fortunately, this tale has a happy ending: I am cancer-free of what was reported to me as “Stage 3 colon cancer,” although I have a regimen of chemo awaiting me, but no radiation.
As scary as those three words were, there was a lot that went along with this prognosis.
I had been short of breath when out on a walk, had spells of vertigo and what the legendary Cosmo Kramer referred to as the “jimmy leg,” although to our medical professionals, that’s known as a leg cramp. To me, it was having my legs basically taking turns suddenly “jumping” when I was trying to sleep.
My eye doctor surmised I had anemia, and he turned out to be right.
This strange chapter in my life involved: a long-overdue physical exam, a stress test, two MRIs, two CT scans, a colonoscopy — incomplete because of a blockage, an infusion of iron and then, early on the morning of April 7, surgery at Presbyterian Hospital in downtown Albuquerque.
That lengthy procedure — I went “under the knife” around 7:30 and wasn’t back into a recovery room till 5 p.m. — resulted in the removal of a 7-centimeter tumor from my colon. The pathology confirmed it was cancerous, but the surgeon was confident she’s gotten all of it.
I’ve since learned that colorectal cancer is the second-most common cancer in the U.S., striking 140,000 people annually and causing 60,000 deaths. It can occur at any age, but more than 90 percent of the patients are over the age of 40.
I spent two nights in the hospital and couldn’t wait to get out, after being hooked up with an IV and other tubes and unable to get much sleep. Nurses always seem to check your vitals as you have just fallen asleep.
Fortunately, I never was in any real pain, although it was uncomfortable to get into a seated or standing position after lying on my back, which continued for a few days as I recovered at home. I was relegated to a low-fiber diet as my innards healed and the plumbing began working right again.
I had initially been told four to six weeks for recovery, but I was optimistic I could do it in four — and took aim at returning to my desk at the Observer on May 4, which I did.
It’s ironic, I’ll never forget, that I’d had such a great 2019: Being in a dugout during the Colorado Rockies exhibition game at Isotopes Park, chatting with Pete Rose, enjoying a memorable vacation in Nevada, attending the Trump Rally (a career highlight because of the excitement at the Star Center, as I am officially an independent), being inducted into the Rio Rancho High School Sports Hall of Fame, seeing legendary Union Pacific steam locomotive 4014 (a 4-8-8-4, for those of you who understand that) and being at the Rio Rancho-Cleveland high school state championship football game.
I guess it’d be unrealistic to expect 2020 — “Hindsight is 50-50,” I say — to be as much fun.
Having started this tale with three words, I’ll close it with three more — and you know who you are that need to heed it: “Get a colonoscopy.” I waited too long: Don’t do as I did.)