Updated: Jan 2, 2020
Let me start by stating that I had no intention of writing about any of this. First of all, my situation is infinitely better than many, many people battling cancer. My prognosis is promising, the cure rate for my cancer is exceptionally high, and the treatment is mercifully effective. So I would never say that I’m fighting cancer—I’m just dealing with it.
Nevertheless, when my doctor delivered this unexpected news to me a month ago, my world instantly stopped rotating. All my normal thoughts collapsed into themselves and I was thrust into an acute awareness of my mortality. I could feel my heart pumping blood through my body as the doctor explained the situation. At that early stage of the diagnosis, she didn’t know exactly what I was up against. More tests were needed. The doctor’s only parting advice was: “Don’t Google it.”
Of course, that’s exactly what I did when I left her office, which threw me into a tailspin of despair. I was certain I was going to die. Driving home, I wrestled with the news, trying to figure out how exactly I was going to tell my family. On that tedious, tearful ride home, my loved ones were all I thought about. I wasn’t worried about my own wellbeing, or what tests and treatments lay ahead. Rather, I was fully consumed by the crushing thought of them living on without me.
In the background of my mind, I also wondered what I should do now. Do I quit work? Do I plunder my savings to live the rest of my days in fun-hogging hedonism? I’d always pondered what I would do if faced with a moment like this, where time no longer felt infinite. And yet now, even as I could hear the seconds of my life tick away most loudly, a clear answer failed to emerge. All I could settle on was that I wanted to go skiing.
After a whirlwind week of seeing specialists and hatching a plan of attack for my surgery and subsequent treatment, my family packed up the car and headed into the mountains. No matter if the slopes were covered in bulletproof ice or cement slush, I was determined to go skiing before I had to go in for treatment. Something about the control found while skiing felt like a soothing balm to the lack of control that was consuming my life. But even more so, in the pantheon of pleasures, I knew that few activities filled me with more joy than skiing and that medicine was exactly what I needed right now.
If the almighty above was responsible for the cancer that found its way into my body, he or she must have felt pretty bad about it, because the heavens opened up and walloped the mountain with a nearly a foot of perfect powder overnight. I was in line for the first chair before my first sip of coffee that next morning. The rest of the day was an absolute blur. I plundered powder like a barbarian. I skied bell to bell, never stopping, just taking run after run, laughing, hooting, and driving harder for more and more!
There was no room in my brain bucket for fear or sadness. All I could feel was grateful—genuinely grateful to have been given another chance to have this much fun. It occurred to me then that I’d taken this fun for granted in recent years. I’d passed up invitations to hit the hills and slept through powder day alarms. Somehow I lost sight of what a privilege it is to move through the mountains, all at once seized by the present and yet still miles away from reality. Skiing that day begged the question of what other fruits in my life had I not squeezed the very last bit of juice from?
I’m still in the process of dealing with this whole cancer business. I fear that with each step forward, I return to my previous complacency and further away from the realization I found playing in the snow that day. I often stare at the scar from my surgery in the mirror and try to pin it to the fullness of life I felt on that day skiing. I must always remember that the sweet medicine is there, and perhaps I’m telling you about it now, so you don’t forget either.