Posted by: donrhymer | April 4, 2012

Wait, You’re Asking Me?

I had one of those generic, liberal arts educations.

Literature, film and history. Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Applicable to everything, good for actually nothing.

I envisioned a life surrounded by co-eds with my summers free to do as I please. Halfway through my second semester of grad school it occurred to me that marrying a co-ed and going out and getting an actual job – might be the better way to go.

The last three years has made it clear that I should have abandoned English and gotten a medical degree. The fact that I am functionally illiterate in math, science and chemistry notwithstanding – a bit of advanced medical knowledge would be coming in real handy about right now.

You see a certain base level of medical science and treatment is pretty standard. You break your leg, there’s not a lot of debate on how to treat it. You set the leg, immobilize it and give it six to eight weeks to heal. No calling in specialists, no second opinions – pretty cut and dry stuff.

Even early in my dance with cancer the treatment options were pretty standard. Cut it out, radiate it, chemo it. But then it came back time and time again and that’s when things started getting complicated.

I’ve always been uneasy with certain cancer terminology. “Don is battling cancer.” “Don’s fighting cancer.” It just conjures up images of epic struggles. In my head I see Gerard Butler in “300” or Mel Gibson in “The Patriot.” Blood stained warriors waging war with only a loincloth and a hatchet to protect them.

I wish my “battle” with cancer were that manly, but to me it’s much more like a playground skirmish. I’m at recess taking on the biggest bully in third grade. There’s no epic struggle between good and evil just a lot of slapping and rolling around in the dirt, a few tears and screaming for Teacher Debbie to “get this guy off me.”

So even as surgery number five recedes in my rear view mirror more questions arise. There will be extensive pathology and more tests, scans will be poured over and studied. My doctors will suggest, debate and even argue the various options and then they will turn to me and say: “But of course it’s all up to you.”

Now I know the 70’s and 80’s brought about a revolution in “patient rights.” We began to take control of our own care. Stepping up and deciding for ourselves how we would be treated. But I gotta tell you when a combined seventy-five years of advanced medical science looks at me and says: “But of course, it’s all up to you.” It’s all I can do not to scream: “So, the brilliant medical mind we’re depending on here… is ME?”

I want to remind them that I’m an idiot. Oh sure, if they wanted to discuss the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald or debate the second act turning point in the film they saw last night –  I’m the guy. But people – I write bird poop jokes for a living.

But decisions will get made, and we will charge ahead, feeling our way somehow.

I just hope Teacher Debbie gets here soon and she better damn well be carrying a fistful of band-aids.

“And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”



  1. Don,
    You write like a pro. Oh wait . . . you ARE a pro. Even if you do write about bird poop. Your sense of humor seems to be entertainingly intact.

    Glad that #5 is behind you and that you even feel like writing.

    You are in my heart and my prayers.

  2. Don — there may be some unknown connection between surgery and wordsmithing (is that even a word?). It’s a miracle that throughout all of this you have retained your wonderful and caustic sense of humor. You are an inspiration and i know you WILL win this battle.


    David T. Friendly

  3. Don, I work with your sister Kelly. She is a dear and I love having her here with me in the office. We share not only our own “battle with cancer” stories, but the same sarcastic sense of humor about life in general. I hope everything goes really well for you. Your little sister loves you a lot and we are both praying for your speedy recovery. Elaine

  4. It’s always confusing when doctors use words such as “refractory”, “de novo”, and “idiopathic”. In order not to reveal my stupidity, I just nod my head and try to offer a look that conveys I understand. That’s not a good strategy for you, so force one of those brilliant minds to set the best course of treatment.

    Thanks for all the good stories. You do that so well.

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