Richard Russo has a new novella out. “Interventions.” If you don’t know Richard Russo you should, because if Richard Russo wrote a shopping list it would probably be one of the better things you read all year.
I finished it at the beach this weekend, far from the water, on my front porch underneath a slathering of sunscreen and a stiff umbrella to protect my Erbitux glow. As it turns out, it’s about a dude who finds out he has cancer.
Anyway, the main character is talking about his father who refused to go to the hospital because – the bastards take your pants: “Never let the bastards take your pants, because bare-assed men don’t get to make decisions.”
Yes, it’s funny, and oh so true because Russo is right… this is what cancer does. Slowly and surely and then all at once, the bastard takes your pants.
It methodically strips you… of pounds, of hair, of white blood cells, of clear skin, of control, of dignity… it scars you inside and out until one day you look in the mirror and you’re not quite sure what, or who, you’re looking at.
I have written several times about my uneasiness and disconnection with all the “fight cancer” terminology, but when I read this passage it finally became clear to me. I’m not fighting cancer; I’m fighting for control of my pants.
You see, I can’t control the disease. I can lean on my doctors, endure the treatments, pray for the best, but after that… it’s out of my hands. All I can control is my pants. All I can control is my reaction to the mystery and chaos of it all.
But that’s a struggle we all share. At various times in everyone’s life, the world appears to conspire against us… physically, financially, relationally, spiritually… it wants to take your pants. It wants to strip you, control you, tell you what to think, what to feel, it wants you to give into your darkest fears, to believe the reflection in the mirror is somehow, not really you.
As I stumble through chemo cycle number five, number six looms ahead in a week or so and then recovery. I don’t know what happens after that. More scans, more decisions, more things I can’t control.
But one thing I can control, maybe the only thing… the bastards aren’t getting my pants.
Don’t let them get yours either.