Now That I Have Cancer...
I Never Have a Bad Day
by John Robert McFarland
I have nauseated days and frightened days. Tired days and hurting days. Long days and short days. Silent days and alone days. Sore mouth days and swollen hand days. Bald days and diarrhea days. Rainy days and sunny days. Cold days and warm days. But no bad days.
Every day with cancer is like a month without it. Cancer has a way of getting your attention. I sometimes say that I lived more in the first month after I found out I had cancer than I did in the previous 53 years. It’s not that the previous 53 were bad years. Some elephant-sized things happened for me in those years. I got married. I fathered and helped raise my children. I made lifelong friends. I worked for good causes. However, those years went by in a blur.
My father-in-law, Earl “Tank” Karr, used to say that after age 40, the days went by at propeller speed. Suddenly you were old, and you didn’t know what had become of the years. Every cancer moment is intense. It makes you focus.
Sometimes it’s the focus that the eyes of a rabbit fix on a fox, the focus of fear, the bunching of muscles to run.
When I say “I don’t have a bad day,” anyone outside of cancer doesn’t understand. They look at me and they say, without words, “It looks bad enough to me.”
Sometimes, though, it’s a focus of longing, of feeling the beauty of life so clearly that you can express it only in words of hyperbole: “Behold, you are beautiful, my love! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead …. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate” (Song of Solomon, chapter 4). Any woman (or man) today would think you’d slipped a gear if you tried that for romance. However, Solomon knew that even though some feelings are so strong they can’t be put into words, you have to try anyway. You have to make it clear that the words you use express the depth of your emotion even though they don’t make sense. Indeed, if they made sense they would only bob up on the surface, not go down deep.
Cancer brings up that sort of emotion about life and thus that inability to say in so many words what life means. When I say “I don’t have a bad day,” anyone outside of cancer doesn’t understand. They look at me, with my puffy lips and my runny eyes and my behind so sore I can’t sit down, and they say, without words, “It looks bad enough to me.”
Of course it’s a bad day, but it’s my day. Every moment is full. There is no time that is idle. Each moment may be filled with fear of nausea or pain, but it is full! That’s why it’s not a bad moment or a bad day.
There’s a story about a man who offered a $10,000 reward for the return of his wife’s pet cat. His friends were astounded, for they knew that he loathed and despised that cat.
“Why are you offering so much for that cat’s return when you hate it so much?” they asked.
“Ah,” he said with a wink, “when you know what you know, you can afford to be extravagant.”
For he knew that he had already drowned and buried his wife’s pet cat!
When you know what you know, you can afford to be extravagant with each moment, living it to the fullest, putting everything you have into that one point in time, because that’s all there is. I know what I know: that it is cancer that is weak and I who am strong. There’s no need to hold back, to save anything for what will come, because all that might come is already here. This is the day that is, my day.
Now that I have cancer, I never have a bad day.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
John Robert McFarland, a colon cancer survivor, has written for more than 40 publications, including Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, the Chicago Tribune, and Midwest Poetry Review. He is also an ordained United Methodist minister. He lives in Sterling, IL.
Excerpted from Now That I Have Cancer I Am Whole by John Robert McFarland, copyright © 2007 by John Robert McFarland, reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2010.