Learning to Fly


“Once you learn to fly, you’ll never fear falling”. This great line came to me one day while driving to work. I was driving by a Blue Heron nesting area and spotted a nest perched way up on the top of a very large sycamore tree. I felt myself shutter at the thought of falling from that distance. My mind was very quick this morning and I soon found myself reckoning that birds probably are not born with the fear of falling and thus, not afraid of heights. My deep ponderings quickly jumped to how you could apply the same logic from my opening statement to many different things in our own lives.

Last year I got a bit of a taste of death. I cheated death thanks to modern medicine and have staved off the cancer demon for an unknown length of time. As good as my remission is right now, my oncologist gently reminded me that I wasn’t cured (there is no cure for any kind of cancer, only remission) and that new target specific medicines are coming out pretty quickly. The “toolbox” would be pretty full whenever my Leukemia rears its ugly head again.

So now I ‘learn to fly’ with my new set of wings. I must trust that whatever the future holds, it will be accepted and dealt with. I must Live my life free from the fear of “if” and “when”… focus on the flight and not fear falling.

As good as I’ve been feeling as of late, that’s not too hard to do. But then there are the bad days when I seem to get run down and tired doing only about half of what I knew I could do in the past. I can have a strong week or two where I feel like my old self and then…BAM! I hit the wall and just getting out of bed in the morning is a struggle. Pacing myself and being patient has never been my strong suit. I spend time talking to myself and reminding myself of all that I’ve been through this past year. After all, my body fought a major battle and needs some time to get back to ‘normal’.

Another aspect of all of this is my mental state. Near death experiences can be very traumatic. Dealing with my own health scare is daunting enough, but my wife reminded me that I never really had time to grieve the loss of my brother Steve before diving right into my own battle. It was only 3 months after watching my brother take his last breaths and succumb to his hard fought battle with Leukemia that I was told I had the same cancer!

Now that the dust from my own battle is settling, I am finding that the feeling of his loss is close to the surface. I have dreams about him. Sights and sounds pop up in my daily life that shift me back to his bedside as his frail body fought for every breath. As I come out of a year of treatments in a really good remission, I feel a bit of guilt mixed with a lot of sadness. Steve was just a few years too late for these new targeted immunotherapies. If I subscribe to this line of thinking, I can feel guilty walking out of the cancer unit leaving behind people I befriended who are still struggling with their treatments. Compared to some of them, I breezed through! My cancer was ‘easy’ to knock down! But in all reality, there is no ‘easy’ cancer. Cancer is a devastating disease that is very unpredictable and can change (mutate) at any given moment and become an aggressive beast that steals life.

Countless times I have longed to call Steve and discuss my treatment struggles and victories. We would trade stories of our bad days as well as our good. We would trade stories of things that happened at our last treatment. We were very much alike in that we always like to make people laugh. Life can never be too serious to be taken too seriously.

I remember sitting nervously in the waiting area before a painful bone marrow aspiration. The memory of the very first one I’d had a couple months prior was all too fresh in my head. All of the sudden, funny words to a song popped in my head. It was Steve easing my fears. We used to change words to popular songs so what I heard this day was so inappropriate that I started chuckling loud enough for my wife to hear. Remember the song Cheap trick did called ‘My Cherona’? Well, the version that came out of my head was “M,m,m,myeloma”….so inappropriate, yet so funny.

I guess if I analyze openly all that I am feeling, I would have to say there is some anger in there as well. I am angry and hurt that I can’t talk to him. I know he is close and, at times, I have felt his presence (like in the story above). I know he would be proud of me and how well I’ve done in my battle with cancer. So I will ‘fly’ with that and not ‘fall’ into missing him every day…and I won’t ‘fall’ into the thoughts of ‘is the cancer coming back?’ no, I will live, fly and soar!

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