I flew to Washington, DC today. Again. It’s what I do. Working for Hooah, I get the opportunity to fly up here a couple of times each month. I work with my clients, my team, and enjoy a town I love dearly. This week, I am lucky enough that my lovely wife, Carey, is able to join me.
We barely made the shuttle from the terminal to the rental car counter at DCA. The shuttle was full, but Carey managed to find a seat. I was stuck standing at the front of the bus, holding the overhead rail and standing directly in front of a seated man in his 40s.
As I stood there, waiting for the bus to depart, I felt a tap on my hand. The man seated next to me was trying to get my attention. I couldn’t really hear what he was saying because of the background noise (side effect of chemotherapy, I have lost some of my hearing). He pointed at his neck and was looking at me. I assumed I had food, or a booger, on my neck so I smiled wanly and wiped my neck self-consciously.
The stranger shook his head and spoke louder, “How did you get that scar?”
For a second, I was nonplussed. He was the first person to ask me about my scar in a long time. It has mostly faded from the ugly red eyesore it used to be, but it is still plainly visible. Most people politely ignore it and I get a small measure of satisfaction for looking “tough.” Anyway, I was so unprepared for the question that I started to answer “squamous cell carcinoma,” the cancer I have, when I realized that most people have no idea what that means. I managed to get “squamous” out of my mouth before I caught myself and just simply said “cancer.”
It turns out that cancer was very much on this man’s mind. He had found a lump while shaving in his neck very similar to “Lenny the Lymph Node” that was my first sign of cancer. He was very calm, but I saw the same look in his eyes that I had when I first realized I had a lump; I hoped it wasn’t cancer, but I was afraid I already knew that it was.
This man, this stranger, may be about to start on the same journey I went through. The same uncertainty, the same fear. I am not even remotely unique in my journey, thousands of people have tread this path before me, but when I was first diagnosed I felt alone and despondent. I had no one to turn to; I didn’t want to turn to strangers with senseless platitudes. I didn’t want family to struggle with the right things to say to me. Even at my oncologists’ office I never saw another patient my age or with my particular cancer. I never saw a man with a scar on his neck like mine; I never had the opportunity to ask or find someone who had gone through what I was about to go through.
I really, really hope that it’s just a cyst or some other benign mass in his neck, but you never can tell until you get it biopsied or scanned. I spent a minute or two describing my plight to this stranger, making sure he saw how positive my outcome has been thus far, and reminding him that if it was cancer, it’s much better to catch it early than later and that today’s doctors and technologies can do many many things to battle this fearsome disease.
I gave him my blog URL. I encouraged him to read my blog and reach out to me if he wanted to talk. And then, the shuttle ride was over and we had to go our separate ways. 3 minutes, in a shuttle, and I met a man who was most likely scared for his life, confused and uncertain and needing a friend – and all I had were three minutes to talk to him.
What would you have said if you had only those three minutes? I hope I said the right things. I gave him my blog URL in the hopes that we can strike up a longer, more productive, dialogue later if he needs it.
This blog is for you, sir. If you do stumble on my blog, whether or not you end up having cancer, know that you’re not alone. Please take the time to read my Cancer Blog and, if you want to chat, just leave a comment on any post and I will respond.
Good luck to you.