Thursday, March 25, 2010

Life as an eighty year old

Anne Sexton once wrote, "In a dream, you are never eighty." Or maybe it was Sean Hannity. Anyway, it's great insight. I would also like to apply it to what people think of me. You may remember me as being a really annoying, self-centered forty-something with graying hair. Healthy but still really annoying. In a way that's wonderful. I would love to be thought of like that. 

But that person is gone. Now, I am just me. Some of it is hard to look at. My hair is almost all gone now. What's left is white and ragged. My face looks worn. You can see what I've been through by looking at my expression. It's hard to smile even when I am happy. And I am still happy. Also, I'm very skinny. I struggle to keep up a weight of about 160 pounds. When I started this fight I was about 185-190, depending on whether I had a donut before weigh-in. 

Sherri thinks that some of our relationships with friends and neighbors have suffered. We both think that it's hard for people to handle. What do you say to me? So, how is cancer? We think some people just generally stay clear. 

Of those many kind-hearted people who have asked to come over or to just meet up, I really appreciate it. But keep in mind it's hard for me to say yes. You remember me as an annoying forty-year old. When you see me now, you will only see me. And, on my end, I can track the adjustment you make in your head when you look at me. Your mind goes from, "Wow he's changed." to "Man, he looks bad." to "Hide the fact that I said he looks bad. I think I'm going to hell for thinking that." Once again, it's okay. Even if you don't make that adjustment, I think you have or you will sometime later on. When you're driving away, you'll say, "Geez, he looks like crap." 

Kids aren't so sophisticated. Mostly I see it in Conner's friends, probably because boys, like men, are even less sophisticated than women-folks. An encounter usually goes like this:
Kid and Conner come up to me. Kid is looking down.
Kid says hi to me.
Kid has weird look on his face as he looks at me.
Kid looks scared. He sees a monster or at least something he's never dealt with before.
Conner sees none of this. 
Conner makes a joke or comment.
Kid gets away in a hurry.
I think to myself, "God bless Conner." Either he's accepted the fact that his dad isn't like other dads--strong, somewhat handsome, not so ashen. Or he doesn't see it. Either way, it is to be admired. Some people say I'm strong. Try being a pre-teen and you have to introduce your friends to your dad, the sunken-eyed, ashen-faced circus freak. 

I blame nobody for avoiding me or making a face or anything. It's only cancer's fault. In fact, I'll even give you some tips on how to act with me. I might be different from other people with cancer so only apply this to me.

First, ask me anything. What does it feel like? Can I touch it? Is your poop still backed up? Anything. Since I'm dealing with it 24/7, I have a lot in me and would love to pour some out. Just like my poop.

Second, it's okay if you say I look like shit. I do. You're just being honest. Although some of you would disagree, I never really cared what I looked like as long as I didn't look too much like a dork. Average was fine with me. Got me through college. So I don't feel bad for looking so bad. What I feel bad about centers around my kids and wife. I don't want them to think they live with a Thing. I don't want Conner to hate me for being sick. Many of us admire our dads. It's hard to admire a guy who lays around in a blanket all day.

Third, understand my body changes on a minute to minute basis. I might feel well and then a node tells me he's still there, alive and well. So I have these tics now. Also, I may get tired and cancel out on something at the last minute. It's weird. I hit these walls. One second I'm fine and then wham, I just want to lay and stare.

Fourth, take it easy on my wife and kids. They live with me. It's my wife's birthday today. Every day I wish I could give her a normal husband. But today I had to settle for candy, a gift card and a phone charger. Romantic, right? She is so very strong. She's still singing every day. I feel it now inside of me. 

Finally, don't worry about keeping my spirits up. If you're reading this, you have become for some unknown reason, a friend. I don't know why you befriended me. But you did. Every day I wish for the days when we were both healthy and talked about nothing. Feel free to talk about nothing with me. Don't worry about how I feel. Sometimes I feel like shit. I won't tell you that because I don't see the point in bumming us both out. I want you to feel good. That way one of us can feel good. 


  1. One of the things I always liked about you was your ability to not a give a shit about things including yourself. Being arrested in Madison was just an opportunity to entertain the crowd by demanding that the female cop frisk you. I can’t think of anyone else who would have reacted in that way. I suppose it’s a personality trait that equips you for what you are now dealing with on a daily basis. It’s impressive because I know that if I was no longer pretty, I just couldn’t face the world. Thank goodness for all this gray hair and extra 25 pounds.

    I hope that when our sons’ baseball teams play one another this season that you will be feeling well enough to be at the games. I also hope that when our sons’ baseball teams play one another next year and the year after and the year after that you will be feeling well enough to be at the games. I hope that when our sons are too old to play baseball anymore and they have to move onto more sedentary types of competition such as horse shoes or cards that are feeling well enough to be at the games.

  2. Sorry Michael,
    You'll always be above-average to me.

  3. Hey there, Michael. If I were trying to date you, I'd care a tiny bit about how you look. Then again, I'm not Scott Schmidt, so I wouldn't try dating you. Therefore, your looks are not the slightest bit concerning to me. You were always better looking than me and I'm sure you still are.

    While I cared about physical characteristics earlier in life, they've long since gone out the window. I know that my friends don't love me for my bulging muscles and chest hair (still just one hair) or good looks but rather they love me because I'm me.

    You are still you. Weaker yes; physical changes sure; unpredictable energy level understandable; sharp wit always. We love you because of what's in your heart and how you treat people as a result. We do miss you, though.

    In past years we'd look forward to you coming over to Todd's house because you'd make us bust a gut with your witty humor. Now we look forward to seeing you not to entertain us but because we simply miss being around you. We expect nothing from you: no jokes, no need to feel like you owe us a good conversation or anything else; we simply miss you.

    If I were in the area I'd like to come over, tell you that you have been a good friend and you always will be. Whenever I make it back to Chicago, I'd like to come on by just to say hello and that I appreciate our friendship. That's it - no demands of you whatsoever; you could keep your eyes closed and lay down and pretend like I'm not even there; that's cool. But at least you'd know that we were buds. But of course you know that already; you're smart. Todd on the other hand ... well, he's just pretty (so Scotto).

    I wish you the best of health and keep those spirits as high as you can get them.

  4. have no idea how I look forward to your posts. You, sir, are reaching out in your own quiet way; reassuring us that "it's OK". It would seem that you are in need of human interaction in a way that only someone in your condition could possibly understand. You need an outside team....with players that are in the same league; the ones who have learned the same language that you now speak. Actually, they are the insiders of a specialty club into which you were all involuntarily drafted. Please find a support need it and so does your family and close friends. Take the Nerf Bat to a meeting and beat the floor...get angry, cry, let it all hang out. There is too much festering inside of you...purge what you can. You don't believe me now, but you will feel so much better and as you transition into a new phase, a load will be lifted, a ray of sun will shine through on you and you will smile inside.
    Sending you blessings!

  5. May you also rise up and be reborn!

  6. You may not know me Michael, but you know my Dad (step-dad) Todd. When I go home from school, he gets up the courage to drink with me like he’s also in college and we stay up late and have conversations about god knows what until about 1 in the morning… on a good night that is. You tend to come up in our conversations, along with your blog, which is where I’m at right now. Being an avid Facebook user, I’ve managed to take creeping (Facebook stalking) to a new level, outside of Facebook, and onto your blog. I’ve noticed that a few of my dad’s comments include my brother and me. I’ve also noticed that when he does mention us, it’s nothing nice… ever. Dad has told me that he likes to comment on your posts to keep your mind off what you’re going through, and I thought I’d join him in his task but by giving a short explanation on the person that Todd Cowden has become.

    First, my dad has completely sworn off jeans. He will not wear them. His wardrobe consists of shorts (in the summer), swishy pants (which I can’t stand due to my own roommates constant use of them), and khakis that he usually wears to work or to something that swishy pants just wont work for. Going along with the occasional khaki sighting, I’ll tell you about his ‘fancy dinner’ outfit in Cancun this past Thanksgiving. We were unaware of the dress code before leaving for Mexico so Dad didn’t think it was necessary to bring dress shoes even though he brought his khakis. When it came time to go to the nice restaurant in our resort that my mother just had to eat at, our favorite guy wore gym shoes, white socks, a nice shirt, and his khakis. I would like to attach the picture but I cant. I’m sure you can imagine how proud he was of his outfit (no sarcasm) and also how proud my mother was (all the sarcasm in the world intended). Next, we can go on to talk about my Dads lack of haircuts. While he’s sporting the swishy pants, he’s also been known to sport very, very long hair. Not like his college days when it was kind of ok, but long enough that the white-ish gray on his head, starts to blend in with the white color of his dress shirts, only in the back though so it’s more like a mullet at times. My mom finally convinces him to cut it and she cuts it in the garage because well, lets be honest, it is Todd Cowden and he's cheap.

  7. Casey has been really big into travel baseball and my Dad has been his coach for a couple of years now as you know. The occasional (more then occasional) fit will come from within the dugout that the good sportsmanship club would frown upon, but again, he’s Todd and we love him. Sometimes there’s cuss words thrown into the rant and it never fails to scare the shit out of every kid on the team. But now, the big tough guy on the field has a puppy that I stupidly purchased at school and was unable to keep due to an allergic roommate, so Mr. Macho Mean Guy cuddles on a nightly basis with the little mut. He also has cute little nicknames for Brady like Braids and Brady Bunch. I swear he’s still straight. If only his team could see him holding/petting/playing/cuddling with the dog, maybe they wouldn’t be so scared of his ungodly high pitched ‘COME ON GUYS; YOU’RE KILLIN ME’.

    My dad is also a self-proclaimed asshole who usually makes it known to people he just meets that he actually hates people and would rather be home by himself. This isn’t a joke. He doesn’t answer the phone 99.9% of the time, even if he’s sitting right next to it. Getting him to make a phone call goes hand in hand with getting him to get a haircut… nearly impossible. All of this hassle because he truly doesn’t like people. Somehow he manages to keep friends… it must be his charm and award winning personality…

    I’m just about done making fun of my dad because he is in fact cool enough to know how cool he isn’t. I hope your mind has been kept off that stupid cancer stuff long enough for a short laugh about your good friend Todd. Know that he thinks and talks about you a lot and if you ever need anything, he’s there for you. I’m putting him out there for you right now… take full advantage.

    Feel better, Michael, and I am thoroughly lookin forward to seeing you at a baseball game this summer!

    Katy :)

  8. Here...this will make you laugh!!!

    and then.....

    pure joy.......

    a Cosby classic.....

    Funny Fudd...........

    Elmo & friend

    Ho ho ho...

    Dinner with the Dog.....

    Punjab profanity

    Comedy by Carol B.........


    Peace be with you, dear Michael...

  9. Roses are Red
    Violets are Blue
    My brain turns to mush 30 minutes after I see you!
    Just thought I would recite that, it was the best poem about chemo brain I ever recieved!!!

  10. I would be remiss if I did not address the fact that I have been outed by my own daughter. I would love to defend myself against her harsh accusations of my lifestyle and who I have become, but far too many of you know me too well. Instead, I must take the offensive and return fire.

    Katy is currently a junior at western illinois university. Yes I know it’s supposed to be capitalized, but I only know that because I didn’t go to school there. I always thought colleges and college kids were somewhat the same regardless of school or generation. Stupid drinking games, casual hook ups, a little studying here and there – it was all good. Here’s the thing. Stupid drinking games have been taken to a whole new level either by this generation or by the kids at wiu. Do I have any examples you ask? Hell yes I have examples. When Katy was home over winter break she and her friends introduced me to a game called stump. The general idea of stump is to take a hammer, spin it in the air, catch it and pound a big ass nail into a tree stump. If you catch the hammer and hit the nail the others drink, if you miss the hammer (which really sucks because your feet are generally right under it) or if you miss the nail, you drink. Simple enough. Sort of stupid actually, but here’s the thing, we played in January in my garage. That’s right, in my garage, not the woods, not out back of the house – in the garage. I know, you’re thinking, how is that possible, do you have a tree stump in your garage? If so, how did it get there? Was your house built around a tree? Nope, my house was not built around a tree although that does bring up fond memories of Paul’s Club for you UW folks out there. The stump arrived in the trunk of someone’s car. Think about this for a moment. This genius is driving around with a tree stump, not a small tree stump either, in his car. I am just trying to imagine the explanation for the cops if he gets pulled over and they search the car.

    As impressed as I wasn’t by stump, then Katy gives me a call a couple of weeks ago and says they are going to play Edward 40 Hands. Yeah, I thought the same thing, wtf is Edward 40 Hands. Amazingly enough it is a take off on the movie starring Johnny Depp. They couldn’t come with something using Pirates of the Carribbean right? Anyhow, the general idea is that each player duct tapes a 40 ounce beer to each of his/her hands. Neither can may be removed until both are empty. This brings up a couple immediate questions. First, what if a player has to relieve him or her self. Second, assuming each player has help taping the beer to his/her second hand, who helps the last player? Third, who the f--- came up with this game and why?

    Someday these same kids are going to be running the country. Scary thought, right? Don’t worry about it, it’s wiu, some day these kids will be working on a farm, collecting welfare or both.

    Hope you are doing well.

  11. I don't understand the Chinese contribution, but I also get that on my blog. That guy (or woman) gets around! I enjoy/appreciate your blog, Michael. You're a great writer with a wonderful sense of humor. Keep the posts coming.