Now What?

I’ve been asking myself the question “Now What?” for a while now. A good, long while now, actually. I’m pretty sure the first time I asked it was when my current mid-life crisis began at the age of twelve. This year, however, the question took on a different tone. I’m still looking for the answer, but before I get there, let’s first take a trip back through 2012.

A word of warning, though: this gets a bit long and boring. You might want to go fix a sandwich first or just read this over the course of a month or so.


2012-01I kicked off the year with the decision to put Back to the Fridge on hiatus. About a week later, a faint sensation in my chest made me think, “I hope I’m not getting bronchitis.”


2012-02At work, I stayed very busy. At home, I continued my vain attempts at writing a novel. My “bronchitis” remained nothing more than background noise. It wasn’t getting any worse but it never went away either.


2012-03Okay. Now it was getting worse. You know when a man voluntarily decides to see a doctor, something’s really wrong. I now had a full-fledged cough, accompanied by headaches and a high fever. Yet upon each examination, my lungs were inexplicably clear. I felt sick enough to stay home from work the last week of March but okay enough to still work from home (in spite of my deteriorating condition).


2012-04On April 2, I actually headed back into the office. Shortly after showing up I wrote, “I feel sick to my stomach. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” And about an hour after that I wrote, “That’s it. I’m bagging it.” I made my third trip to the doctor and this time they took blood. That evening she called with the results: my liver wasn’t working properly. The next morning, I found myself in the ER.

The first scans came back with a diagnosis of cirrhosis. Oddly enough, this was my low point of the year. I saw myself on an organ donor waiting list. I had this sinking feeling of, “Whelp, I guess that’s that.” Fortunately, this particular diagnosis only lasted a couple hours. They decided to do a couple biopsies. (The first of which, in spite of the use of a local anesthetic, I could very much feel. (And just between you and me, having someone thrust a knitting needle five inches into your abdomen isn’t the most pleasant sensation.)) Anyway, the new diagnosis of lymphoma was actually a relief. This felt doable.

The highlight of the year came the week of April 16 when I lost twenty-six pounds in four days. Yes, it was entirely in the form of retained fluids. And yes, it came with the price of having to pee about once an hour for eighty-five consecutive hours. But it was a sure sign that a few key affected organs were now functioning again.


2012-05I began to settle into what was to become my routine for the next four months. In short, it went like this: a week and a half of “normal” followed by a week and a half of “cancer.”

During the normal periods, I felt more or less like a regular human being. Apart from my inability to eat many things and getting tired easily, you’d never know anything was wrong.

During the chemo periods, I felt like crap. It’s amazing what quarts upon quarts of high-quality, expensive poisons injected directly into the bloodstream can do. Peripheral neuropathy set in (numbness in my fingers and hands). There was nausea, fatigue, sore throats, and the usual litany of symptoms. I could barely eat anything spicier than water. Going into this, I fully expected to feel drained of energy. But what I really experienced was more like being drained of will.


2012-06Ironically, this was probably about the healthiest I’ve been in a while. I’d lost a whole bunch of unnecessary weight. I was doing fairly well at not losing necessary weight. I was eating reasonably well. I was exercising as regularly as possible. And, thanks to Temazepam, was sleeping quite soundly. If only life could be like that all the time.

I wrapped up the month with my first PET scan. This would tell us how things were going and would determine whether I had two more or four more chemo cycles to go through.


2012-07I’m sure the vast majority of cancer patients are absolutely elated to get the news of “complete remission.” For me the news was tempered by the loss of two close family members. We lost my uncle Dave Garraghty just one week earlier. And about an hour after my news, we lost Laura’s mother Dorothy. Laura was en route to see her, arriving in Des Moines just forty-five minutes late. So just a couple days after my fifth chemo treatment, I was packing up the car and driving north to meet up with her. It was a difficult trip on every level and it was just good to be home when it was done. The rest of the month was a blur. My sixth and final chemo treatment took place on July 26th.


2012-08I went in for hydration for the last time on August 10 and remember feeling very strange. Strange that this whole thing was nearly over. Strange that life would be returning to “normal” soon. For the first time in a long time, the question “Now What?” popped back up.

It’s not uncommon (half of all patients, or so I’ve read) for some sort of depression and/or anxiety to set in after achieving remission and completing treatments. I have no data to back up my own hypothesis, but my thinking goes like this: normal sucks.

“Normal” is going to work for ten or twelve hours a day. And cleaning the kitchen. And getting your car’s oil changed. And taking out the trash. And paying bills. Lather, rinse, repeat. “Cancer”, while both a physical and mental strain, also comes with a vast outpouring of support from people both near and far, both in space and in time. As Clarence the guardian angel put it, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives.” And it isn’t until some life-altering event comes along that you actually get the opportunity to witness it firsthand.

Cancer’s a bitch. And then you survive.

But survive for what? For work, the dirty dishes, the oil changes, trash, and bills? Eventually the get-well cards stop, the Facebook posts stop, the bags of money stop. Life gets back to normal and normal sucks.

Ginormous disclaimer: I don’t honestly believe normal sucks. I live at the peak of human civilization and enjoy a roof over my head, meals on the table, and all that that implies. I have family, friends, and tens of adoring fans. But as Joe Walsh so wisely put it: I can’t complain but sometimes I still do.


2012-09Now we’re to the parts of the year no one knows about. At the beginning of September, I went offline. I stopped logging into Facebook. I stopped reading blogs. I more or less stopped checking mail. To get my mind off things, I began a pet project or two (in computer programming).

On September 17, we headed to San Antonio to talk about transplant options. This was something my oncologist told us about during my last office visit in August: that one option for people in remission is to get a transplant in the hopes that it prevents recurrence. (In general, it doesn’t, but it’s still worth looking into.) So off we went for a battery of tests, including something I hope to never go through again: drawing arterial blood. This was almost as bad as that biopsy.

In short, nothing came of it. There’d be no benefit of a transplant at this time.

Oh, and to be clear, a “transplant” means taking stem cells from my blood, killing everything in my body with intense levels of chemo, then rebooting my system from the saved cells. It takes about three weeks and is about as thorough as anything gets.


2012-10Two significant events happened in October: 1) I had my first beer since I don’t know when and 2) my laptop died and I replaced it with a desktop computer. Based on shelf-space, I don’t think anybody actually buys desktop computers anymore.


2012-11We made a trip to Chicago/Indianapolis this month for the Bands of America Grand Nationals Competition. I also got to have lunch with my sisters. I think they were happy to see me looking my usual self again after my frightening visit in July.

Speaking of which, I finally buckled on November 18 and gave myself a shave and a haircut. The hair loss period really only lasted from the end of June through mid September. I was all bushy again by mid November. Well, except for that part on top which simply refuses to grow.


2012-12December, not daring to break the tradition set by every other December ever, lasted all of about eighteen minutes. I had my very first “three month” checkup, and those will continue every three months for two years. If I make it out that far, I’m considered cured, as the odds of this kind of cancer relapsing after that point are extremely low.

Now What?

2012-13At the beginning of 2012 I made a handful of New Year’s Resolutions. I wanted to read more, write more, draw more, and, in general, be creatively productive. None of that really happened this year. Of course, it’d be easy to blame it on the obvious health issues, but to be honest, I’ve made these same resolutions for about three decades in a row now and nothing’s come of them yet.

Therefore, it only makes sense that I approach this whole “resolutions” thing completely differently for 2013. This year I resolve to not get cancer.

Everything else is just a bonus.

25 Responses to “Now What?”

    chris said
    January 7, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Solid stuff man. Glad to find another dude plugging away.

Biz said
December 31, 2012 at 3:45 pm

I agree – no more cancer!! I know it was a tough year for you and sorry that our distance didn’t allow me to come over and hang out with you when you weren’t feeling well.

I am confident, even in that fragile state, we could have found some “unseen humor” to laugh about!

Yep, same here – I looked back at each of the New Years posts determined that “2009 is mine!” “2010 is when” I’ll lose weight. “2011 I’ll learn my lesson!” and lose weight.

Pretty sure I’ll step on the scale tomorrow and it will be exactly where I was last year, despite hundreds of hours of exercise!

I have no excuses – no little kids to take care of, and even though I have “the sugars” I can’t blame that either.

Will 2013 see me lean?? We’ll see! 😀

Give your family a big kiss from me – not all at once though – ha! Hugs!

Love Biz, your prettier sister

splotchy said
December 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm

I’ve been a (UK) lurker for a while. At last I post to say:
“You deserve a break – do whatever you can to get one.”

(PS – You’re eloquent and write with heart – I have this idea the gods will keep you going as you’re kind of doing their job for them)

    Charlie said
    December 31, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    It makes me very happy just knowing that (even indirectly) I know someone named splotchy.

Jenn@slim-shoppin - you're prettier sister said
December 31, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Love you Chow-Lee and glad you are cancer free and have a hairy beard again – and eyebrows!

Shelley B said
December 31, 2012 at 9:49 pm

You had one hell of a 2012. I hope 2013 is much kinder to you and your family, Charlie.

2013 said
January 1, 2013 at 2:52 am

Here’s a New Year’s Wish from Neil Gaiman (back in 2001):

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

Helen said
January 1, 2013 at 6:58 am

May 2013 be filled with all good things for you Charlie.

Sandie said
January 1, 2013 at 7:36 am

Here’s to an amazing 2013 for all of us. We have everything when we have our health!!

Jason said
January 1, 2013 at 11:04 am

Yeah! Eye of the Tiger!

Jason said
January 1, 2013 at 11:05 am

Eye of the Tiger!

Jason said
January 1, 2013 at 11:05 am


    Charlie said
    January 3, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Jerson Sanders!

Kristen said
January 1, 2013 at 5:37 pm

What a ridiculous year you had, Charlie. SO glad that you’ve made it out on the other side of this with your sense of humor intact. I’m excited to see what 2013 has in store for you! It’s time for some happy adventures. =)

TexasDeb said
January 2, 2013 at 8:49 am

I noticed and began to call that delayed triggering the “reacting after the fact syndrome” when my kids were small.

We’d go on a major trip or have some big deal something happen, they’d both be little troopers throughout, but when the shouts had died down there would be a day of gathering storm clouds and then BAM! Emotional reaction (after the fact).

I guess it didn’t feel safe to act out until they knew they’d gotten all the way through.

So Mr. Charlie, here’s where you enjoy a year during which it is safe to complain and wonder aloud what life is (or ought to be) all about. (But hey! don’t forget to take out the trash, OK?).

Finally? Here’s a thought. Put that book away for a calendar year. Don’t look at it, don’t work on it, don’t do anything other than occasionally think about it in the abstract if you must, but otherwise put it aside. If after a year you are yearning to jump back in, do so. If not? Lift your eyes and look elsewhither, knowing that whatever it was you are looking for, it is not/was not in that effort.

    Charlie said
    January 3, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Well, in a way, that’s exactly what I did. I began working on Elsewhither back in 2011, between August and November, with most of the time (24 hours and 37 minutes of it) spent in September. Then I dropped it. I picked it back up nearly a year later (where I spent 28 hours 3 minutes on it). And that’s where it sits.

    In your defense, the year off worked: I came back refreshed, with a new look, and those 11k words were infinitely more than what I’d had the year prior. And I’ve now set aside the Tuesday Night project for nearly half a year (which, to put it into perspective, has had 594 hours and 46 minutes of work put into it).

    And if anyone’s wondering how I know how much time I’ve spent on something down to the minute, it’s because I use Timekeeper. You should too. 🙂

Vicki said
January 2, 2013 at 8:49 pm

I’ve been a reader, sporadic commenter for a few years. You always make me smile/laugh, and I appreciate it…laughter is good!

I’m glad to see you post again, I was wondering how you were doing.

I wish you a clean bill of health throughout 2013, and many blessing to you and your family.

Pubsgal said
January 3, 2013 at 12:20 am

Hope you & your family enjoy a happier, healthier year in 2013!

Joe Spammer said
January 3, 2013 at 8:49 am

[Funny spam comment I’m letting through. It’s good to know he’s been looking everywhere for my personal year in review. —Charlie]

I truly appreciate this post. I have been looking everywhere for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You’ve made my day! Thank you again.

Charlie said
January 3, 2013 at 9:12 am

And to Biz, Jenn, Shelley, Helen, Sandie, Kristen, Vicki, and Pubsgal: as always, thanks for stopping by and leaving your kind words. I really do appreciate it.

    splotchy said
    January 3, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    …….and Splotchy!

    Warmest wishes for 2013

      Charlie said
      January 4, 2013 at 8:54 am

      I know! I was just picking up the people who already hadn’t gotten a direct reply from me. 🙂

Joe Spammer said
January 4, 2013 at 8:52 am

Two more enjoyable spam comments:

Thank you, I have just been looking for information about this topic for ages and yours is the greatest I have discovered till now. But, what about the bottom line? Are you sure about the source?


What if there was a way to get thousands of visitors a day to your website and make $144,000 in one month.

I can tell you one thing: if I ever figured out how to make $144,000 a month by sending traffic to my web site (it’s still not entirely clear who is giving me this pile of money, nor why) I wouldn’t waste time trying to peddle it to the rest of the planet.


Sheila said
July 27, 2014 at 10:02 am

I didn’t see this coming either. Very happy to learn you are well.

You are loved.