“I’m sorry officer, this is the car I bought to drive myself to chemo, so I tend to go fast, because you never know, right?” is what I wanted to say to the officer. Instead I said, “I guess I got carried away listening to Barbra Streisand’s ‘Stoney End’ album.”
This was the second time I’ve been pulled over since finishing chemo in late 2012. I don’t feel like I have a new sense of urgency to life, but I guess my foot does.
I was driving to New Orleans with Matt and Bryan, a couple and my best friends (and caretakers during chemo). We’re attending Thanksgiving with Bryan’s family, whom I have never met, which seemed odd considering how closely intertwined our lives are. Point in fact, in Los Angeles I live with Matt’s mother, Coco. We decided to drive to New Orleans for the adventure, and to save money. After the speeding ticket though, the trip became exclusively adventure based. Little did I know that that adventure would show us the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
Since cancer is one of those conversation ending words, allow me to bring you up to speed as to how cancery I am. Spoiler Alert: Only a little. I had testicular cancer, lost a testicle, went through chemo, and now I’m in post-treatment. To learn more, just watch my Movember video.
It’s almost been a year since I finished active chemotherapy treatment. During chemo I had to focus on just getting through the day, never letting the emotions flow. It’s only now that I seem to be handling the shock of cancer, and it even has a name: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Things that once came normally to me no longer do, like performing, socializing, focusing on work. At first I thought it was just the medical marijuana, but it turns out it’s much larger than that (and involves less munchies).
I can handle crowds fine, I just can’t handle being recognized in a crowd. If I run into somebody I’m not expecting to see, I panic. I stutter, can’t look them in the eye, and feel backed into a corner. I get nauseous, then sad, then depressed. It’s like I’m going through the emotions of puberty all over again, just with medical bills – and one less testicle.
Describing depression is like trying to explain why Miley Cyrus does what she does, it’s just not possible. It’s not about being judged, at least not for me (or Miley), and it’s not about feeling alone. It’s an unexplainable cloud that engulfs your every thought, pushing you further and further into a corner to try and take shelter from the storm. Slowly you step out, the clouds clear, and you move on. Sometimes that happens quickly, sometimes it doesn’t. It feels like it’s never going to get better, even if you rationally know it will. But rational thinking doesn’t apply, because there’s nothing rational about depression, except for maybe swinging naked from a wrecking ball. Thanks for the tip Miley!
Armed with professional care on speed dial and top notch anti-depressants, I looked forward to the road trip, PTSD be damned. The speeding ticket became an ongoing joke about how bad a driver I am. Small ribs, like not being able to drive in a straight line to dramatic panicked noises just to exaggerate the ribbing. It stung, even though I knew it was all in jest. It felt like I was being ganged up on, mocked, judged by two of the most important people in my life. I knew this was crazy, they’d do anything for me and I for them, so why am I going to this crazy place? I thought.
We drove through a horrible and scary snowstorm along interstate 10 in New Mexico. Visibility was low, it was late at night. I sat up, Bryan navigated as Matt drove. Suddenly I no longer felt mocked, but rather in it with them, my safety was just as important as theirs, we were one unit.
Eventually we arrived at our hotel in Las Cruces, NM. The man at the front desk said that he hadn’t seen a storm that bad in years.
Once settled in our rooms we learned that our friend, Nate, who has been blogging about his three-month road trip, had been driving through the same storm and had gotten into an accident. While crossing a bridge, snow falling, he slid, hit the rail, flipped over, then flipped again, then again. Flipped three times, car totaled, debris everywhere. Somehow through the bent metal and debris, Nate was able to climb out with no injuries. That needs to be repeated, he climbed out with no injuries!
The next day we met Nate for breakfast. He had stayed with the off duty paramedic that found him. Shocked and dazed, yet miraculously unharmed, he described what had happened in the moments after the accident.
“I stood there, shocked. A man stopped, asked if I was okay. He gave me a hug and said a prayer for me. I guess he’s the one that called for help. He just prayed,” Nate said, with a shrug, taken aback by the simple power of a human to human connection with a stranger.
Back on the road, Bryan said, “Letting someone else drive is one of the most trusting things you can do. I mean, I could kill us all right now.”
“Yeah, but if I have to die with anybody, I’d rather it be with you guys,” I replied.
In the moment this was meant to be a sweet reply to friends. But as I laid in the backseat, thinking back to the teasing, the snowstorm, Nate surviving, I sincerely and unconditionally meant my response. Life can be mundane, but it’s in moments when things get real that people’s true colors show. Yes, I actually would rather die with them than anyone else.
Myself, Matt, Bryan, Coco by plane, and now Nate, arrived in New Orleans, all housed with Miss Linda, Bryan’s Mom and the nicest Southern woman you’ll ever meet – sorry all other Southern women, you lose.
I’m about to get all Oprah “Best Life” on you, consider yourself warned.
Looking around at the people sitting in Miss Linda’s living room, I understand fully what being thankful is all about this Thanksgiving: being humane. It can be hard to notice the good in your life through all the noise. Some of the noise is legit, like cancer and depression, and other stuff not so legit, like being teased and sulking.
This is some important shit to remember on Thanksgiving, right along with Grandma’s gravy and the post-meal nap. If you’re good to others, you’re living a life of gratitude. It’s how we treat each other that should matter most. Sometimes accidents happen, like cancer and cars flipping, and sometimes we live to be able to appreciate what we have and who joins us for the ride, like on a road trip with your best friends or a man stopping to tell you it’s going to be OK with a prayer.
And no, I’m not a bad driver, thank you very much.