I’m staring into the toilet bowl, past the healthy, noisy stream of urine, fire-hosing from my body, when I find myself thinking about cancer. I surprise myself because I usually think about being a little boy aiming his stream at make-believe enemies, like a bomber or a fighter pilot over the Pacific, strafing distant islands from my too-many-World War II-movies imagination. No foreign soldiers today. Cancer.
Why’s that, I wonder. Oh, right. Labs next week for the annual physical the week after. That’s what’s on my mind. Well, at least the force of the stream should indicate a healthy prostate. And even if there’s no correlation and I do have prostate cancer—I am over 50 after all, and it was prostate cancer that started my father’s journey to his grave just last year—you can survive it. Lots of guys do. Who, I wonder. Joe Torre for one. Right. Yankees manager. Hardly slowed him down. That was a while ago. But do I want that, I wonder. To be a cancer survivor. To be known as a cancer survivor.
When I started to travel by airplane, back in my twenties, my fear of flying was heightened by my deep deep secret wish to be the survivor of some tragic experience. Not necessarily a hero. But a survivor. Why is he like that, they would wonder. Oh him? He survived that earthquake, that car crash, that subway derailment, that female serial killer, that attack by Godzilla, that ambush by the Nazis.
Too many WW2s again? No. More likely too many Westerns. I wanted to be that stranger in the saloon, the quick-draw riding into town, the marshal just passing through, or the new preacher here to stay. A man with the mysterious past that made him… quiet, sullen, even-tempered to a fault… until I couldn’t be. Then who could blame me for what I might do, considering what I’d been through. The slaughter of my family. The torture by savages. The mauling by a mountain lion. The mishap with the blind barber.
Survivor. But not cancer survivor. It’s been done. If it’s going to be cancer, let’s make it count. Let’s go fatal. Just give me some time to live. Truly live.
But now that gunslinger isn’t interested in wasting his final days hunting down those who wronged him. Revenge is for the living. Life is for the dying. But my doomed man with no name doesn’t think about a bucket list of escapades and adventures. Who’s got the money, I wonder. I don’t think of tracking down the regrets of my life to tell them I’m sorry, that I wish I’d treated them better… or to see if any of those sweethearts regretted their time with me, or without.
No, only one thing on my bucket list. I go straight for ice cream. Given the limited timeframe—because of the cancer—I set out to fill my days tasting, eating and enjoying the food that makes me happiest. Pancreatic I tell people when they wonder aloud. (It’s still the only non-survivable one I know, so let’s go with pancreatic.) But I’ll be okay, because I’ve got ice cream. And I’m not talking about sitting in some hospital bed mouthing small bites of bland institutional-tasting vanilla, off a small plastic spoon. And I don’t mean to stay at home, propped up in some cozy chair watching “The Searchers” on Netflix, shoveling half-gallons of store-bought mint chocolate chip into my gaping maw. (Okay, that’s always been a dream, but now—considering the cancer—that ambition pales in comparison to what I’m compelled to do.)
I begin a cross-country tour of America’s finest homemade ice cream shoppes. I travel from state to state in a modified VW camper/bus, sampling the most delectable offerings from the sweetest people on earth: ice cream makers. I become a renowned connoisseur—you know, the one with the cancer—writing brilliant, Pulitzer-worthy reviews on my internet blog “I S’Cream Against Cancer.” Of course, everything is free, and I receive invitations to visit shoppes in every part of our great country. And I go to each one to taste the delicious and delightful creations of ice cream masters, some who are inspired to concoct new flavors to honor my … imminent demise.
Ahhh. Such satisfaction. I shake, I flush, I wash my hands.
I turn off the light. And now I’m cancer free.
All I need to survive is my imagination.
photo credit: Brooke Lark brookelark.com