Over the past year, or really, since I’ve become a stage 4 cancer survivor, I’ve been on this continual quest for knowledge. The books that I read are mostly non fiction. (Except for the occasional Jack Reacher book. I read those strictly for entertainment. That dude kicks some serious ass.) Usually, the books I read are about history, or occasionally a biography about a historical figure. I’m a bit of a history nut. The same thing can be said about my television viewing habits. I rarely sit down these days and watch “regular” TV, like a series or a particular show. Most of my TV viewing these days consists of YouTube offerings such as documentaries on historical events, like World War II, or I will watch a show about the last days of Lincoln, or maybe even something political from the days of Kennedy or Roosevelt.
I know. Riveting, right? Holly usually sees what I’m watching, gives me the big eye roll, and heads upstairs to watch The Voice. She also thinks that my new fascination with all things knowledgeable isn’t really new at all, and she’s probably right. I’ve always been a huge nerd. But right now, it feels like I am pretty desperate to learn new stuff.
I have recently discovered a show on the Science Channel called “How the Universe Works.” I’m not usually a science guy, but this show is amazingly well done. It has great graphics and animation, entertaining and well spoken scientists, a musical score that adds to the story, and is narrated by the great Mike Rowe. You might know him as the “Dirty Jobs” guy. I could probably listen to Mike Rowe read the New York City phone book and be completely entertained. He has the voice of a god. Which, considering that he’s narrating a science show about the universe, is sort of ironic.
The show has been on for 7 seasons, so I have a little catching up to do. In the episodes I’ve watched so far, they’ve talked about the origin of Earth, the origin of our sun, how the solar system came to be, how galaxies form and how stars are formed and what happens when they die. But, the unquestioned star of the shows that I have watched so far have been the black holes.
Black holes occur when a massive star dies and collapses in on itself. A tremendous amount of mass is squeezed down to a very small point, causing a huge amount of gravitational force. The black hole eats anything that comes near it. Even light can’t escape a black hole. It’s weird to think about something so strong that it bends actual light and makes it disappear. I’m giving you a cliff notes version of what a black hole actually is. If you want to know more, watch the show. I’m not a scientist, and I’m not going to try to play one on this blog.
If you’re now wondering,”Why is Dan prattling on about astronomy when this is a cancer blog?” hang with me for a bit. Remember that list of side effects from my last blog, Calvin Daydreaming? If you don’t, here it is again.
There is one thing that we stage 4 prostate cancer people have in common that doesn’t show up on that list. It’s not a side effect of the medication. It’s the side effect of realizing that your life will be ending soon. And it’s a very strange. It’s like a great big super massive black hole that nobody wants to acknowledge, let alone talk about.
I get up every day. I go to work. I eat, I breathe, I go to the bathroom, I watch the Wolverines try to win football games, I do all the normal stuff that I would do if I was healthy. I’m a little more tired, I can’t do some of the things I used to, but for the most part, if you met me, you would never know that my life expectancy is under 5 years. But for me, my life expectancy is a gaping black hole that I am walking next to, and I’m trying not to fall in. I take medication, I get chemo, and I try not to think about it. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “whistling in the graveyard.” It applies here. It’s almost like that if I don’t notice the hole, then maybe it will go away. Maybe if I keep a good attitude with a song in my heart, the black hole will disappear.
Except it doesn’t. It’s there everyday for the rest of my life. It is a fact of my life. So what do I do with that?
Four years ago I joined a prostate cancer support group on Facebook. I found a lot of kindred spirits on the site, and I found it comforting that I could bitch about my treatments and get sympathy and advice from people that were going through the same crap as I was. Reading people’s posts made me fell less alone. The side effects from surgery and radiation was something I could speak to, and I was able to receive guidance on various issues with hormone therapy. The site helped a lot. But there was one guy on there that wrote from a different perspective.
Mark Bradford wrote a blog about his experiences with the disease that was different from what other people were saying on the site. In his blog he talked about how cancer has changed his life, and not for the worse. Mark’s blogs were titled God’s 2 By 4, which was Mark’s way of saying that basically God used cancer to club him in the head to get his attention and teach him how precious life really is. And reading his blog eventually taught me the same lesson. I say eventually, because, at first, I thought he was a bit of a pie in the sky loon. I used to make the occasional snarky comment on his site, to which he would laugh and tell me I was funny, which would encourage me to make more snarky comments. (By the way, if you buy Mark’s book, “Bearing Witness,” I’m quoted on page 154. I make a snarky comment. Go figure.) But Mark was absolutely right. Having a terminal disease teaches you how precious life really is. It gives you absolute clarity on this.
So what about that super massive black hole that is next to me as I continue on with the rest of my life? Well, here’s the thing about black holes. They don’t just eat stuff. Sometimes they get really energetic and emit huge jets of energy. These jets help regulate and build galaxies. They contribute to star creation. So they’re not just about a dying star. They’re about creating new stuff.
At the edge of a black hole is an area known as the event horizon. It’s considered the point of no return. Once you get past that, you’re a goner. But, along that edge, it’s very bright and energetic. This area is known as the accretion disk. Sometimes the friction of the accretion disk gets so active it and gets so bright it becomes a quasar. A quasar is the brightest thing in the universe.
Mark had an unshakable faith in the Lord. When he looked at his own death, he didn’t see a black hole. He saw light. He saw the greatest and brightest light, the light of his savior, Jesus Christ.
I don’t have Mark’s unshakable faith. I waver. I bend. I question. I am a Christian, but more of a doubting Thomas than a Mark Bradford. But, as my own life gets closer to ending, I find myself more frequently looking to the light as opposed to staring into the abyss.
So, instead of getting upset at the black hole, I need to use it to make me realize that life is bright and amazing, and to live life to the fullest, and that the people in my life need to be told that they are appreciated and loved. I need to surf the event horizon, riding a quasar like it’s the Banzai Pipeline, goofy footing my way through the galaxy with the time I have left.
I think Mark would laugh and love the thought of me surfing a quasar into eternity. Which is way better than a snarky comment.
Thanks for reading.