Lucky Us

Whether we deserve it or not

 

The thing about Thanksgiving is that most of us have so much to be thankful for, that we aren’t thankful.

I know that sounds impossible, ungrateful even, but it’s not unusual. Think about it: The better off we are, the more likely we are to take what we have for granted rather than consider it a gift or a blessing.

We have it. We deserve it. What else is there to say?

Maybe that’s why holidays such as Thanksgiving and birthdays and Christmas and Valentine’s Day come around once a year — they’re here to poke us in the ribs about how lucky we are to have what we have, whatever that may be.

That “memory jogging” isn’t just triggered by holidays. Sometimes, life causes its own reset, often at the most unexpected time and in the most unexpected way.

Nine years ago, shortly after a peaceful holiday season, I visited a doctor for a checkup. Nothing was wrong, nor was anything expected to be wrong.

A blood test showed elevated levels of a marker that generally means one thing: cancer. Since I had successfully been treated for testicular cancer 15 years earlier, that was a mental connect-the-dot moment for me and the doctor — maybe my cancer was back?

More tests ensued, along with more visits to specialists. Even as I made the trek from one medical professional to another and from one machine to the next, my mind wandered. Why hadn’t I signed up for life insurance when I had the chance? Why couldn’t the doctors figure out the problem? And the ever-present, why is this happening to me?

It took a few weeks of handwringing before a verdict was in: The doctor who seemed to know the most said I probably had brain cancer, and I needed to start chemo right away to keep it from spreading.

I shuddered. Literally. The body blow came from nowhere.

My mind disengaged, and I thought sorrowfully about the chemicals that would soon be seeping into my body, trampling healthy cells while looking for cancer. I felt sorry for myself, not because I deserved better but because I didn’t think I deserved this.

Luckily, my wife remained level-headed, even as I didn’t. She questioned the doctors more thoroughly than I could, and she figured out the guy was guessing — there was no proof of cancer, just a strong suspicion based on a single blood test that kept coming back irregularly.

So at her insistence, I didn’t start chemo or any other treatment. Instead, we found a renowned testicular cancer doctor in Indiana (the guy cured Lance Armstrong) who suggested that maybe all I had was an irregular blood test that didn’t mean anything at all.

It turns out he was right. After nine months of mental terror, with monthly blood tests to chart progress, right before Thanksgiving I found out that there was not — and never had been — anything physically wrong with me.

It was all just a huge, horrifying misunderstanding.

So when I need a reminder about how good I have it these days, and after all this I inexplicably need that reminder almost daily, I don’t have to wait for a holiday to remind me.

I just focus on that bullet I dodged, a bullet that was never even fired, and my heart automatically skips a beat again. And again. And again.


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