It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. There are many reasons, from being too busy with projects to pure laziness on my part.
So why am I finally posting now?
The short answer is that I was diagnosed with cancer. Again.
The longer answer is why I’m posting.
Many of you know about the “Series of Unfortunate Events” that befell me in 2015/16. Inclusive of my first bout with the Big C. A 3 cm tumor was found on my thyroid back then, resulting in a complete thyroidectomy and radiation treatment. Papillary Thyroid Cancer is 90% fatal to men (according to Wikipedia—so take that stat with a grain of salt). But I beat it, and I’ve been clear for seven years.
The other health issues I had back then crippled my ability to do what I had spent 30 years of my life doing for my career. “Fine,” I thought. “Let’s do something else, then. Daytime TV is boring.”
I jumped back into writing, went back for a second Master’s degree (this time in Fine Arts from the most wonderful Emerson College), and wrote my second novel, Bayou Whispers. Since then, I have developed the outline for three additional novels, written 20 short stories, and started a new podcast called The Sudden Fictions Podcast.
During recording sessions for this new show, I noticed a problem.
It was in May of this year (2023) that my voice became hoarse. I initially thought the problem was allergies—something I’ve suffered with in springtime for most of my adult life. None of my usual over-the-counter remedies worked this time, so after a couple of weeks of no change, I went to see my doctor right before a planned trip to Europe.
She was a bit concerned with my medical history, so she sent me to an ENT, who put a scope down my throat to see if anything was going on. It turns out a lot was going on.
A white, irregular mass on my left vocal cord was found to be interfering with my voice. This was discovered a few days before Tina and my first vacation in ten years.
The doctor and I locked eyes, and she said, “Go enjoy you’re your vacation. It will take me a few weeks to organize the biopsy surgery anyway.”
See, the only way to get a sample of this thing was to put me under, intubate me, and go in with a micro laser to cut a bit of the mass off to run some stains on.
I knew from the look she gave me that she already knew what it was. In fairness, I knew there was a serious problem too, but that was more intuitive than education or experience based.
Tina and I followed the doctor’s advice and flew off to Dublin for a few days, then to Italy for three weeks. And we tried not to think about the albatross that followed me.
There is something strange that happens when you are diagnosed with cancer. You lose all faith in your body. The life we have that, in many ways, is taken for granted becomes something darker. Scarier. But even worse than the diminished confidence in your body is how people react to the news when you tell them. You end up being their rock. It’s a weird experience.
The antithesis to that awkward experience was and is my wife. She is an amazing, strong, and brilliant person who immediately put aside her emotions and began to research things while reaching out to the vast network of healthcare professionals she has worked with. She did this quietly, without letting me know—because she wanted me to enjoy our holiday.
I love her so much.
Meanwhile, Tina and I and another couple of dear friends enjoyed the beauty of Capri, Sorento, the Amalfi coast, and finally, Maratea. It was the type of holiday we’ve missed for the last decade or so—sandy beaches, crystal clear water, ancient ruins, boat rides, fantastic food, wat too much to drink, laughter, and memories all combined joyously into the experience of a lifetime.
Only while we were winging our way back to Boston did the sense of dread and foreboding return.
My surgical biopsy was now scheduled for the Friday of my return—and deep in my soul, I knew that what I and my doctor suspected would be borne out.
Spoiler alert: The “suspected” was confirmed. I have Squamous Cell Carcinoma on my left vocal cord.
Here is another weird thing. That sense of dread I was feeling…disappeared.
I know now what I’m up against. While we all hope this has been caught early, I will be going through many tests over the next month or so. Probably surgery and chemo as well, based on whom I’m meeting with on the 13th of July.
Within two days of the confirmatory diagnosis, I was assigned a trifecta of oncology doctors at Dana Farber Cancer Institute—a head/neck specialist, an oncology surgeon, and an oncology chemotherapist. That’s my meeting on the 13th..
I don’t know if it’s just one vocal cord. I don’t know if I will be able to speak when this is all said and done. What I do know is two things:
- I’ve never given up a fight in my life and
- I have the best personal and professional support system anyone could ask for.
But I’m under no delusions. This is going to be a long, tough fight. I expect to win. I have to win.
To this end, I’ll be cutting back my con attendance for the foreseeable future. No ReaderCon, no NECON, and no Haverhill Halloween Book Festival. I’m also postponing my Writer in Residence program that was to occur in Iceland this fall.
Other than the “secret project” I’ve been working on for the past nine months and some writing (for my own sanity)–my focus now is on beating cancer for the second time.
I have three novels outlined and ready for me to write. But now, I want to write them for me—to help me push through this new medical speed bump and push through toward my literary finish line. It’s funny. You would have thought I’d have realized the writing was for me during the first battle.
I’ll post here occasionally during this process. But for now, I love you all.
Chat soon. And fuck cancer.