A man crying, holding a candy bar

Bladder Cancer Made Me a Cry-Baby

Trust me. This isn’t going where you think it is.

I was a 53-year-old man who never cried. Well, maybe at the end of Old Yeller or Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I was stoic in the face of events that would have broken Clint Eastwood or Chuck Norris.

That was, until I got cancer.

My cancer story

My cancer story isn't that different than most. I had blood in my urine. Ignored it for 6 months. Finally went to the doctor and found out I had bladder cancer. Did a bit of chemotherapy (had to stop because of debilitating bladder spasms.) Did the 10-hour surgery to remove my bladder and prostate and fit me with a snug little neobladder. You know. The usual.

I took my time recuperating and went through the incontinent stage, the catheterizing every 4 hours phase, and the 'why did I smoke' phase. And through all of that, not a tear. Not a lump in the throat. Nothing.

I started tearing up at almost anything

Then about 6 months after all the that, I started noticing that I was tearing up at almost anything. Commercials for puppies. Commercials for life insurance. Movies about sports teams beating the odds. Singers on The Voice who lost. Singers on The Voice who won. Singers who almost made it on The Voice. In other words- anything.

I can’t put my finger on it, but I think my cancer journey somehow turned on a piece of my heart that wasn’t working at peak efficiency before. And now, as if it were trying to catch up on lost cycles ignored over the past half-century, it was working overtime. Maybe anyone who goes through the process of cancer has this “awakening” of the heart. It’s easy to be gruff when you feel invincible. But after cancer, you are very vulnerable and that changes your perspective.

Confronting my mortality

First... you have to confront the whole “you might die” thing. Even with the best odds, someone has to be on the wrong side of that line. Death is something we all have to do sometime.

Second. A lot of time is spent talking about will-writing and health directives. Downer right? But, needed.

And then all the “well-wishers” who tell you how strong you are and how you’re winning the fight of your life. (Which we are - go you!)

Melting your hard exterior

All of that works to melt your hard candy shell exposing that soft nougaty center you’ve hidden from the world because you knew if you let it show, you’d be unable to control your McDonald’s “Cry” reflex. Not fry reflex - cry, reflex. I think the ad agency for McDonald’s measures tears instead of ad recall to decide which commercials to run. Tell me I’m wrong.

Maybe it is because you focus so much on the things that could go wrong because of cancer that after you're in the clear, you really appreciate everything else. It's as if facing the abyss of cancer removes your ability to stop the feels that come out when a kid hits the free-throw to win the game - or the father puts his child into the car for their trip to college (seriously - who gives a college freshman a car and an American Express card and then lets them go to college alone?!) I think some part of us knows those positive stories were the things we thought we worried we might not see again and wants to make sure we celebrate them deeply.

You are just so happy to be alive

When you were filling out your will or your advanced directive, if you were like me, you thought about missing your daughter’s wedding or maybe your son’s divorce. You took stock of all the things cancer was going to take away from you. But when you win - (and you WILL win) - each of those thoughts come rushing back, slapping against you, wave after wave, reminding you that you will be seeing those special moments. And when that happens, it flips the switch and now, involuntarily, and with no warning, you tear up.

You cry. And now, instead of hiding your “feels”, you let it flow and you are just so happy to be alive and able to cry about those things.

So yeah. I cry at McDonald's commercials - Take that Chuck Norris!

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