On Thinking, and Chadwick

First, something lighthearted.

Yesterday I had a pelvic MRI focused on my tumor and specifically the surrounding lymph nodes. This MRI was much different from the last one, which focused on my chest and abdomen and went much like I was expecting based on what I’d heard from the many folks in my life who have had MRIs: pleasant music in your headphones; nice robot lady telling you to breathe in, breathe out, and hold your breath; contrast in your IV; generally loud, but nothing terrible. You just lie there.

Turns out that for the type of MRI I had yesterday, they have to fill your rectum and part of your colon with gel beforehand, using a tube-and-syringe contraption. Then, in order to prevent the gel from leaking out, you have to basically clench your butt shut the entire 40 minutes. But apparently the gel makes the pictures much clearer, so I’m all for it! Too much detail? Probably, but this is a butt blog, after all, and now you’ll be prepared in the unlikely event you ever have to have a similar scan.

On a more serious note, I thought I’d share some of my recent mental struggles. I’ve battled anxiety my whole life, though in the last few years I’ve made a ton of progress. Basically, my mind perpetually imagines bad outcomes, even (and sometimes especially) unlikely ones. For years I’d get really mad at myself: You know that negative thoughts are bad, so just stop thinking them! Think positive thoughts instead, you dummy! Or, even worse: If you keep thinking negative thoughts, they’ll all come true!

The breakthrough was understanding that negative thoughts are normal, and fine, and powerless. I stopped getting mad at myself for thinking them, and more importantly, I stopped trying so damn hard to stop thinking them. I started viewing them as meaningless (and thus, powerless) little abstract things that just flit in and out of my brain. I learned to observe and dismiss them. A friend sent me this quote today, and I think it summarizes this idea well:

When we resist a thought, an emotion, or a circumstance, we reject life as it is. This creates further tension and suffering in the mind.

While that strategy sounds good, I’ve been far from perfect in sticking to it. And now I’ll admit that the negative thoughts are out of control. After I got my liver and lungs cleared, my anxiety temporarily got a lot better. But then, gradually, this began to creep in: Even if they cut out all the cancer they can see, it can still come back anywhere, anytime. If I’m lucky enough to live another five decades, will I spend every day of those years wondering if that’s the day the cancer comes back? What if I think I’m cured and then it decides to show up in my lungs before my daughter even starts kindergarten? I know that’s probably rough to read — I’m sure you’re thinking, Dude, you can’t think that way! — but hey, I’m committed to transparency here.

My guess is that pretty much everyone who gets diagnosed with cancer — or really anything life-altering — struggles with similar thoughts at one point or another during their battle. Ultimately, I know I’m well equipped to handle these thoughts, especially if I focus on mindfulness and staying present. After all: Before cancer, any day could have been the day I woke up with cancer — and I managed to live just fine with that reality. The future was wildly uncertain then, just as it is now. So while a lot has changed, in many ways not much has changed.

All that said, I was deeply saddened to learn of Chadwick Boseman’s passing yesterday at age 43 after a heroic and inspiring battle with colon cancer. Despite my best efforts to not make it about me and project his outcome onto my own situation, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t freak me out, since one has to assume he had all possible resources available to him. Colorectal cancer is just nasty stuff. If there’s the smallest of positives to find, maybe it’s that many reports of his death are also highlighting that we’re seeing so much more of this cancer in younger people — so we can hope many lives will be saved by that awareness. Certainly doesn’t make it any less tragic to lose such a bright young star, though.

Man, what a terrible loss for the world. Everything he did was incredible, but as a baseball person, I’ll definitely remember him as Jackie Robinson in “42,” a performance best described last night by Major League Baseball as “transcendent.”

I think this sums it up best:

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