Monday, May 27, 2013

Cancer vs. Writing

In Stephen King’s book On Writing he has a postscript called “On Living”—about his nearly fatal accident that happened in 1999. He was struck by a van and ended up spending many months (perhaps longer) recuperating and learning to walk again. From what I recall during this time he pretty much announced his retirement. While he was recovering he didn’t have the drive or desire to resume his work as a writer.
In 2007 while attending the Maui Writer’s Conference I got to hear first hand from author Ann Hood about the tragic death of her young daughter to strep throat—and how for years after that she couldn’t write (and she wanted to, it just wouldn’t come).
To a lesser extent, this is where my writing is at this week: stalled, reprioritized, put on a back shelf, waiting to heal.
I’m in the midst of my fight with cancer. A little over two weeks ago I had a cancerous tumor removed from my neck along with some additional suspect tissue. Since then I’ve been in the hospital and at home sleeping, recovering, waiting. There is the possibility I’ll be having radiation treatment, TBD late June.
Before going into my surgery I told my friend Chuck that the moment I most dreaded was the moment when I woke up—but also added this was the moment I most looked forward to. To not wake up after the surgery would be bad. Fortunately I did wake up. But not knowing exactly what to expect when I woke up from my operation—that bothered me.
So after my five hour surgery when the initial drugs wore off in the intensive care unit and I came to with more hoses and lines going in and out of me than the Batman character Bane, the first thing I tried to do to communicate was to write.
Granted, I had a tube down my throat, and was restrained, but each time I was able to I grabbed hold of the nearest nurse or family member’s hand, I’d open their palm, and using my index finger I’d start to scrawl out letters.
“Your tongue is swollen? We know that.”
“Choking? No. You’re not choking. That’s the breathing tube.”
They had to keep sedating me. Each time I woke up I was agitated—and I’d start spelling out my condition, my worst fears, falling back on my writing in the only way I could.
During my surgery a metal, spoon-like object was used to crush my tongue flat to keep it out of the way. It is still painful and swollen and not much good for talking yet. After having some of my many tubes and restraints removed I still had to resort to writing in a notebook or on a little white board to get my ideas across. I found out in short order this was much better than any of my attempts at charades—take it from me, you do not want me on your charades team.
Looking at these notebooks what I had to say those first days after surgery wasn’t very deep:
“I need to pee.”
“Sitting up is a big deal.”
“Is the fishing opener tomorrow?”
“Happy Mother’s Day.”
“Do I need the leg massager things hooked up so I don’t get a blood clot?”
“What is the first pain med you gave to me?”
But I was still turning to my default as a way to communicate: writing.
Me, with new neck scar and start of a beard. Radiologist told me
if I have radiation I might lose part of my beard. Worse things could happen.
But since getting out of the hospital, coming home, I haven’t thought much about my writing, especially working on my fictional stories that I’ve spent so much time on (literally hundreds of hours) over the years. But on days when taking a good breath and being able to drink soup without choking were priorities, what is going on with my made up characters in my made up world(s) doesn’t seem to matter much in the scope of the here and now.
For now, this is my goal: To heal and get my real-world life back under some semblance of normalcy. To have a day without pain and pain meds, to be able to talk so that someone can understand me. To have a tongue that can once again knot a cherry stem. Once I get these basics back down I can only believe that I will get back to imagining, dreaming, finding out what my characters are up to, putting down fresh fictional words on paper.
Years after Stephen King’s injuries he went back to writing and has published several new books since “On Writing” came out. Ann Hood eventually wrote her memoir: Comfort: A Journey Through Grief that helped her deal with her daughter’s passing. If these successful authors can get through these major issues and find writing and creativity again, so can I.
I have no doubt my desire to write something creative will return, and I suspect sooner rather than later. But like my body, I’m giving my spirit and my “creative bones” time to mend. And when I finally feel inspired to write again I’ll have lots of new material to use. I do keep thinking of my character in my novel Blackheart, Clayton Jaeger—who is a cancer survivor. I have no doubt when I revisit Clay’s chapters I’ll have some new perspective to give to his character and experiences.
For my writer friends out there—wishing you health and peace for you and your writing muses.

~ Mark Teats


Jon said...

Keep up the good fight, Mark! We'll be here when you're ready.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story Mark. Wishing you health and healing.

Qlaudie said...

Excellent, Mark. Thanks so much for this. Wicked cool scar too. And get this... you ARE writing... this blog. That's huge. XOXOXOXO

Lisa said...

An amazing blog and an amazing scar. I'm sure you'll come up with some great explanations for how you got it. My sweetie has a chunk of leg missing - I like to tell people who ask that he got in a knife fight with a shark.

I've been thinking the same thing about you and Clay - how much more depth you'll be able to bring to your writing once the creativity kicks in again.