“You must try to generate happiness within yourself. If you aren’t happy in one place, chances are you won’t be happy any place.”
The world lost a baseball legend, Chicago icon, beacon of positivity and genuinely good person last night, as Ernie Banks died at the age of 83. He was from another era of sports, before professional athletes were so massively overpaid and their egos were more swollen than the lymph nodes in my neck. Major League players still had to hold other jobs in the offseason. Can you imagine that happening now?
I’ve been a Cubs fan my entire life and Mr. Cub has always been the perfect mascot for that experience. “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame…let’s play two!” Every spring, the media would catch Ernie making a rhymed pronouncement about the Cubs prospects for the coming season: “The Cubs will be great in 2008!” We all know how that turned out. But Ernie returned the next year: “The Cubs will be fine in 2009!” Sunny optimism at its finest.
Like many of his Cubs teammates, Ernie played for Cubs squads that had lots of talent, but very little luck making it to the World Series. Aside from the desolate situation on the field, Ernie grew up in the Negro Leagues and was the Cubs’ first African-American player. You can probably imagine the difficulties that entailed. But the upbeat personality never wavered…almost to the point that you wondered if he was faking it. Based on all the stories that I’ve read since his passing, however, I really don’t think that’s possible.
I had the honor of meeting Mr. Cub in 2011 at a Chicago Ideas Week lecture he gave at Wrigley Field on “Baseball and Tradition.” I don’t remember much of his talk, but I stuck around afterward to shake his hand and get a photo. In our friendly five-minute conversation, I mentioned to him that I knew a Northwestern professor who was a good friend of his. Banks replied that the prof had just published a new book and asked if I knew what it was about. I said that I didn’t, so Ernie asked if I had his phone number so we could call him on the spot and ask him. Sadly, I did not. Then, for no apparent reason, Ernie asked me for my business card! Never in my life had I so regretted not having one of my business cards in my wallet. Talk about a missed networking opportunity.
At any rate, Ernie Banks (and his teammate Ron Santo, whom I wrote about here when he died) has always been an inspiration to me of the power of positive thinking and the fact that happiness is a choice. As I begin my final showdown with Lumpy, I know they’re both up in Heaven (or is it Iowa?) cheering me on.
And now back to your regularly scheduled #DownWithLumpy update. Theresa and I went to my original oncologist yesterday to get a first opinion. It turns out the first opinion was even better than the second! He told us that he believes I am actually Stage Ia, as he didn’t think that my enlarged liver and spleen had anything to do with the cancer, since there were no signs of lymphoma present there. He said the U of C doctor was being extra cautious and extra aggressive in terms of the treatment she recommended. He agreed with her treatment recommendation, however, so I am officially starting chemotherapy next Friday.
I will also be having a chemotherapy port installed in my chest next Thursday. (And I thought “Matt Takes Tests” Week was rough!) While the notion of the port in my early Hodgkin’s Googling sounded terrifying to me, I think it’s actually a blessing for a number of reasons. First of all, the port will allow them to stop using my veins to acquire or administer the various fluids that need to enter and leave my body. Chemo can be given through the port and blood can be drawn from the port. That’s excellent news because apparently chemo makes your veins get thicker and makes needles a lot more painful. This will be one prick of the needle–and the oncologist said a little Lidocaine can even make the pinch not hurt. Sounds wonderful!
That said, I’m not really looking forward to Thursday’s surgery, and I’m hoping they can put me under rather than just consciously sedating me. I’d rather not have any of my wits about me while I know that they are cutting into my chest.
Chemotherapy will be on Fridays, once every two weeks for three months. After that, I’ll have a PET scan to make sure that Lumpy and all his lymphomatic friends have melted away, and I will either be pronounced cancer-free or taken in for another month of chemotherapy. The treatment itself lasts about half a day, and I will be given a private room with wi-fi (thank God!), so hopefully I will feel well enough to get some work done while I’m chemo-ing.
For now, it’s weird to have a normal weekend and a normal Monday through Wednesday of next week with no doctor appointments, tests or needles. Hopefully my schedule will normalize for a while once my chemo regiment gets going. I’m also hoping that I don’t have a lot of side effects. I don’t mind being a weird-looking hairless guy, but I’d rather not be a weird-looking hairless guy who feels sick all the time. I really have no idea what to expect, which kind of freaks me out. This feels a little like the eye of the storm right now. Even so, it remains an incredible source of strength to be so supported in prayer and in deed by family, friends and acquaintances, including the merry band below who assembled for a “pity party” on Friday. Fortunately there was a lot more Pictionary than pitying going on. I’m such a lucky guy. Enjoy your final days of freedom, Lumpy.