Editor's note: Mike Celizic is TODAYshow.com’s ace morning news reporter as well as a sports columnist for msnbc.com. He is known for his ability to write compelling, accurate stories at lightning speed, as well as for his trademark hat, which he never removes, even when appearing as a guest commentator on MSNBC.
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A few weeks ago Mike was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma. As a dyed-in-the-wool journalist, his first instinct was: Report on it. Thus he is sharing this cancer journal with TODAYshow.com and msnbc.com readers as he turns his reporting skills to one his most difficult subjects: himself.
You know how you get this incredible rush of adrenaline when you ride a roller coaster or drive really fast or look at danger in the face and don’t blink?
Cancer can do that to you, too. If there’s been a total surprise in the month since I’ve been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s T-cell lymphoma, it’s the night I realized how much it energized me.
The realization came, as so many brilliant insights do, after several beers. It was on Wednesday, June 24 — darts night at Yesterday’s Pub in beautiful downtown Warwick, N.Y. An old darting buddy asked me how I was feeling, and I decided to tell him the truth: I had cancer.
That brought the darts to a screeching halt, which was a good thing for me; I couldn’t hit the inside of a barn with a handful of gravel that night and was glad for the break. My friends were concerned. I needed to talk. So we ordered another round and talked about life — and the possibility of it ending.
Lust for life
“I know this sounds weird, but I kind of like the feeling,” I heard myself saying.
They looked at me as if I had just said, “I think I’ll retire to North Korea.”
I was as surprised as they were. The thought had hit me just that moment, like a sledgehammer. And at that moment, I meant it. Knowing that I was facing a disease that could kill me had given life an immediacy and clarity it hadn’t had for a long time.
I had been noticing the symptoms, but hadn’t put it all together and slapped a label on it.
I found myself standing on the porch at night looking at the fireflies blinking in the darkness with a fascination I hadn’t felt since I was 4. Going to the grocery store was an adventure. Old familiar scenes took on new depth and richness. Everything I saw was etched in exquisite relief. Everything I did was as if for the first time.
Cancer, in those early days just after my diagnosis, was a rush. I wasn’t thinking about the months of tests and treatment I would have to undergo, but about how I’d let the weeds and creepers overtake my life.
I’m what you could call indolent (that’s a procrastinator with an overblown sense of self-importance). My jobs are deadline-driven, and when the stories are in and published, I tend to fall back into something of a torpor. There weren’t many things that couldn’t be put off until the day after tomorrow.
It’s nice to talk about living each day as fully as we can, but that’s harder for some of us than for others. We look at the future and see too many tomorrows and tomorrows and tomorrows creeping in their petty pace to the last syllable of recorded time. It’s called a rut, and I’d fallen into one.
I enjoyed my work and my home and my family, and smoking ribs and salmon and chicken in the backyard on long, lazy Saturdays. But I was just ticking off the days instead of really living them.
Cancer ended that. The tomorrow I was putting too many things off until had arrived — and it was called today.
Testing, 1, 2, 3 ...
I talked to my friend and medical mentor, Dr. Bob Arnot, about this. I was looking forward to the adventure and the challenge of facing this thing and not flinching. And I suddenly realized how beautiful is the world and how wonderful is life.
Don’t get me wrong. “Exciting” and “fun” are not synonymous. Cancer is not in any way fun. On the whole, I’d far rather be in Philadelphia.
The adrenaline rush didn’t last. There was a full day of testing — PET scan, CT scan, bone marrow sample, consultation. Then a trip to the emergency room because the contrast agent for the PET scan didn’t agree with my kidneys. (Lesson learned: Any time you get injected with something that arrives in a lead box, it’s not always going to be good.) Another day, another trip to the ER for blood tests.
I’d actually felt pretty good right up until I walked into a hospital. I went from never seeing a medical professional to personally interacting with at least 11 in one day. The various people poking at me seemed to be going in different directions, too. My kidneys were scanned twice in the same day for no particular reason other than that somebody thought it was a good idea, which it wasn’t. Doctors were conducting turf wars, and I was the turf.
I’m not going into any more detail than that. There’s nothing more depressing than the play-by-play of medical procedures. Suffice it to say that within two weeks of telling my pals how energized I was, I was actually starting to feel sick.
I should be. Dr. Ariela Noy, my oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, told me if I did nothing to treat my cancer, I’d be dead in six to 12 months. So the clock is ticking. I should be getting sick.
The road ahead
I start treatment on Monday, July 20. Chemo.
Bad news: My hair will fall out.
Good news: That includes ear hair.
Bad news: Nausea.
Good news (don’t tell anyone): Medical marijuana.
Meanwhile, I’m reminded every day that next year is no longer important, at least not to me. What matters is the instant, the eternal now that I last regularly inhabited when I was an infant and everything was new and endlessly fascinating.
It’s going to be expensive, even with pretty good health insurance. I can’t worry about that.
I might miss work — and paychecks. Can’t worry about that either.
Instead, I’m going out to Vegas today for a long weekend. A good friend is celebrating his 50th birthday and got a great rate at a nice resort in Henderson, a short ride from The Strip.
Last year, I probably wouldn’t have gone. I would have come up a lot of very good reasons to stay home.
But with chemo around the corner and months of what the doctors call “discomfort” and you and I call “pain” ahead, I decided I’d better go. I’m taking the golf clubs, and I’ll figure out a way to swing them.
I gotta live today. It's the only day I have.
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