The value of hard work
It’s Sunday, 15 September, 2019. You know, I’ve pretty much always worked. At least as long as I can remember. When I was 11 years old I started babysitting in the neighborhood. Understand that it was the 1970s and it wasn’t unusual for 11 year olds to babysit. After all, the job was to make sure the kids stayed out of trouble, the house didn’t burn down, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and ensure everyone was accounted for when the parents returned home. That was pretty much it. And this job, when successfully completed, paid 50 cents an hour. Babysitters weren’t expected to be CPR qualified or to have a degree in child psychology and early elementary education. I mean, the parents weren’t that well qualified so why would the babysitter need to be? It was a simpler and I think probably more sane time.
At 13, I got a morning newspaper route. For two years I was up bright and early, seven days a week, riding my bike in the dark, the rain, and the cold, pitching papers on, or at least near subscribers’ front porches. Admittedly I wasn’t a very good paperboy. Later I painted apartments and did whatever odd jobs came my way. And all the while there was the babysitting. I hated babysitting. At 16, I got a “real job” at K-Mart. I worked there until I was 18, at which time I joined the U.S. Navy and began what would be a 20-year career. Even while I was in the navy I went to college at night and still occasionally took part-time jobs doing things like waiting tables. After retiring from the navy I embarked on a second career with the Department of Defense and for a period of time I also taught computer software at night at the local community college.
The point is, from a very young age I worked. My family didn’t have much and in order to get the things I wanted, I had to work. Although I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, I’m grateful for that upbringing. It taught me responsibility and it made me independent. I learned how to solve my own problems and I learned the value of hard work.
I married when I was 20 and by 23 I had two kids. Throughout most of my adult life I had people depending on me for their well-being. Between my family and my careers a lot fell on my shoulders. I felt the stress. My parents were generous and offered to help when they could but I found it hard to ask. In fact, asking for help is one of the hardest things for me to do.
Then the cancer
Fast forward to today. I’ll be 61 in a few days. I’ve had two rewarding and successful careers. I raised two amazing kids. I’ve owned two homes. And I’ve unfortunately been divorced twice. But through it all, I’ve had to be strong and I’ve taken care of myself and others. Then the cancer. I knew when I was diagnosed that things were going to change but I didn’t know how much. Today, mostly because of fatigue, I simply can’t do all the things I used to do. I tire easily. I often feel nauseous. And I’ve essentially retired from working. (I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming entry.)
The reality is that it’s hard for me to accept the limitations I’m facing right now and it’s harder to ask others to do things for me. My folks live nearby. Pop is 82 and mom is 80. My dad has always been hard working. That’s where I got my work ethic. Fortunately, at 82 he’s in good health and he’s not only able to do for himself, but he does for those he loves too. My mom has a myriad of health issues, including lymphoma, and he takes care of her. After I was diagnosed, he began doing more for me as well. Or trying to anyway. He checks on me a lot. I’m grateful that since I moved to Tucson I’ve grown close to him. We have a loving and mutually respectful relationship. A sincere friendship. My brother and his wife are also nearby. We have a good relationship and they often remind me they will do whatever they can to help me. “Just ask!” The thing is, they’re self-employed. They run their own business so I find it difficult to ask them to leave work to help me because it costs them money.
I’m so lucky. I have wonderful, caring friends who are here for me too. A few weeks ago I moved. I’ve written about that. I moved from an upstairs apartment to a ground floor apartment only about 200 yards away. On the day of the move there were two professional movers who brought along two trainees. Six of my friends and family members volunteered too, including my dad and my brother and his wife. I had so much help, my two-bedroom apartment was completely moved in two hours! I couldn’t possibly have done it alone, so I asked for help. I had no choice.
There are days
When I talk about things that are difficult for me, I’m not talking about basic functions like cooking and cleaning. It’s early in this game and I’m quite able to do those things. But there are good days and bad days. Days when I’m fatigued and nauseated and something like walking my dog is difficult for me. Like the first time I received Zometa, a bone strengthener, I became very sick. I felt like I had the flu. I just wanted to wrap myself up in a blanket and die. But my dog had to be walked. My dad came over and gave her a walk in the afternoon. But later in the evening she gets another walk and I did it myself. I just couldn’t ask him to come back, even though he would have been glad to do that. I had to challenge myself. I had to make myself do it. I had to take care of myself and my dog. It’s just my nature.
I live alone. I go to chemo alone. I take care of myself and my dog. But we’re doing all right. I know because I ask her and she doesn’t complain. She seems happy. I worry about how the cancer will affect my bones. My energy. My ability to do basic things. I worry about money. I won’t have the kind of retirement that people dream about. I won’t travel and bask. And that’s OK. I’m a simple guy and I don’t need much. Still, I worry about being able to take care of myself later, as the cancer progresses. I have to get over it, right? I have to learn how to ask for help when I need it. I know. But it makes me feel vulnerable and I realize that’s really what’s at the heart of it. For me, being vulnerable is the worst thing of all. Because vulnerability is weakness and I‘m not weak. Not yet anyway. And hopefully I never will be. My strength, even more than my health, is the worst thing this cancer could take from me.