‘For What It’s Worth’
by Rob Schultheis
Mar 17, 2011 | 762 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For what it’s worth, I didn’t behave absolutely shamefully when I first found out I had cancer; I didn’t run around the room waving my arms in the air wailing woe is me!, or fall on my knees and promise to never eat ice cream or watch NFL Monday Night Football again. My first reaction was to want to run around the desk and hug the young Thai MD who had just given me the news, holding the disc with the MRI image in his hand; he looked like he was about to burst into tears when he said, “I’m so sorry; you have cancer.”

In fact, I think I remember telling him that everything was going to be all right, really, which I firmly believed at that moment, and have still believed, on and off, since then.

I mean, it wasn’t like there weren’t plenty of signs that something was not right in the old plumbing system. Nancy and I had been in Laos for about four days when I suddenly began pissing blood. I had had a urinary tract infection the month before, and thought it had returned with a vengeance, but when I had run through a course of Bactrim and the symptoms only got worse, I decided I had popped a blood vessel somewhere lugging two hundred pounds of impedimenta through the airport in Bangkok, and that my blood clotting system was on the schnitz; I had had a similar bleeding incident the year before, due to my damaged liver (did I mention I was already on thin ice with hepatitis C?).

Nancy and I have lived over half our adult lives overseas, she in Japan, Ladakh, Nepal, China, Indonesia and so on, I in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, etc., etc.; I had spent my childhood in Asia, in fact, and remembered getting nearly croaked from parrot fever and a variety of ear infections as a toddler in Hong Kong.

As a result, we both shrugged off what was happening, stayed on in Luang Prabang as planned, and then moved on to an island far off the coast of Thailand, in the Andaman Sea. It was there that the proverbial ax fell; late one night I went to the bathroom in our bungalow and virtually exploded with blood, all over the walls, floor, and so on; I cleaned up most of the mess and then woke up Nancy and said, “No reason to panic, but I’ve got to get to a hospital ASAP. This thing is out of control”, and then virtually passed out on the bed.

Thus the dawn speedboat evac to Phuket, a few tests at the hospital, and, bang!, the dreaded word, so like those words that in Afghanistan during the Jihad-punched adrenaline button: “shurovee,” or “Roos” – “Russians!” or “helicopter!”

So by now I’ve been augured, scraped and diagnosed with an aggressive t2 tumor, the whole thing rendered more complicated by my hepatitis-assaulted liver, and I must say, the whole thing has been an eye-opener.

First of all, I never knew how many friends I have, or how kind people can be: the docs in Thailand, everyone at the Telluride Med Center, doctors Forrest and Parr in Durango….I could go on and on.

My worst moments have come when I have let myself imagine how much hurt I would cause if I didn’t get through this. I was preparing to return to Afghanistan after our Southeast Asia trip, our first real holiday together in eons; sometimes I feel that I mucked that up, I’ve delayed starting up really important (I hope) projects in Af with my brother Shafi, and I can’t let anyone else down…. Especially my wife Nancy, who didn’t sign on for this b.s. when we got married…

And I never realized how little I understand reality, life, the universe, anything. I thought I’d made some progress toward “enlightenment” or whatever, but I consulted with the Sufi mainline last night, and got the message loud and clear: you’re just not understanding, absalem; we keep trying to get through to you, but you’re not ready yet.

It’s like when I try to see the enneagram stereogram, the message concealed there; I try and try, but I still see only a scrambled mosaic of colors. The whole world is like that: I can talk the talk, and do a big bundle of good deeds, but I’m still lost, searching for a door, a key, a password, even though I know it doesn’t work like that.

I do at least see my current dilemma in its proper context; I’ve gotten that far. Looking at the footage from Japan and Libya, remembering all the innocent lovely villages in the mountains of Afghanistan shattered, destroyed, desecrated, my little cancer, soon to be vanquished (insh’Allah), shrinks away to nothing.

I am astonished and full of wonder at how many people care about me: that is the true significance, the only really important thing, about what is going on. I’m exhausted, trashed, thrashed, but that’s just a bad joke.
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