Versions of Adam

overlapping faces

Drawing by artist Angie H. Iver

I’ve been thinking about different versions of myself lately.

Our lives and memories are made up of so many moments, so many images of ourselves that stand out, so many versions of who we have been.

I’ve been thinking about a version of Adam pictured in a polaroid hanging on a wall in my parents’ basement. In it, Adam is four years old and he’s wearing a light blue hospital hat and mask. His parents brought them home from the hospital along with his new baby brother. Most of his face is covered but you can tell he is smiling. His large smile shows even behind the mask. He looks happy, safe and loved.

I’ve been thinking about a version of Adam right after his third round of chemo. In this time period it was a Monday and he had made plans to meet some college friends for dinner that Wednesday. It was to be a much needed escape from his cancer reality. But he found out that Monday morning that the reason his tailbone had been hurting so much was that he had developed some odd viral cyst back there. In a completely healthy 21-year-old the virus would have been easily warded off with no symptoms. But his white blood cell count was too low and the unlucky combination caused havoc. He was in pain. He didn’t know if his cancer was gone yet. And he had to cancel the Wednesday plans with his friends because he wasn’t healthy enough to be around germ-covered people. In this version of Adam in my memory he just finished slamming a kitchen utensil off the kitchen counter, nicking it in his rage, and was now laying in a sideways ball on the floor crying because his tailbone hurt too much to sit on the floor. He feels defeated and absolutely terrified.

I’ve been thinking about a version of Adam from yesterday. He is in the middle of a lunch rush at a busy family diner where he waiters. He has just walked into the dishwashing room to sort out several dirty dishes, spoons and cups before heading out to take his sixth table’s order. He is tired, his knees hurt, he feels frustrated and wants to go home. He can’t escape this hatred towards himself for leading his life in this direction. For making decisions that placed him here in this moment, when so many other moments could have been better. He feels like he failed. Like he is failing. He has to go back out there and see what the annoying lady in the red shirt and her awful husband want for lunch. And then he has to serve it to them, put up with their attitudes, and mix them milkshakes at the end for desert just so they can leave him a shitty $3.00 tip and he can feel like a failure. This version of Adam is sad.

many faces

Artwork by Felipe Fox

There is a version of Adam on his first day of college. The sun is shining on his face on this perfect day. He is so awake. So excited. So hopeful. So ready to meet new people. To make new friends.

There is a version of Adam in his boxers in the dorm room of his first boy hookup in college. He’s smiling. He just finished kissing the boy who has adorable brown hair and killer blue eyes. He is nervous and excited. His stomach has butterflies in it.

There is a version of Adam laughing so hard with friends in college that he has tears running down his face.

There is a version of Adam who feels so exhausted during a CrossFit workout, but proud of himself just for being there. For pushing himself.

There is a version of Adam at a 19-year-old fraternity brother’s funeral staring into the casket thinking how unfair this is, and how alive his friend’s body still looks, and that the funeral home styled his friend’s hair completely wrong.

There is a version of Adam playing Monopoly with a childhood friend.

And another version of Adam swinging so high on a playground swing that his stomach is flipping.

There is a version of Adam stepping off of a plane in London, England.

And another version of Adam holding his new puppy for the first time.

Then there is this version of Adam right now. At this very second typing this post with tears in his eyes.

I don’t know who this version of Adam is yet.

In some ways, I understand every version of Adam I listed, except this last one.

I’m not sure what to do with him next…

What version of Adam do I want to be tomorrow when I wake up?

mirror and faces

Breathing Methods

deep breatheFor closeted individuals, struggling with their sexuality can feel like a debilitating, full-time job that allows no room for any of life’s other problems. Unfortunately, Gentle Reader, life keeps coming at all of us whether we are busy with something else or not. When I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 21, I had recently returned from a semester abroad experience where I had dated briefly and experienced really being gay for the first time. Part of my goal for the months following being abroad was to begin ‘coming out’ to my friends and family. Well, a month and a half later I was sick, and plans for ‘coming out’ were suddenly put on the back burner. Here is one piece of my cancer story, which was happening to me while I was closeted, and still learning how to breathe.

While battling my testicular cancer the doctors exposed me to many different drugs:  chemo drugs to hopefully kill the cancer, steroids to make sure I didn’t lose my appetite and anti-nausea drugs to make sure I didn’t lose my lunch. Each drug came packaged with their own smorgasbord of side effects. Some side effects were just annoying and inconvenient. Some attacked my self-confidence by causing acne and weight gain. Most were temporary, yet there was always the fear of scarier, longer-term side effects that could stay with me long after the cancer was gone. One particular chemo drug brought with it the possibility of long term negative affects on my lungs and my ability to breathe. As a result, one of the tests they exposed me to on my first day of inpatient chemo, was a test to pinpoint exactly what my lungs’ current air capacity was.

I remember they wheeled me, even though I was plenty capable of walking on my own two feet, into an oddly confined room, on the lowest level of the hospital, to meet with a respiratory specialist. A plumb, middle-aged woman with an awkward gait and an immediately welcoming smile appeared in front of me. I can no longer remember her name. But I remember her reassuring hand on my shoulder and her honest eye contact. I liked her immediately.

I remember her stepping to my right as she talked, and suddenly there was a large, egg shaped machine in front of me where she had once stood. In my memory now, it was the size of a compact, new-age, two person, smart car. It was beige with some almost artistically placed blue. She helped me into it and inside, in front of my face, there was what appeared to be a fighter pilot breathing mask hanging from a pretty serious number of tubes.

She politely explained how this machine would test my breathing and my lungs’ capacity to take in appropriate amounts of air. She mentioned that many people find the small confines of the machine to be uncomfortable and claustrophobia inducing.

She smiled and said, “This will be the easiest test you have here at the hospital. So no worries all right? All I need you to do is breathe. Just relax and do the most natural thing in the world to your body. Just breathe for me and it will be over before you know it. You will have to take deep breaths, long ones and short ones. I will tell you when to do each. But you may start to feel like you can’t breath any more and you know what I want you to do at that point?”

She actually stopped and looked at me. She wanted me to answer.

I shrugged my shoulders with a tiny smile. “I don’t know. Stop?” I asked.

“Just keep breathing.” She said with a wink and a smirk, then she cranked up the machine.

I remember that first test going smoothly, but my head was spinning from the journey that was still in front of me. Cancer is a pretty intimidating foe. My first meeting with this woman was so early on in that journey. There was still so much more discomfort, fear, thankfulness and relief yet to experience. At the time, she was just another doctor and it was just another test.

I would revisit this test and ‘the egg’ two more times during my cancer journey. A second time in the middle of chemo and a third time after my last cycle was complete. Each time she smiled in the same way, placed her hand gently on my shoulder and assured me that the test was easy because all I had to do was breathe. Just keep breathing.

stretching on the beachAs I would find myself to be in many ways when it came to my cancer, with my lungs, I was very lucky. My lungs remained strong and developed no harmful scars or long lasting negative results from the chemo.

And when my chemo was finally finished and I was home recovering, my parents had to bring me back to the hospital to see that woman one last time, to make sure that my lungs were definitely ok. When I saw her that last time I was still bald, still tired and still feeling crappy in general. At the time of this last visit I did not yet know that the cancer was actually dead, but I was hopeful and continued to smile. Especially with people who offered me support and kind words, as this woman always did.

At the end of this final test, as we were saying goodbye, she gave me a hug and wished me the best of luck in my journey ahead, as many doctors and nurses had before her. But she put her hand on my shoulder, as she had always done, looked me directly in my eyes and said,

“All of this was just a part of your life. Trust me, Honey, there’s lots of hard roads and wonderful roads in front of you and all the rest of us. You’re gonna be alright, Sweetie. It’s all the same as that egg and that test. Just keep breathing. One breath at a time and you will be fine.”.

“Just Keep Breathing”. Where truer words ever spoken?

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If you have any reason to suspect that you may be suffering from Testicular Cancer, please see a doctor immediately. Though self-diagnosis is always tempting, especially in today’s google hungry world, obtaining direct information and facts from a health care professional is always the best course of action. Don’t be embarrassed, this is your life we are talking about!
For anyone who is interested here is The American Cancer Society’s Informational Page on Testicular Cancer.