Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 2:48PM
At this point, given my woeful absence from updating you here on the WunderGlo blog, you've probably guessed that I'm either 1) not feeling great and/or not doing well, or 2) feeling great and running all over the place.
If you guessed number 1, give yourself a little slap on the hand. You know that's not my way. Have I taught you nothing after all these years?! Jeez.
If you guessed number 2, which I trust most if not all of you have, then you'd be correct. After my East Coast trip, I flew up to Stanford to do some recruiting for O'Melveny, DJed one of my best friend's 30th birthday parties, and settled down just in time to give cancer another right hook with Chemo Round 36.
Chemo went extremely well, and side effects this week were largely nonexistent. The only thing I did to account for the FOLFIRI and Avastin coursing through my body was to take a series of naps on Wednesday. I knew I needed to rest up because, by Wednesday night, I was on a flight to San Francisco.
The next morning, I was up at 5am, but not for any reason a normal Stage IV colon cancer patient is up at 5am. I was awake, throwing layers over my swimsuit, and making sure my crew (Will and two of my best friends, Rhett and Nick) were moving as quickly as I was. This was Christmas Day for a shark lover, and I've been a shark lover for over two decades now. We were on our way to the Emeryville Marina and then aboard a vessel set for the Farallon Islands, home to the some of the most Great White Shark-infested waters in the world.
I've been talking about cage diving with Great White Sharks for years now, and a few months back, I pulled the trigger. Everytime I'd think about the trip over the last couple of months, I'd feel a mix of excitement and dread (with dread pretty much dominating given the fact that I fear Great Whites just as much as I love them) and I'd just think to myself, "It's in several months. Don't worry about it!" But now the day was upon me, and I felt no fear at all. Granted, I felt a butterfly or two in my belly when I first saw the cage and the shark-bitten seal decoys we'd be using for the day. But I was in the zone. Much like my mental preparation before surgery, I reminded myself that big and seemingly overwhelming experiences are just an amalgamation of smaller, ordinary tasks.
Take surgery, for instance. It serves me no good to think "Oh my God, I'm about to get drugs that completely knock me out and then my belly is about to get cut wide open and my surgeon is going to pull all of my organs out and cut out the diseased portions and then put all the organs back in and sew me up and give me pain meds and I'm going to wake up in the ICU and oh God what if it's painful and jeez I'm going to have this huge incision wound and...." You get the picture. It can be overwhelming if you think like that. So this is a snippet of my internal dialogue on the days I've had surgery:
"Okay, sign the release forms. Put out your wrist and get the hospital bracelet secured. Go pee. Put on the robe. Sit in the bed. Put out your arm so the nice nurse can start an IV. Hug your family members. Pose for pictures. Flex your guns one last time. Shake hands with your anesthesiologist. Lay down. Turn on your iPod. Wave as you get wheeled away. Take a deep breath. Listen to the music."
By the time I'm done with that, I'm out and on my way. This is the same approach I took with the sharks. I didn't think about the fact that I don't swim in the ocean, let alone get in a cage submerged in the middle of the Pacific and surrounded by 16 foot Great White Sharks. I put on my scuba gear, walked to the edge of the boat, let the guides put weights on my ankles and around my chest, got my mask adjusted, put the breathing apparatus in my mouth, took some practice breaths, and slid into the cage. Easy.
The water was cold, the visibilty wasn't good, but it was a sensory overload unlike anything I've ever experienced. While we didn't see any sharks from the cage (we did see two magnificent shark attacks from the bow of the boat), it was a surreal and incredible experience to be in the water, in a cage, in shark infested waters. I started off breathing a bit erratically, mainly because of the shock of the cold water and I'd never breathed on a regulator before, but I calmed down in about a minute. My eyes played many tricks on me, thinking that I saw outlines of huge sharks, and hey -- it could have been true -- but the best part of the excursion was that I did it. I'd always dreamed of it but secretly thought I'd never have the guts to do it. I was too paralyzed by fear to really entertain the possibility of achieving this lifelong goal. Now, I'm fully geared up for another shark excursion and I'm actively planning a trip to South Africa next year to meet some new Great Whites.
Now that I'm a cancer warrior (and have been for the past 2+ years), fear doesn't really figure into my life anymore. I'm not afraid of cancer, of chemo or surgery, of pain...even of death (although I'm not dying anytime soon so relax). I'm just not afraid of these things. And it turns out that I'm not afraid of sharks anymore either.