Opinions - November 2nd, 2001

‘Everything that happens, happens for the best’

by Don Maloney

I don’t know whether my mother made up that “for the best” promise or not, but she always passed it on to us right after a disaster of any proportion struck us Maloney kids. Five years ago, when my skin doctor told me that the strange lump on my back was cancer, I really missed having her and her prom­ise around. I realized that I need­ed some of that “best” of hers, and that I needed it fast.

That first cancer—there were a few more on the way—was a melanoma. Shortly after that, another melanoma showed up on the other side of my back. After they both were carved out, prostate cancer showed up you-know-where. Just after that was quieted down, lymphoma cancer took over my face’s right cheek. That was followed by a collection of colon polyps and cancer.

Mom wasn’t around for any of that to assure me that it was all happening for the best. But, as it turned out, I really didn’t need her to be present after all, because I suddenly   remembered that promise of hers and began look­ing for some “best.” And I found it every time.

Like right after the first melanoma operation, the surgeon told me that he had removed a section of my back that he chose to describe for me as “just about the size of an English muffin.” I haven’t been able to even consid­er enjoying an English muffin since—and, as a result, I’ve also avoided the calories and choles­terol that used to come to me from those muffins—along with the peanut butter and jelly that very often topped them. Obvi­ously that was a lot of “best” in that dietary change.

The lymphoma cancer required both chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The chemo part took away all my hair—and my beard—for a few months. Not only did Medicare pay for the treatments, but also I saved a small fortune in shampoo as well as razor blades, shaving cream and after-shave lotion. Plus, at least five or six $10 trips to the barber were by-passed. How’s that, Mom, I thought, for some even better “best?”

And even better than the chemo “best” was that the radia­tion on my cheek burned through my mouth and killed any chance I had of tasting any­thing for weeks. Believe me, with no taste, interest in food goes away. That problem reminded me of the first time I tasted grits: it was at an Army breakfast mess. Since those grits didn’t have any taste back then when my taste buds were OK, I took them on as the perfect meal for my destroyed taste buds. Twenty pounds left my abs, thanks to those grits. More “best” for sure.

I had often wondered how doctors would deal with very, very weird replies from patients like me when they asked us their usual, “How do you feel today?” question. The prostate cancer treatments gave me an opportu­nity to find out. It happened like this: On a regular basis following each radiation treatment (there were a series of daily X-ray jolts for eight weeks), sure enough came those “How do you feels?”

Because I was convinced that, since they had done such things to many patients before me, they knew exactly how we felt. So, rather than give them the same answers I decided they often got from those other patients, I tried out some answers I was sure they had never heard before. Answers like:

“I noticed that my urine now takes the gloss off the porcelain in our toilet at home.” Or, “My wife has a tough time sleeping now because of how brightly the radiation makes me glow in the dark.” Or, “Nice thing about all your radiation, Doc, is that I don’t need a key to start my car anymore.” And, “I’m so glad that at my age, we probably won’t have any more kids.” That last one was a big “best,” indeed.

But it was not nearly as big a “best” as it was having a 20-some-year-old blonde nurse telling me every morning for eight weeks to take off my pants and lay down.

Another prostate radiation “best” was that it caused me to have to get up three or four times a night to dull that porcelain. The “best” there was that without those nightly trips to the bath­room, I wouldn’t have been get­ting any exercise at all.

I decided to carry on differ­ently with the chemo doctor. He had another surgeon insert a valve-like thing in the right side of my chest to make it easier to get my body to accept the treatment chemicals there rather than by putting a needle in a new part of my arm each time. He told me that they didn’t call that thing a “valve,” but referred to it as a “port.” “If it’s a ‘port’,” I asked him, “why did they put it in my starboard side?” I could tell from his reaction that he wasn’t a sailor.

Checking on my newest can­cer (the one in the colon) involves a video camera being inserted you-know-where every once in a while to see how things are going or, hopefully, not going in there. I get to see the search happen on a TV screen. None of my friends know anywhere near as much about that end of their bodies as I know—and have seen—about mine. In color, yet. That’s another “best” for sure.

Even with all those cancers put to rest for now, more “best” arrived. Just the other day, the muscles that run my right shoul­der decided to call it a day. As a result it’s almost impossible for me to raise a fork-full of anything to my mouth with my right hand. Considering that I’m still a few dozen pounds overweight, is making it tough to eat a “best” or isn’t it?

I really wish my Mom was still here to see all that has, indeed, happened for the “best,” especially since it all happened after what first seemed to be that the worst was happening. Just that I’m still around to tell this story proves she knew what she was talking about.