By Dom Cioffi
In the ensuing weeks since my unexpected cancer diagnosis, I have been adrift in interesting emotions.
The first emotion I experienced was shock, which, in hindsight, is a natural and expected response. I don’t think anyone who is told they have cancer cuddles up to television afterwards to watch a ballgame. The news is strange (almost awkward) and at times, simply unbelievable.
I later processed my diagnosis in spurts. At times I was manically looking up information online. Other times I was trying to casually wash the dishes while pretending that it was all just a dream.
I’ve now had a chance to wrap my head around what’s about to happen concerning my treatment and in that time I’ve run a gamut of new emotions. I’ve experienced fear, anger, anticipation, and guilt. But lately I’ve been awash with pride.
Here’s why: I’ve spent my entire life taking care of my body. I’ve always had a healthy diet, stayed physically active, avoided life’s pitfalls, and tempered my few vices. I’ve also worked at becoming emotionally strong through tedious self-reflection.
So this cancer thing kinda pisses me off. I didn’t work this hard to stay mentally and physically healthy only to let some unwanted tumor bring me down.
So, I’m choosing to look at my cancer as an opponent. After a lifetime as an athlete and coach, I know of no other way to approach this than with the metaphor of a competition. That’s the world I’ve run in all these years; that’s where I can derive the most meaning and purpose.
The way I’m looking at it, cancer picked the wrong playground to try to make a name for itself. Yeah, I hear cancer is badass and has game, but I also know that cancer plays dirty. And whenever I face a dirty opponent, I get especially focused on winning. It’s one thing to get beat by a worthy advisory. It’s quite another to lose to an undeserving scumbag.
My doctors have told me that we’re going to attack cancer with both barrels, i.e. chemotherapy and radiation. But we’re also going to set in motion an additional cutting-edge game plan that will hopefully see limited long-term effects to my body. Once I was briefed on the approach, my only response was, “Tell me exactly what I need to do to give me the best chance at surviving and flourishing once this is all over with.”
In my mind, wherever they set that bar, I’m raising it if it means I’ll have a better chance.
Once the confidence hit me, I felt empowered. But I’m not stupid. I know that mid-way through my treatment, I’ll probably want to crawl into a hole and disappear.
I realized early on that facing cancer head-on was the only approach that would work—at least for me. This is why I’ve chosen to write about this personal struggle and why I’ve not been ashamed or embarrassed to let people in on what’s happening.
I initially kept my diagnosis a secret, but I realized very quickly that the energy covering up for myself was more of a strain that a protection mechanism.
When the other coaches inquired why I wasn’t involved in my son’s baseball team this season, I simply revealed what was happening. Concocting some story would have felt devious and dishonest.
And what I’ve discovered is that revealing my situation has allowed many helpful conversations to ensue. Sure, I’ve received the prerequisite “Whatever you need” statements, but more importantly, I’ve heard so many uplifting stories of hope and promise.
Therefore, my first piece of advice after my cancer diagnosis is to toss aside the act. Let people know what you’re going through because no one should struggle alone.
This week’s feature, “Don’t Think Twice,” happens to be all about acting, but more specifically, improvisation and how one fictitious comedy troupe struggles to keep their art form alive.
Starring Keegan-Michael Key (of “Key and Peele” fame), “Don’t Think Twice” is an crafty synopsis of the comedienne’s life and the struggle to balance art with the yearning for success.
Anyone who has had experience in theater will find this picture rewarding. The character development is strong, the writing is quick and witty, and the overall charm of the story is endearing.
The only issue is that this picture is in limited release so you may have to travel to find a theater that it’s playing in.
An impromptu “B” for “Don’t Think Twice.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]
By Dom Cioffi