The Longest Journey

Guest Blogger, Dylan Eekhoff: A Burst of Air

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“Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”
I’d like to try to address this statement, seeing as I’ve been hearing it often since my diagnosis. I appreciate the overwhelming support I’ve been receiving, I really do. I just don’t like this statement. Although sympathy and attention are both pleasant to receive, I feel like I might be getting too much.

Here’s why: I’m probably not going to die. I say probably because spontaneous human combustion, although not overwhelmingly so, is a possibility. Google spontaneous human combustion. Unlike spontaneous human combustion, the kind of cancer I have is treatable. I feel like there are a million other people on this earth who deserve the prayers and kind words rather than me simply because there are a million other people who have been diagnosed with worse.

I’ll try to keep the butthurt bellyaching to a minimum from this point forward.

I don’t really know what to write now. I’m sure everyone has questions, none of which are stupid or unanswerable, but I don’t really know what to say. So, I guess I’ll start with what it was like to be diagnosed with cancer as a 20 year old whose outlook on life was finally looking hopeful. Initially, my diagnosis was the source of a lot of negative energy. I didn’t feel like my life was over, but I felt this overwhelming anger that sent me into somewhat of an episode of depersonalization/derealization. There was a lot of denial and self-loathing in the first week, a lot of wishing, and a lot of pain. I think I went a week without laughing or enjoying anything. It was also a week before I could really appreciate the support and kindness that was being sent my way via social media and prayers. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I do believe there’s some space magic afoot after I held hands and prayed with one of the hospital’s chaplains.

I want to be able to honestly say that I’m feeling great as of now. I want to say I’m feeling like a million bucks, but a more realistic appraisal would be somewhere in the range of $100,000-$250,000, depending on the day. I’ve accepted that the next few years of my life will be spent cautiously. I’ve accepted a lot of things. My sense of humor is gaining traction. I can get in and out of bed without assistance. I’m not constantly in pain. My only complaint is that my brain feels as if it is operating at less than half of what it’s capable of. It’s taken me more than a day to type this up, not just because I don’t know what to say, but because it takes an insane amount of effort to stay focused. What I’m experiencing is known as “post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment.” My fine motor skills I’ve developed have decayed quite a bit, resulting in a low typing speed, which is only made worse by the fact that I sometimes forget what I’m thinking as I’m typing. My vocabulary isn’t what it used to be. Multitasking is impossible. I do, however, have a good feeling about this. I don’t want to jump the gun and say I’m kicking ass and taking names here, but as of now, I feel like I’m back in control and getting through this is not a matter of, “if,” but, “when.”

Segueing has never been my forte, so I’m just going to jump into something else without reason. I was playing at my friend’s house one day when I first experienced what it was like to be convinced that I was going to die. I might have been in 1st or 2nd grade. I was over at Kevin Beese’s house playing on what could be the most magnificent buoy swing ever created. Now, I realize that the seeming immensity of this buoy swing was relative to my size at the time, and I might be disappointed if I were to revisit it, but I can see it in my mind’s eye with perfect clarity: a bright orange boat buoy suspended on a tree branch maybe fifty feet off the ground, then a thirty foot hill behind with tire steps to the top, and below all this was a large clearing with a little shrubbery and a blackberry bush in the middle. We would take turns jumping onto the buoy from near the top of the hill, swinging dangerously high back and forth from the hill to the clearing. One of us had a genius idea to not sit on the buoy as we swung, but to hold on for dear life while our feet dangled. We referred to this as “Supermanning,”I believe. Most of our Superman launches went without a hitch, until the one time I lost my grip above the clearing. I have no idea how far I fell, but I remember landing on my back on the edge of the blackberry bush. This knocked me unconscious for a few seconds, and when I came to, I couldn’t breathe. I had no control over my body, and as I impatiently waited for my lungs to begin functioning again, I was fairly certain that I would die right there in the blackberry bush. Of course, I didn’t, and as Kevin stood over me and asked if I was okay, I regained control and a burst of air shot into my lungs.

This, coincidentally, was what it was like to be told I have cancer. When I received my diagnosis, I went back to the blackberry bush, laying motionless with no feeling in my extremities, feeling as if a 500 pound weight was lying on my chest. I’m not sure exactly when, but sometime recently, I heard Kevin ask me if I was okay while a burst of air shot into my lungs.

17 replies »

  1. Dylan, it’s a good question: why should we care? We don’t know you, and most readers here know your father only through this blog, which means hardly at all. Some, like me, are only getting to know him, again inevitably only a little. But just like you, your dad’s blog was ticking along. Then this. And, guess what? You’re dad writes well, so it was easy to be drawn into the shock, drama and unfairness of having your healthy 20-year-old suddenly staring down mortality.

    You’re right. There are a lot of people worse off than you. But we don’t know those people. Like your dad wrote the other day, the hospital you’re in is always filled with sick and dying people. If you became emotionally invested in every one, you’d go nuts. But every now and then, when there’s a connection, even a flimsy one, people start to care about the well-being of that person, this stranger whose story we read once a day. And who doesn’t like a story? Only your story is real.

    For me, maybe it’s because I have a 19-year-old son myself, a basketball player with aspirations of college ball, tall, strong, an eating machine. It’s easy to imagine him in your shoes, mine in your dad’s. How would we react? What would we do? Again, it’s how we relate to the story. But the story is real. I’ve also spent a lot of time in hospitals with my kids (appendix, stitches, weird digestion thing) and my youngest daughter has something called tyrosinemia. Look it up if you’re bored. It’s something she’ll live with forever. Over the years, we’ve see kids a lot worse off than her. But people are private in hospitals, they stay strangers, so we’ve never connected with any of them. We don’t know their stories.

    There are a lot of strangers and strange things in the world, a lot of negativity. Don’t feel bad about accepting prayers or good vibes or positive energy magic voodoo, because they are true best wishes and meant for you, a kid who likes poetry, classical music and can string sentences together that are actually readable. That’s pretty special.

    Take care.

  2. Dylan,
    We didn’t talk much in high school, but I wanted to tell you that I am sorry that you are fighting a battle you never intended to. I can’t even imagine what you’re feeling. Even though you felt like you weren’t writing at the level you are capable of, this post was great and you are a fantastic writer. I can never understand what you’re going through, but you should know that despite there being other people who are in need of prayers and kind words, don’t dismiss the prayers and kind words that you receive. It just shows how many people care about you. You’re a great guy who will accomplish great things in your life. And as for the present time, “you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
    – A.A. Milne

  3. I think you nailed it, Dylan. Keep breathing. I’m old and careful now, but I remember the terrifying feeling of getting the wind knocked out of me. And that wonderful burst of air that started to take the pain away.
    Non-sequitur: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Cancer sucks, but in my life the people who have experienced it have examined their lives, and come out better.
    Keep breathing!

  4. Dylan, you wrote a really powerful post, on many levels. You are a great writer and a deep thinker. Your Dad has to be incredibly proud of you for the fine young man you’ve become. We all hope you’ll be back on track very soon.

  5. Great post Dylan! I always knew you were incredibly talented and brilliant even when others may have just seen you as the class clown. 🙂 Glad to hear you’re feeling between $100,000-$250,000 at least. Hope you continue to feel better as your journey continues.

  6. Oh my Dylan you’re breaking my heart with your wonderful blog. You def have your Mom and Dad’s Talent of writing. I wish I had 1/5 of what you have. I have a feeling between the two of you there is a book in the making. That losing your breath thing really reminded me of the time when I lost mine in Jackson Park Navy Housing. I was jumping on Uncle Jerry’s bed and got too much air and sailed off the end of his bed flat on my back. holy cow, those few second without air or never having experienced that was so scary. Air and breathing is a good thing – I see a whole lot of breathing going on with you, like a minimum of 80 or more. Keep inspiring. I love your honesty and your sense of humor. Not everybody has this kind of grace. Embrace it and your wonderful self. I totally concur with the above comments. I see great things in store for you, some of them are already happening. Gosh just this past December you were a teen of 19, then late December you became 20 and a Man. I’m sure you were already a man before the age of 20, but it all seems so unreal. It took me like 8 months to come to terms with my diagnosis. You are a fast learner. Love love love you and praying/thinking positive thoughts for you and of you. Auntie anita

  7. Dylan, the picture of you and Kevin on the buoy swing makes me smile (well, except for the part where you fell). 🙂 I appreciated reading your words and perspective. I love you (and your family) so much and will continue to send prayers/cancer free vibes your way! Love, Jenny

  8. For someone who is suffering post-chemo impairment, you knocked the end of that post out of the park. As Ross said above, most of us don’t know you or your dad or family, but just follow his words through a computer screen. Normally in my 40-somethign anti-technology rants I talk about how much I hate the level of interpersonal relations that take place on a screen–on line, etc. But then I read this and well…it’s like a breath of air. Good luck in your recovery, Dylan. There are a lot of people you don’t know out there pulling for you.

  9. I feel like some kind of strange cyber stalker. I’ve been here, daily reading the blog posts, marveling at the empathy they envoke (while also feeling blessed to have been taught by such a talented writer). I have wanted to offer my prayers, and my well wishes, but it seemed so empty and meaningless. I want to DO something. I realize that there is nothing I can do for you from here. However, I would like to you to know that all of the blog posts have inspired in me the empathy necessary to SEE. I can see others who are suffering. I can unwrap myself from my daily struggles and see the needs of people who are within my circle of influence. I may not be able to do anything for you directly, but please know that I will do something tangible for someone going through a similar trial that I know personally.

    • Audrey-
      Thanks for stalking my blog. That’s why its there. I have found the writing has been very helpful for me to process this difficult time. I think one of my goals as I started was to be honest about how all of this was hitting me. I think, like you, this process has built even more empathy for those who are suffering. Which is never a bad thing.

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