My First Time

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This will be my first time seeing it in a store.

I walk in the revolving door, holding my breath as I push my way into the large room, all the air being heavily conditioned. I walk towards the aisle.

New Non-Fiction. The second aisle in. Books jumping out at me. Begging to be bought.

Wait. I don’t see it. I look around intently. I apparently look in need of help. A Barnes and Nobles employee approaches and asks, “may I help you find something?”

Not wanting to be the guy that asks where is own book is, I politely explain “I’m just looking.” I continue my search. Obviously not “just looking.”

There must be a mistake. I’m tempted to call my dad and make sure it’s in stores. But I stop myself. I want to find it for myself. It’s a  new book. It’s nonfiction. Where the hell else would it be?

I finally go up to the person at the help desk. “Hey how can I help you?” he wearily asks. He’s not a huge fan of what he does.

“Hi, I’m looking for new nonfiction book. It’s called Home Before Dark.”

He frowns and types a few things. “Treadways?” I feel a thrill when he says my last name. But I try and stay casual, “yup”

“Third floor, health section.” And with that I’m dismissed, so he can get back to hating his life.

With a little trepidation I climb the stairs to the third floor. Is this how it’s going to be in every store? No big promotion in the front? Just allocated to some dusty back corner?

I get to the health section. A formidable area. Health Education. Nutritional Health. General Health. Medical Journals. Experimental Health. I start browsing. I’m unsuccessful. Our book is nowhere to be found. He was mistaken. It’s supposed to be downstairs, where everyone can see.

Just as I start to entertain this idea, I turn the corner and see the Cancer section. And there it is. Our book.

It’s hard to describe seeing your book in stores. But I can tell you what. All of a sudden it didn’t matter that I was on the third floor in a far off corner of a bookstore. My family’s book is in print and it’s in a store. Amazing.

She looks scared and brave. Her bright multi colored scarf is wound elegantly around her head. She is carefully made-up with pencilled in arched eyebrows. Despite the bronzer, she’s pale, drawn.

But she’s smiling as she says, “I have stage four ovarian cancer. I know that’s not good. I have been reading about it in on the Internet. It doesn’t sound good at all but they already have taken out my lady parts and they said they thought they got it all.  So  who knows, I still have hope. I mean why not. Hell, you’ve got to have hope.”

“As I am sure you can tell,” she says smiling ruefully, “I’ve already started my chemo. It feels terrible. The only thing I can eat is dry cheerios which taste like cardboard chips.”

“Anyway, I’m here because a friend of mine said that you had it too, I mean cancer, obviously not ovarian. You have to excuse me, I am more than I little anxious. Anyway, I understand that you and your family have written about it and supposedly you’re a good therapist.”

She pauses then she sits up straight, squares her shoulders, and gives me a big grin, and says, “ So, how do you like me so far?”

I chuckle and say, “Well, Alice, I’m liking you quite a bit so far. I’m guessing you’re kind of a pistol.”

“You got that right, Doc. But don’t let my act fool you. I am scared out of my mind.”

“Tell me about that, Alice………..”

So our journey has begun. Both of us know that it could be a very rough road with a very sad tough ending. She knows that her survival odds are quite poor and yet she has no way of knowing and neither do the doctors exactly how much time she has. And she also knows that “statistics don’t describe individuals” She might be the one in a hundred. They might come up with a new treatment. She could make it. Like I have.

And that’s why I am here. Five years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a shooting pain in my shoulder. Within a week I moved from feeling completely healthy to having difficulty getting up and down stairs. I had extremely aggressive stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a a less than 25% chance for survival.

I am one of those miracles. I didn’t expect to be here. I don’t deserve to be here more than anyone else. But some how I am. During the worst of my illness, I joined a cancer support group. In the year I was in it, half our group died. But everyone no matter how sick they were supported each other. Even those who were getting worse were able to cheer me on as I was getting better. We visited each other in the hospital and went to each other’s funerals. We wept together and we laughed together. Membership in the club nobody wants to belong to allowed us to help each other from a profound and healing sense of our shared experience. I knew that if I was fortunate enough to get well, I wanted to devote the rest of my life to working with cancer patients, their spouses and their families.  I felt I could use my experience to connect more fully with my clients; to bridge the empathy gap that sometimes exist between us therapists and our patients.

And it would be my way of giving back.

So far it’s working well. Word is getting out. I am getting more referrals. I am seeing couples, and whole families. I am carefully sharing some of my and my families experiences when it might be helpful. People seemed to be pleased that I have “been there and done that.”

And yet many of the people I am seeing won’t be as fortunate as I have been. Some of the people I am seeing like Alice have particularly sought me out because I had such a dreadful prognosis and my recovery seems to inspire hope: even when medically, hope really isn’t very warranted. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all.

Then I remind myself, my job isn’t to save people, it’s to be with them with all of my heart on their path. My hope is to help them help them face what they need to face, and to say what they need to say. I know this: grieving alone lasts forever, grieving together heals.

Next week Alice is going to bring her daughter, Julia in for a session.  They have been partially estranged since Alice’s divorce from her father. Julia’s been studying stage 4 ovarian too. She knows the odds.

Hopefully, they will be able to connect, let go of their past, and face the unknown future together. I don’t know if that can happen. But, as Alice would say, “Hell, you’ve got to have hope.”

So let me tell the tale of my trip to Nashville that took place just about a year ago. A little back story first that you wouldn’t know from just reading our book or our website. I’m a eater. I love to eat and I can eat a lot. Kobyashi the famed Japanese competitive eater is an idol of mine. I have a reputation. My friends nicknamed my stomach (that’s a whole other blog post in and of itself). I just love food.

When I get off the plane in the early evening, my brother informed me that the first order of business is food. I was psyched. He then told me that I’ll be eating all you can eat breakfast. Bonus! And then he tells me I’m going to be competing. What? Competing?

Apparently he had told his good friend Josh that I can eat. A lot. And Josh wanted to test his eating ability against mine. So we head out of town to the “Loveless Café”

There are 6 of us there, Mike, Josh, his wife and two of their friends, and me. The rules are simple. This isn’t like a buffet. You just order what you want, and then they keep bringing plates of each item out to you until you can’t eat anymore. So the idea is that our plates have to be the same servings, and then we just go plate for plate.

Each plate consists of bacon, ham, scrambled eggs, hashbrown casserole (basically fried potatoes with cheese and cream tossed in), biscuits, and sausage gravy. I’m not exactly sure what goes into sausage gravy but it’s thick and white with chunks in it; it looks like liquid meat. Delicious!

So we’re going for it. 3 plates in we’re both doing fine. Everyone else at the table is done eating. There is a little hiatus while we wait for more eggs to come out. In the mean time I suggest a little intermezzo or amuse bouchee. I suggest a bacon sandwich. Meaning bacon in a biscuit. But Josh looks down at the table and doesn’t see the biscuits so he thinks I mean bacon wrapped in ham. That’s right a bacon sandwich with ham as the bread. I can’t now look like a chump and tell him I meant biscuits so of course we both eat those. Again, Delicious.

Fast forward to plate #7. Each contestant is showing signs of fatigue. For me, I just can’t eat any more hash brown casserole. It feels like it just sticks to my mouth and I can’t swallow. But I push through and finish the plate. So does Josh. We look at each other. Not feeling well. But also not about to admit defeat. We agree that we can’t eat anymore breakfast.

Time for dessert.

My brother (who’s had time to recover) and I both order blueberry pie with ice cream. Josh gets bread pudding. The judges agree that these are fair portions sizes. I finish my blueberry pie in seconds. (I love my pie!) It takes Josh a few minutes but he finally gets down his bread pudding. My brother on the other hand took one bite of pie and gave up.

I saw my opening and I took it. I ate my brother’s pie. That’s right after 7 plates of breakfast, plus a bacon and ham sandwich I had not one but two pieces of pie. I snuck out a win! Way to go Sam. And then I didn’t do anything for the next 24 hours.

The next night we’re out on the town. Nashville isn’t big but it’s got this great strip of bars. Bar after bar, right next to each other. Each bar is exactly the same. Big stage, big bar, and usually a dance floor set up. At one bar I’m sipping on a beer with my brother and his girlfriend and I notice something peculiar. the bar is super busy. Like cramped. The band is rocking out with some great country tunes. And not a soul is on the dance floor. It’s completely empty.

Along with being able to eat, another of my unsung talents is dancing. I’m not a good dancer by any stretch of the imagination but having high energy and a lack of consideration for how I look is a underrated combo. I’ve even been known to get the dance party started at weddings and things.

So I size up the situation at the bar and I tell me brother. “I bet you $20 I can get at least 20 people to start dancing.” He takes the bet with a chuckle assuming there is no way I can accomplish this feat.

What do I do next? I run on to the dance floor and do a round-off. Not some pansy cart-wheel but a full kick-ass, gymnastics level, round-off. Then I turn back to the crowd. Every single eye is on me. I start gesturing for people to join me. I look pleadingly into their faces. No one wants anything to do with me. I start to dance and then a horrible realization comes over me. I can fake dance to a lot of different kinds of music but country is not one of them. I look like an idiot attempting some sort of square dance type of maneuver. After a minute which feels like an hour absolutely no one comes out on to the dance floor. Everyone is still looking at me. But no one is coming to my aide. It was terrible. Eventually I give up and trudge back over to my laughing brother.

The next song? Johnny went down to Georgia. You know the one, with the fiddle made of gold and betting your soul and all that. Well of course when that comes on everyone floods the dance floor and I look like even more of an idiot. As I’m half heartedly dancing along a girl comes up to me, grabs me, and gives me a big kiss. She says she’s never laughed so hard! Thanks.

And thank you Nashville for all the memories. And not one of them had anything to do with cancer.