I owe a lot to cancer…

Don’t get me wrong. If I saw cancer personified walking down the street I would kick its ass. Yet, if it weren’t for numerous people whom I love having cancer I would not have the life-perspective I have now. I would still be sleeping. I wouldn’t get it.

This is not to say I haven’t had interesting moments with cancer. The most “colorful” one that comes to mind involved my father. I agreed to check in on my dad when my mother had to be out of state to tend to her mother. My father was already diagnosed and was receiving chemo treatment. I spent the night at my childhood home and had a wonderful time talking with my father. We explored spirituality and the meaning of life. We ate. We laughed.

I learned a lot about him I hadn’t known simply by listening (hint, hint, wink, wink…take the time to listen to those whom you love and you may find that love deepen. I digress.) I remember he was having a little trouble breathing when he would walk up and down the stairs…actually he sounded like a 40-year smoker who just ran a marathon trying to catch his breath. It was concerning but this was not a new symptom so it was a “Good night, love you,” and off to la-la land to catch some Zs. I woke and off to work I went.

I called my dad during the day. No answer. I told myself to relax. He probably was napping. Then, one of my doctor brothers texted me and urged me to check on my dad ASAP. When I was done at work I headed directly to the house. I will never forget that moment. I walked in the door and the house was silent. No lights on. The dog was next to my father’s chair as he sat quite motionless. I knew something was wrong.

He confirmed the same with a list of symptoms which he minimized. I spoke to the on-call oncologist, who happened to be a friend. She was a godsend through the entire process. I am eternally grateful to her!

My father was admitted to the hospital and they began figuring out what needed to happen to stabilize him. I spent a few hours talking with family and then hugged my dad, told him I loved him, and went home to let his dog out. This is where the true story begins.

I returned home and let the dog out. I had a couple beers, talked to my wife and kids, and then fell asleep on the couch. I woke early in the morning. Again, I only had a couple of beers so I was a little concerned when I noticed the overwhelming stench of feces. I can honestly say I thought for a moment I had shit myself. It wouldn’t have been one of my prouder moments, yet, oh, if only I would have been that blessed. I proceeded to trace the increasing pungent smell back to where the dog had retired for the evening. Oh, God. I will never forget that scene.

It looked as though someone has slaughtered a small animal in some cult ritual and blood was everywhere. Now replace the blood with liquid dog shit. Most animal lovers have said at this point in my storytelling, “Poor little guy.” I love animals so don’t get me wrong here, but I loved my parents’ dog a little less that day.

Sure, it was not his fault but holy shit (no pun intended)! It was in his fur, on the walls, on his bed, on the floor, on the other walls, possibly on the ceiling, and eventually all over me. I proceeded to fight vomiting repeatedly as I was swearing and racking my brain on how to fix this and get to the hospital in time for the doctor consult scheduled for early that morning. I also had a conference I had to attend that morning. Great start to this day! Little did I know.

My mom told me to take the dog to the vet where he hopefully could stay. I gave a quick washing to the dog then loaded his soiled body into my father’s new truck…not really sure what else to do – I was praying I would not have to hose that thing down too. I was off like a bat out of Hell. As we were driving, the dog repeatedly would squat as though he was going to launch another wave of brown-goodness just to push me over the edge. I would speed up or move the wheel to have his balance go off so he wouldn’t let it go. I must have looked like a drunk driver. I wasn’t paying attention until I noticed the sirens and flashing lights.

This poor young officer, at least 10 years younger than I, walked to the driver-side window. I looked up and completely lost it. I sobbed as I told him, “I’m sorry officer. I know I was speeding. I am about a block or two away from the vet’s where I am dropping off my parents’ dog who is covered in shit. My dad is in the hospital with cancer and I don’t know what the hell is happening with him. My mom is in Virginia. This isn’t my truck and I don’t have the registration. I’m going to be late for my conference. I haven’t seen my wife and kids for a couple days and I’m wearing my dad’s underwear.” (I forgot to bring extra clothes – whoops).

The poor man was shocked. He slowly and calmly said, “Ummmm…I’ll be right back.” I forgot to tell you this all occurred at a busy intersection which led to my wife calling me asking if I was pulled over and crying in my dad’s car on Ridge road. Yes. Yes, I am. Apparently, numerous friends witnessed this event and were compelled to share it with my wife.

The officer returned and graciously said, “I hope your dad is okay,” handed me a warning and told me to slow it down. Sweet. A break. Thank, God! I take off for the vet’s. I open the back of the truck and the dog tries to take off. I slammed down on him to keep him from running…now touching his shitty fur, yet again…flood of frustration returning. Then I realize it looks from the viewpoint of the various workers at the clinic as though I was abusing the dog. Great. Now I have to haul him in and be wrongfully judged as an animal beater. I get the dog checked in – they were amazing and I am eternally grateful to them, as well – and then I was off to my conference.

I break down crying to my wife about everything that has transpired. I typically tend to hold it together and then fall apart. As I was talking with her I drove across town only to realize the conference was only a couple miles from the vet’s office, right where I originally was. This was when I started to laugh. What the hell else can you do?

I made it to the conference. My father stabilized and was released from the hospital. The dog was cleaned, as was the “nightmare” in my parents’ back hallway. The dog calmed and was happy to see my dad. I bought a new mattress for the dog…which was another story in itself as there was dog feces on the floor in Fleet Farm…at least I kind of hope it was dog feces as opposed to it not being from a dog. My mom returned to her home and I to mine. Eventually, I wore my own underwear. Everything went back to functional status. But I was forever changed.


You may wonder what the message is. Remember not to speed in a borrowed car with a shit-covered dog with colitis while wearing your father’s underwear.

Just kidding, but not bad advice. The bottom line is that things can continue to escalate in life with tons of shit…literally. We need to recognize that it will stabilize. Things will get bad but then they get better. We need to be happy with what we have and enjoy the moments when chaos is absent. We need to take moments to extend love to everyone in our lives. I recently was talking with one of my patients who was pondering how we know or understand ourselves and how this often is related to being faced with a challenge. He is a wise man and is right. How we respond to stress, no matter the size, determines our character. We overcome challenges all the time. Some are big. Some are small. Regardless, stress is guaranteed. So is death. Don’t forget to laugh and enjoy the ride while reminding yourself that you will make it through this.


Take an inventory of the stress you are facing now. Think of times when you have experienced a stressor similar to this in the past. How did you overcome it? Did you think there was no way you would? Take the solution from the past and apply it to the present. Ask for help if needed, but don’t count yourself out – you may already have the answer. Do something fun that brings you true joy.

Be real about your emotions. Be vulnerable. Be you.