Paddling Fearlessly, Hairlessly Into Life

Posted on: Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Posted in: SoulTrain | 3 comments


“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called Life,” sings Prince in Let’s Go Crazy. That’s familiar: “Get through it…” as I penned in my last post. But I would also submit—and my many euphoric nights going crazy at Prince shows confirm he’d agree—that we are also gathered here to celebrate this thing called Life.

That’s what my perfect daughter and I did a few days before school started, with a back-to-school, daddy-date tradition of paddling Minneapolis’s chain of lovely lakes and then perusing ever-funky Uptown. I loved the canoeing. She loved the shopping. We both loved lunch al fresco.

Let’s go crazy? Heck, yeah! Cancer makes you crazy—or at least provides a handy excuse—while also provoking some people around you to do kinda crazy things. The BreakAway blog has gone out-to-lunch too; we (the Royal) used to preach about making and taking time for what matters: career breaks, long-term travel, seeking balance, and listening to that dreamy (if crazy) voice inside of you.

Has that trip been hijacked? Or am I on a bad-thing BreakAway? I’ve written about that too—how even for purposeful people, it sometimes takes the bad thing to force the gift of time. Sickness or death of a loved one. A relationship ending. Getting fired. Guess we can add cancer (and other ills) to the list. If this is a restoration BreakAway, let’s go!

  • Hair today, gone tomorrow


Last Friday, hair began falling like the leaves of Octember. And was about as messy. I am nothing if not fastidious and frugal (not), so I raced to Great Clips for my free “Courage Cut,” and got the Greatest Clipper. She preached the Gospel of Laughter, became yet another comic-duo sidekick, and had me chuckling and hairless lickety-split. Sure, it feels funny—smooth like velvet when stroked forward, scratchy like bristles backward. Mirrors and silhouettes still startle me. Who is that cat?

But as my stylist and new friend asserted when I lamented this insignificant and inevitable evolution, “Hey, there are worse things in this world!” And just like that…Pity. Party. Over.

  • A rant about reactions

My comedy post went over well, but today may veer in the direction of rant. But that’s cool, I think, as many successful comedians have resorted to ranting: Sam Kinison, Sarah Silverman, Donald Trump.

As you know, I’m the luckiest man in the world—because I have so many friends. And that has made getting through this breezy so far. The help, communiqués, and connections continue to arrive, in all forms. The great majority are supportive, inspiring, and sweet. (A few short faves include, “Uffda!,” “Go kick some ass!” and “Picked the wrong dude.”) Others are memorable for other reasons—like a mosh-pit at a Tony Bennett concert. Let’s explore a few highlights of both types, shall we?

  • The bipolar nurse

During perhaps the worst procedure I’ve endured, in a roomful of people holding various farm implements, I was belly-down while they drilled into my bones, med-free (not recommended). It went on and on, didn’t go well, and took many taps. In my hour of darkness, a perky nurse came to my aid and said, “Here, hold my hands. Go ahead and squeeze.” So I did. And the sound of her breaking bones soon drowned out the grunts and gizmos. The nurse and I quickly launched into cathartic comic-duo banter.

When it was finally over, she pulled her limp hands away, and I deadpanned my closing line: “I hope you enjoyed our first date as much as I did.”

Everyone laughed on cue, and the others gradually disappeared. The nurse stayed to ensure I was okay, yet snuck out soon enough as I sat there dazed and half-nude in one of those half-assed hospital robes. I forget our final chat, but it must have gotten cancer-deep. Because as she left the room, she yawned and muttered, “Well, when it’s your time…”

Alone and stunned, I could only think, “Did she just say that!?!” Given another chance, I’d tear open that door, burst out in my bruised birthday suit, and holler, “PICKED THE WRONG DUDE!” And, “WE ARE SO DONE DATING!”

  • What is the cause, Kenneth?

Another forehead-gripper came from a close friend. During a pre-chemo party, he reflected, “I just can’t wait til this is over and we can figure out the cause.” Hmmmm. Wow. That golf-ball tumor in my head is going to lead the world to understanding lymphoma? I can’t wait til this is over, we go public, save countless lives, and make millions!

I’ll tell you what causes cancer. It’s the same thing that causes skinned knees, broken legs, and broken hearts: Life. It’s a fatal disease we all share. And I propose we all embrace its immense and infinite mysteries.

  • The scathing psycho-soul assessment

Yet another longtime friend hand-wrote a 3-page letter that essentially stated that the reason this happened is because I live too much in my head. I need to open my heart. I need to free my soul. And I need to master my mind-body connection. It went on and on, and included book recommendations. I’ll just leave it at that.

But I didn’t at the time. I mean, who could? My very being had been judged and dissed.

So my very being started raging. And Buster (my soul’s bodyguard and Anger’s BFF) awakened in a foul mood. My best AdvisorZ tell me to watch out for Buster during this time. Stress too. They are toxic, I’m told, and my body is already being filled with an extreme poison cocktail. But try telling that to my slandered body, mind, heart, and soul. Try telling Buster anything.

I argued with Buster in my head. I instructed him to think about our compassion, meditation, and Zen work. But instead, Buster took to using a Buddha statue for a punching bag. So I stuck a WWJD bumper sticker over his face. But he ripped it off and pumped adrenaline, like gasoline, into my veins. And then, with spit and sweat splattering off his purple head, Buster bellowed, “Let’s go kick some ass!”

Being a strong Iowa boy, though, I hog-tied Buster and threw him back in his cell. We negotiated from there. Buster did convince me to write a reply; I said we’d keep it short and polite. I later had a mutual acquaintance deliver that reply along with the letter I’d received—and then rip mine to shreds after the first writer had read it once. “Please don’t respond,” I wrote. “I’ve moved on.” And we will. Because that’s what friends do.

Yet I would like to offer this simple advice: Please think twice before offering advice. Particularly when your advisee is in a vulnerable position. Especially if you weren’t even asked.

At least that’s my opinion. And it’s very true.

  • The scarred—not scared—angel

On the sympathetic side of the reaction scale, at a recent St. Paul Saints baseball game, I was shopping for a baseball chemo cap in their gift store. There were dozens—hundreds?—of options. But I’m just not a cap guy. So I asked a nearby hip and outdoorsy couple to help me; it’s St. Paul, after all. They did, and we quickly found a soft fabric and ideal design.

As we parted, I explained that I was undergoing chemo, so I needed hats to warm my soon-to-be bald head. The gentleman, wearing a most dapper and proper hat, smiled and said, “Really? I’m getting over brain surgery, myself. We’re gonna be fine.”

He doffed that dapper hat to reveal a shaved head with a fresh scar that would make Frankenstein jealous. And we fell into a robust handshake-hug. As inspiration goes, that saintly stranger hit a home run.

  • The language of compassion 

For one more story of grace, I ran into an acquaintance originally from Mexico. We don’t know each other well, but have a warm connection. Sadly, my Spanish is worse than his English. So we meet in the middle and use gestures—as you do when traveling foreign lands.

When I told him I have cancer, his face showed shock, his eyes got teary, and he turned away to hide his emotion. After a moment, he turned back and looked me straight-on. He tried to find words, but could not. So he simply clutched his heart with both hands.

Enough said.

  • Sumus quod sumus

I can do no better than to quote the Lake Wobegon motto: Sumus quod sumus: We are what we are. People will do what they’ll do, and say what they‘ll say, whatever their belief system—itself an inexplicable oxymoron. One must expect to digest reactions of all flavors at times like this, as I anticipated in my announcement post.

Well-meaning people sometimes drive each other crazy. I suppose I do—certainly my daughter. (Hey, I’m her dad. It’s my job.) But we paddle on—if not fearlessly, at least seeking the courage of other cancer victims, MLK, Gandhi, and, of course, Apple.

Most important: I’m so grateful for your steady stream of support, however it shows up. So keep those vibes and missives coming. And if they displease Buster or serve me too much to think, well, that’s fine. To be Frank, That’s Life.

Life. We got this. Thanks for listening…

Back to my roots…for a new kind of buzz.

Back to my roots…for a new kind of buzz.


PS First spinal chemo tomorrow. All-day chemo Thursday, plus the start of the next five-day course of that elephant-dose of that effing steroid. So send thoughts, and go celebrate some normal Life for me. More soon when they’ve scraped me off the ceiling…

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3 Responses to “Paddling Fearlessly, Hairlessly Into Life

  1. Miranda moss Says:

    Hi again kirk, I must of pressed the wrong button and perhaps my first email didn’t get to you or maybe this is the second version, anyway I just wanted to say I am thinking of you and sending you a big big hug. As for the hair you look great! I was lucky when I lost my hair because Hideki was so good about it. He called me “kiwi head”and would give me a pat. So kind and understanding. Your friends and kind nurses and true grit will get you through this…and. If my experience is anything like yours…euphoria is on the other side!

    I love your narrative, but it’s so hard to read, brings back all the memories, good and bad. Last year my cancer came back so we had a few terrifying weeks when you have to hear things like you are now, and it’s so hard. I see how brave you are and admire you so much.

  2. Kirk Horsted Says:

    Hi Miranda!

    Pardon the pause; I’m on chemo time and doing my best to juggle reality, appointments, and this cloudy state of being. That said, I still feel good mostly–and have good friends and medical folks to help with bumpy patches. “Kiwi head.” I like that! I fit that bill though the fuzz is falling now. I’ll await the next nicknames…and especially the euphoria on the other side!

    I’m so sorry to hear your cancer came back. My vibes and prayers are heading your way, and I wish you once again strength and grace–which I know you have aplenty. Keep up your bravery, know that you TOO are admired by so many people, and please catch this big hug I’m sending backatcha. With love, *kirk

  3. Beth Stava Says:

    Your candor and spirit in handling “Life” is uplifting, and I believe will lift you. All my best thoughts with you each day as you “kick ass.” (Damn I wish I could write as well as you)

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