What Doesn’t Kill You…

Posted on: Monday, October 24th, 2016
Posted in: SoulTrain | 20 comments

When this war is over, I as SO going back to hang out in the cemeteries of NOLA. (Photo by Baron Baron.)

When this war is over, I as SO going back to hang out in the cemeteries of NOLA. (Photo by Baron Baron.)

It’s been 7 hours and 76 days… And 32 days since my last public posting. Wait/what? Me? Speechless? Yep. Read on. You’ll get this… 

The tally keeps mounting, and so far features 555 tests, 3 all-day chemos, 3 spinal tap/chemos (with 2 to go), waaaaay too many days-without-end on that nervous-breakdown steroid, more pills than a CVS, and still TBD weeks of cranial radiation to head into. Words. Fall. Short.

At of our most recent game of nasal peek-a-boo, Dr. Nostril announced that my sinus cavity is “Perfect! Normal!” I like to dance a crazy jig when anyone calls any part of me “normal.” Yet the C+ Squad keeps searching for (and nuking) any covert enemy cells. So the dance party awaits a more conclusive victory and ceasefire. 

We’re still battling. And cancer IS war, after all. Ask anyone. 

This week, I have medical appointments Monday-Friday—which will pour extra T into TGIF. This schedule offers excellent opportunities for my struggling cancer-victim comedy routine; I’ll get to practice my gags with All the Greats. Which is to say…my sense of humor has never left. Though it has sometimes gone to the bathroom. The wisecracks can turn dark—if not foul—in there. So I sometimes split a gut at things that, in the before-life, weren’t funny at all.

  • About that war on cancer

We can only assume that the Brain Trust that declared war on cancer are the same muckety-mucks that brought us the war on drugs, ISIS, terror, science, religion, cops, the rich, the poor, and now, clowns (who knew?). As good Merkans, when in doubt, we declare war.

So many spirited supporters instruct me to “fight!” “attack!” and “beat!” that cancer! Angry expletives happen, with a fave FB reply to my first announcement stating simply, “Fuck cancer.” I get it. Because I got this.

War scenes? I’ve had a few. And since you asked, a few to mention. Like the toxic chemo spill—when the nurse in the haz-mat regalia spilled the most dangerous poison (the pretty magenta one) all over, well, everything. Picture red seagull flying poop on a windy day. The cleanup was chaotic, dramatic, and stinky. So after several minutes of watching this sick SNL skit, I escaped from my recliner, much to the space crew’s displeasure. The all-day chemo combat then went into overtime—with action that included a tedious two-hour delay of war penalty and several bloody stabs for a new, improved IV.

Some nurses, visibly frustrated, would ask me things like, “Why don’t you have a port?” to which I could only reply, “Why don’t you have a smelly gym sock in your mouth?” So at times, the war-is-hell slogan makes imperfect sense. And I begin to grasp, if not live, the metaphor. In these scenes, my sense of humor def makes like Elvis and leaves the building, and simple survival instincts take over.

Toxic spills happen. Why all the fuss? They are pumping that same contaminant into my body...

Toxic spills happen. Why all the fuss? They are pumping that same contaminant into my body…

Almost as hilarious have been the many people around who have gotten sick with colds, tummy bugs, and other seasonal grotesquerie. When I asked for advice from my care team, they handed me stacks of surgical masks. Naïvely, I stammered, “Um, do I have to wear these all the time? People are hacking on everything and piling up Kleenex like a snowstorm.” “No, silly,” the doctors laughed, “The sick people wear the masks!” So I chuckled back, “Ahhhhh, sure!” “Gesundheit!” they replied. (Not really.)

Well, you can guess how that surgical mask initiative went over. The masks remain neatly stacked and untouched, yet I have somehow remained unsick, even though unwell enough to have vital counts now much lower than what’s left of my IQ. So clearly—somehow—I AM WINNING THIS WAR!

  • Nobody wants to hear about…

But I know, I know. Nobody wants to hear about toxic spills, sickness, and snot-rags. Nobody wants to read about the chemo-brain headache that no opioid can remedy or the head-to-toe backache. Nobody wants to think about numb extremities causing more dropsies than a cheap drunk. Nobody wants to hear about burning pee, tastelessness (not just my jokes), or when the bucket list becomes strategically placed literal things.

  • “It’s so worth it…”

So I won’t go there. Like I said, words fall short. Anyway, in all honesty, it’s not all bad—and I frequently cross paths with suffering souls that make me both choke and buck up. Yes, my cancer BreakAway features an arduous itinerary of daredevil excursions, yet they most always end up in a place with a beautiful view and unshakeable sense of serenity. It might take a Week from Hell to get there. But as one survivor-friend encouraged me early on, “It’s so worth it!”

On this journey (why does everyone insist on calling it a journey?), I’ve worked with some unfathomably compassionate healers. I’ve seen a side of friendship that has changed my definition of kindness. I’ve enjoyed enough high-vita juices and protein smoothies for a lifetime, though I intend to keep imbibing. Even shaving got easy. And though the all these drugs are probably aging me, parts of me look like a Millennial!

  • Declaring a state of peace
A+! This brilliant card from my writing students at MCAD has made me LOL over and over. Thank you!

A+! This brilliant card from my writing students at MCAD has made me LOL over and over. Thank you!

So like the rest of me, the humor perseveres. And despite the fear and writhing—or perhaps because of it?—peace happens. Dependably. Freakishly. I mean, the little sh*t goes out the window, right? And of course, it all becomes little sh*t right about now.

So maybe it’s true: What doesn’t kill you makes you…tougher. You can’t survive a war without toughness. And somewhere inside that tough, needle-pocked, thick skin rests a sense of sage acceptance that no retreat can teach, no poster can preach, no thought leader can think, and no emoji can emote. It’s like the 90-minute spinal tap that strikes nerves of unthinkable pain, but when it’s over sets off a superhuman glow of relief and ease.

All to say…my body is not at war with itself. And we are not “fighting” anything (except the occasional nurse). To be sure: My anatomy made a mistake—not the first, and not the last. But, corny as this sounds, only patience, loving-kindness, and Iowa Stubborn will fix that mistake. Oh yeah, and that pretty magenta chemo (injected not spilled) plus a cornucopia of other miracles in medical arts.

So let’s just save our dang rage for the election. Or the terrorists. Or the Vikings-Packers game. Or whatever.

As they say in church, mercifully, because the service (like this missive) is finally over: Peace be with you.

And also with me.

(I got this.)

Thanks for listening…

Sunrises remain a reminder of daily beauty but pale in comparison to peak fall colors. (Artwork by Elsa Elsa.)

Sunrises remain a reminder of daily beauty but pale in comparison to peak fall colors. (Artwork by Elsa Elsa.)

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20 Responses to “What Doesn’t Kill You…”

  1. Gary Says:

    We love you, Kirk

  2. Kirk Horsted Says:

    And I love you back, dear friends.

  3. Joan and Jay Says:

    Wah. I want it to be over for you. We’re here with yummy food when your taste buds and your appetite come back xoxox

  4. Kirk Horsted Says:

    It will be over soon. Really! And my app&buds are on the mend. Keep the good vibes coming and that yummy food hot!

  5. Lynette Says:

    Sweet of them to send a card, but it is Time for a litle lesson on plagiarism, I’m afraid. I recognize that snarky cancer line from a line of cards created by a Macalester alum ( as published in our alumni magazine).

  6. Kirk Horsted Says:

    Plagiarism? Oh well, there are only so many clever phrases around. And I’ll take the sentiment of this one for now. In fact, you got me thinking about starting my own line of snarky cancer cards…!…

  7. Kim Says:

    After the first chuckle re: the timely 555 number, I was aghast: how in the HELL did they fit 555 tests into 76 days??? And then the thought of spinal chemo and steroids really made me shudder. Neuropathy sucks, and why can’t they put the IV in your fingers or toes where you can’t feel it? I can’t imagine what you’re going through and of course, I wish you didn’t have to find out, but man, you deserve a congressional medal. Or a year-long vacation with family in your favorite beautiful place.

    I am so, so sorry you have to live through this awful stuff but so glad to see you’ve retained your humor and sent the tumor packing. Keep hanging in there. You have lots of people wish you WELL.

  8. Kirk Horsted Says:

    I’m ready for that vacation. Year-long, you say? That sounds about right! But I’ll be grateful for a few weeks without a medical appointment! All those people wishing me WELL are doing great work. Thanks for your words of empathy and support!

  9. Shan Says:

    Hey! Was just thinking this afternoon haven’t seen an update for awhile. Now I know why. You certainly have a great way of putting all into perspective. Life happens. Positive energy your way. I love you.

  10. Kirk Horsted Says:

    Hey! Glad you noticed my silence! Perspective. It comes and goes–like the Bad Thing. Love you back, mon vieux…

  11. Karenthe swede Says:

    Thinking of you and your courage. Love sent your way every day for wellness.

  12. Kirk Horsted Says:

    Thanks, Karen. You keep sending and I’ll keep mending…

  13. Matthew Helling Says:

    “Whatever doesn’t destroy you, makes you stronger” is originally from Nietzche (who said a lot of very questionable things), and was later used as a motto for Hitler Youth camps.

  14. Kirk Horsted Says:

    Oh my. I think I knew that, but forgot. Maybe I’ll forget it again–and the tired (and inaccurate) cliche!

  15. Beth Stava Says:

    Your outlook is positively amazing, Kirk. And so is your writing. Humor with such a devastating topic is not easy but you nail it! Writing is such excellent therapy for anything. Prayers of healing to you Friend.

  16. Kirk Horsted Says:

    Hey, thanks, Beth. I’m enjoying (?) the therapy. It sometimes takes hours. Or days. But I always feel better. Really appreciate your compliments!

  17. Meredith Says:

    Words fail me, Kirk. Except I care, and I’m so sorry you are going through this! You are in my prayers. Keep laughing…it really does lessen the tears, and if nothing else, heals the heart! Sending love, peace, and strength, my friend.

  18. Kirk Horsted Says:

    You’ve been a warm and wise cheerleader, dear Mere. Many thanks.

  19. Jennifer Says:

    It’s so ridiculous for me to believe I can come up with appropriate words to somehow make what you are going through feel even a little “better” or wrap it up in a nice soothing phrase -as much as I have tried over and over in my mind to somehow feel like I providing help or meaningful support. All I can do is try and convey to you my heart and let you know that I think of you and send you healing thoughts, love and light often. Your writing is so eloquent and truly is an example of how technology actually is capable of being a powerful mechanism for connecting and sharing on an intimate level what is important in life. I, and I am sure so many others are so grateful to you for sharing how you are doing and what you are going through in a way that is on your own terms. I shared your blog with a friend who was recently diagnosed and it made her feel like she wasn’t alone, and it is possible to face this scary daunting treatment that feels impossible. Your words reached her and they did help, they did make it just a little bit better- a Herculean feat. I look forward to reading the book you publish that comes out of this “journey”. You have touched so many people in your life- through your art, music, writing, your joie de vivre! …your role as father, son, husband, partner, friend, teacher, coach…just to name a few. I picture all your connections lighting up across this world and creating a web of enveloping healing energy, lighting the way to a higher consciousness – to the joy to be found in this world. Love, light, peace and healing to you.

  20. Kirk Horsted Says:

    Jennifer, I think you DID find the appropriate words. And bring a whole bunch of eloquent. Thanks for sharing with your friend; we are not alone. This silly disease touches everybody, or should I say everyone, at one time or another. I’m so grateful for your glowing words. I’m smirking and feeling better already! Carry on…*kh

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