August 4, 2011

I have a similar tattoo. It’s four dots — not six — one centered on my chest about an inch below my sternum and three running hip-to-hip below my belt-line. I was given the tattoo for a similar purpose.

I was told there would likely be side-effects — that I would feel nauseous and fatigued for a few months — but that, with the proper medication, it would be manageable.

At the end of six weeks, I was given a certificate, congratulating me on successfully completing the treatment

The thing is, it didn’t feel like I had “completed” anything. The certificate felt less like token of my achievement and more like a “participant” ribbon — you know, the kind every kid gets at the science fair, even the one who puts a slinky on a ramp and labels the display “Science.”

You see, there were no side-effects, at least none I noticed. They told me I was going to feel nauseous, and I remember having a little stomach trouble on a couple of occasions, but no more frequently than I normally suffered, given my suspect dietary habits.

They told me I was going to feel fatigued, and during that time, I remember feeling rather tired. But the Princess was also three months old at the time — and I think having a newborn baby in the house may have also played a minor role in the whole “being tired” thing.

They told me I was fortunate to have had a child before the diagnosis because who knew what kind of irreparable, reproductive damage the treatment might cause. Ha.

No side-effects. No suffering.

It was four years ago this month that I was diagnosed with cancer. But I was spared the Cancer Experience. Spared the poison. Spared the marathon treatments. Spared the roller-coaster of recovery and relapse. Of course, not everyone is so fortunate.

The Experience is supposed to become part of your life. The Fight is supposed to become part of your identity. But there was no Fight — just a single, preemptive, precision strike. Clean. Sterile. And above all, surreal. Like a dream, it all ended as quickly as it began. And in the four years since, the unthinkable has happened. I’ve forgotten.

There are occasional reminders. I’ll read, or watch, or hear something, and the memories will return.

Sitting in the waiting room, annoyed because the Jilb and I can’t get the Princess to stop crying, then being called in, getting the news, and returning to the waiting room, giving a thumbs-down to the Jilb, not certain if the Princess is still crying, not hearing a single thing.

Moving through Hagg Sauer hall, on my way to teach my first class of the semester two days after the surgery, playing up the limp that was there a day ago but left me in the night, making certain that the limp — real or not — is seen because how will people know I’m being Brave without it?

Playing basketball a few weeks later and being grateful that the Professor has the good sense to crack as many jokes as possible.

There will probably always be the sudden reminders — like the comic I stumbled upon this morning — but there is no longer any violence in them. They’ve become less a gut-punch than a faint and distant tingling.

— Reinman



  1. I blame People and the Environment. Now that you have a large family; why not take them to a fancy Italian restaraunt and save some money.


  2. Wow — I was just replaying that classroom scene in my head when I was driving through Bemidji and passed by Everyone’s Favorite Italian Restaurant.

    That had to be one of the 10 dumbest things I ever heard at BSU — and this from someone who once took a racquetball class with Curtonio.

    The thing is, I actually like Everyone’s Favorite Italian Restaurant –but certainly not because it stretches the old dollar.

    We can feed our brood at McD for an average of about 10 dollars. (The Jilb and I are dollar menu maestros — much to the chagrin of the Colonel, who basically implies that ordering off the dollar menu is like personally robbing him at gunpoint.)

    One time my parents took the Jilb, my brothers, and I to Everyone’s Favorite Italian Restaurant and spent — and this is an approximation — 12 kajillion dollars.

    The lesson in all of this?

    There’s always Kamchatka.

  3. Wow…really insightful post…and funny comments.

  4. Does a prolonged sense of connection with a defeated cancer make one feel like a victor or a victim?

    Surely the Experience has become a part of your life, simply because you have lived through it, but why should the Experience necessarily be a part that defines who you are?

    It’s up to you to decide whether to hang your participation ribbon on your mantle or to let it collect dust in a drawer somewhere, only noticing it occasionally.

    You seem to have a firm grasp of what is valuable in life — “The Reinman loves God, his wife and kids, wiffle ball . . . ” Just because the world feels that your participation deserves recognition doesn’t mean that you must feel the same.

    The cancer has died. Life goes on.

    • The certificate does, in fact, collect dust in the bottom of a file cabinet.

      More than anything, there was a disconnect between what I thought the Experience would be, and what it actually became.

      I’m grateful, of course, and I don’t think about any of it very often, but when I do, I can’t help thinking that I somehow took a shortcut.

      Which is ridiculous, I know. The problem is the word “cancer” itself, which is so incredibly loaded. I just happened to have a very treatable cancer in its early stages — but because of the word uttered during my diagnosis, I had darker expectations.

  5. I remember joking with you after the surgery that I am now twice the man that you are…but now you have twice the number of children and have defeated me in life yet again. It’s all about keeping score.

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