Sunday, August 30, 2009

Day 5

I woke up this morning feeling as bad as I did while going through chemotherapy. I was weak, nauseous, and extremely tired. The last four days of getting my affairs in order, purchasing a new car, and running off to Vegas caught up to me.

I can't really complain, though. If I can get one bad day in every five, I will consider myself pretty lucky.

Laying in bed and feeling as badly as I did, I actually wondered what was wrong with me. It took all of one minute to remember that I was sick and dying. How ridiculous is it that I had to remind myself of what was happening to me?

I have been so caught up in leaving Los Angeles, my encounter with the beautiful Ann, and playing poker in Vegas, that I had forgotten why I was doing it all in the first place. This thought brought a huge smile across my face as I realized that I was doing exactly what I set out to do: beating cancer.

I am going to eventually die. . . sooner rather than later. While I am here, I am not going to let the cancer dictate how I live or how I feel emotionally and spiritually. Nope. I can't let the cancer get the best of me in those regards.

With that thought motivating me, I reached across the bed and grabbed the phone to call for room service. I ordered a breakfast of oatmeal and fruit and convinced myself that I would force it all down despite the nausea.

Satisfied with my victory of finishing breakfast, I got up and walked gingerly to the bathroom to shower. After 10 minutes of sitting down and leaning against the wall with the water running over me, I got up and went back to the bed and began to dry myself off.

Such a minute task seemed liked another victory for me. I was exhausted and in pain, and yet, I was doing it. I was getting ready to head down to the casino and play some blackjack, poker, or craps.

It didn't really matter what game I would play. What mattered is that I was going to play.

For four hours, I sat at a blackjack table with eight other people trying to win money from the house. We laughed at each others jokes, cheered when the dealer busted, and moaned in disgust when he hit 21.

The great thing about blackjack is the camaraderie that is formed at the table with the players. In poker, you are playing against the other players and the tension at the table can pretty intense. In blackjack, you are all trying to beat the dealer and friendships can be built while playing.

Fifteen minutes after I sat down, a man 20 years my senior joined us at the table. Right from the start we hit it off and we began to talk to each other exclusively. With the first words that came out of his mouth, I knew we had a common bond.

"This sure beats the hell out of sitting in a courtroom all day," he said. "I just retired from practicing law for the last 30 years last week. If I am never in court again, I will die a happy man."

I, too, walked away from life as a lawyer last week. I worked in a firm in Los Angeles for 14 years, spending the last year working three days a week while going through chemo. I joined the firm as a 26-year-old and quickly moved up the ranks as a defense attorney.

I loved my job and thrived being in front of a jury and judge. Working as a consultant to other lawyers on their own cases for the last year wasn't nearly as much fun for me.

"It's funny that you said that," I told him. "I would love to be in the courtroom again. I quit my firm last week, too."

We talked while our chips went up and down at the blackjack table for another two hours. After finally getting back to even, I decided that I had played enough for the day. Still feeling weak and tired, I was ready to head back up to my room and lay in bed in front of the TV.

As I collected my chips, the man that identified himself only as Chet handed me a business card and asked me how long I was going to be in Vegas.

"I am not sure how long I will be here," I responded. "I have no timetable, but I am sure I will be here another week or two."

"If you want to play in a few poker tournaments together, give me a call on my cell," Chet said. "I am going to be here for a month. It will be fun to play with another lawyer. At least I will know who the other bullshitter at the table is."

While laughing, I shook his hand and told him that I would definitely call him. I meant it, too. It would be fun to have someone to play with while I was in Vegas.

I finally reached my room and collapsed into bed. I was dead tired and ready for a long nap. Falling asleep, I couldn't believe how good it felt to be in bed.

It felt almost as good as when I climbed out of it this morning. Despite how bad I was feeling, I got up.

Getting up feels pretty good to me.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Day 4

One of the worst things you can be called when playing Texas Hold 'Em Poker is a donkey or a fish. Both symbolize the player's lack of skill and make them an easy target for the other players at the table.

I was both before I even sat down at the no-limit table at one of the biggest games at the Bellagio Casino in Vegas.

For years, I dreamed of sitting down and playing against the likes of Doyle Bronson, Phil Ivy, Barry Greenstein, and other top pros who can be seen routinely on ESPN in the biggest tournaments. With a wad of $100 bills and years of experience of playing in local casinos in the Los Angeles area, I sat down this afternoon seemingly ready to live out the dream.

Unfortunately, I wasn't there mentally. I made no moves, didn't watch and pick up on my opponent's tendencies, and never did anything other than fold hand after hand. I was like an actor or actress who suffers from stage fright, unable to move when called upon.

After an hour or two of this, I looked around the table at my opponents and noticed three of them wearing sunglasses. Sporting shades while playing poker is often done by players who are trying not to show their excitement or disappointment with the cards they are dealt. Staring at a woman with sunglasses, I finally realized why I was never able to get into the game mentally.

Five hours earlier and needing to stop for gas on my trip out of California, I merged my new BMW onto the one exit into Baker. The town of 904 people is landscaped with fast food restaurants, gas stations, two motels, and a thermometer that stands 134-feet high and claims to be tallest in the world.

This resting stop for travelers going from Los Angeles to Las Vegas also had something that I never thought I would have or want again. A desire to make a connection to another person.

Perched behind the counter at the Mobile Gas Station, Ann flashed a smile at me that was so sweet, so innocent, and so inviting. Similar to me not being able to play at the poker table, I stood in front of her unable to speak.

I was dumbfounded by her beauty. With brunette hair, the cutest dimple in each cheek, and wearing a yellow sundress that showed off her toned and tanned arms, I was more attracted to her than I have ever been to any woman in Los Angeles.

She wore sunglasses that had four diamond-like stones on each side of the frames. They covered most of her face and made it impossible to see her eyes. The sunglasses made Ann as mysterious as she was gorgeous.

Without seeing them, I imagined her eyes blue and wished that before I left the counter she would take off the sunglasses so I could complete the image of her that would no doubt run through my mind for days. Despite not getting this chance, I walked away surprised to see someone like her in a place like Baker.

More surprising than seeing someone like her in a town like this, was my reaction to seeing her. When I was told that my cancer was terminal, I made the decision to go through this alone. I didn't need anyone to go through this with me and didn't want anyone to stop me from doing what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it.

More importantly, I decided never to be drawn to another person by beauty, personality, or the prospects of companionship again. Why set myself up for emotional pain when all I have ever known is being hurt by the ones who said that they loved me?

The cancer had taken away any control that I had over my own body physically. The last thing that I have control over is my emotions and feelings. I made the decision that the way I would control that is by not getting emotionally attached to anyone again.

How naive I was to think that I could stop myself from getting butterflies by simply looking at another person like Ann? How naive I was to think that I didn't want to get caught up in someone's beauty?

Folding yet another hand, I raked up the chips that I had in front of me and left the table. There was no need to continue to sit at the table when all I could think about was getting close to another person again. I can always come back to the poker table tomorrow.

Tonight, all I want to do is dream of Ann and the eyes behind the sunglasses.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Day 3

A man who had to be at least 6-foot-2, 250-pounds and wearing a Top Gun security uniform intercepted me as soon as I walked through the door. With biceps bursting out of his short-sleeved shirt, he was intimidating, gruff and everything one would want from a security guard.

The fact that someone ran up to me as soon as I walked into the Beverly Hills BMW dealership didn't surprise me at all. However, I expected to be accosted by a man with a deep tan and a coat and tie. Or, a woman in a nice suit and a store-bought rack.

"Excuse me, sir? Can I help you?" he said while placing a hand on my shoulder.

Lifting my head to make eye contact, I saw a name badge that identified him as Ed.

"Well, Ed... is it OK if I call you ED?" I said.

"That's fine, sir."

"Good. I am here to buy a car. The last car I will buy. You OK with that?"

"Are you sure you are at the right place? It's just that we are not used to seeing someone in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops coming in here."

While taking a step back from Ed to get his hand off me, I laughed at how I must have looked to everyone inside the showroom. The first time I have been out of a suit in years and with legs as white as the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains that can be seen from the showroom, I must have looked like some tourist from the East Coast trying too hard to blend in with the Southern California natives.

"I didn't realize there was a dress code when spending more than $50 grand on a car,'' I said. "Will my attire prevent me from purchasing one today?"

"Not at all. Let me take you to a sales specialist,'' he said. "Let me also say that I am sorry about coming up to you the way I did. Can I get you some coffee or anything?"

Sales specialist? What a joke. At a Ford dealership they are salesman. Here, they are too good for that. I can't wait to get out of here and away from all the superficial bullshit that is LA. But, if I have to put up with it for a few minutes in order to get my dream car, I'll gladly do it.

"No apology necessary and no thank you on the coffee. Just take me to someone who can get me into a car quickly."

Walking down a long corridor with beautifully furnished offices on both sides, it was almost surreal for me to think about paying cash for a car that I would never have dreamed of buying. But, here I was, just minutes away from driving away in a BMW convertible.

I can't help but think how ironic it is that it took me getting a death sentence two days ago for me to start living.

The transaction took just a few minutes longer than my interaction with Ed. With my trade-in and $30,000 in a cashier's check, I was officially an owner of a BMW Z4. It was everything that I wanted it to be: fast and with an incredible ability to handle the road, gorgeous, and most importantly... mine.

Climbing into it, thoughts of where I was headed began to overcome me. Bright lights, endless amounts of entertainment, and finally an opportunity to test my skill against the best the world had to offer laid ahead of me. I was brought back to the present when the "sales specialist" congratulated me on the purchase.

"You look great in it,'' she said. "How does it feel? You like it?"

"Oh yea, I love it. Thank you for your help."

"It was my pleasure. So, where are you headed first?"

"I am going to Vegas. Yep... I am going to Vegas."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 2

For the first time in 20 years, I woke up on a Monday without the annoyance of an alarm clock. Instead, I was awakened to the beautiful music provided by two birds in my backyard. I don't know if it was a love song or simply birds doing what they do, but it was the sweetest sound I had ever heard.

I am sure I had heard birds singing many times before this morning. However, today was the first time I really listened. I don't know what they were singing about, or who they were singing to. It didn't really matter. What mattered is that for the first time in my life I took the time to listen.

I could have spent the day in bed listening. It reminded me of a poem I read in college by Maya Angelou, "I know Why the Caged Bird Sings." I read it and memorized it while taking one of my literature classes. I still can recite it today:

The free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wings in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with fearful trill
of the things unknown but longed for still
and is tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
an the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

I never truly understood its meaning until now. For so long, I have been the caged bird living the life that so many of us live. You bust your butt to get everything you want, only to have to bust your butt even more to keep it. It's a never-ending cycle that I am so glad to see end. I am now the caged bird set free to finally go live.

For the past year, I did everything I could to help prevent being told that I was going to die. I went to doctor after doctor, went through chemotherapy, had surgery to remove the tumor, and spent hour after hour reading up on different methods to beat the cancer. Yet, in the end, I saw six different doctors in the last two weeks who told me the same thing.

After hearing it again three days ago, I decided that was all I needed to give up trying to beat it. The last thing I want is my last days running from some treatment center to another and end up dying anyways.

If I am running from anything, it are these thoughts. I no longer want to think about what brought me to this point, or ask why me? There really is no good that can come out of dwelling on my sickness and ruining my last days. Besides, I really don't have time for it. I had so much to do today to sit in bed feeling sorry for myself.

This will be my last night in the house, after doing my last days worth of business I will ever have to do. I put my house on the market, sent an email to my employer that I would not be back, transferred my bank accounts into one, and packed the necessary items for life on the road. Aside from getting some new wheels in the morning, my business days are over.

I am sitting here in bed overwhelmed with excitement about leaving everything and everyone behind. I am not sure where I am going first, but I know that Los Angeles will be in the rear view mirror, never to be seen again.

Something tells me, though, that I know where I will end up tomorrow. A place that I can go to for first time without the feelings of guilt overcoming me.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 1

They told me the first thing that I would experience is shock. Complete shock in being told that there was nothing they can do for me and that I only have a year to live.

Surprisingly, shock is not what I am feeling right now. That may change. However, right now I feel free. Free to do what I want, when I want, and how I want. No more living for anyone or anything else. This last year will be all about me.

I don't have a bucket list of things I want to do and don't intend to make one. What I intend to do is to simply live. I am going to do everything I want to do with no regard to anyone else.

I feel no guilt for feeling that way.

I remember being a kid and thinking how long a year really lasts. It seemed like an eternity when I wished on my 15th birthday to be 16 and able to drive. Now being told that I have one year left at best, I now hope it is long enough to enjoy my new freedom.

I am in no relationship, have no kids, have no siblings, out of touch with my mother, and know no father. I wouldn't want it any other way now. The last thing I want is to try and make other people feel better about what I am going through or feeling right now. To be quite honest, I don't even want to know what those feelings are at this time.

I don't care to know.

The only thing I asked the doctor after being told there was no hope was:

"Is there any need for me to ever see a doctor again? Do I have to come back?"

"We can help with the pain that you will suffer from time to time, but other than that, there is nothing we can do."

After thinking for a minute, I simply said thank you and that I would not be back. If all they could do is help whatever pending pain I may be in, then fuck them.

No need wasting little time I have left coming here when they can't stop me from dying. Pain is pain. I have dealt with so much of it emotionally in my life, physical pain has never been that tough for me.

I said earlier that I have never had a relationship with my father. He had an affair with my mother and never left his wife to see me or have any semblance of a relationship with me.

The first time I heard anything about him from anyone other than my mother was a year ago when he died. A lawyer from New York called me and informed that he left me more than $200,000. I have never touched that money because all I have ever wanted from him was a relationship. I would have gladly traded the money for one memory of my father being with me.

However, I now know the money from my father has a purpose for me. To allow me to spend this year doing as I please without the worries of work and having to stay put in one place. For the first time in my life I am thankful of my father. He has given me the gift to live life as I chose to for one year.

Right now, all I am going to do is quit my job, walk away from my house, trade my car in for something more sporty, and leave this town without a goodbye. For those that I am close to, I will have a letter on me at all times that will explain everything after I am gone.

I hope that anyone that I encounter over the next year offers me no advise or doesn't tell me about some doctor who can help me. I have accepted my fate and I hope that they would respect that. Let me enjoy this last year that I have here. It should be quite a ride.

I will write a daily journal so that the people who I am leaving behind with no explanation will have their questions answered after I am gone. This is the way I want to go out. Frankly, I am all I care about now.