It was a chilly day in December 2000—back when winters were still cold and you didn’t have to wear a tank top at Christmas. I’d seen an ad for a kitten at a local pet shop and went to meet her during my lunch break. The kitten was born on Halloween, and I loved Halloween, so I thought we’d be a good match. I thought wrong.
The kitten was hyper, rambunctious, and made a lot of noise. I suspect she would have gotten along well with energetic children in a big house, but I was renting an apartment and could tell by the way she used her claws that I wouldn’t be getting my deposit back if I brought her home.
Back in the corner was a quiet, unassuming kitten with sleepy eyes and dark stripes over silver fur. She was from a different litter, but they estimated she’d been born around the same time. I picked her up and she looked dreamily at me, her whole body vibrating as she purred in my arms. I enjoyed her lazy demeanor and the soft sweetness of her face. I knew she was the one for me.
Our son is learning about farm animals and the sounds they make, and he quite enjoys them. Sheep seem to be his favorite, which is a big deal for my mom, because she loves sheep too.
Yesterday, as I watched our son playing with his toys, it occurred to me that he might really love Farmville. You remember Farmville, don’t you? It’s the place we wasted so much of our time in 2010. A simpler time, before we were overwhelmed with Snapchat and Instagram, and endless news feeds about Donald Trump.
Today I visited my old Farmville, and I immediately felt a rush of nostalgia as I returned to the familiar place, which had been unchanged by time. Zynga was even kind enough to preserve my grape crops, which surely should have been dead by now.
My son watched in wonder as the screen filled up with trees and vineyards, and all the magical places I’d laid out when I designed my home. That’s when I caught my breath upon realizing it… I was living in my Farmville.
Talk about the law of attraction at work. I had a yellow Tuscan villa, much like the yellow house we have now in California (obviously not identical, but close enough to recognize the similarity). There was a pool in the backyard and fruit trees, again, just like our current home. There was even a small playground in the side yard of my farm, because even back then, I knew someday we’d have a child. It was truly amazing to realize that years ago, I put an intention out in the universe, and it had finally manifested.
My farm was always about building my dreams. Most people treated it as a novelty, where they threw down some chicken coops and plants, and competitively tried to earn as much virtual coin in the shortest amount of time. But it wasn’t about that for me. In fact, I hated clutter and chaos, so I had scaled it back to reflect the world I wanted to live in. There are courtyards and arbors, and a little chapel where Daniel and I got married… Halloween haunted houses and cupid’s castle… Now if only I could turn those cotton candy trees into a reality.
It’s funny how the long and winding road of life can end up taking us exactly where we’re supposed to be, and how our dreams can gradually come true without us even seeing the design unfold.
Well, I made it. 2016 is almost here and a few months ago, I wasn’t even confident I’d make it this far. By goddammit, I did, and I plan to be here for many years—decades—to come!
On this day a year ago, if you told me what the new year would bring me, I would never believe you. If you told me I would be moving from Tennessee to California, that I’d become a father, and that I’d survive cancer… No way. I’d say you had me confused with someone else. There’s no way that would be my life you were describing. But it was, and it is.
As we say goodbye to another year, I am thankful for the love and support of family, and friends, and even the kindness of strangers, who have touched my life in some way and helped me on this journey.
I’m excited to begin a new year with a fresh perspective, and I really hate to say it… But please, please let this just be a boring year. I just want to live in the Golden State in peace and good health with my husband and son, and other then the excitement of watching our little baby grow up, I hope there are no major events to report a year from now.
Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night.
I decided to write a letter to Mrs. Madrigal, the fictional character from the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin. I associate her with warmth, wisdom, and comfort, living in my favorite city in the world. It makes me happy to imagine her reading this, and it actually helped to write this letter. Even though Mrs. Madrigal may not be real, she is always alive in my heart.
Dear Mrs. Madrigal,
I’ve been upset about the news I received today because it wasn’t what I was hoping for. I wanted to hear that everything was okay. I wanted to hear that all my worries were gone. And although the news I received was mostly good—that I’m cancer-free, it still feels like I have to hold my breath as we wait for my three month test to see if any signs show that it’s spread to my lymph nodes. Three months feels like a very long time.
I know I haven’t had the best attitude about this. I know that bigger things are happening to other people, and people endure worse fates every day. But this is the biggest thing that’s happened to me, and that’s where all the fear, sadness, and anger comes from. I can only feel to the extent of my own experience, and I’m doing my very best to understand all these changes. It feels bigger than I am, and so far beyond my control. I just hate it.
But I am trying to be brave, and strong, and happy, because I know that’s what you’d want me to be. And as soon as I get the chance, I’m going to come to San Francisco to see you again.
I am looking forward to living in California and I can’t wait to live in our new house. I think you’ll like it. It’s a Spanish Ranch style, with a Tuscan yellow stucco exterior. I love it because it’s just so ridiculously Californian, and so different from the traditional middle-America brick house we have now.
We never saw ourselves as the type to live in a Ranch house. We’ve preferred having the division of two stories. But this one is different. It’s a very smart layout, with plenty of privacy for guests on the opposite side of the house. As soon as we saw it, we fell in love and knew it was meant to be our new home.
There’s a park across the street with a bike trail right by our house. No cars to worry about. It’s great because I hate walking in our neighborhood now, right by such a busy road. I get nervous about a driver going up onto the sidewalk, especially after what I witnessed that time a few years ago. I probably would have died that day if I hadn’t crossed the street when I did. So I’m glad that with our new home, there will be a safe place for us to walk with our son and our dog nearby.
I feel better thinking about these things, and imagining the life that waits for us there. Maybe I’ll feel better after we move. It won’t be much longer.
And I’ll feel better when I go to San Francisco again and stop by Barbary Lane. It’s going to be quite a workout climbing the streets of Russian Hill, especially with a stroller! But I’m ready for the challenge. I have to wait six weeks to heal before doing anything strenuous, and I’m so ready to get out and be active again.
Thank you for listening, Mrs. Madrigal. See you soon.
Alright, moment of truth.
The good news first. I am cancer-free, as far as the lab results show. There are no cancer markers in my blood work and nothing has been detected. The doctors removed all the of the tumor/testicle and everything attached to it (tubing, blood vessels, etc). No wonder I feel like someone took an ice cream scoop to my insides! Ouch.
The sort of bad news… There were cancer cells outside of the tumor in the blood vessels attached to that testicle. So that means the cancer cells had just begun to spread outside and the doctor was able to remove all of those. As of this moment, there is nothing left there.
BUT, since they did start to spread, there is a very low chance that it had spread to my lymph nodes in my stomach. If that happened, there could be microscopic cancer cells that are undetectable. We have two options…
1) Go ahead and have one round of radiation therapy on my stomach, which would effectively kill any and all cancer cells that may or may not be there. The benefit is that we could be completely confident that all cancer cells are gone. The risk is that radiation therapy is harsh, and there is controversial information that suggests radiation may create new tumors in the body. The medical community has not arrived at a clear answer on this. But my doctor is not recommending this path right now, and we agree with him. We don’t want to start treatment for something when we don’t know if it’s there.
2) Sit tight and do nothing for now, and then just make plans to go in every 3 months for blood work and CT scans. This would allow the doctor to closely monitor the situation, and if cancer was detected in my lymph nodes, it could be treated. The benefit is that this requires no treatment now. The risk is that if there are still cancer cells in my body, they will be more aggressive by the time they show up, and require a little more treatment. This makes me very nervous and uncomfortable, but it’s the best option we see.
I know I should be happy, but I am just angry. I’m angry because I wanted a clean bill of health. Whenever things don’t go the way we want, it’s human nature to get angry. And that’s how I feel. Babies express this so openly and freely. As we get older, we’re taught to suppress and contain it, but I don’t want to suppress it. I’m fucking pissed.
Now I have to worry and obsess and wait for 3 months to come and do new tests. And then 3 months after that. It feels like a constant cycle to find out if those cells ever spread. And if they did, they are already there. It’s not like I can pray them away.
I will work on a more positive attitude later. For now, I’m just going to feel what I feel… And make some brownies. And have some ice cream. There will probably be some alcohol involved too.
In the morning, we’re meeting with my doctor to review my lab results and get confirmation of whether or not I’m completely cancer-free. I’m very nervous, although I’ve been assured that they saw no evidence that it had spread. I guess we’ll know for certain tomorrow.
Once that’s behind me, I hope to focus on other important decisions… Like shaving. I shaved my balls—plural—before my first exam in August. I consider it good etiquette to clean up down there before an exam. So when I found out I had a testicle that was completely ravaged with a cancerous tumor, at least everyone who saw me naked that day could say, “Hey, that guy takes good care of his bush.”
I have not taken care of my bush since I was diagnosed. There is a long incision across my pubic area from surgery. It looks like the slot of my car’s CD player. I haven’t tried inserting a CD into myself to see if it would work, but I suspect if I did, it would have to be a Mika CD. Our son loves Mika, so of course I would play his CD.
And my one ball, the lone soldier that it is, is just floating there in the middle of a hairy sack, with a surprising amount of grey hairs. When the fuck did my scrotum get old?
I don’t care what Anderson Cooper and George Clooney have done to boost the appeal of the grey-haired population… Grey ball hair is still not and never will be sexy.
Maybe after I get my good news tomorrow—and I do hope it’s good news—I will come home and shave my ball, and try to trim the area around my CD player.
That is all for now.
Dealing with cancer has been a painful reminder of my own mortality. It reaffirms the fact that someday, somehow, I’m going to die. And now I feel like I’ve been kissed by the icy lips of the grim reaper. He put me on his list and even if it’s 60 years from now, I fear that cancer is how I’ll go.
The scary truth is that I could get cancer again. There’s only a 3%-4% chance of developing new cancer, but the fact remains that cancer survivors are at higher risk. This worries me, and quite frankly, it frightens me with a depth that cannot be pacified.
I find myself questioning many things. Most often, I question my health. I have been obsessive about my health. I always tried to eat organic food, avoided pesticides, bought ridiculously expensive body products that were free of parabens and other chemicals, and only used natural home cleaners. I treated my body like a temple because I believed I was building a wall around myself that would keep out all the deadly things in the world. And yet there I was with cancer. Should I have just eaten anything I wanted?
I look at the people around me. Family, friends. Most of them don’t worry about what they eat. They don’t worry about the air they breathe, the chemicals and the contaminants. They go through each day with peaceful bliss and they never get cancer. Statistically, they probably never will have cancer (and I certainly don’t wish it upon them!). So of course I ask, “Why me?”
Asking that question is part of the grieving process. And there is usually no answer. Why me, why me, why me? Nobody knows. Bad things happen. Healthy people get sick. Unhealthy people smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and live to be 102. That’s how it goes.
The first week after surgery was very difficult, but it’s getting better. On a lighter and less depressing note, I kind of like having one testicle. Isn’t that odd?
My underwear has a little more room in the pouch. I like that. And you know how sometimes the seam in the center of your pants gets pulled at the wrong angle and parts your balls in a painful way? That will never happen to me now. My one ball just moves around freely.
It still freaks me out to see myself naked and I try to avoid it. Having one ball looks exactly the way you think it looks. The ball has moved to the center and hangs there. I try to use humor to help. I call myself a uniballer.
There are many thoughts that cross my mind. Too many to process sometimes. I don’t know if cancer is what will ultimately kill me, but for now, I’m cancer-free and alive.
I was hoping it was nothing.
One testicle felt firmer and larger than the other so I made an appointment with my doctor. We did the usual small talk, caught up, and then he did the exam. He looked puzzled.
“Hm,” he said.
Nobody ever wants to hear their doctor say “hm.”
“Let me send you over to imaging to get an ultrasound of your testicles. That will give us more insight into what’s going on,” he said.
I went to imaging and the woman took a long time reviewing the screen as she did the ultrasound. I knew that wasn’t good. I’d hoped she’d just scan them, say they looked normal, and send me on my way. But instead, she must have spent 15 minutes capturing different angles.
I did get to hear the sound of my scrotum. It sounded like a Lady Gaga song. “Rah-rah-ra-ah-ah.” That was fun.
She sent my results over to a radiologist and then came back into the room.
“We’ve found something on your testicle. We’re going to do a CT scan to get a closer look,” she said.
Tears filled my eyes. “Okay,” I said, trying to contain my inner Mariah, who wanted to have a complete breakdown and tear up some silk curtains or something.
The CT scan went quickly. “Your doctor will look at these and talk to you about the results,” they said.
I went to the doctor’s office and waited outside. He had other patients, of course, so I tried to be patient. Every man is fighting his own battle, I reminded myself.
A nurse passed by and saw me. “Oh, hi,” she said warmly. I had talked to her earlier and really liked her. “We’ve received your results and we’re aware of the situation. We just need the doctor to review them and talk to you.”
Fuck again. I don’t want there to be a situation to be aware of. I want it to be nothing. I want to hear that everything is fine, it was a false alarm, and I can finally go home and curl up in bed and cry.
Another nurse summoned me. She was somber and gave me a private room. The doctor came in. He wasn’t smiling.
“You have a large mass,” the doctor explained. He showed me the results and it was almost double the size of my other testicle. I can honestly say I have the biggest balls of any guy I know.
“Are you saying it’s cancer?” I asked.
“It’s a large mass. The results are symptomatic of cancer, but I can’t confirm it. We’ll need to send this on to a urologist to examine the results and meet with you. But either way, your testicle will have to be removed. Even if it’s not cancerous, we can’t leave it in there with the mass.”
(But I love my testicles. Both of them.)
Yesterday I met with the urologist and he confirmed the results. He called it a cancerous tumor that had grown from inside the testicle. That’s actually good news because it’s self contained. It does not appear to have spread and the doctor isn’t concerned about needing chemotherapy or any kind of treatment once the ball is removed. He can’t rule it out, but doesn’t anticipate it.
I’m thankful it isn’t worse, but angry about what it is. Nobody wants to go through this, but it looks like I am.
I know that I’ll be alright. Testicular cancer is easily treated and most men enjoy a 100% recovery. But still… It’s cancer.
I guess I should buy a witty bumper sticker now or wear a wristband. I’ll probably come up with a bunch of jokes too. I was going to ask the woman doing the ultrasound if she could hear a heartbeat but chose not to.
I’ll be having surgery soon and will post an update. I’ve been assured by everybody that this is very easy to remove—outpatient surgery so I’ll go home the same day—and everything is going to be alright.
Memory Lane. You know the place. We all go there sometimes. It looks different for every person, with varying sights, sounds, and smells, but the feeling is universally understood.
We were younger then. Life was easier, although we didn’t realize it at the time. And although we may not regret leaving that place, we still feel a tinge of sadness when we reminisce about the way things used to be.
As my time in Tennessee grows shorter, I’ve been reflecting on the life I’ve lived here for the last decade. A few days ago, I was in the area by a townhouse I once rented. I decided to stop by the subdivision and go to the walking trail by the river.
It was sunny and the woods were lush. I could hear the hum of insects in the trees. What is that sound anyway? Cicadas, I think, but I’m not sure. It’s a summertime sound everyone in the South knows, and yet I’ve never bothered to learn what it is. It’s daunting to think I won’t hear that sound anymore when we move to California, at least not in our backyard, which probably won’t have trees.
I walked down the trail and looked for a little path that led to the river. Years ago, when I lived there, there were trees that had been knocked down by the 2009 tornado. They created a bridge that you could walk right over the water on.
The path had since become overgrown with greenery, and I suddenly felt self-conscious about forcing through toward the water. What if I walked through poison ivy? What if I became covered in ticks or stepped on a snake? And where the hell did my sense of adventure go?
I pushed through the thick growth and got nervous as I found myself halfway in. I couldn’t see the path I’d come from anymore. Nobody knew I was there. There were cups and other litter in the dirt, so I knew others had found the same path. I suddenly wondered if someone could be there at the moment. Jason Voorhees? I got nervous, but I powered through anyway and found the water.
The bridge of trees wasn’t there anymore. It was uneventful, but I was glad I’d done it. I turned around and pushed my way back through again until I found the trail. Thankfully there was no poison ivy, no snakes or ticks. Take that, mother nature!
I walked down a different path near an area that was believed to be haunted. The Battle of Stones River took place there and quite a few soldiers had died there. I remember when I lived near there, I would hear a strange tapping sound coming from the ceiling in my 2 story town home. The problem was, nobody was upstairs, so who was making that tapping sound? I always used to say it was a ghost from the battle—a soldier who’d died there, but a friendly one who didn’t give me any trouble. I just hoped he wasn’t watching me poop.
Eventually I’d had enough nostalgia. I made my way back up to my car after walking by the townhouse I used to live in. Somebody else lived there. They had red curtains from World Market. I remembered the beautiful old chestnut bookcase built into the living room next to the fireplace. I wondered what books they had on their shelf.
I said goodbye to the river, to the woods, the town home and the friendly ghost, and drove away knowing I’d probably never go back there again. When I got stuck in the obnoxious left-turn exit that is impossible to get out of because of all the traffic coming from both directions, I suddenly remembered why I’d hated living there.
Yeah, fuck that. I won’t be going back.
Ten years ago today, I was moving from Raleigh, North Carolina to Nashville, Tennessee. Now on the decade anniversary, I’m in California with my husband and our baby, making plans to move here.
It’s been humbling to reflect on all the places life has taken me and all the ways I’ve changed and grown since I was 23. Now at age 33, I feel excited and ready to begin the next chapter.
I love my life and the family we’ve created. I love this state and can’t wait to be a citizen of my favorite place on earth.
California, here we come!