Survival And Change

Survival And Change
Dane La Born

Dane La Born

At the tender age of 27, I have a better grasp on the reality of life and death than many people who are decades older than myself. Five years ago, I started having complications caused by a tumor forming in my body. I had no idea why these things were happening, things like seizures that would last for entire days, but would later learn they were mostly a result of the cancer fighting to take over.

Memory of all this time gets fuzzy, but at some point along the way one of my seizures killed me. For a full seven minutes, I had no heartbeat. I was being medevaced to Little Rock at the time, because Washington Regional was ill-equipped to deal with whatever was happening with me.

Here’s where things take a turn for the spiritual, because I, like so many others, had my version of a near-death experience.

It was a lot more than a white light, and it involved a bigger look at the after-life. What’s funny about it all is I am totally aware of the science behind death. I know our brains stay active and release the same stuff that make us dream. I know that in dreams, moments can last years. However, even with all that knowledge, I can’t shake the experience, and so long ago I made the decision to reconcile the science with the spirituality and find some common ground; neither side actually has a clue what happens, so why bother letting the argument of the afterlife take over your actual life? I know what I experienced, I know that it was probably just the last threads of a dying brain, but it was still important.

After all the dying, they had to put me into a coma, which I stayed in for a month. When I came out, I had to relearn to walk, as all my muscles had atrophied. They don’t ever accurately show what a coma is like on television. When a TV Coma ends, the person just opens their eyes as if coming out of a long sleep. In real life, there are tubes going down your nose and throat, and waking up is a terrifying ordeal. You don’t exactly remember falling into a coma, so it just feels like you are waking up, only you are waking up with a ridged feeding tube jammed down your throat and straps on both arms to prevent you pulling it out. The gag reflex reactivates, and everything hurts until they put you out again so they can remove all of the equipment that had been keeping you alive.

About a year passed in between the coma and actually finding out what caused everything that put me there. They found a shadow on an X-Ray, and everything changed. I had been having pain that I’d been trying to control in ill-advised ways for a while. There was really nothing that could have prepared my 25-year-old self for the diagnosis. Testicular cancer is a survivable form of cancer, one of the most survivable forms in fact, but the tumor had been wreaking havoc in other ways, sending waves of destruction through my body and into my brain. So I was immediately scheduled for surgery to remove the tumor, and after that, chemotherapy to kill off anything left.

As I said before, there’s not really anything that can prepare someone who’s only in their 20s for having to deal with a cancer diagnosis. Most of us, the only time we’ve encountered it has been in family members who have struggled with, and even died from the disease. Breast cancer is a popular form, people love to put pink ribbons all over things, and for a while there, Lance Armstrong’s yellow bracelet functioned the same way (until drug use and cheating dethroned the mighty cyclist) but even with all of the exposure to the disease, there’s a certain invincible quality most young people think they have. A broken leg may happen, but no serious diseases strike the young. That is stupid, and that is so wrong. Cancer doesn’t care how old anyone is, cancer just likes to kill. It is not picky about when.

So now it’s been a year. A year since I finished pumping my veins so full of chemicals that it took away any possibility of me conceiving a child with someone. A year since I was drugged out of my mind on over 200 vicodin every couple of weeks, because Arkansas doesn’t have medicinal cannabis, and oncologists have no problem prescribing opiates to treat pain, even if they are enough to kill you. A year since I lost all of my hair. They didn’t show you this on Breaking Bad but Walter White wouldn’t have had that cool goatee, you lose the facial hair too. When it grows back, it grows back the opposite of what it was, so mine was full of thick curls. Even now, a full year from when I finished treatment, my hair hasn’t returned to normal.

You know what, though? I survived. It very nearly killed me. The cancer didn’t, but the treatment certainly did. I survived and I’ve built my life up from the ashes of my old one. I start school in the Fall, met a wonderful woman, and I feel happy and whole in a way I haven’t ever before. I like the man this experience made me into. I am proud to count myself as one of the many who beat this stupid, pointless disease.

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