20. A Healthy Dose of Humor

20. A Healthy Dose of Humor

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

A Healthy Dose of Humor

Every survival kit should include a sense of humor.

~Author Unknown

The saying, “Lead, follow or get out of the way,” almost applied to me. Mine, however, was more like, “Get outta the way. I’ll lead, you follow.” I had two speeds: full speed ahead and sleep. I was always the picture of health. I was trim, in good shape, had all my teeth and hair, and never looked my age. My glass was always at least half full and “I can’t” was never a part of my vocabulary. I had a beautiful wife, intelligent children, a nice home and a good income.

Then, one day I found a small lump on the right side of my neck. I thought it was a swollen gland. My ENT disagreed with that. He looked into my mouth and gasped! This is a reaction most of us would rather not see from our medical professionals.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Ya really wanna know?” he replied. Of course I wanted to know! “Looks like cancer on your right tonsil,” he blurted out. “Let’s get a piece of that and have it biopsied,” he announced, as he tore off a chunk and blood rushed down my throat. At that point, I really wasn’t as concerned about cancer as much as I was about choking to death or drowning in my own blood.

I didn’t feel sick or look sick. I played golf and worked in my yard every week. I worked every day and didn’t tire out. Maybe he was wrong! A few days later, he called me while I was having lunch. Yep, it was cancer. But I didn’t smoke, I ate healthy food, I exercised. I was unstoppable!

“Okay, so what do I do next?” I inquired. He told me I needed to see an oncologist.

I knew of one oncologist from church, so I called his office and made an appointment. I sat in his waiting room with my wife Debbie and my son Grant, admiring the paintings and sculpture that adorned the area. I remember thinking that treating cancer must be a lucrative business. When we were ushered back to one of the exam rooms, Dr. Kirby Smith came in, shook hands with all of us and sat down. He crossed his legs, placed his clipboard on his lap, and folded his arms. He sat there and talked to us like we were the only people he had to see the entire day.

We visited, talked, listened and got to know each other. He explained what I would be going through in detail, and made all three of us feel much better. The last thing he said to me was, “Nick, don’t lose that sense of humor and that positive attitude. That’s gonna help you get through this.” Anytime I would feel the least bit down, I remembered two things: the hundreds of prayer warriors who were lifting me up daily and Dr. Smith’s encouraging words.

I knew God wasn’t through with me. I knew He was going to heal me, because He had other plans for me. I took radiation treatments every morning, five days a week for seven weeks. This took about thirty minutes of lying on my back with my head strapped down to a table so I couldn’t move it. I wore what I referred to as my Batman cowling. It was white, nylon netting that had been molded to the exact shape of my head, my features and my shoulders. It had no back, but it had a flange with wing nuts all around it that the technicians would screw into the table. Something that looked sort of like a dental X-ray arm moved all around my head, spewing radiation and taking X-rays. As I lay there each morning, I prayed the entire time. It became part of my daily quiet time routine. I’ve been asked if I have any lasting side effects from all that radiation. Well, when I get up during the night to go to the bathroom, I don’t have to turn on the light. What flows glows!

I also took chemotherapy treatments every Wednesday afternoon during that same seven-week period. These treatments took most of the afternoon, but I got to sit in a very comfortable leather recliner while covered with a soft blanket the entire time. Chemo does three things while it’s flowing into your arm: it makes you sleep, it makes you cold and it makes you run to the bathroom frequently. This huge room full of recliners and cancer patients had only one bathroom. It was not unusual to see people lined up holding onto their IV stands. We were plugged into these things, so wherever we wandered, they went with us. With the backlog outside the restroom door, it was not unusual to see some of the men trying to open windows.

I was told I would eventually have to get a feeding tube. A feeding tube? Not me! There was nothing wrong with my appetite. Given enough radiation in your head and neck area, swallowing becomes impossible. I was also told that Dr. Cattau, who would surgically install the feeding tube, was President Reagan’s gastroenterologist. I think that was supposed to make me feel more at ease. Just before they put me to sleep, I told Dr. Cattau that I had talked to Nancy Reagan about him the day before. Well, he bit and asked me what she said. I told him I would tell him if I woke up.

Actually, the feeding tube wasn’t all that bad. It was about a quarter-inch in diameter and eighteen inches long. It protruded from the middle of my stomach and was wrapped up like a cowboy’s lasso, and taped to my side with Velcro. I thought a ten-gallon cowboy hat should come with it. Instead it came with a giant syringe without a plunger. Six times a day, I unrolled the lasso, plugged the topless syringe into the end of the tube, and poured a can of Boost Plus into it. Having tasted that stuff once, I was grateful for the feeding tube. The funny thing is, when I would pour a glass of water in it, to flush it out, my mouth and throat would become moist.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. I was diagnosed in June of 2007, and I was declared cancer-free in October of that same year. This was a brief journey that changed my heart, strengthened my relationship with God and my family, and brought a better balance to what is really important and what is not in my life. I thank God every day for my good health and I try to “pay it forward” to other cancer patients. By the way, Dr. Cattau got me back. Before he yanked the feeding tube out of my stomach, he told me it wouldn’t hurt!

~Nick Nixon

More stories from our partners