The Working Waterfront

Wary of being told I’m ‘looking good’

Update on cancer treatment includes unexpected sensations

Phil Crossman
Posted 2019-05-21
Last Modified 2019-05-21

By Phil Crossman

I’ve been reminded, since a January column disclosing I have cancer, that an update is called for.

Since treatment began, little irritants have become routine. My nose runs continually. I carry a roll of toilet paper with me everywhere, in the truck, a less obtrusive one in my jacket pocket, a full roll on my desk.

My vision is blurry—not to worry, I know these island roads so well I really don’t need to watch where I’m going and I’m the only one who knows I don’t know what I’m doing.

Early on I emerged from the shower and stepped into an enormous spider web, head height. My vision cleared a little and I looked up; no web. I looked in the mirror. My face was covered in hair, my own hair, which had vacated the premises and was now stuck in my eyes, nose, mouth.  But—that was a one-time event, hasn’t been repeated

Often, on the ferry ride home, I’d have felt better this winter, napping in my own car with the heat on but the Coast Guard recently ruled that vehicle engines may not be run while the ferry is underway. But then, in an effort to create a legitimate exception so our ambulances could leave their engines running, they exempted from that rule those vehicles classified by the state as emergency vehicles.

Interestingly, beyond fire engines and police cruisers, the list includes any state park vehicle driven by a ranger. I love Baxter and have a park decal and my grandchildren have junior park ranger badges. I couldn’t resist.  

Lots of folks have come out of the woodwork during this ordeal. Among those was a woman who, when I was a boy in 1961, was a girl, and with whom I assumed a lasting relationship that could only be strengthened, while in boot camp, by incautiously having her name tattooed on a banner carried by an eagle on my wrist where everyone could see and inquire about it for the next 55 years. I hadn’t seen or heard from her since she let me know that the tattoo was going to memorialize not a relationship but a memory.

Historically, compliments on my appearance have been infrequent. In the last few months, however, as I move forward with treatment, lots of folks tell me I look good. I have resisted acknowledging the likelihood that those compliments might simply emanate from folks wishing to offer encouragement. It’s much easier to assume that, after all these years without those accolades, I do suddenly “look good.”

Unfortunately, a male lobsterman friend had the bad form to offer affirmation, telling me I was “looking good.” It was nice of him but did force me to give fleeting consideration to the likelihood that such compliments, coming from a broader spectrum than just admiring ladies, might be less substantive than I’d imagined.

Meanwhile an increased dosage of a certain gout prescription has given me an enormous boost of energy and spirit, such that I’m focused on several things at once and eager to give them each my all. Not unlike my experience several decades ago when, diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, I was prescribed Ritalin and, before Elaine persuaded my doctors I’d  become unmanageable, enjoyed a memorable and sustained rush.

And today? My tongue is killing me—anything spicy. Very painful, like it’s on fire. Should I be talking about this? Fingers, feet, toes, that’s one thing, but the tongue? Seems a little intimate. On the other hand, the last few months have left me remarkably unconcerned with privacy or decorum.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven.