A touch of emphysema, a brush with cancer

Years ago, my dad had announced that he’d gone to the doctor and learned that he had a “touch of emphysema”. I shared with a friend who said, “No one gets a touch of emphysema. You either have it or you don’t.” That sounded right. Another friend laughed out loud at the phrase. Still, “a touch” sounded better than plain old “emphysema”. He treated it as if it was just a bit of something instead of a defining condition, and I think that perspective helped. That was probably more than 10 years ago and he’s managed to keep his “touch” of emphysema at bay.

The innocuous, minimized description recently came back to me when I struggled with how to share with my in-laws that I’d had cancer surgery and would be undergoing chemo. I hadn’t found the words to say it out loud, so how could I share? Did I have cancer? Well, surgery had been successful in removing it, but no one can say whether it’s floating around and planning a rally. It’s as if I’m running a bed and breakfast, and I’m waiting for confirmation that some unruly, unwanted guest has left, and taken his loud obnoxious friends with him. I’m sending staff to the pool, the bar, the restaurant, the lobby, hoping to gracefully exit him and his buddies if found.

I smiled as the Touch of Emphysema phrase came back to me. “I’ve had a brush with cancer”, I said aloud. The words rolled off my tongue, painting a picture of some level of danger, though implying that something more serious had been successfully averted. My unwanted guest could be long gone from the premises. Or he could be reclining on a large (and prohibited) float in the pool, holding 10 lounge chairs with towels and t-shirts while he waits for a car full of drunken frat bros to join him out there. We’ve all got our unwanted guests. We also have the stress and anxiety of worrying what they’ll do next, how we’ll get them out, and whether they’ll return. No one knows what the end game looks like, but for now, “a Brush with Cancer” sounds about right to me.

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