Recovery Road

Living and Thriving as a Young Person with Cancer

Humor for Hope

Finding laughter during challenging times

Not long after I was diagnosed with Stage IV gastric cancer, I was introduced to someone who has become special in my life. Her name is Natalie. She arrived when I wasn’t thinking about girls or meeting anyone new. I can’t remember the last time that was the case, but since becoming a part of my life she has really gotten under my skin.  

I never thought we would meet, and the timing certainly wasn't ideal, but I knew right off the bat that we were going to get along like two peas in a pod.  I wound up taking the bold step of introducing her to my family and friends right away. In fact, we’ve become inseparable. She accompanies me to every treatment, lying with me while I get filled with drugs, and lying with me when I’m feeling crappy in the days that follow. 

The truth is, however, I’m hoping to end this relationship soon…

So, Natalie is Natalie Port-man.  It's the name I gave my medical port. She is quite literally under my skin, helping deliver my treatment every few weeks, filling my body with a potent cocktail. I just tell myself she is trying to take advantage of me when I’m “under the influence.”

I try to attack my illness with humor, to strike it with smiles. Natalie helps me with this. This method allows me to alleviate stress, it serves as a positive distraction, and it lets me feel as if I’m not battling every day. And of course I hope you laughed about Natalie!

Of course you can’t laugh at the flick of a switch; we are often held captive by life's' circumstances. But if you look for humor you can find it. Take my recent experience involving my mom and donated sperm. Yep, you read that correctly.

Unfortunately, one of the potential side effects of chemotherapy is infertility, so I thought it would be a good idea to get some little Alex’s frozen, just in case. So I headed off to the donation center.

Of course, who was I spending most of my time with? You guessed it, my mom. So I arrive at the donation center, my mother in tow. The clinic staff asked if she was my partner. I laughed it off, and informed them that this lady had in fact birthed me thirty years ago.

After I sit down and sign a few papers, staff members ask me to follow them to a back room. My mom, caring person that she is, immediately asks if she could help. Shocked, I drop the cup in my hand and adamantly tell her I’ll be fine without her help on this one.

So I find myself in the back room, where all the donating happens. Many thoughts were racing through my mind as I had to step up to the plate and perform. I was nervous. Frankly, this was an area where I hadn’t spent much time lately. Also, I was on a ton of pain medicine – the powerful stuff, Vicodin, Percocet, Percodan, oxycontin – and impotence is a frequent side effect. Plus my mom was about ten feet away, and oh yea, I had just been diagnosed with cancer.

I wound up finding inspiration in the lovely assortment of assisting "tools" in that back room, and was able to fill up a legit container’s worth. But I was wondering if I had to perform more than once. Sitting skittish in the waiting room and anticipating my next marching orders, I was relieved to hear the nurse happily announce to the whole room that "we are in business.” As it turns out, I had made a donation record, producing the largest amount this particular place had seen. I patted myself on my back.

Little did I know that one of my proudest moments would be filling a cup with sperm, on a ton of painkillers, with my mom in the next room. This situation wasn't necessarily associated with positive emotions in the moment, but I’m glad that I was able to find humor there.

I’ve heard that laughter is the shortest distance between two people. I hope that by sharing my story (a pretty intimate one for that matter) you not only laughed, but gained some insight into my life.

And oh yea, I cannot wait to put that container to use! Maybe I’ll meet another girl named Natalie.

Alex Niles is a writer who was diagnosed with Stage IV gastric cancer in 2013, at the age of 30.

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