Break Down


Rodney Warner, JD
Rodney Warner, JD

It seemed like the best place to go. It was dark, secluded, small. A good place to hide. But you can’t hide from cancer.

I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in late 2000. I went through 12 weeks of chemotherapy and a month’s worth of radiation. I think it was April 2001 when I was told I was in remission.

Six months later I was told the cancer was back. Tumors had returned to my lungs. I didn’t take the news well. The worst thing that could’ve happened is that the disease could’ve progressed in spite of the treatment. A remission that only lasts six months is just a couple steps down the ‘bad news’ list when it comes to cancer treatment.

It was the fall of 2001, probably November. My wife’s co-workers were terrifically helpful during my treatment. A group of them came to our house and did all that pre-Winter yard work a home owner should do. Work I couldn’t do. Raking. Putting away lawn furniture. Cleaning up accumulated sticks and twigs. Cleaning out gutters.

I should’ve felt grateful. Instead I was angry and depressed. The fact all these nice people were helping me and my family was just a reminder of how sick I was and I desperate my situation became. We had a small yard and a small house. Any normal guy could’ve done it. But I wasn’t normal. I had cancer. That returned. It was if life was poking me in the chest and laughing in my face. See what you have to look forward to? You’re 35 years old and you can’t even rake your yard! You are such a &^#(~ing loser!

I remember crying and yelling a lot. Why was this happening to me? Why? What had I done to deserve this? Why did this have to happen to me? Why couldn’t I just be left alone? No, this couldn’t be happening. No! No! No! No! There must be something wrong! This isn’t right! This can’t be happening! My mind just spun in a circle, faster and faster, farther and farther down.

I couldn’t believe I had to go through treatment. Again. As if the first time wasn’t awful enough. The planned treatment involved a lot more chemo in a short period of time. What little information I could find didn’t paint a rosy picture for someone initially diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s whose remission lasted a short time. It was as if my worst fears were being realized.

I just wanted everyone and everything to go away. I just wanted to disappear into a void, jump into a bottomless hole and make time stop. The last thing I wanted to do was go through treatment again.

In hindsight, thankfully, our home on Rumford Street didn’t have a time and space altering anomaly, because if it did I would’ve gladly leapt inside. I was in our bedroom. The closest thing to a black hole I could find was a closet. I stepped inside, sat on the floor, closed the door, rocked back and forth, closed my eyes and covered my ears. If only everything could stop, I would be OK, because my future only contained sickness, pain, death and unfulfilled plans and dreams. I tried to convince myself that if I just stayed in this safe, quiet, dark place long enough, reality would change and I would be OK, because life outside the door was something I couldn’t handle. It was something I just couldn’t accept. My future was just so wrong.

After a while, my wife came looking for me. Opening the closet door and seeing me startled the %#@*(^ out of her. She talked me down, as it were, and got me out of the closet and helped me face the reality I hoped the closet would insulate me from.

Since my symptoms baffled my family physicians for over two years, I started seeing a psychiatrist just prior to being diagnosed. If there was no physical explanation, I thought there must be something wrong with me psychologically. During my treatment, I worked with the psychiatrist, a psychologist and social workers. I took an anti-depressant for a long time, in addition all the other meds I was taking.

Thankfully, my descents into insanity were few and short lived. Dealing with cancer is stressful, scary and life altering. Don’t be afraid to get help. You need everything you have, especially your mental health, to deal with cancer and treatment. Hiding in a closet won’t cure you of cancer. Believe me. I gave it a try. It didn’t work.