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A bumpy road ahead

It all began with a cat scratch.

Some months ago, I was playing with our cat, Sparkles. It turned out that my cat-like reflexes were no match for an actual cat, and I was issued some minor scratches.

No big deal. I’ve been scratched by cats many times.

Then one morning I awoke with a stiff neck. That sort of thing happens. No big deal.

Rubbing my jaw, I noticed a lump which I was able to identify as an enlarged lymph node. Google informed me that it could be cat scratch fever. This is an actual malady and not just a song by Ted Nugent.

I went to my primary care physician and was prescribed an antibiotic and a steroid. No big deal. I should be better in a few weeks.

A few weeks turned into a few months with no change in the lump. I went back to my primary care doctor, who referred me to a surgeon.

The surgeon ordered an ultrasound of the neck. I recall watching my wife getting an ultrasound when she was pregnant with our sons. No big deal.

The ultrasound couldn’t rule out cancer, so a contrast CT was ordered. The contrast CT couldn’t rule out cancer, so a biopsy was ordered.

I asked the surgeon if the biopsy would leave a bruise on my neck. She said it was possible.

“Is it OK if I say that that it’s a hickey?” I asked. “I want people to think that I’m still a player.”

She said that I could call it whatever I wanted.

I discussed things with the surgeon after the biopsy was finished. “If the news isn’t good, can you refer me to a good oncologist?” I asked.

“I will get you the best oncologist,” she replied earnestly.

I carried a cold, hard bowling ball of anxiety in my gut while we waited for the biopsy results. When the surgeon called two days later, the news was not good.

It’s cancer.

Six months ago, I decided to step away from my writing and advertising sales job with the Dairy Star newspaper, a position I had held for more than 21 years. My plan was to travel more with my wife and meet new people.

The future is much more uncertain now but will still involve traveling and meeting new people. The difference is that the travel will be to doctor’s appointments and the new people we meet will be involved in the medical field.

I don’t fear what lies ahead. I will gladly embrace the indignities, the disfigurement and the discomfort if it buys me more time or perhaps even a cure. But no matter what, the “c” word will be forever thumping around in the background.

What I dread is leaving my loved ones. My wife. Our two sons, our daughter-in-law, and our four-year-old grandson. My siblings and their children. Friends and neighbors.

I need to have a Kleenex in my pocket at all times these days because I never know when I will tear up. I might tear up while talking to strangers. I have teared up while mowing the lawn. While pouring milk onto my breakfast cereal.

Despite the hand that has been dealt me, I have no regrets. July 10 will mark the 36th anniversary of the manure pit accident that nearly took my life. Thanks to the quick actions of our local first responders and my wife’s cool-headedness, I survived. I was thus able to be around to help my wife raise our sons, who are now mature, functioning adults.

Every day since my accident has been a blessing and a bonus. I am deeply grateful for every moment and have tried to appreciate each day and everything that came with it, both the good and the bad.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the John Prine song, “I Remember Everything,” the last tune he recorded before Covid took him. For some reason, the lyrics, “Swimming pools of butterflies that slipped right through the net” strikes a deep chord within me. Maybe it’s because that’s as good an allegory as any for life.

The lymph node didn’t hurt and was hardly noticeable. Like most guys, I usually don’t go to the doctor unless something is spurting blood or there’s a bone sticking out somewhere. I find it wonderful and strange that the scratch from Sparkles led to early detection of the cancer and could be the thing that saved my life. It wouldn’t be much different than imagining a swimming pool filled with butterflies.

The road ahead looks long and bumpy. Here we go.

— Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at http://Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.

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