David Fitzsimmons: Cancer's in the rearview mirror; now I can look forward to a heart attack

2012-09-29T00:00:00Z 2012-09-29T12:13:39Z David Fitzsimmons: Cancer's in the rearview mirror; now I can look forward to a heart attackDavid Fitzsimmons Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 29, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The news on Wednesday of singer Andy Williams dying from bladder cancer jarred my bravado. Wednesday was my checkup day.

Six years ago I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I was a jogger and I had begun to pass blood after each run. My primary-care physician said, "Could be bladder cancer. You should get an MRI and see a urologist."

Waiting weeks to see the specialist I was plagued with nightmares and obsessed with macabre online research.

"Give it a rest," my wife said. "Stop Googling your disease."

"I'm not Googling my disease."

I stared at the screen.

"Hey. Costco sells cremation urns online. Here's one called "Falling Leaves" for $89.99."

Finally, the day came to learn my fate. In the urologist's waiting room I distracted myself by scribbling down joke ideas: Wetmore. Street named after famous pioneering urologist.

The nurse called my name.

I followed her down the Green Mile to the exam room where she told me to doff my duds and toss on the paper muumuu. I hopped up onto the shoeshine stand and waited for the knock at the door. From my ridiculous throne I beckoned him in.

Doctor Favazza is handsome, smart and younger than Doogie Howser. His diploma says University of California, but I'm convinced he's a graduate of the KinderCare School of Medicine.

When the word "cancer" came out of his mouth it was a like a bullet rifling toward me in slow motion. Cancer took my mom, my dad, winged my brother and my sister and now I was in its sights.

My brother, the retired health insurance executive, would later say, "Bladder cancer patients cost us a fortune in surgeries and treatments. You tend to survive. Odds are you'll die from a heart attack first."

I must have cancer-lite.

"In a few days I'm going to surgically remove the tumors. In the meantime I'd like to inspect the interior of your bladder, through the natural opening, with a procedure called a cystoscopy."

The doctor's assistant draped a paper square with a porthole over the topic of conversation. Thanks for the lovely frame - did you pick that up at Michael's?

Then came the topical anesthetic. Could you also take a mallet to my forehead? When I tell men this story I leave out detail about the anesthetic ointment just to watch them bite their lips and scissor their legs together.

On the side table I saw a scope with a catheter the size of a fire hose. Before I could scream like a girl, Dr. King Kong grabbed Fay Wray. He inserted the tube like it was a plumber's snake.

I clenched my eyeballs with my lower teeth and struggled to find the humor in this moment. Find any lost Chilean miners in there? Is this going to be on the Discovery Channel?

He turned on the monitor and I saw tumors that looked like sea anemone floating on the wall of my bladder. I choked.

I told my kids the news. The 10-year old didn't quite get it. By the end of the week all the other boys on our block thought Mr. Fitzsimmons had a disease called "wiener cancer."

After the surgery I endured six weeks of immunotherapy that involved instilling tuberculosis into my bladder.

Why TB? Because typhoid was unavailable and the bubonic plague was "so yesterday."

The nurse fills you up, you go home, lie down and turn like a pig on a spit to make sure the whole inside of your bladder gets coated. And then when Hoover Dam can't hold back the Colorado any longer you pee out the napalm while simultaneously performing River Dance for the family.

The tuberculosis works by rousing your antibodies to go on a jihad to drive out the remaining cancerous infidels. The crusades were being re-enacted in my groin and at night the clanging of shields and swords in the south of Spain kept me awake.

Stubborn about moving forward, I went to a junior high school right after a treatment to give a cartoon presentation.

I knew the sound of running water could trigger uncontrollable incontinence, but I was convinced I could handle this curious side effect.

As I was leaving the campus the unthinkable happened. The lawn sprinklers came on like the Hallelujah Chorus. I ran across the playground with my knees locked together and yelling "No" at my pants.

Tall shrubs saved me from embarrassment, and the absence of law enforcement saved me from public-indecency charges. And to the crossing guard with bad timing, I apologize.

Two surgeries and rounds of treatments later, here I was.

Dr. Favazza looked into the cystoscope. He paused. I winced. He said, "I don't see anything unusual. You're all clear.

"That's it for checkups every six months. We'll see you in a year."

One whole beautiful year. I was like a high school sweetheart and he had decided it was time to see other people for a while.

Although cancer had given me cancer wisdom, cancer walks, cancer runs, cancer fashion shows, cancer boot camps, cancer buddies, cancer ribbons, 45-minutes of comedy material and a regular date with a nice doctor, I was happy for this temporary reprieve.

I shook his hand, said "Thank you" and walked to my car.

As I left the clinic I listened to a radio correspondent's tribute to Andy Williams, looked in my rearview mirror and watched my cancer fade into the distance.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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