The Crown in the Road
Enjoy this Special Guest Post to the OCJ Blog!
Hi OCJ Podcast Listeners and Article Readers! I welcome you to read this “Guest Post” from cancer survivor Tim Schartung. His article below reflects on his life and things within all of our lives that can be examples and analogies for us as we move through our cancer experience. The below is a reprint of a post he wrote on a private social media group that supports people with head and neck cancer. He speaks specifically about his experience, but his perseverance and his outlook provides good takeaways for us all. Thank you Tim for sharing and gratitude to all of you for learning from these experiences and sharing them if and when you are ready. Bruce Watkins
“The Crown in the Road” by Tim Schartung
When engineers build a road they construct the base of the road to meet certain parameters that assist with drainage, slope required, type of material used for the top coat, expected load bearing weight, and traffic frequency. Each of the parameters add to a safe driving experience for travelers. For instance the slope along with the change in direction are factored to determine the speed a traveler can drive and still maintain control. Atmospheric conditions are a large factor engineers use to build the road and in particular how well the road will shed water to prevent pooling and possibly cause a vehicle to hydroplane with loss of control. A curve is easy because the water sheds to the lower side of the curve whereas a flat road is built so the middle of the road is normally higher than the edge allowing the water to shed in both directions. The common name for an increase in the middle of the road is called the crown. The crown does not have to be very high to be effective. We drive on roads that have a crown most of the time you do not notice whether we are driving or crossing the road on foot.
It was April 2014 and I had just started radiation for my throat cancer. I had been diagnosed with base of tongue Squamous Cell Carcinoma. The cancer could be seen using a laryngoscope and confirmed using CAT and PET scans in January. The cancer had spread to my lymph nodes on the left side of my neck, pharynx, left tonsil, blocking about half of my airway, and pressing on my left carotid artery. They classified the cancer as stage 4. I started my first treatment on Feb 6th that consisted of three types of chemo drugs given one at a time to make sure there were no interaction and one of the three drugs was administered by a pump that I took home Thursday afternoon and wore until Sunday morning when a home health nurse would arrive to disconnect it. The medical community tracks rounds of chemotherapy in cycles that are three weeks long. During the first week they gave me all three chemo drugs and then the second and third week I received 1 of the 3 drugs. Once the cycle is complete there are tests they accomplish to see if chemotherapy is working. I received my first progress test after the second cycle. The tests were promising and then I went to the hospital where they gave me anesthesia to visually look in my throat for any visible signs. The cancer was not detectable. For another three weeks I continued to work and maintain some normalcy in my life. I was trying super hard to keep the emotional toll from overwhelming me. Anyone who has experienced cancer can understand what my emotional state was at the time. To add to the emotional toll I also had the physical toll. Each day the physical toll made it increasingly harder to live. I would wake up in the morning to only wish it was time for bed and everything in between was very hard.
Around April 10th I had lost all my hair and this was expected. I don’t care who you are the hair loss caused a major emotional hit to my already fragile state. It’s good the hair loss had started because it shows how effective the drugs are but it was emotionally devastating.
One day soon after losing my hair I was going to work and parked my truck in the parking lot where I normally park. The parking lot is across the street from the building I work in and the door is about 100 yards on the other side of the road. The parking lot is lower in elevation than the road with the crown in it and the building is even a little higher in elevation. I had parked and walked to the building hundreds of times and each walk was uneventful except for dodging traffic. This time was different because when I made it to the crown of the road I was physically exhausted. My truck was only parked 75 feet away from me and the elevation change was about 2 feet.
Here I was standing in the middle of the road looking at how far I still needed to travel to get to my desk. I still had a trip across the handicapped/reserved parking lot into the building, to the elevator, and then to my desk. I was only 1/10thof the way to my desk and was stuck trying to figure out what was the best action for me to take.
We all have issues that affect us in our lives that change us one way or another. The change may be physical or emotional or both and can have a drastic effect on how and what we do in our lives. We absorb the event or illness and attempt to adjust. Sometimes the adjustment may be quick and other times you just may not be able to cope fully with the change and learn to live with the life altering event in the best way you can. When I finished all my chemo treatment and radiation the nurse who was my advisor and works for the cancer doctor looks at me and says “Welcome to the new normal.” I can still hear every word and probably will until the day I die. The words are devastating but true. Life altering events that include physical or emotional trauma change us and we eventually attempt to find our new normal. It can take weeks, months or even years to understand and find the new normal and some never do.
A few weeks ago I was doing the same routine that I had done in 2014 as I got out of the truck, cross the road, and into the building and it hit me just how hard that day was in 2014 as I stood in the middle of the road weak and exhausted. I had not thought about that day for several years and my new normal had become my new life. The elevation change does not affect me today.
Going back to the day when chemotherapy was kicking my butt I stood there thinking to myself, What are you going to do Tim? It’s still a long way to my desk. I looked back at the truck and then at the building where I made a step toward the building’s entrance I worked in and eventually to my desk. This day this simple 2 foot elevation change was a mountain and I climbed it. I felt good about myself that I beat the physical toll and made it into work. Soon after this day I started experiencing symptoms of radiation along with some more chemotherapy and the physical toll on my body was so overwhelming that I could not work or drive. I entered a zombie state where I lived to sleep and anything other than sleeping was hard.
I had several larger mountains to climb. Some were like the crown in the road and others were much larger but the one that I remember vividly today on that one day in my life in 2014. You may not think a person is having issues and the problems they have are behind them but sometimes it’s not. I’ll live with the side effects of medical treatments for the rest of my life and the new normal will adjust as I cope with the next issue that comes up and so will you. You have to dig deep, use your coping skills and ask for help when you need it most so you can cross the crown in the road, your mountain, without too much trouble.
Tim Schartung – 2022
Cover Photo by Johannes Plenio