One thing that cancer can't take away from me is my insistence to cling to rituals.
I read the newspaper in a pre-determined pattern, always saving the front page for last and front loading the funnies. At the movies, I seek out the same seat every time, and I get moody if it happens to already be occupied. My gym workouts and running routes haven't varied in years, although both activities have been sidelined since I got a G-tube in December and a trach last month.
And even though I am only three days into my series of radiation treatments, I'm already creating rituals for my daily visits to Kaiser.
One of these rituals was spawned last fall. While shopping at Rockaway Records in Glendale, I spotted a Rhino compilation of Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson's hits: a CD I had passed up many times before.
I flipped the CD case and saw that Track 10 was Ashford & Simpson's song, "Found a Cure."
When released in 1979, "Found a Cure" was popular in clubs, made the Top 40 on the pop charts and reached No. 2 on the R&B rankings. A few years later, AIDS emerged and some of the people who danced to "Found a Cure" in the disco era saw it as an anthem for the plague years.
I always loved the song, but at that moment my heart really connected with "Found a Cure" and I needed to hear it again. I bought the CD, kept it in my car over the months and have played it hundreds of times. Mostly, I go straight to track 10 and hit repeat when it's over.
This week, I decided to play all seven minutes and one second of "Found a Cure" every time I go to my radiation therapy.
If I press play on the track when I arrive at Fountain and Gower, it carries me right to the entrance of the parking garage adjacent to the Radiation and Oncology Department, and gives me a boost of hope.
Another ritual for my cancer treatment began Monday evening when I looked across my living room and spotted a stuffed toy frog that my Pos Ped friend Shirley gave to me when I was in the hospital last month recovering from my trach surgery and biopsy.
Earlier that day I had a miserable time laying on the metal bed getting zapped with radiation with the hard plastic ThermaSplint mask clamped against my face. When I looked at Shirley's smiling frog, I said to myself, there's no reason why I need to lay on that cold metal bed alone.
I sat down with the frog and dressed it up with some bling. First, I pinned a metal Rolling Stones tongue to its collar –a symbol for my own tongue's recovery– and then I added the Mickey Mouse pin that my AIDS/LifeCycle friend Chris E mailed to me last week with a get-well card.
Finally, I took the prayer card from my mom's funeral in 2007, and strung it around the frog's collar, too.
When I showed up at the Orion treatment room for my second session of radiation therapy, I held the frog against my stomach. I thought about my Pos Ped friends who are pulling for my return to health and waiting for me to get back on my bicycle. I thought about Disneyland. I thought about my favorite Rolling Stones riffs. And most of all, I thought about Mom and her incredible strength.
When the radiologist removed my mask to lock it up for the night, I asked him to keep the frog inside. The mask is a perfect size to serve as the frog's nest.
Today, when I walked into the Orion, Shirley's frog was resting on the counter, smiling, and waiting for our session to begin.
That frog and I may not find a cure, but I hope we get darn close.