When the worst turns out to be good: Crouse on life in cancer care
Just days after his 50th birthday in 2013, CTV's film critic Richard Crouse was booked for a routine colonoscopy. He thought it would be little more than a nuisance, but it wound up being a life-saver.
Now, six years later, Crouse shares for the first time his account of the moment he was diagnosed with cancer and the life-changing effects of that news.
In a series of columns exclusive to CTVNews.ca, Crouse chronicles his childhood as the son of a woman who died of cancer, his own surprise diagnosis and the intrusive treatment that followed, laying bare his eye-opening revelations, deepest fears and most vulnerable moments.
Catch up on the rest of Crouse's series:
- Part 1: The moment he heard 'We found a tumour'
- Part 2: The challenge of coming out to colleagues
- Part 3: 'Doing what I was told': The indignity of being hospitalized
- Part 4: 'You either have it or you don't': Keeping faith in cancer care
- Part 5: 'So, you're having chemo': On feeling kicked when he's down
- Part 6: Stepping into the void: An experience of chemotherapy
- Part 8: Five years clear of cancer, but still feeling the peril
Movies have always been important to me. It took some time to put it all together, but as I got older I realized my childhood fascination with going to the movies wasn't just a pastime, but a survival mechanism. My mother was ill and the cinema was an escape from the inexplicable things that were happening at home.
Oddly enough during my own treatment movies did not provide an escape for me. In fact it was quite the opposite. The movies I was going to see, whether they were superhero films, real life drama, comedies, these were part of my job and therefore grounded me in reality. They gave me a reason to get up in the morning. To put on clothes. To push myself to stay active and get out and do my job.
The combined effect of the drugs, both the chemo and the steroids, kept me up and running through the week. I worked, spending the days writing and in the entire time I was under treatment only missed one radio or television hit.
Saturdays were a different story. My bi-weekly chemo sessions became routine even as the side effects mounted. Soon everything tasted and smelled like what I imagine a battery would taste and smell like if you cut it in half. I learned to bundle myself up when I went outside and I used oven mitts to get the milk out of the fridge.
By the time Saturday rolled around, instead of going out with my friends or taking a walk with Andrea I was bedridden. I started to refer to it as my Saturday Night Fever, the crash that came five days after the chemo and steroids finally made their way through my system. I suppose it's like the DTs. It's the way the body reacts when the drug it is used to dips to a low level.
Saturdays became lazy days. We'd stay in, glued to the TV, and I thought back to when my mom wasn't feeling well and we'd watch "Three's Company." She found John Ritter hilarious and the show never failed to bring a smile to our faces. It struck me many years later that these are the moments that comprise life. It's rarely the big details that linger, but the small, often insignificant details that have a lasting effect.
Maybe it's the primal feeling of sitting and watching something together, being entertained. Maybe it's just the sound of her laughter I recall. For as brave a face as she put on it was a sound that became rarer as the years went on. When I was ill in bed, confined to the sheets, I entertained myself with mindless TV. Flip shows. "Storage Wars." They didn't tax me, didn't ask me to think about them and write about them afterwards, but later I thought that it's possible they helped heal me as well. After months of watching Barry and Jarrod go at it over a locker full of garbage and sitting on the edge of my bed at the prerequisite cliffhanger — "What do we have here?" — I became determined to not make watching junk TV the lasting memory of me.
I pushed myself and continued to live as normally as possible, even though nothing felt really normal. My work continued, although as time went on I became aware that the face I saw staring back at me in the mirror looked different to me than it did to the people who saw me on television. I looked haggard, but I suppose I felt even worse, so all things being equal, I thought I was presentable enough.
The point is: the tumour, the chemo and everything that went along with having cancer had thrown my carefully constructed life for a curve. The thing that saved me, as much as the chemo, I believe, was my attitude. Shortly after my diagnosis I embraced the idea that to be happy I would have to find my new normal, live life as fully as possible. I had to accept that I was not in control of everything. I put my health in the hands of others, people I came to trust and rely on, and embraced the void. It's strange now, when I think back on it, it feels like those turbulent moments are the very thing that made me appreciate everything I have, physically and metaphysically. I was woken up, and in that time of feeling afraid — of tumours and needles and disease — I felt very alive, and continue to do so to this very day.
The worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be a good thing. It cleared my head and made me realize what was important and what were simply the metaphoric gnats buzzing around my head. Best of all, the shittier things got with my health, the better they got between Andrea and me. Inner strengths were revealed and an unbreakable bond was formed.
Read more on CTVNews.ca:
- Immune system therapy shows wider promise against cancer
- Possible carcinogen found in French fries, potato chips and other foods: study
- Young adults not immune to colon cancer, shouldn't ignore signs based on age: experts
- Half of colorectal cancers diagnosed too late for effective treatment: study
- Discoveries that revolutionized cancer care win Nobel Prize
Back in the trenches the weeks droned on and gallons of chemo were consumed. I pushed myself in small ways. Instead of taking a cab to and from the chemo, I began taking the bus home. Doing something normal such as taking public transport put a period on the treatment day, signifying an end of the weird stuff and a return to the everyday world.
Each treatment meant I was one day closer to my done date. It couldn't come fast enough. I had needle fatigue, was sick and tired of laying still for hours at a time while drugs coursed through my body and was anxious to get on with life after cancer.
In previous instalments, Crouse shared the life-changing moment he first heard his diagnosis, the challenge of talking about his diagnosis with colleagues at work, the indignity of hospitalization and his struggle to keep the faith in cancer care. Crouse has also shared his candid thoughts on the difficulty of feeling kicked when you're already down and the dread of undergoing chemotherapy. In a week, we'll have the final instalment in his series on surviving colon cancer.
Richard Crouse shares a toast with celebrity guests and pundits on the talk show Pop Life on CTV NewsChannel and CTV. Catch up on all the entertainment news, reviews and interviews at the Pop Life website.
Read more of Richard Crouse's recent movie reviews:
- 'Teen Spirit' has universal messages for all
- Beautiful 'Missing Link' engages the eyes, but not the brain
- 'Shazam!' brings classic comic book zaniness to the big screen
- 'Dumbo' remake is pure Burton eye-candy
- 'Us' is gory, outlandish and resonates in Trump-era America
- 'Wonder Park' more poignant, heart-tugging than you'd expect
- 'Captain Marvel' is convoluted, cluttered and ... refreshing