Craig Wisner

Enemy of the Sun.

I click a link to a message entitled “Skin Biopsy Results” and few words jump out at me before I can finish the page.

Positive.

Cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma.

Our surgery department will contact you to schedule treatment.

There’s an innocuous looking pink bump on the side of my nose near my eye, another on my shoulder.  The positive results of these two spots call into question many other areas, undoubtedly more biopsies to come.  They’re not the first.  They tell me it’s the most common form of cancer and it is typically highly treatable.

I suppose it doesn’t matter how common or how treatable, the word cancer sends a temporary wash of fear through my body.  You cannot help but wonder where you lie within the percentages.  Questions.  I’ll deal with it.  More questions.  Don’t worry, you’ll deal with it.

I think back to a moment with my doctor.

“It’s strange that I have these on my shoulders, I’m pretty good about staying covered in the sun.”

“Honey, this didn’t happen last weekend.  It’s genetics and a lifetime of sun damage.  Did you burn a lot as a kid?”

“Yes.”

“There you go.  You weren’t meant for this place.”

Snip.  Another piece of flesh is put into a vial.

I wasn’t meant for this place.

Surgery day.  I’m informed prior to the start that growths around the nose tend to run deep and spread outward, that the surgeon cannot predict how much will have to be removed.  He’ll cut, send the sample to the lab outside to be examined, and cut more until there’s no sign of cancer.  They’ll be slightly more aggressive with my shoulder, simply removing a large chunk under and around the growth.

Needle pricks, numbness spreading from my nose and into my jaw.  John Coltrane is on the stereo and I’m thankful I can talk jazz and art with the surgeon.  I can feel his breath next to me.  He’s steady.  I close my eyes.  The sound of metal gently tapping metal, skin cutting.  The hole in my shoulder is large, almond-shaped, an inch and a half long and three-fourths of an inch wide.  They tug aggressively at the sutures, pulling it shut and tying it off.

An hour and a half has passed.

It’s not that bad.

There is no pain, though I’d prefer I didn’t have to smell my cauterized skin.

They’ve taken almost a dime of skin from next to my eye.  They suspect I’ll heal OK, but I can talk to a cosmetic surgeon in three weeks if I don’t like the scar.  I tell them I don’t make money off my looks, that I’d rather have a scar than be opened back up.  They tell me to wait and see.  I walk out, heads in the waiting room following my bandaged face.

As a lover of deserts, waves, and peaks, I’m reevaluating my relationship with a suddenly dangerous sun.

“I’m usually pretty good at sun protection when I know I’m doing something, like hiking or surfing.  But I can see I need to make it more of a daily habit.”

There’s a smirk on my surgeon’s face, a slight shake of his head.

“Man, going to the grocery store is too much sun for you.  You need to rethink your sun exposure or we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other.”

I imagine a burka, hiding every inch of myself from the light.  Hiking sandy washes wrapped in blue robes like a Berber trader.  Sleeping in caves during the day, waking and walking at sundown as the sky reddens and the winds pick up.

I imagine outright abandonment of our damned star.  Becoming a night runner, night hiker, night cyclist.  Enjoying the feeling of cool air on bare skin without searing worry.  Seeking my adventures by headlamp and streetlight.  The world would be empty and quiet and I would be free.

I imagine packing up and moving my family to some cloudy, dark North where my genes might belong and where I’d never need to shield my eyes from the sun’s  blinding glare again.

I imagine I must now start to choose my time of day wisely, to save my exposure for when it counts, for trips in the High Sierra instead of some noontime hike in familiar local hills.

I walk to my studio out back, to sit and write and imagine a little more.

Stopping on the path, shirtless, I squint defiantly at my enemy.

Feeling its heat on my shoulders, I hurry for cover.

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2 responses

  1. Sunscreen's a Religion

    Powerful post. I feel ya. Hang in there brother.

    August 10, 2016 at 3:35 pm

  2. Jeremy

    Speaking spiritually:

    Most stars in the sky are like our Sun, and the light of the Moon is his as well, so is the energy that blooms the flowers in the Spring and that dries the petals when they fall.

    That you are thinking about separation from the sun is painful to hear, and must be much more painful to be experiencing. As living things, we are made to suffer. My only hope for relief is in the truth, and I feel it is the truth that you will never escape from the sun, because you have never been separated from it.

    I’m reminded of a passage I read once:

    “Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.

    13 Ch’uan Teng Lu, 22. (The Way of Zen 126)

    It’s my hope that you will be able some day to feel the sun as you did before. Maybe not physically, but spiritually. Even if I am out at night, if I acknowledge the Sun’s light that is there (because it is there, whether we acknowledge it or not), the light can be with me, rather than against me. Or, more correctly, I can be one with it. This is very serious news, and I know things are always easier said than done, but to me, that sounds like it’s close to the truth, and, to me, it sounds like a step toward (spiritual) relief.

    ====

    It’s not so much a question of you belonging in any “separate” part of the world.

    To borrow a phrase: A flower can’t grow where conditions don’t allow, and if the conditions allow, the flower will always grow. You’re always right where the world has put you – be it a mountaintop or a gutter. Misconceptions are the source of suffering, and those doctors seem to be under the VERY false impression that living things are “supposed” to be healthy and happy. What I want to know is how the hell did they gather that things are not meant to suffer by observing the life (and death) cycle? Or maybe they never really have? Truly ironic and sad to hear from a doctor, I must say. Very indicative. While doctors may be full of information, they are clearly not always full of wisdom.

    To end on a humorous note, I arrive at work very early, and so I’ve taken a liking to telling my soon-to-be-retiring co-workers, “They say the mind is the first to go, and I’m an early starter.” Though they all have their ails, strangely enough, it is not the most physically healthy of them who seem the most spiritually satisfied on a daily basis. The way I figure, I will always suffer no matter what, but I can control my inner self more than the outer.

    Good luck getting back on your feet. I hope the post wasn’t too preachy. With serious posts I am never sure whether to purely sympathize with the gravity and reality of the personal struggle or whether to try and poke and prod and joke as a reminder that there are other ideas out there.

    August 10, 2016 at 9:06 pm

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