There has been a small item niggling at my brain recently. Patti got some feedback from a friend recently about “fightingdamien.” Here is the feedback: “I see that fighting damien has a theme of Patti and Derek’s adventures in cancer land. But he never writes about cancer!” Frankly, I think that comment says more about someone wanting to read about cancer than about the person who has it.

So, here’s my bit about cancer:

Having stage 4 pancreatic cancer is like being mugged by a 5-year old. After the mugging occurred, I realized that I still had my money, still had my cards and wallet, but the little tot had stolen my dreams.

And, in an effort to make lemonade out of lemons, I don’t think about the old dreams; I have new dreams.

I still feel good, have no tell-tale signs or symptoms, but I know that little bastard, Damien, is inside nonetheless.

When I got my diagnosis in September 2010, and my second opinion confirmation in October, it appeared that I was the center of the universe. Friends, family circled the wagons. Long ago, I got my Myers-Briggs personality designation: INTJ. If you are familiar with this, you know the I stands for introvert. I’m no Kardashian or Aniston or Kutcher; I prefer the comfort of the woodwork. So, all the attention was not something I wanted. All the well wishes and sentiments were very satisfying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I am truly blessed to have such loving family and devoted friends.

In fact, when people ask me what it’s like to have this cancer, I give them probably a very unusual answer: I am truly thankful for the cancer! I have relieved myself of stress as part of this process, I have reconnected with God after years of feeling I did not deserve His favor. That is, to me, perhaps the biggest sense of comfort that I have ever known. In fact, as part of this process, I believe I am much closer to being the person I have always wanted to be than who I was.

One oncologist at the time said that if I didn’t start chemotherapy the next day, I would be gone by Christmas 2010. As you can see, I am writing this the day after Independence Day 2012. Another couple months and it will be two years since my diagnosis. I find something to love and appreciate every day. It doesn’t have to be monumental. In fact, most of my celebrations are around very small things indeed, like teasing Patti, getting a copy of USAToday that day. Or, the way Gillis behaves around the house sometime.

Shortly after my diagnosis, I was anointed. As part of that process, I reached out and made peace with a number of people with whom I had had lingering conflict over the years. It was one of the most spiritually therapeutic experiences of my life. It was extremely beneficial, and to this day, I am so very thankful for having experienced it. Very thankful.

Cover of "The Omen (Two-Disc Collector's ...

Damien and “The Omen”

As the family began to let this diagnosis sink in, we treated it with the corresponding amount of humor. We gave the cancer the name Damien from the movie “The Omen.” If I didn’t feel like taking out the trash, I would look at Patti and give her a very faint, plaintive, almost-whispered cough and take advantage of her sympathy. We joked about this a lot because it didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now. And we both enjoy that tremendously. A friend sent me a very funny curly-haired wig, which I wore occasionally then. Looked more like what I think a pedophile looks like, so it lost its humor rather quickly. Besides, I never had that much hair, even when I was younger and had a full head of it.

At about the same time that Patti and I were adjusting to a new life with cancer in it, Patti’s cousin’s son welcomed a new daughter. Jesalyn was born with neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor in her tiny head. The parents faithfully took care of their daughter. An operation here and a procedure there, and Jesalyn was on the mend, for such a tiny tot. Today, she is cancer free, thank God.

During those days when Jesalyn was in the hospital, Patti talked to Jesalyn’s mom. She asked her how she was so faithful and optimistic. How could she be so upbeat? I will never forget her answer: “I don’t allow myself to go to the dark places.”

We have adopted that same philosophy. If we start down that disparaging highway, we start thinking about something completely different to get away from it. I usually think about my passions: Patti and the kids, golf, books and writing.

The time with Patti since this diagnosis has been so remarkably uplifting and personally rewarding, I cannot begin to tell you. It’s almost as if we are newlyweds. I know her better than anyone and she knows me better than anyone. She makes me laugh every day and this makes it a lot easier to avoid “those dark places.” She does that for me. I try to do the same for her. And, each of my four children is their own person. I love each one of them and they, too, are vast sources of humor and smiles.

When the days are cool, I spend some time on the golf course. I don’t play any better than I used to, and I don’t care. I just like trying to get better, and the rewarding feeling of making at least one good shot per round.

Books and writing are my enchantments. I can go anywhere in the world that I want to go. I like helping Michael Connelly and his characters solve murders in Los Angeles; I also like helping Harlan Coben solve murders with his interesting characters in New Jersey. And, Pat Conroy takes me to rhapsodic, rhythmic locations and I am fulfilled.

I have wanted to write a book for decades. And, now I am. When the plot was churning in my head years ago, I never thought it would be so personally gratifying getting all those details down on paper. Writing is my rejuvenation. It’s going a little slower than I thought, but progress is progress. I don’t think about my former work life any more, but I still try to stay in touch with friends from that life.

Once again, I feel like I have prepared a posting for fightingdamien, but there isn’t so much here about cancer. But just maybe you know a little more about how I deal with the cancer I have.

For years, Patti has teased me that I am such a slow reader. She is right on the mark. Frankly, I just love books — everything about books, including the covers, the writing, premise, plots, etc. You name it about books and I just can’t seem to get enough about them.

I have stopped doing this, but years ago, as I would read a book, I would edit it, too. It was my fun. Occasionally, I would rewrite the text in the margin. I still have some of those marked-up books.

So, it was with a great deal of pleasure to me when I was reading Pat Conroy‘s latest novel “South of Broad” and I found an error in the book. Toward the end of the book, there is a sentence and the word “to” is left out of the sentence.

Now, that probably doesn’t mean much to anyone else, but, to me, this was like winning the Kentucky Derby. I understand that Pat Conroy is a real stickler for precision when he is writing. And, his editor, Nan Talese, has a stellar reputation for producing the absolute best top-quality books in the marketplace. That’s a powerful 1-2 punch.

So, when I discovered this error as I was reading, it came as quite a surprise. You see, I grew up under the premise that publishing allowed absolutely no errors in the finished published work. The commendable notion that the book was “clean” was a significant matter of pride by the author, the editor and the publishing house.

Conroy is my favorite author, when he is writing his novels. I don’t care much for his cookbook or his book about basketball, but when he tackles a novel, there is none better, in my book, sotospeak. I have seen some reviews of this book and the complaint that there is a lot of sniveling among the  characters. Perhaps. But a reader knows that about Conroy’s novels. They are loaded with tortured souls and fractured dreams.

‘South of Broad” is about Charleston, South Carolina, and a group of people whose friendships developed in high school. The novel carries them through various trials and tribulations both in childhood and adulthood. There are no car chases, no nuclear threats, no terrorist plots solved by superhuman CIA agents. It’s just fantastic character development with a plot that moves the reader along. The fact that Patti and I had just been in Charleston and had a map of the town helped as Conroy made numerous references to the city and places within the town.

For me, it was a great read, even though I did discover the error.

I may be retired, but some lifelong skills I acquired in college and in my career have not left me. Once  an editor, always an editor.

I am thankful for that, and the little things that bring us truly the greatest joy.