Spring Cleaning Clears Souvenirs not Thoughts
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The journalist and commentator Leroy Sievers spent many years reporting on heads of state and transitions of power. He also covered both gulf wars and made number of visits to Iraq as a television news producer. We hear from him regularly about more recent and more personal experiences as a cancer patient.
LEROY SIEVERS: I finally got rid of some things that had been hanging in the closet for a long time, 16 years in fact. First to go was my chemical suit from Desert Storm. I don't know why I kept it all this time. I wore it through the burning oil fields in Kuwait when the rain came down black. It probably wasn't the healthiest thing to have in the house.
Some of my old equipment went too, stuff I didn't even realized I'd kept, all bagged up and in the trash. There's a lot of stuff I have kept, desert camouflage from 1991 and 2003, jungle camouflage from the late 80s, body armor too. My desert boots are in the hall closet. I doubt I'll ever wear them again. And the helmets from both Gulf wars are on a shelf in my office.
All these momentos of conflict got me thinking about my more recent struggle. I looked around the house to see what I've kept. I still have one of those little breath machines, the ones where you breathe in the tube and try to keep the ball floating in the cylinder. Hanging in the corner are the long-deflated balloons that greeted me when I came home from the hospital after my first cancer surgery back in 2001. They've been hanging there so long I really don't see them anymore.
In the pantry there are dozens of empty pill bottles. Each of the big ones represents a chemo round. Others held anti-nausea pills, painkillers, the whole pharmaceutical history of my disease. I'm not sure why I kept them, but I don't think I'll throw them out anytime soon. But that's about it. I didn't have special clothes to wear, no camouflage pattern that could hide me from the cancer. I certainly haven't kept any hospital gowns. They're not the kind of thing to wear around the house.
I realized why there isn't anything else. The cancer just took over my normal life. Outwardly life went on as it did before except that I was sick. There's nothing to remind me of those days when the chemo made me so sick I was basically useless, nothing that would count as evidence of a life turned upside down, nothing I could throw away in some ritual act of cleansing. No, it all says normal, and it all says cancer.
INSKEEP: Leroy Sievers blogs and podcasts about his experiences with cancer at our Web site. You can follow his story and also share your own by going to npr.org/mycancer.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.