Cancer Circus and Me
By Leonard William Zajicek
My first days in the hospital were filled with the tests of medicine to determine my future. The biopsy confirmed what I had already knew. The tumor was malignant and the Cat scan confirmed the size and location. With blood drawn and x-rays completed, I was now scheduled for my time on the table. With family and friends near, I was convinced my decision to return to Milwaukee was the right one.
When the day came for the operation, the doctors told me of the magnitude and danger that lie ahead. My thoughts were of all I had done since first I learned of my cancer. I regret nor speculate if it was right or wrong for now I am ready. My young circus career kept me going this far and should I make it through this, I shall return. If not, I would surely be hypocritical if I complained. I chose not to lie around and feel sorry for myself, but left all to do what I had always wanted to do.
As I signed the release forms, my thoughts were of mixed emotions. I thought of all the people I had met, the husband and wife in the cancer support group. She had a large tumor growing in her that was inoperable. Her time here was drawing to a close. She expressed how she had always wanted to go to Disneyland, yet her doctors advised against it. I talked to them both and said if it were me, I would go no matter what. I found out later that they went and her husband said she had enjoyed it so much and he felt it extended their time together. Sometimes I think of how we always want to do something and put it off until it's too late. I always said, "You're only here for a visit and a short one at that". I had to contract cancer to realize how true those words are.
Again I was wheeled into that cool room of bright lights with people that had only their eyes exposed with the rest of their faces covered by a white mask. The talent within this room now holds my future and their skill shall prevail. With monitoring apparatus attached and mask upon my face, I counted as directed, ten, nine, eight, seven, six... When I became aware of the world around me, I saw my family around the bed and said, "I guess I made it again". I felt the pain and stitches, the catheter that was so familiar and how hungry I was. As we talked, the nurse again came in and told them to leave so I could rest. As I lie there, I thought of how all the folks I knew said how uncomfortable a catheter is, yet all I could think of is you don't have to get up in the middle of the night to take a leak! Positive thinking and my humor shall prevail.
When the doctors came in to inform me of how it went, I detected the absence of smiles. With the best bedside manner they could muster, they told me they couldn't get it all. It was the size of an Idaho potato and too dangerous to remove it in its entirety. Reading between the spoken words, they told me not to make any long range plans. I thought to myself, "if cancer rules your life, then you have already accepted it as your king". no king to rule my life and I shall not now, period!
As the days went on, I healed and started feeling pretty good. The catheter now removed and stitches soon to follow the way of garbage, my plans to return to the circus came to mind.
They were now playing upper California and I shall pick them up there, I thought. Dan said I should stay in Milwaukee, but with the stubbornness within me, I knew I would be on the road again. My thoughts of the words of the doctors reminded me of the woman who went to Disneyland and my mind was made up. I'm going to my 'Disneyland'.
After I was released from the hospital, I got truck and trailer checked out so I could head for California. It was during this time I made out a will for my family. I said in it I wanted to be cremated. Dan asked what 1 wanted to be done with the ashes. I told him to buy a large ashtray, put my ashes in it and let all smokers dump their ashes in it. That way, when Jim came home on his yearly visit, he could say, "Look, Father's putting on weight"! Dave and Dan could not see the humor in it, but Jim and I thought it was pretty funny.
The time came and we said our good-byes again, always a hard time for all. With map out and yellow marker in hand, my route back was marked up for the shortest distance between me and the circus. With new tires on my truck and trailer, I realized that I had already traveled over 60 thousand miles in this rig with the circus.
It took me five days and when I pulled onto the lot, all were surprised how well I looked after the operation. It felt good to hear all the greetings and good wishes. I brought Jim up to date on my condition and the bond between us was reconfirmed. I have often wished I could spend time with Dave and Dan's family to create that closeness I have established with Jim.
I was back into the show, and bought a new flag to carry as the old one I had used was lost forever. As we traveled to each new town again, my thoughts of my cancer were put aside as I had no time for them.