Radioactive gratitude

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Tiny White Box newAs I write this, I am a radioactive man. Really. This morning I was warned to stay away from pregnant women and small children. Unlike most Marvel Comics heroes and many DC Comic villains, though, I don’t appear to have any superpowers. Time will tell.

I’m radioactive because of cancer, or at least the strong suspicion of it. Earlier today, I was in Jamaica Plain and injected with an irradiated chemical called a radiotracer, which sounds like a futuristic device from 1914’s Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone. After an hour of napping while the radiation spread throughout me, I spent 45 minutes or so sleeping while a PET scan was conducted. You may worry about all this dozing, but it has a simple explanation: I was not allowed any coffee, tea or any worthwhile morning beverage, just boring old water. Once the test was finished, I almost immediately grabbed a cold-brew coffee and returned to whatever passes as normal for me. 

I won’t know any results for a day or two, and I’m scheduled for more testing in Boston Wednesday—a bronchoscope will be inserted down my throat, with hopes of extracting bits of whatever is growing in my lungs, along with whatever other information lays buried beneath my chest plate. Once that’s done, I believe we’ll have a fuller diagnosis and can discuss treatment options with their various prognoses. For now, I’m focused on radioactivity. And observing for any superpowers. 

I was a DC Comics kid, not unusual for a boy in the late ’60s, what with a pre-suicide George Reeves as Superman still on in reruns and “Batman” the coolest show ever for second-grade Keith. These shows seemed like documentaries to me, unlike the Marvel animated series, which were, after all, just cartoons. DC offered a realistic view of life as a superhero or the world’s best detective, either of which role I identified with. Marvel was just childish nonsense. Still, it’s Marvel that harnessed the power of the atom in superpowers, so that is the spring from which I must draw.

Although I’m already 64, I still want an origin story, an explanation of how I got my powers and what I intend to do with them. Radioactivity offers me that chance, and I’m not going to let it pass! Unfortunately, radioactivated superpowers typically grow out some connection to their initial incident (e.g., Spiderman’s bite from a radioactive arachnid, Daredevil’s heightened senses resulting from flying radioactive rods that also blinded him). My exposure was connected to napping and cancer—I do not wish to be either Sleeping Man or The Oncological Other. (On the other hand, Ontological Man sounds perfect—the superpower to determine the nature and origin of being qua being—but I’ll drop this before I lose the comics fans.

Search as I might, the only superish or super-adjacent power I really and truly want has little to do with cancer and almost nothing to do with radiation. No matter what the situation, the circumstances, the plot of life, I can find joy and gratitude. Cancer sucks, I suspect, and suspect I’ll learn more about its suckiness as time proceeds. I am NOT grateful I have cancer. Likewise, given the choice between life and death, I want life and life and more life. I am not a Pollyanna or Dr. Pangloss, believing this is the best of all possible worlds. 

Still . . .

I am grateful for much, beginning with this little list:

  1. The literally hundreds of too-kind messages I’ve received since leaving Hope.
  2. The ability to find cold-brew coffee at a VA hospital
  3. A wife who is smarter, kinder and much more attractive than I
  4. That same wife not recognizing the truth of #3
  5. Three daughters who love and support me
  6. A whole community pulling for my recovery (from cancer and from addiction)
  7. A comfortable pair of hiking shoes one of my daughters thinks is cool
  8. Sourdough pretzels and aged cheddar cheese
  9. Democracy (weird, perhaps, to many of you, but I flew home from Germany in 1978 to vote in person in the first election for which I was eligible)
  10. This list, which could reach #783 before I’d need to take a break and brainstorm

So, I am Gratitude Guy, although radiation has no role here. Recovery, and membership in the recovery community, are the catalyst, not secret rays. Recovery leads to gratitude and gratitude leads to recovery. Please join me in Gratitudeland. Start your own list, add to it daily, share it with people you love and folks you don’t even know. 

Spread gratitude—and reasons for gratitude—with your neighbors, your classmates, people on the street.

After all, they matter. And…

You matter. I matter. We matter.


About this Author

Keith Howard

Keith Howard is former Executive Director of Hope for NH Recovery and author of Tiny White Box