As I was approaching the finish line of writing my new thriller NOT SO DONE, the standalone sequel to NOT SO DEAD and NOT SO GONE, I considered changing the subtitle to The Final Sam Sunborn Novel. It’s not that Sam and his cohorts are done saving the world or that I tired of him – it’s that the author, aka me, was diagnosed with cancer last week. The doctor started his phone call to me, reporting test results, “Bad news….” That was a very clarifying moment. Although the doctor said my condition is treatable if it hasn’t spread, all I heard was The Big C.
After absorbing the shock, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my remaining time on Earth. The answer was simple – spend time with family and the friends I care about and finish NOT SO DONE. My OCD also compelled me to think about tying up loose ends, paying bills, etc. Why is finishing my novel so high on the list? I believe it’s because after working on it for almost a year, I’m emotionally invested and have a passion for it. And maybe I owe it to Sam Sunborn, Rich Little, Michelle Hadar, Renata Fermi, Frank Einstein, the Leopard, and the other characters to finish their story. Isn’t it the same reason that you’d want to spend time with those closest to you? You’re emotionally invested and have a passion for them. Perhaps, the characters in my novels have become part of my family or at least friends. No, I’m sure of it – they have.
So, today is Thanksgiving 2019. I had my surgery yesterday to remove the cancerous invader. Our canceled family plans included a long-anticipated trip to California to spend the holiday with our sons and grandkids. I’m disappointed not to be with them today, but the surgeon advised operating as soon as possible. I reflect both wistfully and with gratitude on the many great Thanksgivings past. For twenty years, we held a Thanksgiving morning Turkey Bowl, replete with flag football, bonfire, and hot apple cider. My youngest son would open the football game playing the national anthem on his trumpet. The fragrance of the burning wood from the fire stays with me. We’d invite family and friends and the boys would ask all their friends to come. Sometimes we’d host nearly sixty people.
The first Turkey Bowl we held in the mid-80s presented a bit of a challenge – twelve inches of snow on Thanksgiving morning. Instead of canceling, we called everyone and asked them to bring their sleds. That sledding party on the steep hill across the street from us on a snowy holiday morning will never be forgotten. The best memories and stories seem to come from things-gone-wrong, don’t they?
What do you do with only a couple of days before cancer surgery? First, we took a long walk on a warmish day in the Ken Lockwood Gorge near our home. The doctor said it would be a month before I could exercise again. The Gorge is one of my favorite places on Earth, a rustic path alongside a rushing river wedged below rocky cliffs. If you’ve read any of my previously posted personal stories, you also know how much I love the movies and movie theaters. So we caught Ford v. Ferrari and The Good Liar. They did the trick of both entertaining and distracting us.
Then, of course, there is TV. It’s ironic timing, but my wife and I both enjoy hospital dramas and medical thrillers. I just didn’t expect to be living one. Anyway, our interest goes back to Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, St. Elsewhere (perhaps the best), and Chicago Hope. The current ones we like are The Resident, Chicago Med, the Good Doctor, and New Amsterdam. One of the reasons hospital dramas make good thrillers is that they are always high-stakes and emotionally charged, life-or-death by their very nature. The good ones include an eccentric Sherlock Holmes type character like House, one of our favorites, who inevitably solves/diagnoses cases successfully after several missteps. So the night before surgery, we watched The Resident, where someone comes into the ER with something minor like a hangnail, gets treated, and dies. Maybe that was not the best choice to watch on my part.
Flash forward to yesterday – my surgery was successful. The culprit was removed and preliminary tests indicate that the cancer has not spread. Although we can’t be with friends and family today, I am genuinely optimistic and grateful this Thanksgiving to be sitting here at my laptop writing this post. I plan to finish writing NOT SO DONE and hopefully many more. That means there’s no need to use the subtitle The Final San Sunborn Novel. Besides, that subtitle would have been a spoiler and perhaps given away the ending. And we don’t really know what the ending is anyway, do we?
Author’s Note: If you have a great Thanksgiving or things-gone-wrong story, please share in the Comments below for all of us to enjoy.