Sins in Youth, Plague in Old Age (2)

More about how the follies of my youth caught up with me. Yesterday, I described how, as a young man, I smoked, spent time in the sun, and volunteered for combat in Vietnam.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with cancer and had the upper lobe of my right lung removed. I’m lucky to have survived. The doctors told me it was my years of smoking that almost did me in. My overall excellent health and sheer stubbornness—I wasn’t about to let a little thing like cancer kill me—saved me.

Even before that, I began to exhibit the symptoms of skin cancer, the consequence of years baking in sunshine without protection. I’ve gone through more bouts of skin surgery than I can remember. My upper body and especially my face are scarred.

Before the end of the Vietnam war in 1975, I was already showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI)—nightmares, panic attacks, irrational rages, flashbacks. I held top secret codeword-plus security clearances, so I couldn’t go for psychotherapy—I would have lost my job according to the rules then in place. So I had to cope on my own.

So here I am, long since retired and writing full-time, suffering from the excesses of my youth. I’m still subject to coughing and sneezing fits from the cancer. My skin still regularly develops cancerous spots that have to be removed. And while I’ve learned to handle my unbearable combat memories, they never weaken or go away.

I know now that I should never have smoked. If I had it all to do over, I would have stayed out of the sun. But my combat experiences are a different story.

Despite what I suffered at the time and suffer now, I’m proud of my record of being on the battlefield with my brothers in arms. I know I saved lives. I know that my work changed the outcome of battles for the better for the U.S. And although I’ll never cease to grieve over the men who died at my side, I’m a better man for what I did.

All my scars and soul damage notwithstanding, I’d do all my combat tours over again if called upon.

All in all, I’m content.

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