Today is my birthday. 2 years ago around this time, I was diagnosed with cancer. Recently I wrote about how, since I am now cancer-free, my diagnosis and treatment don’t really weigh heavy on my mind anymore. But today it all came back to me in one emotional moment.
I was driving around and The Steve Miller Band’s Jet Airliner came on the radio. It may sound weird, but during my cancer ordeal, this song was very meaningful to me. I would play it over and over and just cry and cry. Why that song? Because the lyrics, while intended to be about a singer who has to travel and misses his home, mean something different to me.
“Leavin’ home, out on the road/I’ve been down before…” To me, this line means how tough life can be. A cancer diagnosis — especially one that comes out of the blue — can make you feel very scared and vulnerable.
“Ridin’ along in this big ol’ jet plane/I’ve been thinkin’ about my home…” A cancer diagnosis makes you really think about what you have and how precious it all really is.
“But my love light seems so far away/And I feel like it’s all been done…” Cancer can become all-consuming. It’s easy to get lost in the doctor appointments, the chemo, the radiation…
“Somebody’s trying to make me stay/You know I’ve got to be movin’ on…” This line is powerful to me because it makes me think of my resolve and how I wasn’t going to let cancer control me.
“Oh, big ol’ jet airliner/don’t carry me too far away/Oh, big ol’d jet airliner/’Cuz it’s here that I’ve got to stay…” Obvious, huh? The jet airliner is cancer and I’m asking it not to take me. I want to stay.
“Goodbye to all my friends a home/Goodbye to people I’ve trusted/I’ve got to go out and make my own way/I might get rich, you know, I might get busted…” Cancer can be very isolating. Not only because no one can really know what you’re going through but because you have to become selfish and focus on yourself a lot. This line reminds me of the many times I had to say no to my daughter because I was too tired or needed to go to another doctor appointment. People try to be very understanding but sometimes my having cancer kept me from doing things others depended on me to do. It was a lonely existence at times.
“But my heart keeps calling me backwards/As I get on the 707/Ridin’ high, I got tears in my eyes/You know, you got to go through hell before you get to heaven…” This line is a gut-punch every time and it’s about this time during the song that I’m a bawling mess. Cancer is hell. There’s no doubt.
“I’ve got to keep on keepin’ on/You know, the big wheel keeps on spinnin’ around/And I’m going with some hesitation/You know that I can surely see/That I don’t want to get caught up in any of that/Funky shit goin’ down in the city…” Every time during my treatment…when I just felt like giving up…when I thought I just couldn’t go on any longer…I would ALWAYS hear Steve Miller singing this line. It’s empowering. There were days when I only had forward momentum out of sheer will. I was always “going with some hesitation.” How could I not? Even though my surgery and treatment seemed to be working, who knew? People with cancer beat it all the time…only to have it come back and kill them. After a while, I wasn’t playing into that “funky shit” any more.
The song ends with the chorus again: “Oh, big ol’ jet airliner/don’t carry me too far away/Oh, big ol’d jet airliner/’Cuz it’s here that I’ve got to stay…” By this time in the song, I’m usually fist-pumping. “Take that, cancer! I’m here. It’s where I belong and I’m not going anywhere.
If I ever have the chance to meet Steve Miller, I hope I don’t embarrass myself. I wonder if he’s ever met anyone who’s told him his music — particularly one song — helped them be courageous when fighting a terrible disease…? Because I’m going to be that person. Thanks, Steve.