Y’know who talks about “bravery” in the “battle” against cancer? People who’ve never had cancer.
I’m now a member of an exclusive club, albeit one that no sane person would want to join. I’m a cancer guy. That’s who I am now and who I’ll be for the rest of my life.
As such, I can speak on this topic with some modest authority. Last night it occurred to me as I sat on the edge of the bed and rambled, The Loved One listening to my pleas — again, that there is absolutely nothing I can do about this cancer. It is a master over me not only because it can rob me of life but because, during this treatment, nothing else exists for me. I am cancer right now.
If I want to stretch and yawn, I’ll feel a little tug and maybe a bit of a sting in my belly where my feeding tube hole is.
If I have an urge for a midnight snack, I’ll have to think about what food and what beverage to take so I won’t get sick to my stomach. The pistachio pudding pie with graham cracker crust I made a couple of days ago will hit the garbage today. It’s that sickening. A glass of water will taste like a swig of liquid stainless steel.
If I decide to call a friend, the first thing she or he will ask is how I’m doing — not in the small talk, empty chatter, space filler way we all ask each other but in the Tell me you’re getting better, tell me you’re gonna make it, please way.
I told The Loved One these things and she said “Why don’t you think about what we can do this weekend to take your mind off it?”
The truth is, I explained, nothing can take my mind off this cancer. It is all of me now.
Something always reminds me, be it deep nausea, the sting of the oral thrush I’ve developed within the last couple of days, the weakness in my legs, the severe sunburn like a pair of strangler’s hands around my neck. I could go to the Grand Canyon tomorrow and it’ll be just as magnificent and awe-inspiring as I’ve ever imagined it, but I’ll still be standing on the rim with cancer.
There’s no mind trick I can play on myself, no distraction or pastime, nothing that can make this cancer go away, save for the everyday dose of X-ray millirems and the three bags of cisplatin poison, the lot of which will be finished March 21st.
The radiation burns my neck skin. It has shut down most of my saliva production. It will turn my throat into an inferno.
The chemotherapy makes me weak, sick, spacey, profoundly constipated.
“I wish,” I told The Loved One, “I could go to sleep and wake up in four weeks.”
It hit me: I’ve made conscious decisions to allow other humans to visit all these tortures and more upon me. Am I mad?
Or am I getting there?
That’s when I concluded this isn’t a fight. There’s no war going on, no battles being won, no glorious triumphs. I have simply surrendered. Poison me. Burn me. Bring all your pain down on me.
It doesn’t take valor to come to this decision, only a genuflection before the fascism of reality. There is no choice, no grand step forward to take the hill for the good of the platoon. The brave only distinguish themselves from the cowardly when they’re free to choose. Cancer is a tyrant, dividing the world into the living and the dead. I am alive, therefore I submit.
I’m not brave, not one bit. If Satan himself appeared to me and offered to transfer all my pain and discomfort to, say, you, I’d think long and hard about the deal. Better you than me.
I’d like to think I’d make the right choice in the end, that I’d be the admirable soldier, that I’d say Go fuck yourself, Devil, I would never visit this upon my fellow human. Yet I’ve visited it upon myself.
Don’t talk about “courage” in the “struggle” when it comes to cancer. He died this morning after a lengthy, courageous fight against cancer.
He — whoever he is — wasn’t courageous. He was scared. He wept. He moaned. He mewled. He wailed. He bargained with his god. He wished this had happened to anyone else — even everyone else — just so long as he wouldn’t have to endure it.
Lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, brain cancer, cervical cancer, all the cancers there are, that ever have been and ever will be, are too big, too mean, too ugly to fight. They are all too… you.
Your own cells are plotting against you, reproducing at a deranged rate, stealing resources, blocking and hindering and interfering and — if left untouched — killing. How does one fight against one’s self?
I think I’ve neglected to mention, at a certain point in The Loved One’s and my bedside chat, I brought the fingers of my left hand up to the location on the side of my neck where My Olive Pit™ has resided lo these many months — and I could hardly feel the damned thing any more!
I whooped and brayed and squealed in pure unadulterated joy.