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This is part of the full text of the medical memoir "Cancer Patient" written by Hugh Cook. The full text has been published online on a free-to-read-online basis. This autobiographical non-fiction account deals with the author's initial health problems, diagnosis, and treatment with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The complete text of "Cancer Patient" is here on this web site but is also available for purchase from amazon.com as a proper printed paperback book. The full text may also be purchased as a download (a PDF file) from lulu.com for US $5. Go to lulu.com/hughcook

For a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of what's in the book (in its online version, in the PDF version and in the paperback version), see:-

Table of Contents


diary       site contents       essays       stories       flash fiction       poems       novels

CANCER PATIENT is a medical memoir which deals with the author's autobiographical experiences which involve, amongst other things, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, a brain biopsy, a lumbar puncture (and then some more lumbar punctures), treatment with Ara-C, treatment with vincristine, treatment with methotrexate, treatment with radiation from a linear accelerator, and a vitrectomy (an operation to remove the jelly from an eye). This is a non-fiction account but it does contain a couple of fictional stories, clearly identified as such, and it also includes some poetry.

Table of Contents

Chapter Thirteen


While the author's eyesight problems continue, he does his best to grapple with the stress and pressures of life in the Tokyo-Yokohama area. He begins to prepare for a Christmas trip to New Zealand, the plan being to have a short Christmas holiday in New Zealand with wife and baby.

         A high pressure existence. That was what I enjoyed, if enjoy is the word, while living in Yokohama and working (for the most part) in Tokyo. (Usually in Tokyo but sometimes further afield.) This pressured existence was the background to my medical investigations, which somehow had to be shoehorned into my busy schedule.
        On a number of occasions I had to ask my company to either cancel one of my classes or find someone else to teach it, and one of the good points of my situation was that the company I worked for, Dai Nippon Teaching, assisted me with necessary schedule adjustments without fuss. I'd explained that I was having investigations into a condition which was as yet undiagnosed but which might ultimately prove to be cancer.
        The economic environment in Japan is pretty tough and companies in the English teaching field need to have a certain streak of ruthlessness in order to survive in a difficult and fiercely competitive environment, but I'm glad to say that my own company supported me wholeheartedly in my time of need.
        Despite the fact that the company was on my side, so to speak, the closing months of 2004 were the most stressful of my life, with everything piling up on me at one and the same time: parenthood, teaching and grappling with my medical problems.
        In the build-up to my departure for New Zealand, I sent two letters to my parents, letters which indicate my thinking at that time about my medical problem. The letters also give some idea of the pressure I was under from work.

        Sunday 21 November 2004
        This is in the nature of a storm warning - see enclosed photos!
        Baby Cornucopia can now not only roll, crawl backwards and crawl in a circle, but can also crawl forwards. She likes to kick (look out for your paper windows!) and she likes to chew on things. When it comes to chewing, she has a particular fondness for cables with live electricity running through them.
        She also likes to rip things up, including library books, if she can get her hands on them.
        In preparation for the trip to New Zealand, the Land Without Rice, Murasaki-san has started feeding Cornucopia bread (that is, a mashed-up porridge of bread and milk).
        Here in Japan, Cornucopia is still mostly surviving on milk, but gets two meals a day which are slurries of rice and milk, rice and natto (fermented soybeans) or rice and baby food. I've assured Murasaki that there will be baby food in New Zealand.
        Cornucopia still does not talk, but vocalizes loudly, saying "Wah wah wah!" and so forth. She mostly sleeps through the night, is calm and passive when she wakes in the morning, gets progressively more active as the day goes on (I think maybe her metabolic cycle is something like mine) and (sometimes) gets tired and bad-tempered toward night time.
        Now, the eyes, a subject I'd like to get out of the way before arriving in New Zealand.
        On the one hand I don't want to dwell on this. On the other hand, I don't want to have Unasked Questions brooding over our (very short) time in New Zealand.
        I've done a heap of research and what it tells me is that we're into the arena of scientific unknowns, and a lot of people with the best doctors in the world don't end up with satisfactory answers to the question of what is wrong with them.
        Anyway, proceeding with the subject:-
        I have one appointment in Auckland, very early on the morning of Friday December 17th. I've been on the phone and I've made an appointment with Dr. Kiwi, the ophthalmologist I saw back in February.
        There are two reasons for making this appointment.
        First, my Japanese ophthalmologist, Dr. Lux, insists that I see an ophthalmologist while in New Zealand, because while I am in New Zealand I will be in the danger period (three months after steroid injections) for elevated intraocular pressure. So I need to get my eyes checked, and, if the intraocular pressure is up, I'll need a prescription for glaucoma eyedrops.
        That's my "following orders" reason.
        The second reason is that I want to ask Dr. Kiwi what he thinks about the pros and cons of having a vitrectomy, the operation in which the jelly inside the eye is removed and replaced with fluid.
        Dr. Lux is clearly not happy with the fact that I have refused to have a vitrectomy, and, as far as she's concerned, the next logical step is to do the vitrectomy so the extracted cells can be sent to the lab to determine if the Agent of Evil is (a) cancer, (b) some kind of parasite, (c) an inflammation or (d) an unpindownable Agent of Evil.
        She admits that it might be (d), an unknown, or that it might be (c), an inflammation (cause probably never to be known), and that if it were either (c) or (d) then the treatment would be exactly what it is now, which is to use steroids to try to preserve visual function.
        It could possibly be (b), some kind of weird parasite that didn't get detected by basic parasite tests.
        But what Dr. Lux is afraid of is that it could be (a), cancer, in which case it could be expected to spread to the brain in three years or so. It seems she's afraid of ending up with a dead patient on her hands. "This could have serious implications for your longevity."
        What I'm afraid of, for my part, is the possibility of getting damaged by some operation which requires a chunk of my time (a commodity which is in very short supply) (a week in hospital and then convalescent time after that) and which (quite possibly) might yield no meaningful data.
        So I'm going to see what Dr. Kiwi can tell me in the five or ten minutes or whatever it is we have for talking, which will be more than the sixty seconds or so I have with Dr Lux.
        The time before last I asked Dr. Lux "What happens when I see you next?" The question was seriously intended, but the answer I got, which seemed to be all she had time for, was "We'll tell you then!"
        And the last time I asked, "If it's cancer, then what is the treatment?" To which she replied, "That depends on what kind of cancer it is." Which is really no answer at all.
        Well ...
        Currently, I'm using steroid eyedrops once a day for an inflammation in the front of the left eye (the steroid injections were for inflammations in the back of the eyes) and the right eye is being left to its own devices for the time being.
        The left eye currently differentiates between light and darkness and that's about it, though it is improving slowly with the use of steroids. The right eye is a mix of clear patches and cloudy patches -- the cloudy patches being junk in the jelly of the eye.
        As for a long term prognosis, well, I don't have one, and I think that Dr. Lux is about the last person that I would get one from.
        I'm scheduled to see Dr. Lux again on the afternoon of Monday 17th January 2005.
        Work proceeds as usual, that is, chaotically. On Friday I got told I am going to teach three classes in Japanese. That is, I will use the Japanese language as a medium for teaching people how to use English.
        This would be okay if I was left to my own devices to cook up a lesson, but I'm not. I'm apparently going to be confronted with some textbook written in Japanese (and my reading ability is still very, very, very weak) and it's going to be explained to me (in Japanese) inside of ten minutes, and then I'm going to teach the students about problems that Westerners have in Japan, then I'm going to have the students do role plays.
        The students are (a) a group of people who work on one of Tokyo's train lines, who I'll be teaching (if all goes to plan) on Thursday 25 November (soon, soon!) and a group of restaurant workers who I'll be teaching on Wednesday December 1, and a group of retail staff people who I'll be teaching on Monday 6 December.
        I think this is going to be farcical, but we'll see.
        Tomorrow, Monday, I'll be meeting with one of our company's schedulers, who is going to try to get the Japanese-language materials sent to her by some time tomorrow, Monday, so we can go over them together.
        Oh ... our airline tickets arrived today. Our flight times are unchanged.
        We plan to get a bus from Yokohama station to Narita airport, and to have our heavy baggage shipped out to Narita airport so we don't have to carry it. We've already been assigned seats in the airplane and guaranteed a bassinet for Cornucopia. I think the trip out to New Zealand will be okay because it will be Cornucopia's night and she will, naturally, sleep through most of it. The trip back to Japan will be a different matter ....
        That's all from me, I think.

* * *

        Sunday 28 November 2004.
        Almost time to get on the plane and I'm suddenly frantically busy for the next two weeks, going out to a place near Haneda Airport to teach cabin attendants, going to elementary schools, teaching a session in Japanese for restaurant staff, teaching a session in Japanese for retail staff, doing my ordinary lessons and so forth.
        My lesson for train people went okay. Forty strangers in a room plus a bunch of observers, and me with no idea of who any of these people were or of how much English (if any) they might be able to speak.
        I had been told that someone would explain the Japanese language textbook to me in Japanese, but that was a miscommunication. Instead, someone explained the textbook to the students in Japanese.
        Then I gave a talk in Japanese on my own problems with trains, then I divided the students into groups and had them discuss problems that foreigners might have and make role plays. Then the groups, one by one, performed in front of the whole audience. Then we took a break and did something similar, finishing up (I suddenly had a spare twenty minutes and needed something to fill it) with the "Maigo Challenge", "maigo" meaning "lost child". One person had to play the role of an English-speaking foreigner who had lost a child in a busy station and the other people had to get details of the missing child and offer help, again in English.
        I was exhausted at the end of it but it went very well.
        Some Cornucopia pics enclosed. Cornucopia can get up on the stereo -- see pic enclosed. Loves wires, particularly if they have a billion volts of live electricity running through them. She now consents to being carried in a backpack, which we will bring to New Zealand with us -- photo shows me returning home with Cornucopia today after a one-hour jaunt into the great outside world, during which we visited two supermarkets and the junk shop.
        Cornucopia is absolutely TERRIFIED of the buzzy-bee-type thing that you'll see in one of the photos. Murasaki thinks it's because the ears waggle. It's the one thing in the universe of which Cornucopia is frightened. We keep it hidden in a cupboard.
        Well, that's all, I'm afraid. I've been spending much of Sunday preparing lessons, and Monday I'll be mostly busy with preparing more lessons, this time for elementary school.

* * *

        Those two letters give some idea of the kind of pressures I was under and, also, of the uncertainties which still surrounded my medical condition, even after so many investigations. As I'd discovered on the Internet, sometimes people have problems with eyesight and weight loss and end up being told that their condition is idiopathic, that is, there is no known cause. It seemed entirely possible that my condition might fit into the idiopathic category.
        Meantime, I had to struggle through my working week with one eye, the left eye, pretty much blind, and with the other eye giving me a blurred, smoky impression of the world.
        The pressure of work was one element which made everything more difficult, right down to finding time to keep appointments with my doctors.
        And it was in the final month of 2004 that the pressure reached the maximum.

Table of Contents

The text on this page is part of the cancer memoir "Cancer Patient" which has been posted online. All the chapters of this book are on this website and can be read for free online. However, the text is copyright - all rights reserved. For permission to use this text or any portion of it contact Hugh Cook.


        This personal memoir of the writer's encounter with cancer (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of the large B-cell type) attempts to cleave to the truth. However, the text may contain information that is wrong, outdated, incomplete or otherwise misleading.
        This memoir has been written in a time of illness by a cancer patient who, though he feels sharp enough, must admit to sometimes misinterpreting things, forgetting things, or, on occasion, quite simply not hearing things.
        This memoir is designed to communicate the writer's personal experience and is not intended as a source of medical information. Got a medical question? Ask your doctor.

Cancer Patient Copyright © 2005 Hugh Cook.

Hugh Cook