What's this?

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 Twenty-Three


Recovering nicely from brain surgery, the author reconfigures his self-image, arriving at the notion of himself as a younger person. He also finds time to think back to a question which he never asked in Japan. The author also thinks about the death of his Aunt Joyce, who died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and wonders about the possible implications of the "probably benign" lymph node (ten millimeters in diameter) which was found near his aorta by a CT scan in Japan.

         When I woke up on Tuesday 17th January, I was still in the high dependency unit, which contained a number of different beds, all of which seemed to contain people who were considerably older and sicker than me. The presence of the truly old and the truly sick helped me continue with the ongoing process of reconfiguring my own self-image. I was, patently, reasonably young, in medical terms, and strong.
        Reconfiguring myself imaginatively as a younger, stronger person was part of the confidence-building exercise which my first hospital admission developed into. And one person who helped with this was Odette, the confused elderly woman beyond the curtains in the bed next door, who had some kind of infection, who was running a high fever, and who was pulling at her tubes.
        While I was lying in bed in the high dependency unit, I had time to think about all kinds of things, and one of these was the question I never asked.
        The question I never asked was never asked at a Japanese pharmaceutical company called Enoshima Pharma.
        During the 2003-2004 period I taught a number of English classes at this company, sometimes to students whose work focused on the oncology field: their work was developing drugs for treating cancer.
        And the question I really wanted to ask one particular guy, a genius-level researcher, was something like this:
        "Dude, in my job as an English teacher here in Japan I meet some really smart people, and you are one of them. You are right up there at the top of the evolutionary tree. You are, by profession, a research scientist, and you are sincerely devoted to your life's work, which happens to be developing very serious drugs designed to help people with very serious cancers which very seriously kill them dead. If anyone on this planet knows the score on cancer, it's you. So my question, dude, it quite simply this: Why do you smoke?"
        He did smoke. I couldn't work it out. Didn't. Couldn't. Can't.
        In another of my Enoshima Pharma classes there was another oncology researcher who made everyone laugh, including me, when we were discussing the issue of smoking in public. He said, "I'm a smoker, but I hate people who smoke in public because their second-hand smoke is bad for my health." Everyone, including me, thought that was very funny indeed, and he saw the joke himself and joined our laughter.
        Through 2003-2004, then, and especially in 2004, when my cancer worries were out in the open (it had been suggested to me that maybe my weight loss problem and eyesight problems pointed to cancer) I was teaching a number of classes at Enoshima Pharma, and, for the same client, I was trying to produce workable communicative English lessons out of the company's heavyweight technical documents about drugs, including cancer drugs (a doable task, but there were times when I'd sit at my desk for as much as two hours, thinking, "Yes, but how?")
        So cancer became a part of my working life.
        There were days when I was teaching "Baa Baa Black Sheep" at elementary schools in the morning and then showing up to my ultraeducated genius level pharmaceutical industry classes in the evening, and sometimes the switch in levels was mind-bending.
        One of my Enoshima Pharma classes consisted of younger people whose English was not advanced. It was a fun class to work with, though sometimes the themes I chose to work with were a little dark.
        Grammar point: "will". Situation: he discovers he has cancer. Challenge: one year from now, how will his life have changed?
        The class ran with the idea, had fun, did well, enjoyed it, were excited by it. And I, teaching them, was breaking up inside, thinking, but what if it's me? How will I manage the descent into hell?
        As I lay in my hospital bed in the high dependency unit, the answer seemed to be, well, pretty smoothly, with the help of my family. So far so good.
        That was the kind of thing that I thought about as I lay there in hospital, recovery nicely after surgery. Another item that I thought about was the question that my father could never get answered.
        When I met with my oncology doctors, I asked the cancer docs a straight question about the five year survival rate for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and got a straight answer: forty percent.
        Back in the Twentieth Century, however, back when my father's sister, my Aunt Joyce, was suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in England, that was a question to which my father never got an answer. What are the chances? The doctors either could not or would not answer that question.
        My aunt died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. But that was then, and this is now. And she, I believe, was treated in a general hospital which, unlike Auckland Hospital, did not have specialized oncology services spearpointed at her particular disease.
        "She had lymphoma on both sides of the diaphragm," said my father, on, according to my notes, Tuesday 18th January 2005. "And that, apparently, is particularly bad."
        And, hearing this, I think of the "probably benign" lymph node (ten millimeters in diameter) which was found near my aorta by a CT scan in Japan done on the 31st of May in 2004. ("Recheck in a year," said the Japanese internal medicine specialist, or whatever he was.)
        And I wonder.

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