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
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.
Following brain surgery, the author continues to recover steadily. This chapter includes a series of mundane snapshots of hospital life, with nothing dramatic happening. After this siege of the unexciting, the author undergoes a CT scan, his second CT scan with injected iodine. Finally, his stay in hospital comes to an end. He is free to go.
So that was how I passed my time after surgery. Thinking. About the past, the present and the future. And then, eventually, my time in the high dependency unit was over, and I got moved back to my private room.
* * *
2005 January 18 Tuesday. At 2030.
And why am I back in my private room? My updated understanding is that it's a standard isolation measure for anyone who may possibly have been contaminated by the MRSA superbug in an overseas hospital in a country like, for example, Japan.
I've never stayed overnight in a hospital in Japan but I've been investigated there (CT scans etc).
Anyway, next topic.
Very much in my mind right now, this topic.
From sister Catherine today: normal chemo, they have you in hospital for three days. Step one, flood your body with a big dose of the killer stuff. Step two, pump in a counteracting drug to switch off the killer stuff. They MUST keep you in so they know of an absolute certainty that they DO get in the counteracting stuff.
I remember the cancer docs saying they might be able to offer me an experimental therapy, and apparently one thing I didn't follow properly at the consultation is that if my particular type of B-cell lymphoma is suitable for the trial then I might get a place in an experimental day care chemo therapy trial.
Drug in by lumbar puncture, hence directly to the target area (brain and spinal cord) rather than the whole body. Then small doses of radiation to finish. Some cognitive deficit but, all going well, a degree of damage that I can live with, not dementia.
Sounds good to me.
With the lumbar puncture, one drug only. Not the switchoff drug because the quantity of the killer drug would not be so large.
Sister Catherine warned me (as my dentist did) that my teeth would probably go downhill during chemo.
I feel better informed. I have more information than I need to make an informed decision.
A nurse took out the last needle, and now the only thing left is a bandage on my head, covering the stitched-up operation site. I won't touch my head during the shower.
I'm planning a sitdown shower then sleep.
The male half of the anesthetic team dropped by to see how things went. Nice gesture, nice guy. I was effusive and maybe he thought I was overdoing things, but I was entirely sincere.
My trip through the hospital system has really been pretty dreamy smooth.
* * *
Tuesday 18 January 2005. 2100.
Shave and shower next.
1. Body: relaxed, comfortable.
2. Mind: full of completed thoughts rather than speculation.
3. Mood: calm, ready to shut down.
4. Eating: either a tiny bit queasy or a tiny bit hungry, can't figure out which.
5. Drinking: adequately hydrated, no desire to drink more.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 0902.
Out today, maybe, perhaps after 1400. A doctor dropped by early, asked how I was, said I would be visited by a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist. A nurse dropped round just now to take a couple of bloods.
After getting the okay from the nurse, I removed the bandage that was used to patch the puncture hole made by the arterial line, and now the only remnants of the operation are the stitches in my scalp under a bandage, stitches that will remain in place until I go to my GP to have them taken out.
Sister to Hugh yesterday: wife phoned New Zealand from Japan and said she got home okay with baby. Sister Catherine then pulled out her cellphone and said "Ring her".
Hugh: "I don't have the number with me."
Catherine: "I brought it along with me."
But the number was busy and stayed that way for an hour. Okay: wife plans to phone me this weekend. By which time I will be home.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 0928.
1. Body: fine, but conscious of blurring in my right eye.
2. Mind: reasonably rested, a little unsure: what should be my next point of focus? The dynamic of the hospital experience has run flat.
3. Mood: neutral. The big thing after the operation was how successful it had been. Now I guess I'm experiencing a kind of flat normality.
4. Eating: light breakfast was enough. Stomach a little bit unsettled.
5. Drinking: had one cup of tea this morning, no desire for more.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 0945.
Occupational therapist has just been and gone. We discussed the home I am going back to and my insight into my own condition.
The home: "Any steps?" "No. This is the house my parents built for their retirement, and there's not one single step anywhere."
My insight into my own condition ... well, I explained that my sister will be coming to my next cancer doc meeting (on Monday at 1030) to act as my notetaker, and that we will meet the next day to compare my version of what happened with hers. That compensates for a cognitive deficit (I don't know what else I can call it) which I must acknowledge exists, even though I am subjectively unaware of it.
Subjectively, I have no awareness of having functioned at a subpar level at any time, but the objective evidence (feedback from father and sister) is that I have. A certain amount of what gets said to me either fails to register or else gets misinterpreted.
Anyway, the occupational therapist was impressed and left happy.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 0952.
Housesurgeon Jennifer has just been and has gone away to see when the Porter team want to see me next. There's a little confusion over my next appointment.
Incident: a nurse came running just in case because, innocently, leaning back in bed, I'd pressed my head against a call button which happened to be an urgent one (but not the real emergency one, which is a red button on the wall).
Jennifer: get your family doctor to take the stitches out on the 27th, ten days after the operation.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 0958.
Jennifer (housesurgeon) says appointment with cancer docs is confirmed for 1030 on Monday 24 January. They also want me to have a CT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis, and Jennifer will set this up for me.
This answers a question I had been formulating for the cancer docs: back in July of 2003 or thereabouts, a CT scan found a lymph node near my aorta and was assessed as being "probably" benign. Do we need to go back and check that?
Well, we will.
More hard radiation, then. But I do need to know. Are we looking at just a brain-spine problem or is there more? Yesterday I was thinking of asking the cancer docs if they wanted me to try to get the old CT film from the hospital in Japan (I think this is doable) but now I'll pass on that idea.
Life gets simplified as we move forward.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 1050.
Just got done with a physiotherapy assessment with Anna, who got me to bend down and pick up keys, and who walked me up and down a few stairs. She says she'll tell the doctors I'm free to go.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 1056.
Looking down from my room into the covered courtyard where there are people at the coffee bar buying anything they want. The real world. Which I am ready to return to.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 1100.
News: CT scan now scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today. Nothing to eat or drink from now on. "They may have something for you to drink" (for the CT).
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 1142.
And I have an IV line in the left elbow for CT stuff. Nurse will be back with cups of radio opaque stuff to drink.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 1320.
Lunch. Macaroni cheese. Verboten. I've never eaten macaroni cheese in my life, and it's not the kind of thing I would, of my own free will, choose to eat. But, sitting there, it makes me feel hungry. I put a hopeful little handwritten note on the meal: "Will eat later".
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 1332.
First radio opaque drink is served with instructions to drink it at 1340. I'm sanguine about the CT process -- this will be my third CT -- but, all the same, I know that the CT may bring bad news, and that the cancer docs may have to tell me, well, sorry, but it's not just in your brain and spine.
I don't have a sense of "your life is in the balance" drama, but, at the same time, I'm aware that the CT result could recalibrate this experience and knock down my high hopes of (a) acceptance to the trial, (b) quick cure and (c) triumphant return to Japan some time this year.
I'm hopeful, but, realistically, it could still be the case that, actually, in point of fact, I'm doomed.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 1340.
Drink! Looks like urine. Tastes (to me) faintly of lime.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 1420.
Second drink shows up to be consumed at 1440. I go wearing my underpants and my short trousers, plus the gown.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 1440.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 1451.
Nurse comes and does up gown. "Someone" will come and take me for the CT scan on the bed.
* * *
Wednesday 19 January 2005. 1645.
And this time the iodine contrast, the injected dye, was hot going in, and my entire body flushed with heat. Otherwise, the CT scan was the same as in Japan, except with commands in English. "Breathe in now and hold your breath ... breathe normally."
Busy place, pressure, pressure, beds in the corridor, more of a sense of stress. I asked if they were having a busy day. They were.
Hospital has phoned my parents who will be coming to pick me up.
One last thing to come out: an IV needle sitting in the crook of the left elbow, used to inject the iodine contrast dye used for the CT scan.
A three-night four-day stay in hospital.
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.