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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 Twenty-Eight


Part of the author's experience as a cancer patient is that he is exiled from his familiar life in Japan. In New Zealand, he has a certain number of immigrant moments, including moments when he has trouble deciphering the New Zealand accent and a problem with an unfamiliar ATM machine.

         For me, the cancer patient experience was, in part, the experience of exile. I was displaced from my normative life in Japan and was constrained to live in New Zealand, where, to a certain extent, I was for practical purposes an immigrant. I had, after all, been out of the country for seven years, and had lost contact with its politics, was unfamiliar with some aspects of everyday New Zealand life, and was even having a certain amount of trouble with the language, as the journal entries below will show.

* * *

        Friday 4 February 2005.
        And so, exiled from Japan by my medical priorities, I find myself living in New Zealand again after having spent most of the last seven years and seven months (4 May 1997 through 13 December 2004) living in Japan.
        Finding myself back here after such a long time away, I find myself unsure as to who the prime minister is (Helen Clark) and initially I'm lost as to who her main opponent might be (a guy called Don Brash, it turns out, who at one time was Governor of the Reserve Bank).
        I also find myself, at moments, having trouble with native speaker New Zealand English. In Japan, I've chiefly been exposed to British English or American English, so at times the New Zealand accent throws me. There are moments when I replay stuff in my mind again and again in an effort to make sense of it, without always succeeding.
        At the supermarket, a cashier totals up my goods then asks, or seems to ask, "Do you have any five eyes?" I am lost. This makes no sense at all.
        "Four eyes" would be a schoolyard insult about the fact that I wear spectacles. But -- five eyes? A thought occurs to me.
        In Japan, in summer, supermarket cashiers sometimes offer free dry ice to help customers get frozen goods home in good shape, and I always hear the Japanese for "dry ice" as the English words "dry ice". (If I listened more carefully when in Japan, I would probably hear "dry ice" transliterated into, at a guess, something more authentically Japanese, like "dorai aisu", but I don't listen that carefully.)
        So is the New Zealand cashier offering me dry ice? No, the verb is "have", not "want".
        "I'm sorry," I say. "I don't understand the question."
        And that is sufficient to tell her that I am not part of her world, that I am an alien, an interloper, a zero that she doesn't have to interact with, not a part of the nation's community, and she makes absolutely no effort to communicate further, but simply packs up my groceries in a bag for me to take away. We're done.
        Later, hearing this story, half a dozen members of my family roar with laughter, and my father pulls from his wallet a card marked FLY BUYS. It's what he calls a loyalty card, what we would call in Japan a point card. If your purchases add up to more than a certain sum (I think someone said twenty dollars) then you can get points which, later, can be used to buy stuff from a little catalog which arrives in the mail.
        Another language incident occurred recently when I was in hospital for an operation, one of two operations I've had since returning to New Zealand.
        I was lying on a bed which was being pushed by two nurses, and one nurse said to the other, or seemed to say, "I see, the smileage is on the meddle."
        That really did not compute. Then the English teacher kicked in for me. A "d" for "t" substitution, as in "water/wader" or "butter/budder". (In Japan, I teach that /t/ sounds nicer in such cases, but that native speakers of English will often use /d/.)
        Well, then, "meddle" is presumably "metal". And what is the context? I'm flat on my back on a bed, and the nurses are at the foot of the bed, pushing it along the corridor, and, presumably, making an effort to steer it at the same time, presumably using for this purpose (that is, for the purpose of steering the bed) some kind of mechanism designed for steering, which is part of (at a guess) some metal structure at the nurses' end of the bed.
        And the incomprehensible translates into, "Oh, I see, the steerage is on the metal."
        In another situation, a face-to-face conversation with someone who is not quite articulating clearly, a mysterious statement which seems to be claiming that "We put in at the Haitian Hotel" turns out to be "We put in the application".
        Fortunately, I don't experience too many of these linguistic glitches, but they do occur, forming part of a kind of new immigrant experience. I'm no longer in the absolutely familiar world of Japan, my context for the last seven years and seven months. Instead, I'm in a place which is a little bit different. I'm having an immigrant experience.
        Take the ATM machine, for example. In Japan, I front up to the ATM machine, put in my card, press the button which switches the display screen from Japanese to English (a little bit lazy, I know, but I prefer to do my banking in Japanese rather than trust to my Japanese), then key in my PIN number on the touch-sensitive screen.
        (I may also, in addition to inserting my bank card, insert my passbook into the machine in order to get a printed record of the transaction about to take place.)
        In New Zealand, however, after I've put in the card there's no number pad on the display screen, and I have to use a grubby gray metal keypad which is at the foot of the screen.
        My first ATM transaction in New Zealand stalls when I press a brightly-illuminated "OK" button on the screen. The transaction times out. Do I want to continue or abort? I try to continue, three times, by pressing a button on the screen, until I belatedly realize that the supposed pushable "button" on the screen is no such thing. It's just a bunch of illuminated pixels, and it's indicating to me that I should find the "OK" button on the metal keypad and press that.
        Way primitive!
        Now, it gets worse. In Japan, if I wanted to deposit cash to my account, I'd choose a "deposit" option. A slot would open in the machine. I'd drop in the cash. The slot would close. The machine would count the cash and ask me to confirm the amount. I would press a CONFIRM button on the touch-sensitive screen. The machine would return my cash card (and, if I'd inserted it, my passbook) and the transaction would be done.
        The money would already be in my account.
        In New Zealand, it's far more complicated, because the clunky old technology is far more primitive.
        I'd opened a bank account in New Zealand with a thousand dollars and decided to top it up with another hundred bucks. (Parenthetically, "buck" is a word I routinely taught in Japan. It's a standard colloquial term in both New Zealand English and American English, but most Japanese students of English don't have a clue what it means, so a simple statement like "The coffee? -- that's a buck fifty" means absolutely nothing to most Japanese people even if their English is reasonably good.)
        So. Let's add a hundred dollars to the account. I have a hundred dollar bill in my hot little hand. I choose a "deposit" option. This brain-damaged machine can't count money, so I have to key in the sum I intend to deposit, which is $100. Confusingly, the machine prints out a receipt. I haven't put in any money, so why am I getting a receipt?
        Ah ... onscreen instructions ... I'm supposed to take an envelope from the something-something slot, put in the receipt which has just been printed out, add the cash, seal the envelope, then insert the envelope (complete with cash and receipt) into another slot.
        This is confusing, and I'm bewildered, but I manage to get through the procedure, all the while fearing that it will abruptly time out on me, and finally my poorly sealed envelope is swallowed by the swallowing slot, and the machine prints me out a second receipt, and I have an "I've done it!" experience.
        Immigrant just off the plane copes with challenge of life in new land!
        Of course, the money is not yet in my account, because the idiot machine can't put it there. Instead, my envelope (number eight, there having been seven envelopes deposited already today) (and don't ask me how I found out it was number eight, because I have completely forgotten) will reside in the bowels of the machine until some human being digs it out, checks the cash in the envelope with the receipt in the envelope, and approves the transaction.
        Still, I did do it. I successfully deposited one hundred dollars into my account. Or so I thought. Until the next day, when I happened to look at the receipt that I had taken away at the end of the transaction, and realized that I had claimed to have deposited one dollar rather than one hundred dollars.
        Evidently I'd been thinking "100" so I'd keyed in "100", forgetting that the New Zealand dollar subdivides into cents. In Japan, the yen does not, in practice, subdivide into anything, although the stock market price quoted daily on the financial news on TV may include first an amount in yen and then a tiny amount in sen, a "sen" being one hundredth of a yen.
        A couple of days later, when I got a printout of my account balance from the bank, I found that some human had silently corrected my error, and that a hundred dollars had been credited to my account.
        So here I am in New Zealand, the land of metal keypads, usually properly oriented to the situation, but at odd moments disconcertingly out of my depth, and reminded that I am returning home as something of a foreigner, arriving as a kind of immigrant, at least some of my perspectives Japan-shifted.
        Let me close with a word on touch-sensitive screens. They're the norm in Japan for automated teller machines at banks, and also for ticket-buying machines at railway stations and subway stations. Consequently, it becomes automatic to think that an illuminated button on a computer screen is something that you can push to get a result. But in New Zealand that doesn't work.
        To quote an old saying, it's not what you don't know that hurts you. It's what you know that isn't so.

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