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.
Since there is a waiting list for chemotherapy, the author waits. Life as a cancer patient involves, amongst other things, dinner at the golf course. The author's history as a golfer is described. The author is rejected for the clinical trial which he had hoped to join. The author is briefed on his upcoming chemotherapy.
* * *
Saturday 5 February 2005.
At the moment I'm a bit fatigued with low stamina levels, but am living comfortably and free of pain or other physical distress. What is starting to be a little hard to live with is the delay in starting treatment (the hospital has a bit of a waiting list) but I hope that issue will be resolved soon.
Not that I can complain about the life I'm living right now. It's actually pretty good.
Some years ago, back in Japan, I bought a packet of chewing gum, popped a couple of pellets in my mouth, and was surprised to find myself chewing not just gum but paper, each pellet being individually wrapped.
Yesterday, here in New Zealand, I bought a packet of chewing gum and was surprised to find the pellets raw white, lacking the dignity of individual packaging.
Yesterday evening, went with my parents to the Waitemata Golf Club, which until then I had always imagined to be a place called the Devonport Golf Club. We dined with Angus and Mary, my brother-in-law's parents, who are over in New Zealand on holiday, having flown in from Canada.
Our host was Angus, who has arranged a golf club membership for himself, and we had the most wonderful food. I had the best roast beef I have ever had in my life.
I am not a fan of the game of golf, and in fact my experience of the game is limited to a single afternoon at high school, when all the students in my seventh form class (I think there were six of us) went to the local golf course in Waipu, up in Northland, which is the northern part of New Zealand's North Island.
For the occasion, I took along one of the steel golf clubs which had been sitting in one of my parents' ancient and never-used golf bags. They had been sitting under the house for years, and had been acquired back before we arrived in New Zealand in 1964. They had been moldering away, ignored and unused, for more than a decade.
When I got on the golf course, I was feeling confident. I'd never hit a golf ball in my life, but I figured that bouncing this sucker across the landscape couldn't be too difficult.
Anyway, I stuck my first golf ball on a tee, lined the victim up (this baby is really going to fly!) and put all my strength into a forceful whack.
The golf club that I was holding disintegrated, shattering into a broken shaft of splintered rust. And that was my disconcerting introduction to the game of golf.
Although golf has never been able to excite my imagination (my first experience of the game gave me no encouragement to continue) at the golf club I very soon began to mellow into the milieu.
Very nice, this world removed from the world, vistas of trees giving the impression of a randomized arcadian landscape stretching away forever, no sign of the urban anywhere.
I don't think I'm ever going to understand the attraction of playing golf, but understanding the attraction of the clubs at which people play golf is easier.
Apart from dining out, I've also managed to catch a couple of movies. I saw "Finding Neverland", a technically interesting movie about the writing of the play "Peter Pan". Also "Ray", the Ray Charles story, which was a bit long -- I rather lost focus toward the end. The problem with "Ray" is that it tries to tell too many stories at once. Ray, the black man in a white man's world. Ray, the blind man in the world of the sighted. Ray, trying to balance the life of a professional singer with family life. Ray, the heroin addict. Ray, the singer seeking autonomy in the face of the controlling tendencies of the record companies.
Each ten minutes of the film is excellent, but the movie lacks a controlling arc, a simple arc that the heroin story itself could have provided: initial temptation, addiction, the catastrophe of arrest, trial and recovery.
Anyway, that's my life right now, a life of waiting. Eventually, this life of waiting will come to an end and I will begin my hospitalization.
In preparation for hospitalization, I've checked out a stack of library books, and I've also made a long list of topics I might write short stories about. Take a notebook, sit back in bed, write. Tethered by the drip, no chance to go walkabout. Meals delivered, no need to hunt them up.
A recipe for productivity? Well, I'll see how it goes. `
* * *
Sunday 13 February 2005.
This evening I smashed yet another wine glass. I was being so exquisitely careful, and then, in a moment of inattention, I was reaching for something on the table, and suddenly the empty glass was shattering on the floor.
I think the only solution is going to be to drink from something plastic.
Because I'm taking dexamethasone, I have been very short of sleep and so irritable and prone to error. The steroid has also pumped up my appetite to the point where I'm just about ready to eat the whole world.
Before dinner, my wife was worried that I might not be able to eat anything, because I had openly consumed some gingernuts, a couple of chocolate biscuits and rather a large quantity of seaweed crackers.
Unbeknownst to her, following a private supermarket shopping trip, I had parked myself on a bench outside the supermarket and had greedily eaten my way through one cooked sausage, some candied fruit, some roasted cashew nuts (salted), some nougat and a quantity of liquorice allsorts.
Still, I managed to chow down the excellent chicken meal that my wife had prepared. Though I must admit that the going did get a bit slow toward the end.
Today's brief expedition out with Murasaki and Cornucopia was to another open home, this one very sunny, very well-presented, very comfortable, up for tender with a target price of perhaps about NZ $800,000.
Today's mystery was the Latvian hat which had shown up on the dining room table, a grubby black item for which nobody was prepared to accept responsibility. Who do we know in Latvia? Nobody!
Brought by the locksmith, perhaps? No. When the locksmith came round to fix a jammed deadlock, he had been bareheaded.
Finally, when sister Catherine dropped by, late in the afternoon, she identified the hat. One of husband Alan's hats which she had borrowed for a trip out into the sun and had then forgotten.
And how come Alan has a hat from Latvia? A gift from his father Angus, who took a trip out there. (Why, I have no idea, but possibly in connection with some kind of consultancy group involving shipping.)
Anyway, that, plus some time spent looking after Cornucopia, was my day.
* * *
The news was mostly good news. I might smash the occasional wine glass, but, other than that, I was getting from one day to the next in good shape.
Then I got some bad news.
I was rejected for the clinical trial which would have seen me ending up with a lower radiation dose during radiation therapy.
Why7 was I rejected? Well, the sticking point was my determination to return to Japan. Returning to Japan was a natural and inevitable move for me. That, after all, was where I had wife, house, baby, job prospects and, on top of that. a stash of sixty liters of water, all ready for the next big earthquake. And a rock solid high-speed Internet connection, too, let's not forget the Internet connection. Staying in New Zealand on a permanent basis was not an option.
And so I was rejected.
It was made clear to me that my rejection was not negotiable. Dr. Porter told me that even if I were to agree to remain in New Zealand "for three years" for followups, that would not be sufficient.
I was disappointed because, as indicated above, the experimental trial would have offered me a lower radiation dose, and I was very clear about the fact that I was scared of the radiation.
Rather than the experimental trial, the oncology department came up with a conventional treatment schedule for me. This involved six injections of a chemotherapy agent called Ara-C, the agent being injected into the spinal area by means of a procedure called a lumbar puncture. And, additionally, six cycles during which chemotherapy agents would be introduced into my system intravenously. The two chemotherapy agents to be given intravenously were methotrexate and vincristine.
* * *
Monday February 2005.
Extremely confusing session at oncology: a welter of appointments. Chemotherapy with two drugs, one into a vein for three to four days, another into spine as daystay treatment. Vein: methotrexate. Lumbar puncture: Ara-C.
Have to sort through the garbled mess of tasks and appointments I've been given, not easy because I'm threadbare with lack of sleep.
* * *
The journal entry above gives a hint of the slightly confused state in which I entered chemotherapy, not entirely sure of what would happen and unclear about exactly what to expect. Part of this confusion was unavoidable because, since reactions to chemotherapy tend to be idiosyncratic, it's really impossible to predict, of a certainty, what someone's experience is going to be like, first time out.
My scribbled notes include "ballpark time for treatment, chemotherapy then radiotherapy, maybe four and a half months"; "long term -- dementia, nerve ending problems, bladder control"; "will experience total hair loss with radiotherapy if not before"; "cell count each time lumbar puncture done"; "annual followup for up to ten years. Slightly increased risk of second cancer: a solid cancer or, more commonly, a blood cancer, first year checks at two month intervals, eventually annual".
It was all swimming through my head, a stew of information about red cells, white cells, drugs, contact telephone numbers, monitoring temperature and so on.
In retrospect, I consider that I was competently and professionally briefed, but there was just too much data for me to absorb and make sense of at one time, so my perceptions of exactly what was going to happen were, initially, a bit blurred. My first experience of chemotherapy was very much a venture into the unknown.
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.