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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 Forty-Three


In May of 2005 the author's fifth chemotherapy cycle (the fifth of six) gets underway in the hematology department at Auckland Hospital. In hospital, the author eats hospital food, including "Corned Beef & Mus". The author is never able to determine what "mus" might be. Even sitting there on the plate, "mus" remains a mystery. The author discusses eyesight problems caused by cancer and looks ahead to the start of radiation therapy. Daily life continues: the author registers to vote.

        Monday 02 May 2005.
        Back once again to ward 62 in the hematology department at Auckland Hospital. Greeted with smiles in a place we could think of as the House of No Surprises: it's the start of my fifth chemotherapy cycle, and I can be confident that I'm not going to be ambushed by any surprises.
        Unless something has gone wrong with my blood. But, no, a blood test comes back saying everything's just fine: no problem with the white blood cells and no problem with the red cells either. This attempt (the third attempt) at completing the fifth cycle is going to succeed.
        I feel relaxed and at ease. When my blood pressure is checked shortly after admission, it's an immaculate 117 over 70. When I sit in the weighing chair (no standing on scales here) my weight (clothed) clocks in at a healthy 73.15 kilograms, way up from my crisis time 62 kilos.
        I feel that the initial chaos of my uncertainties has coalesced into a reasonably predictable future. I will survive. And, all going well, I will survive reasonably undamaged.
        Usually, the cannula used for my chemotherapy goes into one of the small veins on the back of a hand or an arm. This time, however, a nurse who does not usually work in the hematology department has chosen, when hooking up the drip, to put the piece of plastic into the big vein in the crook of my right arm.
        In the hematology department, apparently, it's standard practice not to use this vein. It's left alone against the day of need: it's big and easy to get into, so if somebody needs sudden access to a vein so they can save your life, then that's a good one to go to. And veins do tend to get damaged as they are used: I have some damaged veins now, with some people telling me they may recover in the long term and other people indicating that some of the damage may be permanent or semi-permanent.
        (Whether in hospital or out of it, if there's a topic that I'm really interested in then my habit is to ask the same question of different people. Sample the answers then average them. My take on the situation is that there is a reasonably good probability that most of my veins, if not all, will recover reasonably well once people stop playing pincushions with my living flesh.)
        Anyway, more about the cannula:-
        Up until today, I always thought that a steel needle was used, but that's not the case. What happens is that a steel needle sheathed with a plastic cannula is inserted into the vein, then the needle is withdrawn and only the piece of plastic is left.
        This is a reminder to myself that I'm not a totally reliable observer, and that I may, at times, misperceive and misreport my own situation.
        I guess what's happened is that I've always focused on the moment when the needle is inserted. This is something that I watch, so I always see the steel going in. After that, my interest diminishes, so I'm not paying attention as the needle is pulled out.
        Anyway, so far it's going well, and I am relaxed and confident about this, the fifth cycle. The thought that keeps going through my mind is "only one more time". Assuming I get through this cycle, there will be just one more cycle to do, and then my chemotherapy will be finished.

* * *

        Friday 06 May 2005.
        My fifth cycle of chemotherapy finished successfully today. I've been prescribed potassium tablets for three days because my potassium levels are down a bit. Otherwise things are good.
        Seeing as how this latest hospital admission was for my fifth cycle of chemotherapy, I was naturally pretty much familiar with everything, although occasionally I was made to realize that I didn't know everything: that I'm still an amateur at this.
        For example, on Monday night my meal turned up together with a computer-generated menu printout informing me that I was being served, amongst other things, "Corned Beef & Mus". The corned beef was, evidently, the vaguely purplish meat, but what was "Mus"? Nobody could tell me, and the food item (technically, this stuff is "food") which looked as if it might fit the bill was a kind of brownish ectoplasmic gloop, my own personal toxic waste experience, which someone had spilt across the meat. And which I carefully scraped off.
        My menu was splattered with double asterisk markings, "**", which were explained as meaning "indicates system modif". But, even after all these months (getting on for five full months now) I still haven't figured out what a "modif" might be.

* * *

        Wednesday 11 May 2005.
        This week I kept an appointment at Auckland Hospital on Monday 9 to be checked out to see if I'm fit enough to be admitted for my sixth and final chemotherapy session next week, on Monday 16.
        The answer was a provisional yes, though I will be fronting up at the local branch of Diagnostic Medlab here in Devonport for a blood test on the morning of Friday 13, and the blood test results could conceivably lead to the sixth cycle being postponed.
        When I was admitted to hospital for the fifth cycle, the results of a blood test taken before the cycle started were, I was told, perfect:-

hemoglobin = 119
white cell count = 10
neutrophils = 9
platelets = 296

        I've been told that a normative hemoglobin count for an adult male is about 120, so I have every reason to be satisfied with 119.
        During my Monday health check, the doctor asked about my eyesight and did a basic eye check, getting me to say which of his fingers he was wiggling. I assume that I'm always getting asked about my eyesight because I'm on steroids, which have the potential to do eye damage.
        In my own case, both eyes got badly messed up by the cancer (the cancer being, in this case, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma).
        Back in December, the left eye was close to being blind, either because of cancer in the optic nerve or because swelling in the brain had crushed the optic nerve. At that time, the right eye was full of vitreous junk -- there were so many floaters in the eye that it was like seeing through a snowstorm, and reading fine print was a stop and start process involving waiting for a small patch of clear vision to drift across the text.
        Now things are much better.
        Although I was warned that the damage to the left eye might well be permanent, it has been slowly recovering, month by month, to the point where I can see colors, interpret (in broad outline) photographs and read newspaper headlines. There are zero floaters to interfere with the gradually improving vision because earlier in the year the left eye underwent a vitrectomy, the surgical removal of the jelly in the eye (done for biopsy purposes, in an attempt to get a better handle on the nature of my cancer.) (In a vitrectomy, the jelly of the vitreous is surgically removed and is replaced by an artificial fluid; subsequently, the body generates its own fluid.)
        My vision through the left eye is good enough for basic navigation -- if I close the right eye I can walk around the house and out into the garden. But the world that I see through the left eye is a bit blurred, and also it's buckled: straight things like the cracks between the vertical boards of the boundary fence are bent in a wriggly manner. Also, I get a certain amount of strobing in the left eye. I'm not always conscious of it, but sometimes it's definitely there. I interpret this as the damaged optic nerve generating junk signals.
        The other problem with my left eye is that my night vision is way down in that eye. Still, the fact that it has been improving, slowly but steadily, has been heartening.
        As for the right eye, it's still clouded, to an extent, by floaters, but has been improving rather than deteriorating. While I prefer to read large print books, it's now much easier for me to read a newspaper or tackle ordinary print books. The oncologist in overall charge of my case thinks that it is probably the chemotherapy which has brought about the improvement.
        Earlier in the year I had a problem with raised intraocular pressure in the right eye. My ophthalmologist didn't know why the pressure was up but speculated that poor drainage might be the reason. I was prescribed an ophthalmic steroid, which I used, and the pressure normalized. My ophthalmologist couldn't say why it had normalized (there are a lot of unknowns in medicine) but decided that I'd try life without the ophthalmic steroid for six weeks and see what happened.
        I'm scheduled to see the ophthalmologist again next week, on Thursday 19th. (If I'm having chemotherapy, I'll have to get myself unhooked from the drip for a couple of hours so I can wander over to the eye clinic to keep the appointment.)
        So the eyes remain an issue, but, so far, there's no evidence to suggest that I've suffered any eye damage from using the oral steroid I've been on all this year, dexamethasone, which was initially prescribed to reverse the swelling of the brain which had caused partial paralysis of my left side.

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