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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

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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.

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Chapter Forty-Six

Summary

The author's sixth and final chemotherapy cycle ends. Radiation therapy still lies ahead. At this stage, the author still has most of his hair. The chapter concludes with two poems, one called "Survivorhood", which is about surviving, and one called "Celebration", which is about being alive (and being glad of being alive).


        Saturday 21 May 2005.
        Yesterday I was discharged from hospital at the end of my sixth and final chemotherapy cycle. At this stage my cancer is in remission, meaning that the disease has disappeared, at least for the moment, and the next step is going to be radiotherapy, the theory of the current moment (come back in a few years and there may be a new theory) being that following chemotherapy with radiotherapy is the best way to achieve a permanent cure.
        I suppose that in theory I should feel happy. The chemotherapy is over and the score at this stage seems to be Cancer 0, Oncologists 1. A good outcome. My energy levels are a bit low, probably as a consequence of the chemotherapy, but apart from that I've got off lightly. I have one very small mouth ulcer which I don't usually notice and I still have most of my hair. (A certain amount of my hair combed out in the early weeks of chemotherapy but then the thinning process inexplicably stopped.)
        However, what I feel in practice is a bit hung over. A bit disconnected. The five days I've just spent in hospital had a disjointing effect on the rhythms of my life, and I feel not just low on energy but also at a loose end.
        Still. Chemotherapy is over. Six cycles, five of five days and one of seven days. Thirty-two days in a hospital bed. Maybe two or three needle stabs a day, on average (on occasion it took five tries to get a cannula in) so let's say between sixty-four and ninety-six needle stabs all up. An estimated eight-four confrontations with hospital food.
        Actually, more, because to get complete totals I'd have to add in the two short hospital stays which resulted in me being sent home early because of bloodcount problems.
        Anyway, I started chemotherapy back in February and it's now May, so I've been having chemo for what feels like quite a big chunk of my life. In terms of physical distress, it was nothing like the possible ordeal I had anticipated: I got off lightly. The hard part was the imprisonment factor: being marooned in bed for so many hours at a stretch, physically tethered to a drip stand by a couple of IV lines.
        On the positive side, two things stand out.
        First, I learnt that I had it easy compared to what a lot of people have to go through. One guy, for example, showed up in my ward (which, technically, was part of the hematology department) for treatment for his leukaemia, which has been a factor in his life now for twenty years, sometimes in remission (absent for the moment) and then back again.
        One of the nurses said to him, "I remember you when you used to be in school."
        And that made me conscious of how lucky I was by comparison.
        Then there was another guy who had been hit hard by his cancer and had been assailed by some mystery organism which had taken advantage of his weakened state to launch an invasion. The doctors weren't sure what this mystery organism was but suspected that it might be a certain kind of fungus. They named the organism which was under suspicion.
        Because the guy was a bit weak, the doctors didn't want to dump a broad spectrum antibiotic into the guy's system. Rather, they wanted to tailor the treatment to the disease as closely as possible, which meant determining exactly what the invading fungus was, which meant doing a bronchoscopy. This, as best I could follow the explanation, involved sticking a tube down into the lungs then performing some kind of washing procedure to extract samples which could be analyzed.
        Listening in to the explanation of what was going to happen I felt, again, that I had things pretty easy.
        The second thing that happened in hospital was that I made good progress on my poetry, writing a bunch of stuff. And, during my last cycle, I finished off two longish poems, one called SURVIVORHOOD and the other called CELEBRATION. So, okay, one positive outcome of the chemotherapy experience is that it's been poetically productive.
        Here are the poems:-


SURVIVORHOOD

Listening to the sunlight
We can hear the soft quick pulse of flowers
Reminding us
(And life amidst whiteness needs reminders)
That the blood of daffodils is liquid.
Flowers by their nature
Must fear the scissors.
There is no helping it.

Sitting in my hospital bed
I can hear the clocks in scalpels
Hissing, steaming,
Itching for incision.
Natural bullyworks:
Clocks.
Time is the great vivisector,
Actual, potential, ongoing:
An unavoidable
Crunch-clouter.
But I will outlast at least this hourglass.
Fingers crossed.

It is no use yearning
To be illicitly immortal.
The heart is keyed to terminate
And slowing the heartbeat
Will not extend the pulse.
Still,
The hour has fragrance,
The week has taste,
And beyond the lean corroded catwalk,
Beyond the dry hinge of the future,
The smiles of more partitions may await.

Signing no consent form,
I was crushed from the womb,
Head monstrous, swollen,
Born with pain amidst pain,
Welcomed by tears.
Birth, you may say, was an error.
But I do not repent, and will not.
I regret nothing.
It is a victory that
Out of the sludge of possibility,
My lobster crawled at least this far.
I am not vanquished yet.
Limits are not defeat.

In the city of needles
There is darkness and light.
I am a process of countdowns,
Explicitly fatal.
Biology is destiny,
Forced and predicted:
A gel of molecules upon a bony frame
Designed to diveboard,
Designed for dissolution.
The endpoint
A bleeding sponge
Racked dry.

The angel's kiss that breathed me into life
Was freighted with my funeral.
But even so VThere is sunlight sufficient
This day, week, month, year
For the construction of a life:
Sustainable.

Author's comment on SURVIVORHOOD

        This poem is a product of the early months of 2005, during which I have been undergoing treatment for cancer. Survival is the goal and, writing this in the first half of 2005, it's what I expect. But, despite being optimistic about my chances of staying alive, I don't quite know exactly what kind of afterlife I will experience.
        After the entire course of treatment has been completed, there will be long term unknowns in play for years to come, particularly in the aftermath of radiation therapy, which can inflict brain damage which may only become apparent somewhere down the track, perhaps ten to fifteen years in the future. And, given that my pituitary gland will have been thoroughly irradiated by the time treatment is done, I'm told that my endocrine function should be periodically evaluated for the rest of my life.
        The flimsy illusion of immortality is gone forever. I don't know how long I'm destined to live but I do know that I'll be living more firmly in the present tense. Do it in my old age? Better to do it now.

CELEBRATION

There are scabs on the past,
Quicksand on the future.
The calendar is ulcerated.
Still,
There is a rough track forward.
Though I am closer to snow than to granite,
I have two kneecaps
And connected ankles.

My mirror cracked to fractured glass.
My geometry
Flawed open.
Eternal circles
Bulging then deflating.
The physical failure
Of my own less perfect flesh
Teaches me mortality.
I cannot be forever.
Still,
The hour is granted,
A wedge to open the future:
Let us celebrate the potential of the positive.

Let us celebrate
Ripeness.
Nectarines are not forever.
Conserving caution will not sustain
Bruised liquids until tomorrow.
So let us celebrate
The action of the teeth,
The kiss of capture,
The running juice
Of consummated claim and dissolution.

Let us celebrate the potential of the positive.
Let us be positive
But do
Without the fireworks,
Without the exclamation marks.
Do less.
Do ice cubes rather than bunker busters.
There is no need to stress a ten-cent opportunity
With a thousand dollars.

Cut your fingernails.
Rejoice in the necessity:
Length is life.
Kiss more often.
And do not flinch from passion.
Remember:
The wine is sufficient for the moment.

The body immaculate - the illusion -
Has fallen.
Unfallen self-perfection yields
To practical necessity.
So
Let us then celebrate what we have.

Chocolate is perfect.
A lush fragrance
Mired to the fingers,
Infinitely edible.
Let us celebrate
The eating of the chocolate.

Close your eyes
And let the engulfing sun
Melt the tensions of the swollen bones
Into the molten colossal:
The world
Globbed incandescent,
Eyeballs
Hotter than coffee,
Lungs
Radiantly saturated.

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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.

Disclaimer

        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

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