What's this?

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 Fifty-One


Evan Handler, author of the cancer memoir "Time on Fire", e-mails to say he's alive. For a cancer patient eager to survive, E.H.'s survival is good news. Author Hugh discusses his fantasies of food, partially gratified. The joys of fatherhood are mentioned, briefly. Radiation therapy starts tomorrow. The chapater concludes with a poem about noodles. The poem rather tends to suggest that the noodles are brain damaged.

        Sunday 19 June 2005.
        Back on May 27th, I blogged about the book "Time on Fire" by Evan Handler, an American who suffered from leukemia and who had a book about it published in 1996. At the time of blogging I didn't know if the author was still alive. Very shortly, I got an e-mail from E.H. himself saying that, as it happens, he is alive.
        I was most surprised to get this feedback. Usually the result of blogging is silence. For example, I've blogged about George W. Bush on a number of occasions, but he's never deigned to notice my existence.
        Anyway, Evan Handler's e-mail drew my attention to the fact that he's active in the TV world, something which had escaped my attention as I rarely watch any TV apart from the news. I'm as close as you can get to a television zero.
        E.H. writes that he was "until recently" one of the stars of the show “Sex and the City”, playing the role of Harry Goldenblatt. He (Evan, not Harry) is working on a follow-up book to "Time on Fire", the follow-up book being a memoir to be published in the US in 2006. The title of the follow-up book is “It’s Only Temporary...The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive”.
        My interest piqued by this e-mail, I looked on the Internet and found a picture of Evan Handler as Harry Goldenblatt, conspicuously minus hair. Although Evan survived, it seems his hair does not. As he writes on page 247 of his book, the hair follicles in his head ended up permanently damaged.
        The e-mail also gave me the push I needed to read on and finish the book. Some of it I couldn't relate to -- adventures in the realms of death therapy and holistic healing. But a lot of it was useful, particularly the statement on pages 126-127 which says "I might not be able to choose what happened to me, but I could decide how I would respond to it."
        (Quote from "Time on Fire", Owl Book edition, published by Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1997.)
        Reading Evan's book, occasionally I got a glimpse of something I recognized. At one hospital he was in, there was a "three strikes and you're out" policy regarding inserting needles into a vein: you take a maximum of two shots at getting the needle in, then hand over the job to someone else. In the hematology department at Auckland Hospital, there was a similar policy, but you only got two shots at getting the needle in.
        Other elements of Evan's experience were rather different from mine. For example, he writes (page 120) "I spent hours visualizing images of domestic bliss, symbolizing the depth of our love". I, for my part, with my appetite stoked up by the steroid dexamethasone, spent hours visualizing imaginary meals.
        My fantasies were gratified, in part, when my sister turned up at hospital with a plastic ice cream carton containing ten chicken drumsticks. It would have been unspeakably greedy to eat them all at once, so I didn't, and a few survivors managed to make it as far as the fridge -- they disappeared the next morning.
        Another thing that was rather different was Evan's preoccupation with the possibility of fatherhood. He writes (page 120) that he and his inamorata "would both fantasize, hour after hour, about parenthood".
        I didn't fantasize about the possibility of parenthood because, for a fair chunk of the time, I had the actuality on hand in the form of baby Cornucopia. In one of the notebooks documenting my chemotherapy days there is an entry which says "Cornucopia is screaming. For fun." Such are the joys of fatherhood.
        Anyway, having finished the book, the main point of "Time on Fire" is, for me, that the author survived -- after a struggle which was a lot longer and a lot tougher than anything I've had to go through. Right at the moment, a survival script like this is imaginatively useful for me.
        Of course, I'm writing this before my own treatment is over. I still have the radiotherapy ahead, and there are a number of unknowns associated with it. But my expectation is that I'm going to get through the radiation therapy okay. Fingers crossed.

* * *

        Monday 20 June 2005.
        I begin radiation therapy tomorrow: four weeks and twenty fractions. Twenty doses of radiation designed to save my life. The downside being that it may reduce my brain to muddled garbage -- goodbye mind!
        Today, a cool morning, cloudy, a few birds singing in a twittery way. I eat my customary breakfast of two-minute noodles with a small can of tuna meat, tomato and basil flavor.


The noodles
Have no alphabet.
The noodles
Have decayed from Socrates,
Devolving to worship basil,
To companion pumpkin.
In the noodles' rainbow
There is mud
But there are no dolphins.
The noodles
Are not cognizant of their loss.

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