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.
The author begins radiation therapy. After a few days, there is a little nausea. Eating becomes difficult. A chapter heavy in poetry wraps up with a poem called "Carcinoma Blues". In summary, as radiation therapy gets underway, the author finds it ... well, on the one hand, pretty straightforward, but, on the other hand, not exactly a whole lot of fun.
Tuesday 21 June 2005.
THE PLECTRUMS OF RAIN
The plectrums of rain,
The strings of forever.
A cup half full
Does not convince eternity.
The pictures in my intellect
Have no momentum.
I am released from politics.
Is not on my mind.
* * *
Wednesday 22 June 2005.
Will I be prescribed dexamethasone, the oral steroid that caused so many side effects when I was taking it earlier in the year to reduce swelling in my brain?
The answer, it seems, is later, maybe, if I end up suffering nausea or unsteadiness or headaches or fits. For the moment, the only medication I'm using is a skin lotion called aqueous cream, which is a mild mixture of water, liquid paraffin, white soft paraffin and some other stuff -- a product of Ireland.
Yesterday, I asked radiation therapist Trish about the possibility of radiation necrosis. "That's a good question to ask a doctor." I pushed for a little more, asking "Is it a low possibility or an impossibility?" And Trish went so far as to say "It's not the expected outcome."
The radiation doses I'm getting are low, it seems, compared to what patients with other types of brain cancer might be getting, because lymphoma is highly susceptible to radiation.
The devolution of my life has reached a stairway,
A descent into daylight.
The walls are exhibition white.
I will be maimed on a scalpboard
As a mutant armadillo,
Pink with description.
* * *
Thursday 23 July 2005.
From my reading, I got the impression that my treatment would be soundless, but in the treatment room I was told that "of course" the machine makes some noise.
THE MEAT IN THE MECHANISM
I am the meat in the mechanism,
The adjusted parameter.
"Half a laser thickness."
I am the chained molecules,
The organized consensus,
Breathing the torn atoms,
The gladiatorial chemistry.
"Some people smell a funny smell."
The annihilation of angels,
Brief in crescendo,
A violet intensification of the universe.
"There is the potential
To see flashing lights."
* * *
Friday 24 July 2005.
The head of the linear accelerator is a circular mass of gleaming equipment which somehow reminds me of a big hair drying machine, the kind you sit under, something I think I've only ever seen in cartoons.
The entire machine, the head at its extreme end, moves, pivots, swings into position on the right, irradiates me, then swings overhead, slowly. It swings down into position on the left and shoots another beam of radiation at me.
My radiation burden for the entire course of radiation therapy will be twenty of these double doses, this on top of my exposure to radiation in the form of chest X-rays and CT scans (and let's not forget the gallium count).
The accumulated arithmetic of treatment becomes daunting: the history of days, weeks, months, drugs, needles, hospital meals and radiation grays.
LEMONS IN THE RAIN
It is raining in New Zealand.
The molded mountains
Offer no resistance.
The cumulative dinosaurs
The lemons have no clockwork,
Do not move.
The limestone memories
Twitch and flinch,
Verminous with doubt goblins,
With exploded adjectives.
In the gray shirts of legalized precipitation,
Are untroubled by their taxes,
Will not strain the dictionary
To a conclusion.
* * *
Saturday 25 June 2005.
So I'm four fractions into my twenty-fraction treatment process. The jaw shielded each time. The eyes not. The imagination accumulating whiteness from the walls. On Saturdays and Sundays, there's no radiation. Just time to reflect.
My eyes were murky in the days immediately before treatment, small print growing increasingly elusive. It's just as well that the deteriorating cut in before the radiation started, otherwise I'd be blaming the deficiencies of my eyes (well, chiefly the right eye, the one I'm relying on) on radiation damage.
My last check with an ophthalmologist was on Thursday 19th May, with Dr. Von Lany, at Auckland Hospital. The next will be on Thursday 30th June at the Greenlane Clinical Center at Greenlane Hospital -- same eye doctor or eye doctors, different location.
Went to a dinner party tonight.
I had some nausea yesterday, and at one point was crouched over the toilet, waiting (needlessly) to throw up. The fit of nausea eventually passed without vomiting. Because I had nausea yesterday, today I (unwisely, no doubt) sorted through the odds and ends of medication left over from my chemotherapy, found some anti-emetic tablets and took one before going out to dine.
The anti-emetic tablet seemed to do the trick, but major fatigue set in by about 9 p.m., so I decided to have an early night.
Absent cause and consequence,
Saturday is derelict,
Funerals for the stages of my life.
Later, we will resume the arithmetic,
Fractions mounting to create
A new beginning
Or a terminus.
Marshaled by computers,
The houses, unmoving,
Wait for Sunday.
All through the weekend, the electricity
Plays no chess games.
"You do realize
That we are causing changes to the brain."
* * *
Sunday 26 June 2005.
It has been predicted that I am going to lose my hair (not permanently, all going well) after treatment ends. This prediction comes, or so I'm told, from Dr. Campbell (I think that's Dr. Gill Campbell) who I'm now scheduled to see on Tuesday 28th.
The radiologist on Tuesday, the ophthalmologist on Thursday.
My eyes are bad, the right eye struggling, its diminishing achievements lapsing from optimism.
Woke today feeling reasonably good, no sense of nausea. My appetite has been down for the last few days. I've been trying to eat, as literature received from the hospital insists that it's important not to lose weight during radiotherapy.
What I'm finding it easy to eat is meat, like last night's chicken. What I find difficult to stomach is vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. Potatoes are still okay, as is eating rice.
A couple of times last week I didn't feel like having breakfast and just ate a couple of pieces of fruit. This morning, however, I cooked what has been my standard invalid's breakfast: a packet of two-minute noodles and a small tin of tuna. I used to add green peas to this mix but no longer do so.
Today I felt cold meat would be more digestible than mince, so my mother got the guy at the supermarket's delicatessen counter to cut me very small samples of this and that, including salami and pastrami. She reports that this time-chewing Lilliputian ordering seemed to make him a bit tetchy.
The calendar is functionally blind
And sees no daylight.
My right eye
Its diminished achievements
Lapsing from optimism.
The ambitions of light
Insisting that this new nowhere
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.