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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 Fifty-Three


A description of the radiation therapy process: being irradiated by the linear accelerator. A discussion (poorly informed, ignorance talking to itself) about the possibility of radiation necrosis.

        Monday 27 June 2005.
        Fraction five.
        The treatment room is large, like a large operating theater. Around the edges, counters with built-in closets underneath. In the center, the hulk of the linear accelerator, a machine for turning electricity into radiation. In front of the linear accelerator, a hard table, like a narrow operating table. On the table, a piece of foam rubber, triangular in section, to go under your knees, and a headrest to go under your head.
        Lie down on the table and your face is under the huge head of the linear accelerator. The clear plastic mask, marked up with dots and lines, goes over your face. Tight on the nose. The radiation technologists, two in number, one at each side of your head, talk to each other over your body. The plastic mask, pressed flat and without perforation against your ears, makes sounds louder and smeared, voice data confused at times by the noise of things rubbing against the mask.
        With the help of a green laser, you are aligned. Note: it is dangerous to stare at the green laser. The laser is an eye hazard.
        Once you have been aligned, the human race retreats. You are on camera: two cameras are monitoring you. A microphone is open. The head of the linear accelerator swings into position. State of the art technology, right at the cutting edge. Your tax dollars at work.
        There is a discordant sound like a kind of buzzer. You lie there, immobilized by the Twenty-First Century. The air smells, not quite pleasantly, of something akin to swimming pools. Marie Curie died of radiation poisoning, died of aplastic anemia. You are her beneficiary.


Masked for derring-do, my adventuring skin
Demonstrates inscrutability in the beam.
Narrow on a hard bed,
Rigidities of continence
Practice isolation from a world
One microphone away.
The mask,
With a bite at the nose,
Fits down the face and underlaps the jaw:
Flat on the face and cupping the skin.
Emotions are unmoving by necessity.
On removal,
Dampness breathes a moment,
Warm from the plastic,
Organic evidence of survival.

* * *

        Tuesday 28 June 2005.
        After radiotherapy (the sixth dose, radiation dose six out of twenty) had an appointment with Dr. Gill Campbell, my radiation oncologist.
        With my father present, I chose not to raise the subject of radiation necrosis. On the Internet, I found a web page suggesting that a radiation dose of 5,500 cGy to the brain results in radiation necrosis in between three to five percent of cases.
        My new vocabulary item is "centigray", written "cGy". A hundred centigrays make a gray, a gray being a measure of radiation exposure. My understanding is that my total dose from my twenty-fraction radiotherapy course will be sixteen grays, which I compute as being 1,600 cGy (my basic arithmetic is weak, but strong enough, I think, for this calculation).
        That being so, it seems reasonable to think that my chances of suffering from radiation necrosis are pretty slim.
        [Later, note dated 20 September 2005: I completely give up on the radiation business, choosing to deliver to the world a flawed book rather than no book at all. In retrospect, I think the "sixteen grays" figure cited above was pulled from my shaky memory, and quite possibly has no real relationship to reality. Today, however, I have received from the hospital documentation on my condition (which I have requested to help my doctors when I go back to Japan) and the most recent clinical summary indicates that my radiation therapy consisted of "Whole brain radiation with includsion of posterior globes -- 30Gy in 20 fractions completed 19/07/2005." (That is, in the New Zealand dating system, completed on the 19th of July 2005.) Thirty grays, then. Perhaps it's more comfortable just to stop thinking at this stage. The key point, from my subjective viewpoint, was that the radiation therapy involved some scary unknowns.]


In the flat nothing of the uneventful,
My cup of tea grows colder.
My life is a letter
Waiting to be posted.

* * *

        Wednesday 29 July 2005.
        Got up. Had breakfast. Got irradiated.
        The buzzer-type sound which goes off at the time of the irradiating process is, apparently, some kind of buzzer. The violet light which tinges the universe is, it seems, manufactured by the X-rays interacting with my eyes: the linear accelerator itself does not project a violet light.


Lacking a garnish of panic
The flat buttons of successive days
Repeat themselves.
Buttons I can still handle
And more:
My cunning is to take the hour of nine
And fabricate eleven,
Enforcing this on the entire nation.

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