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.
While waiting for the birth of his daughter, an event which fails to happen on schedule, the author meditates about cancer and his possible death in a slightly desolated landscape reminiscent of some of the science fiction environments imagined into life by the British SF writer J.G. Ballard.
With considerable difficulty, I had arranged to take two weeks off work so I would be with my wife when the baby was born. The baby was scheduled to be born at the start of April, so I had arranged to be on holiday from Saturday March 27th through Sunday 11th April inclusive -- a total of sixteen days.
* * *
2004 March 28 Sunday.
Murasaki-san had an argument with her mother today, over the question of whether it was or was not reasonable for Murasaki-san to be keeping one of the four kitchen chairs in the television room, and Murasaki-san got so angry that she pounded her chopsticks on the table until the ends splintered off and went flying across the room.
I was very impressed.
If we were making a soap opera, that would be a great scene. But it would be a scene in the birth-of-baby drama, not my medical drama, which is ticking along at a less theatrical level.
I've been thinking about my upcoming confrontation with my medical destiny, and I've more or less decided to fight the good fight. Go the whole distance. This means injections of steroids into the eye, and then, if that doesn't work, an operation to extract cells from the eye so they can be examined under a microscope to find out exactly what kind of cells they are.
This is not a pleasant prospect.
There are two good points.
One is that we may never get that far. Maybe the only problem I have is some inflamed cells in the eye, and maybe the fact that I've lost weight is just a consequence of a healthy diet and a reasonable amount of exercise, and maybe steroid injections will take care of the inflammation, and I might even achieve normal vision.
The other point is that, as I look back over my life, there's really nothing I left undone. There's no big dream I left unfulfilled. I had a good life. And, if it's more or less over, well, so be it.
That said, if I find that I am up against a catastrophic problem, the timing is really bad. Wife pregnant. New baby coming. Only one of us working. Me duty-bound to be husband, breadwinner, provider, supporter. No space to fail. No permission to collapse.
My plan for this stay in Gunma is just to study a bit of Japanese, and, if I have the time, do some work on my web site.
* * *
As the diary entry above indicates, during my stay at my mother-in-law's house my attention was divided, and my health problems were competing with the upcoming birth of my child. However, I did not feel particularly tense. I was soothed by the routine nature of life in what was generally, despite the occasional clash of chopsticks, a very peaceful household.
I personally get on very well with my mother-in-law, who has always been very nice to me. Initially, she was shy about talking to me, but over the years she has become very confident. However, I don't always follow her Japanese, which tends to be highly idiomatic.
The only problem that I have at my mother-in-law's house is the amount of food which turns up on the table. There's always too much, and I'm always having to refuse second and third helpings. As a child, during the Second World War, my mother-in-law went hungry, and the resulting food anxieties have lasted a lifetime.
Although there was the occasional moment of tension between my wife and her mother, from my point of view my days in Gunma were generally very quiet. And uneventful. In particular, the expected event -- the birth -- did not happen. The child declined to be born.
Every day, my wife and I went for long walks through the countryside, walking very slowly but covering considerable distances, a procedure which my mother-in-law thought considerably unwise, and counseled against repeatedly.
My wife remembered that when she was a child there used to be dead frogs on the paths. But we saw no corpses. At first I hypothesized that there were no more frogs because of global warming. But then, one day, we did discover a dead frog, significantly squashed. And, once we knew exactly what to look for, we saw quite a number of them.
I have no idea where the frogs came from and, also, I don't know why we never saw any live frogs. (In retrospect, it occurs to me that perhaps the presumed "frogs" were in fact toads, which live on land rather than in water.)
The dead frogs (or toads, as the case may be) did not hold our interest for long. The entertainment value of dessicated dead animals is rather limited. Rather, our big excitement was competitive pachinko ball collecting.
For some reason (and I have no idea why) in the dirt by the roadside you could occasionally find the shiny ball bearings used in pachinko machines, and we got very good at spotting these. (If memory serves, my wife, who has a competitive streak in her nature, succeeded in collecting rather more ball bearings than I did.)
The countryside through which we made our expeditions was dominated by greenhouses covered with plastic. The greenhouses had mostly been used to grow tomatoes, and the latest crop had been picked, leaving the greenhouses littered with the remains of dead tomato plants. Sometimes there were rafts of discarded tomatoes, some green, some blotched with red, littering the ground by the greenhouses.
One of the buildings we sometimes walked past was a pachinko parlor, locked up and abandoned, sitting in dusty isolation. It was not the only failed business in the area. There were a number of places which had gone bust, victims, perhaps, of urban drift and the depopulation of the countryside.
In those days in Gunma, a prefecture famed for its fierce winds and its strong women, I was sometimes reminded of science fiction landscapes imagined into existence by the British writer J.G. Ballard, landscapes of sun, dust, emptiness, abandoned desolation.
I was wandering through just such a desolate landscape, waiting for a promised event that never happened, finding my mortality symbolized by dead amphibians, by the loneliness of abandoned pachinko balls, and by the dark green silence of the UFO, its air conditioners terminated, its Filipino hostesses vanished from this continuum.
The baby was initially scheduled to be born on April 5th, in cherry blossom season. A cherry blossom baby. Cute.
Cherry blossom floats
Than the baby's darling dreams.
The cherry blossom arrived on schedule, but our imagined cherry blossom baby did not. But it existed. My wife and I paid two visits to Inakabashi Hospital, where I was able to see the baby on an ultrasound machine.
Seeing the latest member of the family on the ultrasound screen was mildly interesting, but, to be honest, I couldn't make sense of what I was seeing: to me, the ultrasound images looked like a bunch of puddled shadows, and I couldn't really resolve them into anything approximating a child. The baby was there, but murkily, like the future, fog evolving into something more substantial, but taking its own time about it.
On Sunday April 11th I said goodbye to my wife at a rural train station. This was an extremely tearful parting, and I was disappointed that I would not be on hand for the baby's birth, because I had been expecting that the birth of my child would be something revelatory, something that would remake my perception of the universe.
In fact, I was destined to be present at my daughter's birth. But it was not destined to be a revelatory experience. Rather, it was destined to be the nightmare of all nightmares, the worst horror show of my entire life.
Anyway, the train arrived and I got on it and headed back to Tokyo, from where I made my way to our house in Yokohama. With me I took a list of baby goods that I had been instructed to buy from the Kawasaki branch of Akachan Honpo, a store which specializes in stuff for babies.
I presumed, correctly, that our baby would be born in due course. However, my assumption (incorrect, as it turned out) was that I would not be present for the birth.
As has already been indicated above, I was going to be there for the birth, and the birth was going to prove to be the most traumatic experience of my entire life. Being diagnosed with cancer was bad? Well, yes. But the birth of my daughter was far worse, a catastrophe that I am going to remember for the rest of my life.
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.