blog cancer survivor
Cancer Survivor Blog Journal
Forward ... seize the day!
by Hugh Cook

Cancer memoir - full text read free online -
diagnosis, chemotherapy, radiation therapy


Blog Cancer

Cancer survivor's blog - writer Hugh Cook, lymphoma survivor, normally resident in Japan, picks up the pieces and goes forward.

A Meditation on Survivorhood

Section 166 Entry 0001. Date: 2005 December 20 Tuesday.

In Japan, my daughter Cornucopia, no longer a baby but a little girl, is, at a very early age - she became twenty months old in this month, December 2005 - practicing martial arts.

Her martial arts tutor is the cartoon character Anpanman, whose head is made of anpan, which is a kind of bread containing sweet red beans. He wages war against Baikinman (Germ Man, at a guess a terrorist, though I have no idea of his political affiliations).

My wife bought an Anpanman video second hand at a bazaar which the local daycare center held back in October, and now Cornucopia demands to watch it every night.

While watching it, she can sometimes be heard to yell "Anpanman punch!" - the Anpanman punch being, apparently, Anpanman's special martial arts technique.

My wife writes "You will see it when you come home", "home" being our house in Yokohama, Japan, twelve hours distant from the place where I have been residing for a solid calender year now, my parents' home in Devonport, New Zealand.

I'm happy to think that my daughter is, thanks to the wonders of the age of video, making progress on getting to grips with our wonderful world of ultraviolence and germ warfare.

Earlier in the year, I learnt that there had been a baby brawl at the daycare center, with two babies, one of them Cornucopia, contending for the same toy. And Cornucopia, it seems, got bitten by the Bad Baby. And, what's more, it seems the Bad Baby (gender unknown) has bitten her on at least three separate occasions, and maybe as many as four or five.

Feeling this, I felt I should really be hurrying back to Japan to teach my daughter, if possible, some useful self-defense techniques. A basic disembowelling bite, for example. However, it sounds like the characters of the wonderful world of Japanese anime are probably doing that for me.

Back in January 2005, I had a vitrectomy (jelly-removal operation) on the left eye, to find out if there was any cancer "structure" in the eye. In November 2005, I had a cataract removed from the same eye, and an intraocular lens was implanted.

A week later, I had a two-step operation on the right eye. A vitrectomy was performed and, again, a cataract was removed, and an intraocular lens implanted. That operation took one hour and I was conscious the whole time, as it was conducted under local anesthetic.

Listening to the insectile sounds of the operation - strange insectile clickings and suckings - I had at one point the distinct mental image of a cockroach. Lying there on the operating table, I toyed with the idea of writing a story about a cockroach in my eye, but I don't really have the spare time or energy.

Having now wrapped up my novel To Find and Wake the Dreamer I am now in the process of organizing my ideas on teaching.

Way back when, back in January 1997, I did a teaching course at Dominion English Schools in Auckland and earnt myself the Cambridge / RSA Certificate in English Teaching to Adults.

"Cambridge" here means Cambridge University, as in Oxbridge - an external auditor shows up at the course to monitor the quality, and Cambridge University puts its prestige behind the piece of paper you get, which is nice to have. "RSA" stands for the Royal Society of the Arts, which is a British organization which sets standards for non-academic subjects such as, I think, cooking and subjects like that.

The Certificate is a very basic teaching qualification, and the next step up, if I ever wanted to do it, would be the Diploma, which at this stage of my career I don't think I'll shoot for.

Anyway, the present relevance of the Cambridge / RSA course is that I still have, in my computer files, all the notes I took in class and religiously transcribed in the evenings. I've always been meaning to look them over, but, in all these years - coming up to nine years now - I never have. Too many swamps and alligators situations.

Following the two eye operations in November, I still need some time for my eyes to settle down so I can get a prescription for spectacles. I'm told that my corrected vision will be driver's license quality, which is nice to hear.

With the idea of making a full recovery from the eye operation in mind, I've delayed my return to Japan until the fourth week of January.

Initially, I wasn't sure what I would do with the time, but now I've focused on a simple plan to help me make the transition back to what I was doing a year ago, which is teaching English in Japan. The idea is to use this time (the time between now and my January return) to pull together my ideas on teaching and make materials that I can use when I'm back in Japan.

Additionally, I've started playing around with Word, a program which I use but which I've never felt comfortable with. This is a good opportunity to fool around with it and get to grips with some of the wrinkles.

I'm thinking of putting some of my teaching materials on this website in a "teaching English" section.

One thing I have to sort out is where I will have follow-up checks done in Japan. Having undergone chemotherapy and radiation therapy, my cancer is now in remission, but may come back with a rush and a roar.

My New Zealand radiation oncologist is recommending that I have checks every three to four months for at least the next one to two years, and less frequently after that. Checks would probably be in the form of (a) an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan with intravenous gadolinium (a rare earth) for contrast; (b) a blood test for a marker which is specific for lymphoma, I think something called LDH; and (c) a general blood workup.

At the moment, I face something like a one in a thousand chance of developing some kind of malignancy (possibly a hard tumor, but more likely some kind of blood disease) as a consequence of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and, more significantly, a sixty percent chance of the lymphoma returning and killing me within the next five years.

So, while I am not by temperament a gambling man, I find I have a seat at the casino, with big stakes on the table.

I don't think of this on a day to day basis, but I find myself doing little things like adding, to the bottom of a letter to my wife, "Love to Cornucopia". With the thought that perhaps my daughter might some day happen to look at one of these letters not too many years down the track, after I have passed on.

Anyway, my decision is to press on, to go forward, and the oncologist who, ultimately, has been in charge of my case, Dr. Porter, approves of this decision.

What he said, and these words made a lot of sense to me, was that "You run the risk of becoming a cripple to a diagnosis that you no longer have". Statistically, the probability is that the cancer will return, and, if it does, then the probability is that the game is over.

But, on the other hand, if I can make it to the five year point alive, then I have a decent shot at something approximating a normal lifespan, although, in terms of mental function, I can expect to experience accelerated aging as a consequence of having absorbed a dose of thirty grays of radiation to the brain.

So the danger, then, is that by focusing on the death chant, you can lose sight of the window of possibility which still remains open. And botch your life by thinking that the window is surely shut.

The window is, in fact, still open.

For me, the decision to go forward, to return to Japan and pick up the pieces of my life, is a very straightforward one. I have a daughter not yet two years of age, and other options - migrating to the planet Mars and taking up Martian citizenship, for example - are not on the table.

So I'm now into the realms of survivorhood, and I'm trying to make the window of possibility a positive force in my life. Something to aim for.

And I'm trying to set achievable goals for myself, goals that I can achieve within a reasonable timeframe.

In 2005, I finished off the novel Bamboo Horses and the medical memori Cancer Patient and also wrote the suicide bomber fantasy novel To Find and Wake the Dreamer. Win or lose, it's satisfying to have done that.

And what I can do next, very reasonably, is pull together a slab of teaching material between now and when I head back to Japan in January.

So let's do that. Do the doable.


My daughter's smile
Is twelve hours distant
But home
Is as close as the doors of sleep.

There is grass in my Japan
Because I planted it:
Not for the passing day
But for a life.

In the catalog of futures
We are three.