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Cancer : Not As Fun As I Hoped

“I am battling cancer, “ always seemed a fatuous boast. I’ve   been sick before : no work, stay in bed , take drugs , binge movies , read, play with self. What’s not to like ? To a melanin deficient, Y chromosome heterosexual , the Victim Card is all too rarely dealt. But when it is , my creed has always been : play  it until your near and dear start packing side-arms.

          Cancer , as we’re told about every thirty seconds , is a particularly nasty way to go. Most certainly  it’s expensive and prolonged and the urge to take selfies diminishes. But then –compared to what? Jumping 100 stories to avoid being burned alive ? Raped to death in the prison laundry ? Eaten by ants for winking at Geronimo’s old lady ? After watching thousands die horrifically on streaming “entertainment” channels every day , Cancer seemed an almost civilized way to go. If played smartly,  The Cancer Victim Card might land  the leading role in multiple heart rending death bed scenes, garner forklift loads of Cute Kitten Sympathy Cards and definitely entitle my riddled corpus to ever greater doses of morphine ,  until,  in the fullness of time  I’d float off the planet an even bigger imbecile than when I arrived.

          Unfortunately, Cancer is not like that . At all. Cancer isn’t a battle, it’s a fucking siege. An onslaught  in  which, if you don’t stay as alert and demanding as a referee in a Mongolian Grudge Fuck , you will suffer  unending indignities and agony. Sympathy ? Morphine drip ? HAH! Maybe , and it’s a big maybe, pin dick, we’ll allow  Nurse Pigface –a 300 pounder with the disposition of a killer Rhino)—to give you  two Tylenols when she has the time . That is, after she circumnavigates the globe, inhales a blunt in the lot and rubs one out in the shower. But I am getting way, way, way ahead of myself …

          Tip # 1 : Don’t Get Cancer During ‘Rona

          In January of 2021 or month 13 of the ‘Rona Neurosis, I was sleeping 16 hours a day , unable to eat and coughing up blood. On rare excursions outside, people were social distancing by 30 yards or more and store managers welcomed me as agreeably as they would a homeless bum with I SPREAD BED BUGS tattooed on his forehead . I was sick, really sick, but unluckily with zero ‘Rona symptoms.   Fair or unfair, this was like dying of constipation during a cholera epidemic: “Sorry , but The Doctor  whose ‘Time For Your Annual Checkup’ notices you’ve told us to shove up our Culos  for years , can’t see you until…how does your calendar look for the 12th of Never ? “

But where and to whom was I to complain ? I’d already lost two friends who had been warehoused in Nursing Homes before dying alone . And Columbia-Presbyterian , two blocks away, seemed like an impenetrable fortress with Rona Victims ONLY!  hanging over the entrance

TIP # 2  Get Thee To A Psychiatrist

          Fortuitously , as it turned out,   I was having horrific nightmares. Hieronymus Bosch type visions so real I knew at the very least I needed  industrial strength Depakote to avoid being tasered  while running down the block in poop stained jammies to get away from the Giant Ears With The Giant Knife

          Calling just any Couch Doctor  probably won’t do , in case you’re writing down my tips.  What you really need is one who works at a big name  hospital. Someone you’ve played tennis with and intentionally let win. And most importantly , a fat gossipy type who treats top specialists and knows their deepest , darkest,  career cancelling secrets. He can get you in front of practically anybody in 15 minutes or less . And, better yet,  with a This Dummy Is Really  Sick !  seal of approval

          In my mind’s eye , the ideal Surgeon/Diagnostician/Physician would look a tad  like Albert Einstein– but clean shaven  and acquainted with hair products—have a twinkle in his eye,  a  slight German accent and 2 very recent Nobel prizes for Physiology and Medicine. Not “well rounded.” — A-political , A –social, A-sexual, A-sports in general but definitely A-golf—a cross between Trappist Monk and the world’s  greatest Ferrari mechanic .

           What I discovered , instead , is that  specialists –and they’re all specialists — at  world ranked hospitals –which shall remain nameless –Mt . Sinai, Columbia-Presbyterian and the Bronx VA –are not a bit monk-like . Apparently, one does not make more than a million  a year, plus perks , at a top shop  without immaculate social graces , political skills and general knowledge about pretty much  everything.

          Tip # 3 : Shut up and listen

          When interviewing direct descendants of Hippocrates, it’s best not  to try and impress them with the fact you own  all the episodes of Quincy, ME and Diagnosis Murder including the bonus Bloopers and Outtakes DVD and feel qualified to perform an emergency autopsy—as I was quick to learn.  What I finally understood is that it’s best to  get them  to talk about themselves, which is not that difficult.  What you may perceive to your benefit,  is this : all doctors have gone to school for a long time , but it does not follow , even slightly, they are all  intelligent and/or talented . Intelligent and talented doctors are endlessly curious and well-read  about their specialty . They like talking about it to patients who can do a reasonable impression of a person with a brain.  Talented doctors make patients  feel as though they are part of the process,  not only because this is the surest road to success in their profession –as it is in business, marriage  and most cons  – but above all  because they  know “the science” is far from settled  and  every  patient is a potential  learning experience . The merely educated, especially the ones who flaunt their degrees, are always the most certain and really should be doing something else for a living, such as laying linoleum in my kitchen. They are dangerous.  Often deadly 

Am I Talking To A Healer , A Lawyer , A SJW Loon Or A Mask?

“There are known knowns, things we know that we know; and there are known unknowns, things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns, things we do not know we don’t know.” Donald H Rumsfeld

Might we not, just maybe,  be a less divided,  less panicked , less depressed and far richer country if the Wisdom of Rumsfeld had been recited before and after every version of  RONA  RONA FO-EVAH  by Doktor  Antony & The Cee Dee Cees ? Instead of …

On April 15 , 2022 , 29 months after ‘Rona hit, Rochelle Walensky MD MPH –Biden Appointed Director of the Centers of Disease Control (CDC)  since January –told the country  that gay young men “an abused and heroic segment of the population” were getting STDs  “ in such record numbers the mortality rates might  rival the 1980’s AIDS crisis.”  And, therefore, immediate funding from Congress was needed so the CDC could study the problem.

Sorry , Rochelle ,  if I don’t lend my slightly off key baritone to the Gay Men’s Choir in a rousing rendition of “Don’t Cry For Me Gonorrhea.”

Since you seem to have missed it , Rochelle Walensky , MD MPH , you are now the appointed head of an organization that for two years  prohibited  “nonessential”  medical care and lab testing –such as STD , Heart, Cancer screenings.  With nugatory legal authority it also issued  mandate after mandate  causing unnecessary  business closures, school closures , banning of outdoor activities, millions losing health insurance due to unemployment . It also  managed to shut down all dissenting opinions by  partnering with Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and You Tube to suppress ‘Rona “misinformation”  by censoring doctors and researchers who disagreed with the “Science Consensus” Researchers and Doctors, by the way,  who were right all along and  have been vindicated over time. All of which, has not only caused STD rates to rise , but has caused suicide rates to skyrocket , untreated pathologies to maturate and life expectancies to drop.

So please Rochelle MD MPH ,  double mask, douse yourself in disinfectant,  go stand on the painted mark in the elevator and  ride it up and down until people want to hear anything you have to say  or pigs fly. At least 70% of the country believe the CDC has become a punchline and  Public Health is now synonymous with Political Double Speak.

A major problem for anyone who needed  medical care in the last  two plus years is that the Rochelle MD MPH / Dr. Fauci brand of “We’re Right, You Are A Stupid And Likely  A Domestic Terrorist + Racist “ has cast a very dark cloud  , and will continue to do so, over every aspect of hospital care possibly for years to come. One reason :  60% of higher education graduates , and 60% of new doctors are female, which also happens to be the only group in the country who, according to multiple polls,  believe the CDC and the Biden administration have done “exceedingly well” in combating ‘Rona and rebooting the economy. They are “Woke,”  “Me Too” and in the vanguard of a movement that has destroyed careers and impoverished individuals  for little more than “inappropriate” jokes   Privately doctors, nurses  and technicians with brains and experience  are disgusted . But they will only admit this  to people who they trust . And in whispers .  

Consider:

Ordered by the surgeon and nurses , all conversant with my medical history , to NOT take any medication three days prior to the biopsy necessary to determine the extent of cancer and how long I might expect to live, I found myself in an early morning hour :  prepped , gowned, certain of death under the knife and quivering  with savage regret for a misspent life.  In the midst of this misery,  I was suddenly  confronted by a double masked,  skinny young woman who informed me in Valley Girl fry tones  that she was my assigned anesthesiologist,  and she would NOT allow the biopsy  to proceed. Why ? Because I had not taken 81 MG a day for 3 days –i.e. one regular aspirin in total. The look in her eyes that attended this pronouncement told me she was pissed about something and  didn’t want to work that day.  The surgeon and  my primary doctor – both cisgendered-white-evil representatives of the  patriarchy, alas  — protested vehemently.  The Chief Surgeon was called in and decided he did not want to go to war over it, especially since he might have to deal with a Hurt Feelings Report  that could easily escalate into a  costly sex discrimination lawsuit and put his career in jeopardy   

Upshot:   the biopsy was delayed 2 weeks –that is, 336 long  hours in virtual lockdown waiting for what I was now convinced : a death sentence. The middle aged anesthesiologist who replaced the unhappy millennial  didn’t seem to care if I was injecting meth into my eyeballs Might I put in a Hurt Feelings Report due to my mental stress  ? , no.

Tip # 4 : Research Your Cancer  , Memorize The Acronyms  OR Don’t  Because No One Will Listen To You Anyway.  At Least Don’t Post  On Social Media Looking For Advice . Or Sympathy .

My Cancer verdict was delivered by the young surgeon who performed the biopsy, in easy to understand terms : 80% chance of living at least another 5 years IF I underwent 30 radiation treatments  and 30 chemo sessions over 8 weeks followed by a 24/7  recovery period in  the hospital. And by the way , he added, your tooth implants will  have to pulled before the radiation or your head will  explode .

 But all  my teeth are held in by implants, I remonstrated . “Won’t my smile be … eliminated ? “

“Most patients tell me they have no urge to smile after the radiation and chemo. “

“Couldn’t the tumor be taken out by an operation ?”

“Yes, but we would have to break your jaw . While it hardly seems possible , you’ll be uglier,  plus  you’ll still have to undergo radiation and chemo .”

 “ I read there’s this miraculous  apricot cure in Mexico that one of The Monkees– or maybe it was one of  The  Beatles—swore  by?”

“Before he died ?”

“Yeah—but  millions mourned and at his funeral they said he fought Cancer until the end. ” 

A  period ensued  in which we listened to the timer on his instrument sterilizer tick off the seconds before the interview was concluded .

Six weeks of dental chair torture and gum recovery left me with 7 front teeth and zero  desire to smile . A lull I’d soon look back on  as “the good old days”

After much deliberation , mostly with a one eared alley cat  in a nearby park , I decided to undergo radiation/chemo  at the Bronx VA. My other choices –Columbia-Presbyterian on Manhattan’s Upper West Side or Mt. Sinai on the Upper East Side –treat patients from all over the world , but mostly from their respective high rent  neighborhoods–areas where Society matrons, Wall Street  grandees and Radical Lefties  dwell. As a man who never gets a decent restaurant table competing against pushy A-listers  and either ends  up by the kitchen door or eating  in the kitchen next to the fryer , getting between these types  and an oncologist seemed like asking to be a sticky spot on the floor.

The Bronx VA offered three other advantages. First , the patients were mostly older and male . Second, the doctors and surgeons and equipment  were exactly the same  –the three hospitals rotate staffs.  But third  , and most of all, because I was actually able to talk myself into  apartment on an upper floor of the VA  during treatments. Although I only guessed  this at the outset : if I had had to travel back and forth each day, I might’ve accidentally hanged myself in the bathroom or paid the Uber Driver my life savings and tie collection to accidentally back over me.

The first day at the radiation clinic, an ancient black man who looked like he’d been recently released from a prison in ‘Nam, sat across from me in the waiting room.  In a deep gravelly voice he told me he had just undergone 12 weeks of head and neck radiation and chemo and he would not wish it on a Nazi baby killer. He was twenty years younger than me , as it turned out

Ever get a tune stuck in your head? For the next ninety days  Bernard Hermann’s “Screeching Violins For Shower Knifings” written  for the movie Psycho, ran continuously through my increasingly addled brain. When this  cacophony finally stopped , it was replaced by   “Plaintive Saxophone Dirge for Assassins”  coincidentally also written by Bernard Hermann  for Taxi Driver.  I was unrecognizable to anyone, especially  myself.

The radiation team was three technicians  and a tiny Chinese nurse named Sam. Each morning they strapped me onto a table with a tight  fitting helmet that covered me head  to  clavicle so that a giant robot with one eye could zap me for maybe twenty minutes . Owing to my  comic gifts and native optimism I was able to keep everyone’s spirits aloft –including 4 guys who were there to get prostate zapping—for perhaps a week. After my neck became a burnt raw  open sore  and I could no longer swallow, my repertoire might’ve relied too heavily on that  old  vaudeville act of  an  infant with a hot poker up its ass—hilarious at parties, less so in repetitive performances  over the remaining seven weeks.  Nevertheless, the staff  could not have been kinder. Or , to be honest, more forgiving.

The same was true of the three nurses who strapped me to a chair with  IV’s for hours and hours of chemo five days a week. They did everything possible to ease my discomfort and pain , as my mood plummeted to a level slightly below someone mounting the steps to the guillotine.  One indelible memory was the wives and daughters who showed up every day and  sat mostly in silence while their husbands and fathers bitched and moaned without cease. Could not  begin to explain it.   

As for my 30 day hospital stay at the end of all of the above , the less said the better. The one thing it permanently  cured me of was  broadcast television, but particularly  daytime.  It was on 24/7 , mostly I think to distract the nurses and aides  from the sight of me, but also to assure viewers that how bad we think our lives are , they  could be far worse. Show after show with morbidly obese  women complaining how they don’t understand how they  can’t get laid or, worse, getting makeup tips. Real-life crime shows with cops arresting the stupidest people on earth running on and on , endlessly until my real-life release and real-life reality check …

 I was 55 pounds thinner, unable to drink water,  eat or swallow  food except through a feeding tube  inserted in my stomach and unable to stand for longer than 5 minutes , much less walk . I  had a radiation  burned neck that looked like a side of  rare roast beef , no hair below my nose, and an odd,  wobbly pouch below my chin that altered my expression  such that if I attempted to smile  I looked like  Mitch McConnell trying to regain his composure after inserting a humorous Magic Shop  exploding suppository.  And last but not least  –ta, da—I now had  the piece de resistance  :  A  Black Dick  

The good news was movie offers began pouring  in to play  a body exhumed  by a forensics team . And,  New York State  sent my Black Dick  an absentee voter’s ballot, presumably on news of its death  And finally , modesty aside…

I was awarded the coveted Patient We’d Like To Kill With Our Bare Hands Lifetime Achievement Award by an unheard of  100% vote by the  Academy Of Attending Doctors , Nurses and Bed Pan Emptiers. In truth, I had an inkling I was on track for the honor  when I was transferred to a private room and the nursing staff was replaced by Security Guards.  Still, I managed  to act surprised at the honor :  in a lopsided Mitch McConnell smiley face  sort of way.

But physical and mental debilitation and honors aside –and after a 2 hour  PET scan — I was one month later conditionally , and a month after that officially  declared Cured Of Cancer  

As a kid no one ever confused me with Tom Sawyer : Eagle Scout. And now that I’ve reached an age best  described as  “playing in overtime” I’m hardly Jolly Old  St. Nick . But there is something about being told you’re cured of cancer that may have made me a Big Picture Guy—as opposed to The Impatient Guy –“If the fucking Uber doesn’t get here in ten minutes I am knifing myself to death ! And that’s Final! ” Or as the No Picture Guy which is how I thought of myself 16 months prior .

  As it happens , I was once again finishing Anna Karenina , but this time , because my mind  was only just recovering , slow reading  the  brilliant Richard Peavar / Lorena V translation.  if it isn’t the greatest novel of all time according to critical  consensus it should be , but ultimately who cares . Great books demand  our full capacities and the  greatest  ones move the whole soul .  After Anna –Spoiler Alert ! – jumps under a train to kill herself because she is  spoiled ,  stupid , manic and vain , Tolstoy continues  with Levin, the true hero of the novel. I actually  believe the novel should have been called Konstantin (Kostya) Nicholai Dmitri Levin or simply  Levin instead of Anna K , but the marketing people wanted a half draped woman with Whore! In bold type below  for the cover.  In any case, his upper class  farmer/nobleman –obviously Tolstoy’s stand in—grows  from embittered younger brother to a  forgiving father figure,  changing  from jilted lover to happily married but jealous husband, from hating the land and despising the peasants to respecting  the work and sweat of  growing on the land  and identifying with all who share his love and enthusiasm . But Levin can’t believe in God , can’t even pretend to be a believer to make his wife Kitty, the love of his life,  happy.  Then , like Saul on the road to Damascus, returning from fields he has a stunning vision : the human race is not a  bunch of fools with individual souls, we all belong to one soul. And that’s God .

Please understand , I am not suggesting I suddenly have Big Picture  bullet –proof karma or achieved anything near a state of Nirvana, but I understand for the first time how  I too often dismissed it or  missed perceiving  it in others over the long travail. I now realize I  saw  it in my always upbeat primary doctor, the surgeon who diagnosed me, in the chemo nurses and radiation  technicians who never failed to put patient comfort first and absolutely forced themselves to  stay cheerful and caring in spite of demanding , dying patients in agonizing need. Even , my stern and stiff headmistress like oncologist turned out to have a mordant, wicked sense of humor in the end .Against all odds , that turned out also to be true of the surgeon who turned my dick black and the speech therapist who seemed to  doubt my sanity –well , one of us is definitely crazy  They all understand we  are all one soul because , as the Episcopalian’s say at the graveside, “in the midst of life we are in death.”

         

 

 

William Benson Huber

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