CANCER : NOT AS FUN AS I HOPED
“I am battling cancer, “ always seemed a fatuous boast. I’ve been sick before: no work, staying in bed, take drugs, bingeing movies, reading. What’s not to like? To melanin deficient, Y chromosome heterosexuals, the Victim Card is all too rarely dealt. But when it is, my creed has 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? Hogtied to an anthill for winking at Geronimo’s old lady? Watching thousands die very unpleasantly on streaming “entertainment” channels every day, Cancer seemed an almost civilized way to go. If played smartly, The Cancer Victim Card might land a leading role in multiple heart-rending deathbed 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, as I was to discover almost immediately, 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 (300 plus pounds with the disposition of a killer Rhino) to give you two Tylenol 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 PLAGUE 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? “
Exactly where and to whom was I to complain? I’d lost two friends who had been warehoused in Nursing Homes due to ‘Rona, 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 the 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-canceling secrets. He can get you in front of practically anybody in 15 minutes or less. And, better still, with a This Dummy Is Really Sick! seal of approval
In my mind’s eye, the ideal Surgeon/Diagnostician/Physician would look a bit 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 a Trappist Monk and the world’s greatest Ferrari mechanic.
Turns out, 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 everything.
Tip # 3: Shut up and Listen
When interviewing direct descendants of Hippocrates, it’s best not to try and impress him or her 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 really 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 since they know that medicine is not an exact science but an applied science and new breakthroughs come every hour That is, talking about it to patients who can do a reasonable impression of a person with an I.Q. above sleep is often an invaluable addition to a clinical understanding of pathologies. Talented doctors make patients feel as though they are part of the process –as it is in business, marriage, and life — because when we stop learning we surrender and die. The lazy and merely educated, especially the ones who flaunt their degrees, are often the most dogmatic and really should be doing something else, 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 for 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, and, of course, immediate funding from Congress is needed so the CDC can study the problem.
Sorry, Rochelle, if I don’t join the Gay Men’s Choir in a rousing rendition of “Don’t Cry For Me Gonorrhea.”
Since you seem to have missed it , Rochelle, MD MPH, you are now the appointed head of an organization that for two solid years restricted or prohibited “nonessential” medical care and lab testing –such as STD, Heart, and Cancer screenings. And with zero legal authority, also issued mandate after mandate causing unnecessary business closures, school closures, banning outdoor activities and millions losing health insurance due to job loss. It also managed to shut down all dissenting opinions by partnering with Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube 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 this 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 believes the CDC has become a punchline and Public Health is now synonymous with Orwellian Double Speak.
A major problem for anyone —like me, for example—who needed medical care for two plus years is that the Rochelle MD MPH / Dr. Fauci’s brand of “We’re Right, You Are Stupid + 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 which dare not be uttered, but fuck it: 60% of higher education graduates and 60% of new doctors are female, which also happens to be the only group in the country, according to multiple polls, who 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 this obscene China-style Cultural Revolution which has destroyed careers for little more than “threatening” body language or saying something “inappropriate.” In hospital environments, where protocols have gotten Draconian due to ’Rona, this tyranny of the militant minority commands attention far beyond their seniority or experience. As I was soon to find out :
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 that 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. This was absurd: she was pissed about something and didn’t want to work that day. The surgeon and my primary doctor – both cis-gendered-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 in doing so 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
The 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 Are patients allowed to put in a Hurt Feelings Report? no.
Tip # 4 : Research Your Cancer, Memorize The Acronyms
But Don’t Go On Social Media Looking For Advice. You will get plenty -mostly insincere and 99% nonsense.
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 30-day recovery period in the hospital. And by the way, he added, your tooth implants will have to be pulled before the radiation or your head will explode.
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?”
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 extreme 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 phony war.”
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—the land of Society matrons, Wall Street grandees, and Celebrity Lefties. As someone who never gets a decent restaurant table competing against A-listers and either ends up by the kitchen door or 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 staff. But third, and most of all, because I was actually able to talk myself into an apartment on an upper floor of the VA during treatments. Although I only intuited this at the outset: if I had had to travel to and from and be left to my own devices for up to 18 hours a day …it’s best not to imagine
On the first day at the radiation clinic, an ancient black man who looked like he’d just been released after a twenty-year stretch at Abu Ghraib sat across from me in the waiting room. In a deep gravelly voice, he told me he had just completed 12 weeks of head and neck radiation and chemo and he would not wish the same on a Nazi baby killer. He was forty-two years old
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.
The radiation team was comprised of three, always upbeat, 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 twenty minutes in the right spots. Owing to my comic gifts and native optimism I was able to keep everyone’s spirits aloft –including 4 guys who gathered each morning for prostate zapping—for almost a week. As my neck began glowing with what felt like the worst sunburn ever and I could no longer swallow, my mirthful repertoire turned a bit too sardonic for even an audience of the aforementioned Mongolia Grudge Fuckers 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 IVs 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 daily and sat mostly in silence while their husbands and fathers did their best to maintain the cranky old man stereotype. I could not begin to explain their forbearance.
As for my 30-day hospital stay after all of the above, the less said the better. Suffice it to say, I was tethered to a bed with IVs inserted into both arms with no respite from broadcast television. It was on 24/7. Show after show with morbidly obese women complaining how they don’t understand how they can’t get laid or, worse, getting or giving makeup tips. Real-life crime shows with cops arresting the stupidest people on earth. Quiz shows for dim wits. Pointing out to all who entered the room that this was ultraviolent droog Alex DeLarge deprogramming type torture, did no good. Nurse Pigface and the aides wanted it on –so that their lives didn’t seem so wretched? Anybody’s guess.
Finally, I was released and “Screeching Violins For Shower Knifings” stopped, only to be replaced by “Plaintive Saxophone Dirge for Assassins” coincidentally also written by Bernard Hermann for Taxi Driver
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 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 any facial expression I looked like Mitch McConnell after inserting a Joke 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, predictably New York State sent my Black Dick an absentee voter’s ballot even before the obituary announcement.
Ninety days after my hospital release, I was ordered back to drink barium and lie still in a buzzing, flashing, low-budget sci-fi-type tube for two hours. A week later I was told by my oncologist that despite my epic tantrums, death threats to staff (their families and pets), and her personal revulsion at the sight of me, she was required to deliver good news: You Are Cancer Free!
An endearing twinkle in her eye told me she also wanted to add “Now, Fuck Off !” Exactly the kind laugh-out-loud but non-verbal back and forth we both enjoyed over an admittedly stressful period.
As a kid, no one ever mistook me for Tom Sawyer: Eagle Scout. And now that I’ve reached an age gerontologist call “playing in overtime,” no one has ever been tempted to shout: Here Comes Jolly Old St Nick.
But there’s something about being told you’re cured of Cancer that may have turned me into more of a Big Picture Guy—as opposed to an Impatient “ No fucking Uber in ten seconds and I am officially killing myself ” kind of Guy. Or what I thought I was 16 months before A No Picture Guy.
As it happened, I was once again finishing the novel “Konstantin “Kostya” Dmitri Levin” which Leo Tolstoy was forced by his agent to call “Anna Karenina” because a cover with a half-naked vixen and a subtitle like ”Jizz Hound!” was more marketable. Spoiler Alert: Anna kills herself by jumping in front of a train because she is spoiled, stupid, manic, and a drug addict. To be honest, I was happy to see the bitch go. And I say that with real emotion because Tolstoy’s characters become so real you see them as friends, relatives — you actually can imagine them arguing with checkout people that the reason there are 35 names on their credit card is to confuse the KGB and novel readers. Great novels demand our full attention, the greatest ones move the whole soul –and in Tolstoy’s transformative work of art, the soul is what the main character is searching for. Levin is a nobleman farmer – obviously Tolstoy’s stand-in –who yearns to be a philosopher/ intellectual who is struggling to understand Reason and impart his knowledge to his countrymen before a revolution tears Russia apart. Levin adamantly cannot believe in God, that is until at the very end of the saga he has a Road To Damascus revelation which so stuns him the earth stops still and he has a vision Reason is not the answer, he realizes. Reason cannot explain or understand God. The human race is not comprised of individual souls, we are all one soul. And that’s God.
I am not sure Levin would include Nurse Pigface in his one soul universe if he got to know her, but he would certainly find evidence in support among the doctors, nurses, technicians, aides, and volunteers who tirelessly work in Cancer wards. They live according to the words the Episcopalians say at the graveside: “In the midst of life we are in death.”