As soon as I answered the phone and heard the doctor’s voice, I knew what the verdict was before he actually said it. Blah blah cancer blah blah. I’m sure they hate these phone calls, so I let him off very easy and said “OK thanks I’ll get back to you”. I hung up and went to tell The Primary Wife. Ten minutes later, I’m on the road to Lexington so I could tell my son in person. She would let Cricket know later when she got home from work. My plan was to tell no one else. For awhile, that was okay.
I’m a private person. I wasn’t always this way, in fact I was in my youth, a sharer. Possibly an over-sharer, despite not having the Book of Faces to assist. In those days, long conversations
the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words.
was in person or via the analog telephone, at first moored to a table, later, with 1000 ft cords that after the first use would coil up like starving python, and if you weren’t of firm grip, could rip the phone from your hand. These days, it seems like any information can be easily weaponized and I for one cannot understand how we got to this place as a species. Anyway…I haz cancer.
So last Spring I was shaving and noticed a lump on my neck, in my lymph node area. I immediately sprung into action and began a vigorous “ignore it and it will go away” campaign. I mean, I felt fine, great even, strong, sleek, wrapped in skin that belied my years…a mini God. This, despite having a forty year addiction to alcohol and cigarettes. (there is some irony here I’ll explain later) The lump did not hurt, nor did it seem inclined to go away like any good guest knows to do. I finally decided to wander into our local clinic, a drab, dreary and humorless place but they take our co-pay and I can walk there. They prescribed a round of antibiotics. Not wild about antibiotics, after all, they are not to be taken with alcohol (I audibly gasped when I learned this) and they have a tendency to turn your colon into a thousand foot phone cord only filled with cement. But I was relieved to hear this would fix it. I dutifully took them while avoiding
all most some alcohol. The lump laughed this off and actually began mocking me while I shaved, at first by growing larger, later, when it thought it needed more of my attention, it would ripple gently and turn various pastel shades. Back to the clinic and another co-pay. The doctor, serious and stoic, consulted his book of medicine, conferenced with a pricey specialist and came up with a pretty ballsy plan: ANOTHER round of antibiotics, this time turned to 11. I didn’t poop for ten days. Kinda liberating, actually, but I got behind (get it?) a little on my reading. By this time, my lump became self aware and had a Twitter account. The second round did nothing at all. The clinic doctor took my face in his cold yet weirdly soft, attractive hands, looked me in the eye and said ‘I don’t like this, I’m sending you to a ENT. I said ok, and before I left I paid for services rendered and then asked the cashier what an ENT was. Turns out there is this whole subset of doctors who could only afford to go to the part of medical school that covers the ears, nose and throat. I mean yes that’s like a third of the body, but still. So off to Springfield and another copay.
I could write like eleven paragraphs about the process there, but I’ll sum it up by saying that they really like to administer cat scans. Sometimes they just strap you in and go for it, other times they inject wheel mixed acrylic paint into your bloodstream. They really like their machines, and at 55,000 dollars a pop, who wouldn’t? Eventually, a highly trained dedicated scientist made the diagnosis… “Mr. Casares, I’m afraid you have a lump.”
I’m as serious as, well, cancer.
Next on the menu was a biopsy. Another IV catheter, some sweet drugs to relax me, and I swear to god some Jimmy Buffet music, and then they show you the piece de resistance. It’s a needle, roughly the size of a school bus. The radiologist hits the resin bag, grabs it with both hands, dons a pair of welders goggles and plunges it into my neck like he’s killing a White Walker. When they finished, they thanked me for stopping my screaming and informed me they would notify me of the results in about a week. A week???!!! I was unable to grasp the notion that there would be a team of lump specialists in the next room, armed with potions and flasks and microscopes that would know the result before they stopped the bleeding from my neck. That, it turns out, is not how modern hospitals work. They actually farm this process out to the lowest bidder. So, somewhere in West Texas, Armando the tech is processing my beloved lump tissue while playing Fortnight on his desktop. (His tablet lacks the processing speed)
Then you get the call.
The doctor on the phone explained that I had HPV related cancer. By now I was getting tired of using the Google or asking cashiers what the hell stuff means, so I pressed him for a better explanation. It called Human Papillomavirus. Now, that, for most people would be difficult to pronounce, but since I used to work at a french restaurant called Pamplemousse I immediately knew I had grapefruit cancer. So, I promised a a little irony, and here it is…As I admitted to upthread, I have had a long, passionate affair with both alcohol and cigarettes for over forty years. I’d start my day with a Marlboro and and a cup of Maxwell house coffee. I mean, Folgers is good and everything, but it costs more and well it’s hot, it’s brown, and deeply satisfying, much like myself. Anyway, I’ve never been a day drinker, but come five o’clock I’m clutching a martini and cooking enough food for my screaming brats to keep the child services people from showing up. Pretty much every day. In my past, I owned a successful bar/restaurant/venue and I believe I drank a bit there. Now, in my defense, I’ll say that I am a hard worker and I’m in bed by dark:45. I’m old enough to know that the only people who stay up after midnight are serial killers, vampires and juggalos. (There is a surprising amount of overlap among those demographics) I also exercise and I play a sport regularly. I am routinely told I do not look my age. So, I actually had to stifle a laugh when the doctor told me this particular cancer has nothing to do with my habits, good or bad.
Bottom line? Death in six months unless I permit them to nuke me for six weeks, as well as inject Agent Orange into my bloodstream on a weekly basis. It took me a minute to decide. Today I’m about 1/3 of the way through the treatment. One note, with little more delicious irony: I’m in the demographic least likely to get this disease….Hispanics. Anyway, I will say this, roughly 80 percent of the adult population has been exposed. A tiny fraction of people will have the virus mutate, and an even smaller amount will have it manifest to cancer. I KNEW I should have listened to more mariachi music!
More tomorrow. Or the next day.