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....I stared at the Consultant blankly, showing no emotion because his words had frozen my comprehension . Then, thinking that I should respond somehow, my face assumed a small rictus of a grin, contrasting with his professional gravity. He moved a little more towards me, perhaps he took my expression for bravado.
Give me an hour and I'll have a hundred, but now, a shake of the grinning head will do. If you can't take the information on board at all, how can you ask any questions? The best questions are rehearsed well in advance, but you need to see the script beforehand to do that.
The gradual filtering into the brain of the information takes time, then, when it's firmly ensconced, the clever brain sends it from store, to the comprehension department, which starts flashing it up in neon before the inner eye. The owning up and opening up the reality to yourself takes even more time. Only you can tell yourself with no equivocation that you've got cancer, so that you know. When the fact gets through it's not a slamming thing, it has lost it's cutting edge. Perhaps nature has, by yet another masterstroke, deliberately fitted that buffer store. So the words you speak to yourself are by now, not angry. More pathetic things like, 'This is likely to be a nuisance.' No forehead slapping invective, perhaps a quiet ' 'Blimey.' At most, 'Bugger it.' So now you know. How do you pass it on? The information I mean, not the cancer, unfortunately it seems our genes pass that on, togetherwith the blue eyes, and big feet.
Who should know? How do you tell them? It would be better if no-one needed to know. No-one needed to be told.
From diagnosis, therefore, it might be a good option if the shutters came down in the hospital room and you didn't go home for your pyjamas, even if you had any. You have vanished. All enquiries are referred to the Hospital Stonewaller who is specially trained in deadpan repetition of the phrase. 'We haven't seen him, he didn't come here.' He does this until everyone but him is tired out. Another option is the euphemism. 'He's gone on a World Cruise.' everyone can play along optimistically with that ruse if they wish, if they don't like it, back to the Stonewaller.
The World Cruise is a fictitious cruise ship, twelve weeks around the world, no contact, no postcards. It would be a known charade but the effect would still work if everybody maintained the pretence. You could be 'Lost overboard in the Indian Ocean.' i.e. Dead. 'Stopping over a while in New Zealand.' i.e. taking longer to recover than thought..
The euphemistic cruise liner is not practical, far from it, but it would remove a real problem which can be stated as the following proposition…….
'The strain of being ill is worse because of other people.' Sorry to say it indeed, and the last thing anyone wants to do is aggravate the situation, but read on.
The change to the sufferer is like a transformation to a different tribe. Of a sudden the Cancer-Bar is seen. We look at other people as 'Normals' and ourselves, though we can't identify all our fellows, as the Midwich Cuckoos of Carcinoma and immediately subject to unwitting discrimination. Like colour-bar, no doubt this effect is most often only in our perception, and not even thought of by the 'others' But 'in the perception' is good enough, and the discrimination we perceive, though invariably well meant, is different treatment to that which we would normally expect. It's easy enough to translate a new sympathetic consideration into pitying patronisation. It is the different treatment that causes this Cancer-Bar. It will probably be much better treatment than normal. Better is worse in this case. The shame is that this different interaction is actually concern, worry, sympathy and all the best outpourings of compassionate family and friends. These poor 'others' can't help it, their crime is concern. To receive their tenderness is a constant reminder of abnormality, and what is worse, taint.
The 'others' are in an impossible position. They can't help it, and we are all others at some time or other and make no better job of it than they, unless we've been there ourselves. The Cancer Club teaches some skills in interacting with a new member. I'll give these tips in the later chapter headed. 'I don't know'
People take on a different aspect, not looked at as familiars or strangers, but as the 'fits' and the 'sames'. The 'same as me's' that is. The 'fits' are viewed with a mixture of envy and pity. The envy is obvious but the pity is a odd one, we are in a one-sided fight, like one of 'the few' with a brave chance in the sky. We also have a fight on our hands, we pity those that aren't given this chance to prove themselves in a battle. The 'same as me's' are tentatively guessed at. The guessing encompasses the the limpers, the grey faced, the thin, all are candidates for our club. What got? Where got? How long? Among the 'fits' there is a relative fitness. Same with us, there's a relative Cancerousness.
Me and my cancer know how we feel. We feel guilty for having it first of all. It lets people down. It throws spanners in works, It changes personal communication. It may, probably will, eventually cause grief. Not very nice things to do to quite a lot of other people. Similar perhaps to being discovered and locked up as a seedy criminal.
It's a negative focus when you've got it. Sick celebrity. Everybody's looking at you because you have cancer, or you think they are. It is better to not be specially focussed on at all. Being ignored can be better than having someone angry on your behalf for example, or wanting to know what Dr X said or Consultant Y, when you don't know yourself and what difference does it make anyway. The temptation is to do as Pip did to Mr Pumblechook and invent. You have to adjust your bulletins to the particular recipient. Some want it from Grays Anatomy, some as Janet and John. The diagnosis is often disbelieved (to please you) by people with no medical training at all, and by others, with no more expertise, confirmed as correct with knowing confirmatory slow nods of the head.. Some can go further and elaborate on it as if they were scrubbed up and in a light green gown and hat themselves. There are many reactions, the wincers, the handpatters, the expellers of breath., headshakers, and worst of all, though sincere, the nearly criers. The different emotional make-up of everyone, the others, makes for the varied response and though crying never butters any parsnips any 'other' has a right to do it if they want to.
The object of special attention, is receiving special attention just when he doesn't want it, when he's looking terrible, when he can't go away. When he's just dull and frustrated. We don't look at ourselves as much as others look at us because we are not in our line of vision. One of the most important things in our lives is, we want to look good, or as good as we may by the arbitrary dishing out of natures stamp. So just being looked at when we are not in our prime condition and having a bad hair day all over is bad therapy. But we can't have a bag over the head and the leg and the belly, or all over. So what does the looker do? Not look? Lie? Laugh? They are in a difficult position and I know it.
What should others say?........They could say. 'Jeez I'm glad I haven't got that.' But that's insensitive, so what's sensitive?......'You don't look too bad.' Up comes the tainted's ego and say's. 'Whatdya mean, not too bad? Don't I look good any more?' The answer to that is of course. 'Well no, you don't look good anymore.'
Before we run the gamut of these reactions, and reluctantly admitting the impractability of the 'World Cruise.' We have got to tell these others about the cancer.
There are many ways of doing it, depending on the receiver of the news. Many choices.
The light-hearted if not downright joking revelation…..
What begins with C and makes your hair fall out?'
The by-the-way… 'Oh, I just better mention I've got a bit of that cancer thing.'
The ultra serious…. ' Sit down please because I've got to tell you something about my health and you may be very shocked.'
The hysterical...'Ha bloody Ha. I've got Cancer. Thank-you and Goodnight.'
The partly lying minimisation.
'We don't know, but it might be a slight cancer.'
The inability to say the word..
'Its Big C. It's the bad thing. It's......you know...er..er...a lump.'
The Mr Jingle.
'Bad thing, very. Might go, never mind. Bad rubbish, good riddance.'
This Readers Digest Essay goes on from here to .... Defiance (long paragraph about positiveness, optimism.)
Then Doubt......(even longer paragraph about realism, pessimism, fate )
The nurse held my hand and talked, holding my attention as well, as the gowned anaesthetist touched a hypodermic receiver that had already been put in the back of my left hand. I was sure I would be aware of sensations as anaesthetic took effect. There must be a gradual loosening of awareness before oblivion? a mist perhaps? blurring? heavy eyelids? something? There was nothing, I was out of where I was, into where I knew not, with no transition.
...........green? Under water? Upright manatee with a green waxy face, moving slowly about.......Ah......a few seconds only to put together the pieces, Alive. Hospital. The time warp of anaesthesia is over. The manatee is a nurse with a pen torch held in her mouth adjusting equipment round my bed. Soundless and slow, slow motion under water.......always that torch in her mouth. Then daylight and the pain starts...........etc etc