Saturday, March 23, 2013
“Well,” said the The New Doctor, “bladder cancer can be fatal.”
Ah. There it is, the statement never openly made before, never really even hinted at. “We can take the bladder out,” he continued. “But that’s a serious change in quality of life.”
“No.” I’d given this some thought ever since being diagnosed more than a year-and-a-half ago. “No. I don’t want to do that.”
“Ok.” TND didn’t argue. “The thing is the tumor was very close to the entrance of the bladder and so it’s conceivable the cancer spread to the colon. I didn’t do a biopsy of the colon during your last surgery, so now we’re going to have to do that.”
Ah. More surgery.
“Let’s have you go through the scheduled BCG treatment for six weeks, starting Monday. Hopefully that’ll work. Then two-and-a-half months from now, we put you under and go in again.” So, chemo again.
This is not good. Five surgeries in 20 months, five times under full anesthesia, each time waking up with a catheter. I hate catheters. The last bout with the scalpel left me debilitated and five weeks later, I still have not recovered my energy. I also went through a two-week long post-surgical depression that bordered on the suicidal. A woman friend whose health history is far worse than mine told me it was the depression she feared the most, not the surgical procedures. Another friend, a man slightly older than me and far more accomplished, said he had questioned his entire life’s meaning and found it all wanting after an intervention to implant a Pacemaker. Strangely, at no time was I told by medical personnel that depression was a common side-effect of surgery though when I mentioned it to TND, he was unsurprised.
And then, there’s the fact that I’m old school. Being ill in those never-discussed nether regions is embarrassing. I don’t do urinary tract and intestinal stuff well; this is not the stuff genteel people discuss. Plus, my digestive structure and I had an understanding: Put relatively good stuff in it and it would not balk, nor need much attention paid to it. Now there’s something terribly wrong with the system; it’s failing me, betraying a never- stated trust. I’m shocked, angry, resentful. Eighteen months ago I was told this was a good cancer to have, if there is such a thing. It was non-invasive, easily treated; the original doctor had gotten all of it and after the second surgery called me on the phone to tell me I was cancer-free. Now I’m not.
Some decades ago when oncological surgery was messier and far more invasive than it is now, my father underwent an operation for colon cancer. For weeks he was forced to wear a colostomy bag and I saw the effect it had on him. He became a shadow of himself, abashed and embarrassed by his lessened stature, and even my mother found it hard to be as supportive as she should have been. My father recovered. The doctors stitched him up and within a few months he was almost his former self. Almost, but not quite. Something changed within; a terminal tiredness set in and the joys he was familiar with and could depend upon deserted him. I swore back then that I would never subject myself to wearing a waste-collecting bag, ever. There was no reason to think I would be put to the test.
Recently someone asked me how it felt, this invasion that ideally should happen only to others. It’s a worthwhile question that forced me to step away from the engulfing fear that wakes me in the middle of the night and that plays hide and seek with me most of the day.
What it feels like is all-encompassing. Its reality is everywhere, inescapable, the foreign presence in your home of an unpleasant guest who was never invited but somehow snuck into a basement bedroom. I might not feel the cellular invasion, but I know it’s there, blind and mindless but eager to spread. And then, for a while, if I’m engaged in a good book or conversation, when I’m writing, when I’m playing music with friends or walking in the woods, it goes away. Life returns to normal for minutes at a time, though rarely for as much as an hour. And then fear returns.
I suspect I’ll get over it, but right now, that’s what it feels like.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Lately I’ve been reading the death notices in the back of the Washington Post’s Metro section. Morbid? Well, perhaps, but interesting, too.
Death notices are paid for, unlike obituaries that are considered news by the paper, and generally written as such by lower level reporters. The notices are written in tiny type, measure a couple of inches across by three-or-so inches long. They almost always feature a small black and white photo of the deceased, and most of these are not flattering. In fact, many look as if someone at the funeral home arranged a smile and opened the eyes of the recently passed person, and then took a photo. The accompanying prose is always laudatory. A typical death notice might read: “Cornelius Squishblossom, beloved husband of Cora, father of sons Lee and Ray and of daughter Leona; grandfather of seven, and great-grandfather of 12, went to join the Lord and meet his Maker Tuesday morning. Mr. Squishblossom was active in the Elks, Lions, Moose, Otters and Rotarians, and delighted in wearing a red tasseled fez while driving a tiny car in Memorial Day parades. He will be remembered for his stewardship of the local library and his chairing of the community’s ‘Ban All Those Books’ campaign…”
Personally, I think the notices should skip all the codswallop and instead tell the truth. “Mr. Squishbossom was disliked by his current wife, detested by his ex-wife, and looked down upon by his neighbors for not maintaining his weed-infested yard. Business associates cited his multiple censures for inappropriate behavior in the office. His three children have moved to Canada, Laos and Montenegro, assumedly to put as much distance as possible between he and themselves. It is doubtful that they will attend the service in his honor, to be held at the Church of St. Exon at 11 a.m. tomorrow. In fact, Mr. Squishblossom’s survivors are at this very moment hosting a private party at Mac’s Bar & Grill to give thanks for his passing.”
For me, when it’s my time, I’d like a photo of someone other than myself to be displayed. If this tiny appearance is to be my last one, let me look better than I do in real life and leave others with the thought that, “Yes, we didn’t notice it so much when he was with us, but he does look remarkably like Al Pacino, except taller and with a bigger jaw.”
Also, I’d like there to be some fun facts about me. “He was the founder of the Pants for Pets movement, an offshoot of the now defunct Animal Decency League, which strived to clothe naked animals.” And since my accomplishments have not quite matched my expectations, I think it would be OK to embroider the truth a bit. “Mr. Sagnier, who was distantly related to the Marquis de Lafayette and to the Count of Monte Cristo, wrote a series of best-selling novels set in Byelorussia, notably The Bully of the Balkans, a fictionalized account of the life of Nikola Botev, who rose from being a simple beet farmer to fame as a bloodthirsty warlord.” Either that, or I would like to be ascribed authorship of the work of others. I will settle for John Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy although if this is already taken, you can give me any of Jean-Paul Sartre’s longer works since no one reads them anyway.
Somewhere in the announcement, I would like it to read, “He was wise enough not to have children or grandchildren, though he has maintained cordial if distant relations with a slew of nephews.
Lastly, I would like the notice to be like one of those novelty birthday cards that when you open up plays a little tune. In my case, it would be a song I wrote and recorded appropriately titled Say Goodnight. It’s available on iTune https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/say-goodnight/id259239754?i=259240339 for the ridiculously low price of 99¢ and you should download it to honor my memory.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Where I live in northern Virginia, a few miles from the Nation’s capital, is a vast, unincorporated tract of land called Tyson’s. The area was once farmland, and I assume Mr. Tyson and his family sold it piecemeal to developers for a goodly sum of money. Mr. Tyson apparently did not want to move too far from his ancestral grounds. He and his descendants are buried some two miles away in a nondescript cemetery adjacent to a used car lot.
Very few people actually live in Tyson’s. There are two monstrous malls—one for the middle class, the other for the moneyed and two lesser strip malls from an earlier time; a dozen or so new car dealerships; uncountable franchise restaurants and fast-food outlets; three Seven-Elevens; stores selling furniture to make your back better or decorate your windows; gas stations without mechanics; several gyms; a Best Buy side by side with a Toys R Us; a multiplex movie house with eight screens; army surplus stores; a Radio Shack and at least one sex toys emporium. In short, everything suburbanites might need, if not want. But there are no schools, police houses, parks, hospitals or fire stations in Tysons even as there are acres of parking lots and on- and off-ramps to superhighways, traffic lights galore and traffic islands one would think were designed to cause accidents. There are no neighborhoods and a dearth of sidewalks or even places where one can safely cross the street, though there will soon be three separate metro stations to bring in a take away Tyson’s workers.
And there are office buildings; it’s only recently that I noticed their proliferation. They are prefabricated of concrete slabs and plastic assembled relentlessly by giant cranes that spear the horizon. Many of these buildings, dating a decade or so, are already tenantless; the space they occupy adds to the impermeable surfaces that reject rainwater and drain into the rivers carrying tar-based chemicals and other detritus. I imagine these shells, empty of people and equipment, serve a financial purpose; they allow large real estate holders to declare them as losses so as to minimize state and federal taxes.
It struck me then that the thousands of workers toiling in these cheaply built dungeons produce nothing of any real or lasting value. What we have here—and everywhere in the country, I suspect—are massive structures devoted to shifting money from one business to another. This, more and more, is the commerce of America, a system devised to apportion money to a large segment of the population, with noted and accepted inequities that span the continuum—absurdly high pay for the shakers and movers at one end, state-sanctioned poverty on the other.
The more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed. There is no manufacturing in Tyson’s, no smokestacks, no mom and pop stores save the ubiquitous dry cleaner/small necessities shops found in the lobbies of office buildings and often run by industriously smiling Asian families. No one on the upper floors makes anything. There is money—millions upon millions daily—transferred electronically from one desk to another by a host of white-shirted and mostly Caucasian people whose salaries depend upon the tiny percentages they earn every time they stab an Enter key. Much like Sherman McCoy, the lead character in Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfires of Vanity, they survive on the crumbs of the cakes being passed around.
I wonder, in an idle sort of way, what that does to their psyche. We, as a species, are builders, tool users, makers of things to serve our families. In ages passed these things—houses, furniture, fields we had plowed and seeded, and other belongings—were passed from one generation to another. No more, I think, and this is unfortunate. Whatever is being accomplished in these office buildings is even more temporary than the structures themselves, and so inconsequential as to not be worthy of saving for a future generation.
That’s sad too.
Monday, March 11, 2013
A challenge for online authors is to find an eye-grabbing title that screams, “Read me!” And so writer friends and members of an informal group that meets monthly at my house rose to the task. Here are some ebook titles guaranteed to hit the bestsellers list.
The Porn Murders
Incest, All in the Family
Masters & Johnson, the Secret Files
Obama: The French Connection
How to Stop Paying Income Tax Forever and Run for President
Lose 20lbs in One Night While Watching TV
Eat Pork, Lose Weight
Companion volume: 30 sausage recipes that shed pounds
Fifty Shades of Mauve
Mary and the Mauser: An Illustrated Guide to Guns for Virgins
Brittney and Justin, A Love Story
Revealed at Last: The Secrets of the Rotarians
The Christian Gun Owners Guide: Using Scripture to Pick the Right Weapon
The Illustrated Guide to Guns that Jesus Would Have Owned
God Wants You to Be Fat: Biblically Sanctioned Obesity for Today’s Robust Believer
Jennifer Lawrence Wants to Talk Dirty With You and Other Secrets of Degenerate Hollywood Stars Who Date Really Boring Ordinary Guys
Candy Kills Cancer!: The Sweet Truth the Medical Industrial Complex Doesn’t Want You to Know
Aliens in My Soup: How Extraterrestrials Have Infiltrated Our Food Supply
All Sex, All Violence
One Cheap Thrill after Another
Nasty Nasty Nasty
Loose Women, Tight Prose
I Came, I Saw, I Surrendered
The Velcrovian Revolution
The Daylily Peril
Too Big to Bully
The Coupon Redemption
Poperazzi: The Decline of Religion and the Rise of the Pop Culture Pope
Tags:#Religion #Catholicism #GuiltandShame #Pedophilia #Hollywood #Masculinity #Homosexuality
Blowing It: An Oral History of the Presidency from Wooden Teeth to Bush
Tags: #Politics #Democracy #Sexuality #Erotica #Federalism #WorldAffairs
Adorable Kittens: 500 Pictures of Baby Cats
Tags: #Cats #Kittens #Sexuality #Erotica #Pedophilia
How to Make $10 Million a Year Watching TV
Tags: #Scams #Lies #Gullibility #Sloth #Lazy
10 Steps to a Perfect Life
Tags: #Scams #Lies #Gullibility #Sloth #Lazy
Love the One You Are: How to Stop Worrying and Realize You're Already Perfect
Tags: #Scams #Lies #Gullibility #Sloth #Lazy
Zombies, The Musical: Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Broadway Show That Never Was
Tags: #Zombies #Broadway #Musicals #Fiction #NonFiction
How to Write Bestselling Ebooks
Tags: #Writing #Publishing #Scams #Sloth #Laziness
Hacking Viagra: Four Hour Erections Are Only the Beginning
Tags: #Religion #Spirituality #Tantra #Priapism
The Beginners Guide to Cheating on Your Spouse
Tags: #Marriage #Religion #Selfish #Narcissism
Breaking the Bank: An Insiders Guide to Beating the Big Casinos
Tags: #Scam #Lies #IllegalActivity #Stupidity
Kill or Be Killed: The NRAs Guide to Daily Living
Tags: #Guns #Constitution #Freedom #Killing #Death