Yesterday I didn’t have cancer.
Today I have cancer
II know that’s not really how it is. But that is how it seems. How long have I been walking around with it without knowing? A few weeks? a year? I have no idea. But what you don’t know can’t hurt you can it? If it wasn’t for a weird set of circumstances and accidents that I won’t go into now, I still wouldn’t know. I’d still be walking around, happy and healthy. Blissfully unaware if a dark little secret hidden deep inside of me.
So now I have cancer. And it’s not a good one. Not that any cancer is good, but frankly I’d have been happier with a melanoma – they’re very popular in New Zealand. Or even a testicle – at least with a ball there’s an element of built in redundancy.
It’s in the esophagus if you want to know. My esophagus to be specific.For those who weren’t paying attention in biology class, that’s the pipe that connects your throat to your stomach. I discovered all this yesterday, having been summoned to the hospital to see a gastroenterologist called Mark at 10am. The pa who rang me seemed very concerned that I should bring my partner with me. I knew that wasn’t good.
Like most people with a vigorous imagination, I had already played this scenario in my head many times over the years. You know. The “Give it to me straight Doc. How long have i got?” scene. Except in my mind’s eye – as in the movies – it all happens in an oak lined consulting room, with bookcases and leather and gilt framed certificates on the wall.
The reality of course was nothing like that. My personal big scene played out in a nondescript grey room off a green linoleum corridor somewhere in the bowels of the rear end Auckland Hospital – where else would you put the Gastro Unit?
Dr. Lane looked the part however. Spectacles and a reassuring grey beard, and short sleeved green surgical scrubs. All business. And he’s a professor. It said so on his card. After the brief exchange of pleasantries and introductions, Professor Lane said “You’ve got cancer of the esophagus Lindsey.” Blimey” I thought. “Don’t beat about the bush!” I didn’t even get the chance to say “Give it to me straight Doc.”
The Proff. then went on so say that that was probably the only thing I would remember from that meeting, and he was largely right. Jo scribbles copious notes as he talked, and showed us some pictures of my cancer – which to my untrained eye just looked like any other picture of random pink insides. He then drew a crude diagram on his notepad in blue biro. a vertical tube leading down to a kidney shaped blob. “That’s your stomach” he said stabbing it with the biro. Then using the pen as a scalpel he made two expert incisions with a well practiced flick of the wrist, one at the top of the tube, the other beneath the stomach. It’s called a Barnes-Catmur operation he said knowingly over his spectacles. I eyed a wooden outline of a torso on the wall behind the Prof.attached to it was a pink and blue plastic model of the human digestive system from mouth to anus. The big pink stomach was right in the middle, nestling on top of an untidy bundle of intestines.
My biology lessons all came flooding back. I think I might have said “Fuck me.”
Today I have cancer.