[If you have not yet read Part Un, it’s over here.]
I spend several weeks in the hospital, culminating in a scheduled major surgery being postponed minutes before the operation, as it is deemed too risky at the time. Discharged and sent home, I am left to begin work on shrinking my malignant gastrointestinal stromal tumour Hazel with chemical therapy, along with growing my pre-malignant unnamed stomach through endless gorging.
My accurate prediction from months earlier that I have cancer, relayed to my now-dumbfounded family doctor, is not quite as satisfying as you might think, as far as predictions go. I continuously deflect the recurring idea that I would be better off had I been more forceful with my paranoid assertion that I was already with disease.
What I have is a rare form of cancer known as a sarcoma. When people hear that it’s rare, there’s an assumption it also means terrible, but this isn’t the case. I have a rare form of cancer that, according to Jim, seems to have a fairly effective cure.
During the initial meeting with my oncologist, I am told that I will be undergoing a relatively mild form of chemotherapy called imatinib for the next three years, during which time I can’t drink alcohol and also a bunch of other stupid things. She informs me that in case I am ever considering biologically fathering a child, I must first freeze a few mini mes, as the drug may render me sterile or only able to produce a – how should I put this – less than desirable child. The instinctual requirement that my child share my genetics is not very strong in me, especially now that the cancer trait is featuring so prominently in my life. However, in case I change my mind about that, and because it’s something I’ve never done before, I agree to deposit a sample of my Ys to a relevant bank in order to diversify my sperm portfolio before I begin the medication.
[Editor’s note: The section has been redacted for obvious reasons. If you are legitimately curious about the experience and do not have the capacity for being offended, please comment below and we may send it to you.]
A few days later, the clinic calls me to relay the information that my little buddies are no Michael Phelpses, or even Eric Moussambanis, and I’m functionally impotent. I am the end of my line. Oh well. Anyway, as we all recently learned what I’ve known for years, it’s probably for the best that my flawed concoction of DNA dies with me.
Besides the unrepentant execution of potential babies, this imatinib has several other unfavourable side effects, which are mostly included in the following actual verbatim conversation with my physician:
[Editor’s note: This section has also been redacted, this time due to immature themes. If you would still like to read the fictional dialogue, after my warning that it’s not as funny as the author believes it to be and isn’t worth anyone’s time, you will need to click here and type the password “someregets”, which is what the author should have for having included it at all.]
Another adverse consequence of the imatinibic drug is that it makes my skin much more susceptible to the UV rays, and so I’ve been advised to always wear piles of SPFs as well as some type of head covering. I’ve been in various stages of balding since my early 20s, which I’ve accepted with very little alteration to my confidence or caring levels. I am now a bald man who refuses to hide from this, and as such I rarely wear hats, in case others interpret its place on my head as a symbol of shame. However, for protection and on a doctor’s order, I purchase a Four Winds cap that doesn’t obviously accentuate my elven ears. Under an hour later I am at the post office picking up a package. As I approach the counter, the clerk asks me for my ID. He does a double-take at the photo and then alludes to the possibility that I am different from the man on the license. I remove my new hat to prove him wrong, which he takes as a cue to impart a little wisdom on me. “You know, when I was 25 I started losing my hair, and I was so worried. Now I finally know, that I’m the best. You don’t have to cover up your head with a hat.” Thank you for your concern, I mumble as I slump away, eventually returning minutes later to collect my forgotten item.
During February, I had intended on making an album for the 2016 RPM Challenge, but the project got derailed by these intervening matters. Eventually, sometime in April, I get around to making an album loosely based on my diagnosis. “Kimo” and “Faux.chemaux” being initial frontrunners for the title, I eventually settle on “Tumours” because I want to see how I’d look as the guy on the cover of Rumours with the dangling balls. If pressed, I would say something along the lines of “not bad”.
My cancer often comes up naturally in conversation, and when some people hear it for the first time and they can be mad that I hadn’t already told them. The likely reason I didn’t is that soon after diagnosis, I called one of my good friends back home to telling her about Hazel, and it was an unnecessarily awkward exchange. So after I hung up I said out loud to no one, “Well, I’m not doing that again” and haven’t since made a specific point to tell anyone what condition my condition is in.
However, I do enjoy trying out a related tactic I call the ol’ cancer bait and switch. I assume a few people I run into will have heard about the cancer through various grapewines and will bring it up. So in this situation I outright deny having the c-word and act genuinely shocked at how they could have heard that. They’d tell other people it wasn’t true, and then a bunch of people would get confused. That might be fun, as far as fun goes.
One of my friends tries very hard to get me to look on the bright side, but unfortunately he rarely makes sense. “Well anyways, look at me, I have as much hair as I ever did! Haha! Can’t get much balder than this on chemo, eh! Haha! I can’t drink because… I’m pregnant. Also I have cancer.” See what I mean?
There is one thing I’ve learned about myself through this ordeal, according to other people anyway. As it turns out, I’m quite brave. All it took was getting a tumour. At first I didn’t agree with them, but now I guess I have to be brave, *sniffs* for my family, my friends, and so that people have someone to shave for. To that end, I acknowledge I’m brave, even if soon I’ll have no guts.
Oddly enough, I’ve also been told repeatedly how lucky I am, by doctors and other people who have no idea what they’re talking about.
“You’re lucky it’s only a sarcoma.”
“You’re lucky you’re young.”
“You’re lucky you have insurance.”
You’re lucky I don’t whip you on the upside for calling me lucky. Instead of relying solely on luck and science to make it through this, I invent the internet term #fuckcancer because I find that powerful hashtags are effective cures for people in my situation.
In June, my friend moves from Vancouver to Toronto and would like for her Toyota Yaris to also get there somehow. Imagining a One Week scenario in which I have meaningful, life-affirming run-ins with Gord Downie and Joel Plaskett, I volunteer to drive YarYar across the better part of the country. The six days on the open road involves repetitive highway fast food restaurants, “best coffee in town” lies, empty fuel tanks, and a foot thing you’ll hear more about in a second. It was also pretty great, even if Gord and Joel were replaced by an elderly Greek couple.
Until this point I haven’t really mentioned the primary side effect of the imatinib, mainly because it pretty much overshadows everything else about my situation. So in an effort to keep this here post relatively light, I will direct you to a different page if you want to read solely about chronic pain.
In July, our cat Tuna, the third of her name, runs away. She jumps off the front patio onto the roof below, then jumps to the house next door, then jumps off, onto the ground below, forever. I put up posters and tromp around the neighbourhood calling her name and its variations for about a week, but I’m also on a foolish amount of opiates and can’t be sure that the world is real, much less a cat.
As a Tuna-less September rolls around, with it the relentless agony and functionless body I’ve come to know, all I want is a puppy to keep me company. Several years earlier, in between rounds at a sweat lodge on an indigenous reserve, I gazed up at the clouds and a happy golden dog stared back at me. I took this as a sign then, and finally I’m following through. The Saturday after I yell repeatedly about my desire to have a dog, we drive to Kelowna to pick up a baby duck toller. I want to name him Bellona, after the Roman goddess, because then his name would be Bologna. But as soon as I see him I understand that his name is, as Kelly already knew, Toast. Toast is the best.
Along with a new best friend, another positive coming from all of this is an influx of visitors, friends who wouldn’t normally travel all the way out west, who are presumably hoping to watch me wither away in person. I’m bedridden for several months, so my mother and father move up temporarily from St. John’s to help us out, fortunately (depending on who you ask) finding a place right downstairs. How many people in their thirties can say their parents are their closest neighbours? How many want to? I answer “me” to one of those questions. And I answer “it’s fine” to the other. They’re just about the best parents around, which is nice. They mostly leave me alone while they play Yahtzee, do cryptic crosswords, and take Toast for walks.
The surgery is set for February 28, within a week of a full year after my diagnosis. It’s also the last day for this new year’s RPM Challenge, so I illogically take the scheduled date as a sign that I’ll more than likely die and therefore should make an album throughout the month. Also during this time, Kelly and I take a short vacation to Los Angeles. For some unknown reason, my foot pain subsides during the trip. To my stupid brain, this respite is another indication I won’t be making it out of surgery.
While down there, I perform my first real attempt at stand up, a MUN Medical School fundraiser years earlier exempted for numerous reasons, at an open mic in the back of a comic book store in Hollywood. Because, well, I’ll probably actually die soon, so who gives a shit anymore and why not? The “set” appears to go well overall, but after listening to it later that I realize I’d neglected to say any punchlines. Although I distinctly recall hearing laughter, the jokes are admittedly not funny, but what do I care. I got bigger problems, hey b’y?
Two separate surgery teams are to perform the rather complicated eight-hour operation, so I meet with the two main surgeons to discuss what they’ll actually be doing with me. My presence seems unnecessary though, since I’ll be knocked out the entire time, so I suggest they could have had the meeting without me. Either way, the guy taking out the tumour is a good straight man to the one leading the stomach removal.
Gastro Doc: “Hopefully when we cut you open the tumour will be small enough that we can just lop it off.”
Cancer Doc: “Uhh, what he means is that the surgery is rather complicated yet there is a possibility that it is located in a favourable position, which will simplify the extraction process.”
Gastro Doc: “Lop it right off!”
My only two questions, “Can I keep any part of the tumour or stomach?” and “Can someone film it, or at least take a couple of pictures for me?” are each met with decisive “no”s.
I’d like to quote Armageddon as the reason I stop taking my pills a few days before the operation, but I can’t remember the exact wording and I don’t want to look it up in case I fall down an IMDB rabbit hole and I’m trying to focus damn it, but the line is something about remembering what there is to live for or something.
On the last day of February, I wake up at 4am to the reminder that I am required to drink a litre of clear, non-carbonated, non-water liquid before my surgery. I scour the house but cannot find anything fitting the description, so I run over to a nearby gas station. In the early morning haze, I order a large apple juice, drink it quickly, then make my way to Vancouver General Hospital to be sliced up and hopefully cured of cancer and also kind of hopefully not die.
[Editor’s note: The author claims that, in the last paragraph, the consecutive references to releases by Canadian artists Arcade Fire, Our Lady Peace and Feist are unintentional, but I don’t believe him, as is often the case. He’s also got to be pranking us when he insinuates a guy named Jim is his doctor.]
[Author’s note: If I’m still alive (which I am), Part III will follow shortly.]