(Note: the following is an excerpt from my debut novel, Canswer. It is a work of fiction and based on no one of any note. It is a comedy about death and how society deals with it. It is available as an ebook from Amazon.)
From what I can tell so far, the only difference between the Oncologist and my regular doctor is the thickness of the cushions in the chairs. My ass sinks into the chestnut-coloured plush leather seat as I wait for Doctor McNabb to look up from the rather large folder that sits before him on his desk. The folder itself is telephone directory thick – an ominous sign when it’s your name printed on the front of it.
Dylan Thomas Higgins. DOB: 15/04/1977.
The sum total of my existence is now condensed into lab reports and medical hyperbole. Brilliant.
Doctor McNabb looks at me, finally, with a distinct sense of poorly restrained pity that depresses me instantly. He would appear to be in his mid-to-late forties and his silver locks are thinning at the crown and temples. He has charcoal dark eyebrows that are thick enough to get a comb through. They join at the middle, though only if you really focus on the area. Strands like the tentacles of a frenzied squid fan from his nostrils. They dance in perfect synchronicity with the oscillations of the air conditioning unit behind him. No wedding band. Divorced, possibly. Never married, more likely. I suspect if he had a significant other, they would’ve alerted him to the nose fern and made him tend to it on a regular basis. He has sad, kind eyes and I feel unusually at ease in his presence, despite his chosen profession.
“So,” I start nervously. “What are we dealing with here? My GP says I have six months at best.”
Doctor McNabb pauses for thought and clears his throat. “Well Dylan, it isn’t great news as you know.”
“Unfortunately,” he says, his nose hair quivering. “The cancer has spread to the bones and metastasized. I personally feel that six months is a rather pessimistic view, and with all due respect to Doctor Van Horn, he is in no position to make such a judgment without all the salient facts at hand. I feel that with a treatment program suited to your needs, a review of your lifestyle choices and a positive outlook, you could very easily make another two, possibly even three years.”
“Treatment?” I ask.
“Radiation therapy,” Doctor McNabb explains. “Chemotherapy.”
“The cancer can’t be surgically removed?”
“I’m afraid not, Dylan,” he replies. “It’s in your bones now. Surgery would be pointless and ineffective, not to mention potentially fatal, given your current condition.”
I exhale deeply. “So I’m essentially fucked then.”
The doctor’s gaze lowers as he shifts in his chair. “You are dying, Mister Higgins – there’s no getting around that. But although your cancer is at an inoperable stage, it is by no means untreatable. Our aim is to make the process as pain-free as possible for you.”
I rest my chin on the palm of my hand. This visit has sapped me of my strength. It has more the rehearsed feel of an infomercial than a medical appointment. “How much is the treatment?”
“Are you privately insured?”
I shake my head; he Jekyll and Hyde’s instantly from warm and helpful to stoic and clinical. “It’s twenty-five thousand up front, from there we can tailor an installment plan to fit your budget.”
I chuckle at this because if I don’t I might break down instead. “This cancer racket is big business, huh?”
“We save lives, Mister Higgins.” Doctor McNabb says defensively. “You can’t possibly put a price on good health.”
“What if I choose to not have the treatment?” I ask, folding my arms. “What then?”
“We certainly can’t force it on you,” Doctor McNabb replies. “But I would strongly recommend you at least consider it. I’ve seen firsthand the effects of the patients that forgo treatment and it’s never pleasant. By all accounts, it’s a profoundly painful and humiliating way to die.”
And it’s at this very moment that I’m struck by the grim reality of the situation. I am dying. Before, they were just words that sounded appropriately dramatic but weren’t grounded in a reality that I felt connected to. Now, I’m tethered to the heavy anchor that is my terminal malignancy and I’m sinking fast.
Mum died from cancer three years ago after a long battle with the disease. She blindly followed every order from her doctor, swallowed every pill she was prescribed, took every test she was required to undergo. She put her faith in medicine and died anyway. I definitely would not describe her death as pain-free. Far fucking from it. I was there.
The way I see things, my fate is sealed. I can have two years of morphine drips, vomiting, nausea, hair coming out in clumps, bedpans, dark and poorly ventilated rooms with a death stench and finally laying around, just waiting to expire.
Or I can choose to actually live what’s rest of my life instead of being so consumed by fear and panic all the time.