Under a cloak of anonymity sleeps the cancer gene, comfortable and warm, buoyed up by normal, unsuspecting cells. Homeostasis. This gene, with its agenda, hijacks just one tiny micro-cell, corrupting it, quickening, dividing erratically to fulfill its intended purpose, to invade, conquer and kill – first cells, then the body, then souls of the of the loved ones it leaves in its wake. Its dirty mutational signature continues unchecked as it morphs into something exceedingly more sinister that may not be able to be excised from its unwilling host.
Eventually it becomes obvious that something is awry. Then come the doctors, hospitals, clinics, MRIs, PET and CT scans, multitudes of needles and tests and theories and educated guesses until a diagnosis is finally made and a treatment plan is developed and memorialized. Treatment then follows with surgeries, chemo, radiation, genomic and proton therapies (for the well-heeled patient) and hormonal remedies. These may prove futile. The side-effects from treatment are a scourge with vomiting and diarrhea. Thoughts of death with its relief are frequent. Treatment leaves the victim with blue-tinged skin, dark circles under sunken eyes, “chemo brain” and no hair.
Language is colored up for the cancer patient’s benefit. He’s “a fighter,” he’s “brave” and “fearless.” But these descriptive words are lies, a mirage, bestowing the patient with a sense of agency and control over what is well beyond his control. In truth, the cancer patient feels scared, not valiant. Friends of the cancer patient look for ways to support him. They buy bumper stickers that read “cancer sucks” and “fuck cancer.”
When treatment is finished, the patient is relieved. He begins to feel more human, and his hair grows back. Outsiders look on with admiration because the patient has beat the cancer. Remission lulls the patient into a sense of security. Children who have finished treatment get to “ring the bell,” while children in the waiting room listen in hope.
But cancer is a sleeping tiger waiting to pounce when the patient in remission has picked up his life and moved on. The relapse catches him off guard as he resumes treatment and all the hell that goes with it. His family is nonplussed and weeps in secret. The doctor tells the patient that relapses for his type of cancer are difficult to cure. The receptionist at the cancer clinic looks at him with pity. No one can bring himself to say the obvious, that the cancer is going to win. Mortality is a racehorse coming closer and closer.