Looking for dignity in the fight against cancer.
I have a bedpan to my right, a vomiting bowl to the left; I am securely wrapped in three blankets. The IV drug button is within easy reach. There’s a tube up my cock so I don’t even have to move to piss. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Plus I’m having awesome half-awake hallucinations. Like the one where I’m an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and I carry out a full-scale Passion of the Christ-style Stations of the Cross reenactment on the borders of Catholic areas, just to piss people off.
They move me. In this new ward I have my very own gunshot-to-the face victim in the bed next door and a great view of what appears to be an utterly dysfunctional extended family alternately hugging, punching, slapping, abusing, mocking, throwing babies at and consoling each other in the visitors’ waiting room across the courtyard.
The dude in the bed next to me speaks through a shattered jaw, a fog of drugs and what must be incredible pain. He tells me he dreams he’s on the dance floor of New York’s era-defining ’70s disco Studio 54, strutting his funky stuff to Philly soul classics. The cops never found the bullet. He reckons he must have spit it out, “like Mighty Mouse.” The guy has so many friends and so much family, every visiting session turns into a party.
By the time this paper hits the streets I’m sure to be getting more treatment—my dignity intact (if totally redefined), my aloofness totally shattered. I’ve spent much of the time in between seeing specialists. One of them said: “Cancer is just cells that have forgotten how to die.”
How cute. According to some scientists, humans might be mere decades away from achieving some form of immortality. Meantime, we’ve given so many diseases a damn good kicking that cancer’s become the biggest bomb in death’s utility belt.
Which is maybe just as well. Can you imagine the damage we’d do to this planet if we became the species that forgot how to die? Go cancer. Kill humans. Yay. Just not me or anybody I (or you) know, at least not yet.
Okay, you fucked-up little mutant?
A man gets lost in the Philadelphia health system "What is this, fucking Kafka?" and lives to tell about it. By Steven Wells firstname.lastname@example.org Illustrations by Jim Campbell --> I'm writing...
Our friend and colleague Steven Wells died two years ago today of the cancer he had documented so well in two cover stories for Philadelphia Weekly. On June 14, he submitted this column.