“I’m sorry but your type of Cancer is not a match for the trial.” Doctor H. said. He read out a long number that began with a letter, I think it was R. Then he read out another long number. I just sat there, obviously disappointed that I wasn’t going to be on the new trial. “But your type,” he read out the number again, I’m not sure if it was the first number he had read, or the second, “has a better prognosis.” He snapped shut my folder. Every cloud has a silver lining. He clasped his hands in front of him and gave me a kind smile, “So we will start Chemotherapy until toxicity forces us to stop.”
I nodded. Not much you can really say to that. Surgery was out of the question, I was too far gone. They couldn’t do radiography, you guessed it, I was too far gone. I was more scared of not having chemotherapy than I was of what it would do to me. That, my lovelies, is the proverbial rock and a hard place, with me, wedged in between, trying to swim for my life as the world about me suddenly revealed it had sharp teeth and a shotgun for tonsils. Yes, I could have held my hand up, palm towards Doctor H. and declared I was going to beat it without Chemotherapy. I could have done that, but I didn’t. I was scared and I didn’t have the courage to fight it with just natural medicine and my dreams. Chemotherapy was a failsafe and I decided my best bet was to combine the natural medicines I had already started taking and the chemo. I had no idea what I was doing. It really was an adventure. Not exactly the Disney type of adventure, but hell, at least life wasn’t boring. I really wanted my life to be boring.
The date for my first dose of chemotherapy was set and I was told to go to the Oncology station at eight thirty the next day.
The nurses were kind. There would be no Oncology station uprising against the oppressive Nazi Nurse archetype. I couldn’t really imagine it actually. I was the youngest in there by thirty years and more. I spoke to some of the men in my broken Czech. I asked them if they had pain, trouble breathing, did they sweat at night, what stage was their cancer (none knew to my incredulity.) One guy had smoked for fifty years. His cancer was discovered incidentally. He said he threw his smokes away, “Absolutely no more.” He said, cutting the air with his hand. The other two still smoked, but had cut it down. I asked them if they took natural remedies too. None of those sitting in the room with me did. Though a friendly Slovakian man said he liked to drink green tea from time to time.
The nurse stuck the needle in. It was 9 am. I would leave the hospital at 3pm. My sister sent me a message. Whether you believe it or not, hold the tube and bless the chemotherapy, she said. Tell it to heal and not hurt you. I did. I spoke with the Slovakian man for a while. We talked about our baldness.
“How come your eyebrows didn’t fall out?” I asked him in my terrible Czech.
He shrugged, draped his hands over his body, “My head, eyelashes, legs, down here.“ He grabbed his crotch, like Michael Jackson does in his music videos. After a bit he said, “Hey, what’s your phone number?”
He gave me a call and I wrote his name into my phone.
“We can have a beer,” I said. He liked that, he gave me the thumbs up. I sat back and dozed.
I left the hospital at 3pm, my arm plastered. I was waiting, for what? For the Chemo to hit me. Legs would turn to rubber, my insides would force themselves u through my mouth, sweats, shakes, fingernails peeling, teeth falling out, hair falling out, black blood, rendered barren.
Sometimes on the bus or metro I watched the people. One of you is just like me, I thought, only you don’t know it.
The next day I still felt fine. I guess the body is probably calling an emergency meeting to figure out how to deal with the poison that has just been dumped into its system. I suppose there is a room somewhere inside me with a red light flashing.
The following day I felt a little tired, and for about the next four days. I could go out, which I think was really crucial, to get fresh air, I went to the sauna at Podoli and sweated, imaging the toxins the chemo was leaving leaking out through my pores.
It took about a week and the tiredness wore off. I wasn’t nauseas and so far I hadn’t spontaneously combusted.
A few days before the second round I woke up one morning and gave my head a scratch. When I took my fingers away my hair came with it. I grabbed a few strands and gave a pull. They came out effortlessly.
I was still working then and resolved to worry about it this evening when I came home. In the meantime I suspect I left hair strewn across a large section of Prague. I imagined this was how an old cat felt. That evening I shaved my head. I stared at myself in the mirror.
Well, here we go, I thought.
I have lived and worked in Prague for eight years as an English teacher, including for Canadian Medical.