By Kimberly Maier
It’s either a cruel or humane twist of fate that I would end up with a sexy oncologist, I can’t decide which. He’s a fancy big-shot internist from the Mayo Clinic who moved to Oregon because he likes the outdoors or something. He has this absurdly charming strip of silver in the part of his hair. His voice is square, clinical. His mind seems to wander off while he’s talking, probably because he repeats the same boring death script to his patients every day. “The Oxaliplatin does tend to cause nausea, but I’ll prescribe something to alleviate that.” There’s a slight accent that I can’t place. He employs a strange downward intonation at the end of his questions.
He half-sits behind me, causing the sheet on the exam table to crinkle before tearing a v-shape in the paper between us. When I feel his breath on my neck my thoughts instantly liquify, spinning around the way soapy water in a coffee pot does when you rinse it. I clear my throat then open my bathrobe. At 26 years of age I am by far the youngest patient in the clinic and the only one who wears a robe, slippers and pajamas to each treatment. I can’t tell if everyone stares at me because of what I’m wearing or because I’m younger than the other patients by about 40 years.
The sexy oncologist puts his fingers in my armpits to see if my lymph nodes are swollen. They’re not.
“You’re sweating,” he tells me, as if I somehow don’t know that. I make a series of awkward facial expressions at him and then say: “Oh yeah?” He is amused by this. He stifles a grin and finishes his examination. I appreciate this tiny smile in spite of the need for professionalism. He understands this peculiar bit of dark humor. I’m sweating because I have cancer. When I open my bathrobe, there’s a clear plastic bag of shit hanging from my abdomen; my glistening pink intestine is barely concealed by the condensation therein. There’s a fucking needle sticking out of a port that’s been implanted in my chest. I’m reminded of that scene in Pulp Fiction every time they access my port. I’ve been vomiting ceaselessly for three days. I weigh 90 pounds. My hair is falling out and my lips are chapped.
So yes, I’m sweating. And oh, how I worship that tiny smile of his and the dignity it allows me, but I also hate him and his shiny goddamn shoes and everything they stand for. On the one hand, he’s so hot that I’d drink his bathwater, but I’m balancing that with the knowledge that he’s poisoning me and trying to ransack my abdominal organs. He’s been trying for months to smooth talk me into prophylactic surgery which I’m staunchly against.
It is explained to me that I have something called Lynch Syndrome or Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer (recite that three times fast), and that’s a fancy way to say that the spell-checker in my DNA is broken. When my cells make a copy of themselves there’s nothing stopping them from making errors in the new cells which can cause them to go rogue. This lack of a cell editor is an inherited predisposition to growing malignant cancer in organs that have a high rate of cellular turnover: the colon, uterus, fallopian tubes, urinary tract, skin and brain. To put it even more simply: I’m a mutant and my guts are evil. If I don’t agree to the surgical removal of the remaining colon and undergo a total hysterectomy then my own cells are going to kill me. In my estimation this is not as cool as being one of The X-Men. I have no family history of these types of cancer yet here I am, at 26, presenting with late stage colon cancer.
I’m already kind of empty in the southern hemisphere of my torso after a cantaloupe-sized tumor and a portion of my large intestine were removed so I want to keep what’s leftover in there. It does more than upset me to have the inside of me be on the outside of me. I’ve been looking forward to reuniting my intestines on the inside of my body and shitting like a real person after I finish chemotherapy. Logically I know the sexy oncologist is looking out for me, but I find it nearly impossible to detach from the animal part of me that wants to live but not get maimed or poisoned with cytotoxic chemicals. The doctor is a good person who wants me to live so he persistently tries to convince me to go along with being gutted like a trout in the interest of saving my life.
“Do you think you’ll want more children?” he asks, and I know this conversation is headed in a direction I’m not fond of.
“Well, let’s just get those pesky organs out of there. If you have the surgery, you won’t have to go through all the extra screening. You’ll be less likely to recur.”
His eyes (so sexy) implore me and I seethe. I know none of this is his fault, but still, I can’t resist tilting my head at him. He acts like I have a death wish and uses my very young son to guilt me. In that moment I resent him for not realizing how sick he is making me, so I ask him, “Are you going to have more children?”
“I wasn’t planning to…”
“Good,” I say. “Let’s remove your testicles.” He blinks at me. “Pfffft. Well, if you’re not going to use ’em…”
He understands, he smiles, and I get to feel like a human being again.
Kimberly Maier is a nonfiction writer and freelance editor who lives in Portland, Oregon. She designs a publication for senior citizens called Voices from the Terrace and was formerly an advice columnist for Elle Magazine and The Clackamas Print.
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