In October 2008, I watched one of the most important people in my life die a horrible, prolonged death. Cancer, they said, was eating her insides. Nothing could be done. Metastasized, they told us. I never hated a word so much in my life.
The last few weeks were the worst, when the hope was gone. Her hair was gone and her weight was gone. But mostly the hope being gone is what did it. She died on October 9, but she was dead long before then.
When the doctors discharged her, sent her home to die, we took turns sitting by her bedside. Sometimes a bunch of people were there — daughter, sons, grandchildren; sometimes just two people, just one person. But someone was always there. Waiting. Waiting for her to stop breathing.
Every few minutes someone would come walking out of her room, it seemed, face wet, body drained. Some threw things, some kicked things, some were blank, but everyone hurt the same.
Nobody said it, but we all just wanted it to be over. The whole thing seemed unnecessary — for a while, before her body betrayed her and she couldn't leave the bed. She carried around a plastic cup wherever she slowly went; it was for the vomit, because the cancer wouldn't allow her to eat or drink anything. Sip some water, throw up. Sip some soup, throw up. Breathe some air, throw up.
Nobody said it, but we all wanted it to be over. And then it was.
Six months after everybody thought she was going to be alive forever, she was dead. And we all piled into the room, hugging her body, kissing and crying on her plastic face. In the movies, when a person dies with their eyes open, someone guides them shut with their hand. It's an obvious metaphor, the closing of the circle of life and all that.
In real life, they don't shut. You try to close them and they stay stiff, unmoving. Whether it's because the eyeballs have dried and are stuck to the eyelids, I don't know. I just know they stay open. Even when she was dead, she was still watching all of us.
I guess that's an obvious metaphor too.
Each year, testicular cancer is diagnosed between 7,500 and 8,000 times. It's most common among males between 15 and 40 years old, with a peak seen in those between 25 and 40. A lumpy mass on either of your testicles is one of the main symptoms. Another is a dull ache in your lower abdomen.
I'm 28. I've found one lump on each.My stomach is hurting an awful lot right about now.
I actually first noticed the lumps several years ago, but I convinced myself it was nothing. This last year it has just been too much, though. I can't ignore it anymore. I've researched and researched and researched.
I was relieved when I found out that it's mostly nonlethal. However, serious complications can occur after it has metastasized. Fuckin' metastasized. Of course. I'm scheduled for a 1 p.m. appointment with the urologist on the 14th floor of a previously meaningless building off of Main.
I take my iPod just about everywhere I go, particularly if I'm going alone. Despite my wife's urgings, I'm headed to this appointment alone. As I'm walking through the parking lot, "No Tears" from Scarface's The Diary shuffles on.
The underlying premise to Scarface's acclaim is that his success is entirely meritocratic. This album is the finest example of that, and has to be today's soundtrack.
As I ride up the elevator, the intro blares. It's all pianos and strings and snares and death marches. Thematically, it represents one half of the album's narrative, bleeding into the album's first track, "White Sheet."
The first thing Scarface says on the album: "Here comes the white sheet," referencing the sheet they lay over you when you die.
If this were a movie, Leonard Maltin would no doubt lambaste the inelegant foreshadowing. Music has served as a flagpole to a fair amount of my life's milestones. I'm disappointed in how uncreative my doom is.
There are nine other people in the waiting room with me.
There are five old men, each probably above 60 years old, a middle-aged black guy with his daughter, and two older women. One woman is dressed in a completely lime-green pantsuit thing. She's reading People. They'd for sure rank her outfit unsatisfactory.
Unless Scarlett Johansson wore it. She gets away with everything.
I have to assume that, considering most of the guys in here are way old, my chances of dying are considerably lower than I had initially gauged. For a few weeks before this appointment, I kept having this nightmare where it was me lying in that bed, stick thin and lifeless.
My sons and my wife were standing at my bedside. It wasn't every night I had this dream, but it was enough to fuck up most of my days.
Things have changed since I became a father (also, fire is hot). I can never leave those boys. I can never leave my wife. They have effectively made me indispensable. I told my wife I was scared to come to this appointment.
Don't be, she said. It'll be fine, she said. I keep thinking about how long I've known about these lumps and how I've never done anything about them besides cross my fingers. What a coward I am, I said. If things are bad, it's my own fault, I said.
But being here, maybe I'm okay. These other Waiting Roomers are fine — or alive, at least. And they're all way old. I should be too, right. I can feel myself actively trying to leach meaning out of anything. Except foreshadowing.
I've always thought Leonard Maltin was kind of smart.
In a back office, there are pictures scattered around of the doctor and (I assume) his family, taken at mountain ranges and ski lodge resorts. I wonder if they're supposed to humanize this automaton that's going to tell me if I have cancer?
They're mostly just letting me know that he goes on better vacations than I do. I went to Schlitterbahn in Galveston a couple of months ago. What a dreary place that was. I explain to him my symptoms. I explain last year's loss as succinctly as I can. The doctor's eyes never meet mine.
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"Okay, let's go take a look," is all he bleeps.
It takes him 15 seconds to tell me he's not terribly worried. He feels the lumps, manipulates them with his digits. They're probably cysts, he says. But I want to send you to get a sonogram test downstairs to be certain, he says.
The nurse hands me a paper that I need to take to the fifth floor to get the test done that will tell me conclusively if I have cancer. I get back on the elevator. I stare at the buttons. I fold the paper up and put it in my pocket.
'Face's grandfather boom is back in the earbuds. I go home without getting that test.