A Pain in the Poo Factory 02
Are colorectal surgeons models of rectitude? The question just begs to be asked. This one was.
“You’ve got bowel cancer. Near the appendix, where the small intestine joins the large one. We’ll jump on it quickly. Keyhole surgery is the way to go and we’ll do it in a couple of weeks.”
“Right,” I replied. There wasn’t much else I could say.
We were staring at a CT scan of my guts. There was a pale blob where a pale blob should not be.
“We do lots of these operations,” he said, “and we’re good at it. Your prognosis is very good.”
After some moments I asked, “what would happen if I decided not to have this surgery?”
“It will kill you. It will grow, block the bowel, spread everywhere. You’ll be in a great deal of pain and you will die.”
So I agreed to have the surgery. There’s a couple of books I haven’t finished writing.
But how and why does a cancer form in a particular spot in the body? Maybe everyone has cancer cells, which roam around the body via the bloodstream like marauding singular-cellular bikies called the Hell’s Tumours. While on the move, they don’t usually cause harm; they just alarm the local organs who write complaining letters to the brain. But plainly, this is what must have happened. They had been hooning around at the beginning of the ascending colon, doing circle work as you do, and one of them must have piped up:
“Hey guys, this here looks a good spot to stay awhile. Wotchareckon?”
“Cwoarr. Yeah. Unreal.”
And it was unreal. It reminded me of the Scottish joke:
Q: Is anything worn under the Scotsman’s kilt?
A: Not at all. Everything’s in perfect working order.
And so I repeat – everything about me was in perfect working order. I had no symptoms anywhere, and I was quite well. It was unreal.
A little later I sat with Mattie in a café next to Bendigo hospital. There wasn’t much to say and Mattie let me sit in silence. She had driven up from Melbourne, had a cup of tea with me in Campbells Creek, and marvelled at the changes to her childhood home. We’d gotten into her red Corolla and she’d driven me to Bendigo. She had waited patiently while I absorbed the news. Mattie had asked me the necessary questions, raising things I hadn’t thought to ask.
“You can always ask again,” she said.
That was when I began to tell people; starting with a text to Cathy, and to my sisters, Liz and Catherine. I became aware that I was bracing for a barrage of terminology with a whiff of cordite. So much of what I’ve read about cancer is about fighting and battles and conquering and winning. The worse was when I read about someone who was determined to “kick cancer’s butt”. But as news spread, I hoped faster than the Hells Tumours cellular bikies, I found I could relax.
My friends didn’t use this language when they replied, and I was grateful. They were shocked, and concerned, and some were very funny. Erin G suggested that I ask the surgeons to angle their scalpels slightly upwards while operating, so they could remove writer’s block. Sharon G said that if I could cope with working for the Department of Human Services, this would be a doddle. Mike E said all this was really God’s plan to get me writing again. He was serious, and he wasn’t.
My former partner Shirl, who is Mattie’s mum, has endured three separate bouts of cancer. What words does she use? She says, it’s a journey with cancer. I like that.
Cancer is just a word. A medical team will hoick out the icky bits, and for the time being, that will be that. They will investigate what they slice out, and what they find will decide what happens next. I can live with that, very easily.
After Mattie returned to Melbourne, I met my friend John at Saff’s in Castlemaine. Over coffee and cake I told him. He was concerned, and we had a good discussion. But we also discussed the Melbourne Victory soccer team, and an interesting house he’d found in Bendigo. I was glad that the focus was not all on me. Nor did I feel I was a walking illness. I left Saff’s and drove to Gisborne, where I met Cathy at the Telegraph Hotel. We talked a while, and signed and laughed and sipped wine.
I began to feel pretty good. In my mind I turned over the word “adventure”. It captured a measure of excitement and a forging ahead into places I’d never been before. I would be placing myself in the hands of people who knew what they were doing. I trusted them, and I sensed the love and concern of many people I knew.
Bring on the big adventure.
Next time The Oh En Jay