A mild touch of the cancer: In which David discovers a love of sausages
Author and comedian David Downs shares his experience with cancer in this series 'A mild touch of the cancer'.
OPINION: It appears I need to start this week's column with a correction, or an apology. Last week I referred to a procedure I had which made me go into a large donut-shaped x-ray machine as a 'CAT' scan, and people thought I should use the phrase 'CT Scan' instead.
I researched a bit online, and found that the two phrases are both still fairly commonly used for the machines and procedure, but that the original meaning of 'Computerised Axial Tomography', or CAT, is now commonly swapped out for 'Computed Tomography', which I think we can all agree is a vast improvement. According to the interweb, "'CT Scan' is preferred to be used nowadays for convenience sake". Yes, it's far more convenient to drop that middle 'A'. Thinking of all the typing I could have saved myself and others. If only more words would drop their vowels, we'd all be a lt bttr ff, I cn fckng tll y tht.
What's quite heartening though, is that with all the stuff I typically make up in these columns, this appears to be the first thing I got wrong, or at least the first thing lots of people felt compelled to correct me on. My apologies to the radiologists who read last week's column and felt I used the phrase incorrectly.
* A mild touch of the cancer - all columns
I think actually the bigger error I made was that I used the phrase CAT and then didn't include some of the very obvious cat references I could have invoked in the column ('waiting for the results like a cat on a hot tin roof'… 'I wonder how many of my nine lives I will have left at the end of this'… 'waiting is a game of cat and mouse'). I blame the cancer. I must have been feline sick.
Anyway, the other mistake I made was in thinking the warm fluid they pumped into me, which caused all the medical people to leave the room and my rectum to noticeably warm, was radioactive when it was just bog standard iodine. Damn, how disappointing, I thought I would be radioactive after my scan – I guess that's why I still can't climb walls or shoot sticky threads from my wrists.
It's good to get feedback though, it means people are reading these columns, and it also shows we are all on a learning journey together. It also makes a change from the bodily function related observations I seem to often have.
But you didn't come back this week to read about whether the middle A is superfluous or not, you came back (I hope) to see if my mild touch of the cancer is getting better or not, and I can now reveal that…
I have a giant sausage.
And that's good news, by the way, and not for the reason you are thinking. It's good news because in February before I started my chemotherapy, the tumour in my tummy was the size of a small volleyball – now it has shrunken to the size of a large sausage. A big impact. Take that cancer.
The doctor actually said my tumour had shown 'a dramatic improvement', which is pleasing – I had thought myself something of a drama queen when my 'mild touch of the flu' turned out to be a 'mild touch of the cancer', and now I am vindicated.
A 'dramatic improvement' conjures up images of a Shakespearean scene: "Is this a tumour I see before me, the cancer toward my tum? Come, let me Chemo thee". Yes, I can certainly see this as a Macbeth moment.
"Out, damned cancer! Out, I say! — One, two. Why, then, 'tis time to do't. Chemotherapy is murky! - Fie, my lord, fie! A writer, and afeard? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma in him."
Yes indeed, a dramatic improvement. (As an aside, you can see me appear at the pop-up Globe until Sunday.)
But back to my sausage – essentially, the tumour when they first measured it was around 20cm3, and now is about 3cm x 3cm x 9cm. A good size for a chorizo, still too big for a cancerous tumour, but a good improvement and proof the chemotherapy is having the desired impact, as well as the undesired impacts it also has, like hair loss, tingly fingers and constipation. (Although, to be fair, after what was a week-long bout of constipation, thanks to all the laxatives I was taking, I managed to reverse the trend and it went the other way. It's from the sublime to the ridicule-arse, if you get my drift.)
To further shrink that sausage out of existence altogether, I have at least two more rounds of chemotherapy scheduled, starting next Monday. Yes, back in hospital again for a week, but this time I at least know the week-long isolation and internment is definitely working.
It was just the good news I needed after a pretty rough week last week following chemotherapy. As I had been warned, the cumulative impact of chemo gets worse over time, and it takes longer for the body to recover.
I was cold all the time last week so took to wearing my hoodie as well as a hat. I looked washed out and vaguely scary at the same time. The other day I realised I was dressed like that on my way to my blood test, holding a bag of used needles to put into their rubbish bin. I must have looked like an extra from Trainspotting.
Speaking of which – someone suggested they should make a movie out of these stories (ok, it was my mum). Not sure who would get to play me as the most obvious, George Clooney, isn't likely to be available (ok, that suggestion was from my mum again).
That the cancer is shrinking is really good news – we hadn't really discussed in detail with the doctor what the plan would be if it hadn't responded to treatment but we knew it wouldn't be good. Frankly, while I joke about it a lot, a small part of me was worried that the tumour wouldn't shrink and we'd be having a very different conversation. I can't die of cancer, I'd never hear the end of it from my wife. She'd kill me if I died, particularly after all the toast she's made.
But now that I know I am not in imminent danger of dying from this tumour, I've been thinking more about the future.
I'm keen to get back to work but I've decided that I also have a future career as a motivational speaker. Assuming I get over this whole cancer thing totally, I have a whole new world opening up to me, touring the country giving motivational speeches. My only two concerns with my new plan:
Firstly, is my situation dire enough? I've seen a number of motivational speakers and the best ones have a lot of adversity, not just one thing. You know, they have no legs but still bike to the top of Kilimanjaro, or they downhill ski blind in an avalanche while rescuing a stranded St Bernard dog. Me just recovering from cancer might not meet the heightened expectations of the audiences who are used to hang-gliding tetraplegics escaping exploding volcanoes. I will have to get more extreme.
I could also make motivational posters to put on office walls.
Perhaps I can beat cancer AND swim with hungry sharks. Only I can't swim very well and I don't like the idea of a shark taking a bite out of my newly-recovered abdomen. Maybe I could just go and visit some sharks at Kelly Tarlton's. Not extreme, but possibly safer for me. Perhaps I could do that AND perform open-heart surgery on a puppy. Yes, that would be sufficiently motivating I think.
I think people would pay to hear about that, with an accompanying slide show of alternating BIG WORDS and amazing stock photos. That seems to be the trend now with motivational speeches. I might even get a cherry-picker* like Al Gore did.
There's a second possible issue with my new career plan. With all the motivational speakers I've seen – and there are others floating around too – is there anyone left to motivate? Are there enough demotivated people to be interested in hearing from me?
I haven't been out in a while, due to being off sick ("He's got cancer, did you hear? How sad for him"). Maybe the corporate workforce, which would be the target market for my motivational cancer/ shark tunnel/puppy surgery speech, is already so sufficiently motivated that they are beyond my help? Perhaps the unthinkable has happened, and an epidemic of motivation has swept New Zealand, with a commensurate bump in GDP and birth rates?
But I suspect, looking at the stats, I think we are as unevenly motivated as ever, implying there is still an audience for my motivational speaking career. I suspect it's due to the legions of school leavers and university graduates being dumped into the workforce each year, full of dreams and hopes, who then have these dashed in their first few months in 'a real job' of actually having to turn up before 9am and undertake tasks other than checking Instagram. It's called work for a reason. Bad for them, but fantastic for me, a whole new audience to motivate every year. Death, tax and demotivated school leavers – these are three things we can count on.
Anyway, my future career beckons – I've been told I am a very good public speaker (yep – my mum again) and now I have fresh material (cancer, sure, but also my horrifying brush with death while contemplating swimming with sharks, and the difficulty of learning how to do open heart surgery on a dog while going around on the conveyor belt at an aquarium). So – if you have a sufficient batch of demotivated employees, please consider getting me in to give them a rousing motivational speech – speaking fees very reasonable, bookings now available. (*The cherry-picker costs extra).
However, in the meantime I still need to complete my treatment – at least two more stays in hospital, another few weeks of sleeping on the couch, another few hundred pills, another couple of months of feeling nauseous and cold – until "what's done, is done".
David Downs has been, at various times, an author, radio and TV actor, comedian and public speaker. With careers in TV, IT and now the public sector, where he helps New Zealand companies grow internationally, David lives in Auckland with his wife and three teenage boys.