Monday, April 15, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Week 12

My Health

This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and expectations for a positive outcome—full and complete recovery. In addition, I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested, to some degree, in research and the latest medical findings; I am no exception. Today is Day 119  living with cancer


At times, I feel invisible, reminding me of Kafka's Metamorphosis, where Gregor Samsa wakes up one day as a dung beetle. Kafka's surrealistic story has many layers of meaning, including on identity, individuality and acceptance as part of a larger community, tribe and nation. In all these areas, if you have read Kafka, you will see that he struggled. Kafka's story has as much meaning today as when he published it in 1915.

Here is an excerpt from the well-known story's beginning [Trans: David Wyllie; 2002]::
One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.
"What's happened to me?" he thought. It wasn't a dream. His room, a proper human room although a little too small, lay peacefully between its four familiar walls. A collection of textile samples lay spread out on the table - Samsa was a travelling salesman - and above it there hung a picture that he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and housed in a nice, gilded frame. It showed a lady fitted out with a fur hat and fur boa who sat upright, raising a heavy fur muff that covered the whole of her lower arm towards the viewer.
Gregor then turned to look out the window at the dull weather. Drops of rain could be heard hitting the pane, which made him feel quite sad. "How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense", he thought, but that was something he was unable to do because he was used to sleeping on his right, and in his present state couldn't get into that position. However hard he threw himself onto his right, he always rolled back to where he was. He must have tried it a hundred times, shut his eyes so that he wouldn't have to look at the floundering legs, and only stopped when he began to feel a mild, dull pain there that he had never felt before.
Having cancer (a crabby disease) can make you invisible, if not literally then figuratively, and perhaps not so much hatred like an insect, but unseen, unknown and viewed with suspicion as different. It's not the obvious response of what one would expect, but it is the response that I sense, in many others. After the initial “outpouring of emotion,” there is a steady movement away from the object of illness (in this case, me), as if it represents some reproach, and not a fully realized human being. I sense that this might generally apply to all persons with disease, and not only to cancer patients.

Perhaps people can't help feeling that way, some sense of revulsion, some antipathy or indifference. There might be something ancient hard-wired into our brains, as some evolutionists say; perhaps it's the idea that “sick” individuals are an inconvenience to the pack, thet they will slow things down, that they are no longer useful to group survival. Is that it? Perhaps so. But I have other plans: I plan to survive for a long time, whether I am visible or not. 


  1. May you survive and be visible--till 120.
    In 1998, I had my thyroid removed for papillary carcinoma, a relatively indolent cancer. I have reason to believe that I am alive and at least somewhat visible.
    My mother, on the other hand, suffered from dementia. He last years were as bad as Gregor Samsa's.

    1. Thank you for you kind words: I am glad that you are both alive and visible and have survived the surgery for papillary carcinoma. I also wish you long life, till 120. Dementia and Ahlzheimer's disease is as horrible as it gets for humans; it robs the individual of memory, which is inextricably linked to individuality and visibilty.

  2. “There might be something ancient hard-wired into our brains, as some evolutionists say… “sick” individuals are an inconvenience…no longer useful to group survival.”
    Some evolutionists are sadly mistaken.
    When there is love among a group of persons – though it’s empirically hard to verify the motive behind acts of kindness - the others around the suffering one(s) naturally act as though hard-wired to do their part, however small. The whole group benefits as a result of this affirmation of dignity.
    Admitedly, not all so possess this love.
    As I recall, Kafka’s yucky bug had developed an acquired appetite of sorts.
    I wish good appetite for you, Perry. (And a taste not quite as acquired as that of Kafka’s character.)
    I envision July ahead, and many sunny, warm, breezy days with pleasant company and gastronomy, etc. 'To life!'

    1. Thank you, Mark, I also agree that we do not have to submit to our "selfish" nature, that we can decide to live differently from our biological imperatives, whatever these might be. More important, I wish you a long and meaningful life, till 120.


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