Today it was the oncologist, Barbara Burtness and her fellow, Pat Boland. Barbara is the one we'll think of as the doctor who managed an education in spite of wasting all that time at medical school. She knows Scandanavian literature, she has opinions about translations of Dante, she raises her eyebrow at my reading him before discussing life and death and laughs with relief when I tell her that I keep Epicurus at my bedside.
She has some thoughts for me. The first one is that she sees the PET scan as good news. Cancer, she reminds me, is rarely subtle and never shy. The fact that the active area that lit up the scan is shrinking probably means that the threat is shrinking too. hip hip.
And she's concerned about the growth that's sprung up on the floor of my mouth. (Of course mouths have a 'floor'. They have rooves, don't they?) I've been concerned too. The new growth is an opportunistic little fellow, expanding like a third-world economy. Let's get it out as soon as possible, OK?
Well, OK. Of course, surgery means another little flirt with death, but Death is our friend, remember? He's the one who reminds us to watch the flight of the flowers and smell the butterflies. So I have to make plans.
The operation itself is a matter of whacking out a piece of lower mouth and seeing what happens to your native song. It reprises, in a way, the questions I had when this whole thing started: Will I be silenced before I'm silenced? If I have to say goodbye to taste, do I have to say goodbye to words? At least this procedure doesn't seem to threaten the taste and smell, although I may have to eat pablum for a while. There may be more radiation or chemo that start the whole nasty business again, but. No matter, my questions right now are about talk and timing.
My friend Ginni wants to come down from the wilds of upstate Pennsylvania and spend a long lunch. Peter asked me to talk to his students about strategies for selling wine and beer. Dolly wants to scatter the ashes of our old friend McManus. And Julio! Ah, Julio. My old friend is coming in from Viet Nam for a day or two. If there were a bodhisattva of charm and education, it would be Julio. A conversation with him is like a night at the opera, Groucho included. A dinner with him is a symposium, lunch is a truly comedic sit-com. For a Spaniard, he's not so bad.
(One day Julio ran into my ex-wife. She said "Knowing you was one of the best things about my marriage." I can't even hold that against him.)
I consult Epicurus. I browse through the Diamond Sutra. The surgery can wait. We'll bake McManus into bread and feed him to the pigeons, I'll lunch with Ginni at the mall. Perhaps my daughter will bring her boyfriend and we'll have a chat and Julio and I will condense a year's worth of conversation into a day and a half. Then J and I will go to the ocean and we'll glide along the bay. I'll indulge my lecture fantasy one last time. There will be oysters and there will be beer and when I see the good doctor, I'll thank him.
• • •
Today, while I'm getting my blood drawn, there's a throat cancer guy in the chair next to me who looks like I did six months ago. We get to talking and I find out that he's not eating and he wonders what I learned. I talk to him about shakes and ganache and I really wish I could tell him about dancing in the light, or applauding the butterflies or walking the dog in the woods.
As I leave the bloodsuck room, I realize that all I really hope to gain from this blog and this illness is the chance to make it a little better for someone else. Why would you recite your own agonies if they didn't lighten the pain of someone else's? I want to stand in front of a room and, instead of telling the people about italian cooking from 1536 on, let's say, tell them about the humor and power and transformative chill of radiationdays.