This month I offer excerpts from my two memoirs, Masterpiece: A Love Story and The Lie Called Cancer. If you want to buy them, you may. If you want a free copy, tell me in the comments.
Be advised this story contains some adult medical themes and terminology
The scene is a certain urinal in a certain South London supermarket. The crime was the appearance of a blood clot the size of a pea. Life did a full stop for a few beats as I stared at it, astonished that such a thing should fall out of my body. Bright red, it contrasted sharply against the fresh white porcelain. For a moment I imagined it pulsing with a life of its own, ready to snarl, turn viciously and attack. I stepped away feeling violated.
‘Babe,’ I said, rejoining my wife in the aisles. ‘We need to head to the GP now, and put off the shopping until tomorrow.’ Melanie looked puzzled, but only until I explained. Now it was her turn to have life do a full stop for a few beats. We abandoned the shopping and headed out.
It was the Thursday before Easter, and my surgery* was about to close for four days. They squeezed me in for a quick consultation. I left a sample in a bottle (results not to be known for a week due to the holiday). Dr. Kuracisto gave me a course of antibiotic ‘in case its just a urinary tract infection.’
Well, it wasn’t that. It eventually turned out to be bigger than that. It was a crime, and the crime was a lie. It was the lie called cancer.
I didn’t know it was cancer then, of course, and it was way too early to think seriously about cancer, and I didn’t. The blood and pain could be from many causes. Until I had more information, there was nothing to do but wait.
It’s so easy to think worst-case when something happens to my body, especially with a vivid imagination like mine. That pain in my knee? Could be an inflammation. If it’s inflammation, it might be arthritis. In fact, it probably is arthritis. Arthritis is incurable and untreatable. It’s probably rheumatoid arthritis. My mum had that, and it can be inherited. So, for sure, that’s it.
Before long I have myself so crippled in my mind I’m ready to shop for a wheelchair and a van with a lift. You never know how soon I might need one, right? Best to be prepared!
Why do I think about the worst-case about my body? Well, it’s not like I can quickly whip out a list of best-case items when blood-in-the-urine is involved. I’ve thought about that for almost a year now, and I still don’t have item #1.
Faced with a potentially scary track ahead, my train of thought derails immediately, instead of pulling into a bright shiny station with free coffee and helpful baggage handlers. Those noisy worst-case scenarios always shove to the front of the queue, waving their First Class tickets, ready to ride my train all the way to the last stop.
Let’s face it, even a ridiculously optimistic person like me sometimes has to throw in the towel and conclude the only positive aspect of the situation is that I had an extra towel to begin with.
But I’d ride that train to the last stop as well. I had no choice.
It’s an odd sensation to stand before a toilet and wonder what’s about to come out. It had been so easy to take this for granted. I’d never concerned myself with it. Have you? Isn’t peeing an unthinking act? Until now, my experience only involved pee. But, when you add blood, urination morphs into the fancy Greek medical term haematuria.
Now that I was focused on the bleeding, I also became aware of some discomfort during the act itself. The discomfort was probably there before the previous Thursday’s display made it all obvious, but I hadn’t noticed it. If I had, my trip to the GP would have happened much earlier, I suppose. But I didn’t. And so, here we are.
In the absence of information, how to proceed? Step one for me always should be to pray. That’s what Christians learn. It’s supposed to be automatic, like gently turning into a skid when your car fishtails. I constantly surprise myself at how often prayer is not my first choice. I turn the wrong way into the skid more often than I care to admit.
Then, when I do finally get around to prayer, I must remember that not all prayers are created equal. Let me give you a little Theology 101 about that. Only a couple of paragraphs. Hang in there. I’ll start here: it’s inarguable to me that God is good, 100 percent. If not, why believe in God?
Evil is not from God. It’s either caused by the devil, is influenced by the devil, or results from my own sin. The Bible reveals this repeatedly from the first page to the last.
God didn’t create cancer (or any other illness for that matter). Because cancer isn’t good, it can’t be from God, your love of the book of Job notwithstanding. End of Theology 101.
If you aren’t a Christian, you now have a pivotal choice.
You can take my word for all this and keep reading, your best option IMHO (In My Holy Opinion). Or, you can study the Bible for yourself to see if it’s true and then come back. I’ll see you back in a few months – you’ll need to be thorough. Or, you can decide in a moment that this is all a bad investment and go read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for the third time.
The antibiotics came and went, but the symptoms remained, and the test was negative – no Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). I found myself back in Dr. Kuracisto’s office.
‘How do you feel?’ (This is Standard Doctor Question #4).
‘It still hurts when I pee and sometimes blood comes out. Otherwise, I’m just chuffed!’
‘Well you definitely don’t have a UTI, but there is something amiss in there.’ He reached for some gloves.
‘Pull down your trousers and lean against the bed,’ he said. Dr. Kuracisto stepped into his phone booth and burst out as Professor Jellyfinger. During rectal exams I can’t help but wonder, did I wipe well enough? And, how do they teach that in medical school? The probing is rude but not outrageously uncomfortable. It’s mercifully short.
‘Your prostate is slightly enlarged but that’s not unusual for a man your age. That’s good news. I’ll write a referral to the Urology Department at Kings Hospital,’ he said. ‘It’s on a fast track, so you should hear from them in a few days.
NHS prioritises well, to the dismay of some patients who are forced to wait for minor operations. If a GP suspects cancer, a case is automatically on ‘fast track.’
‘What will happen over there?’ I asked.
‘They’ll likely give you a cystoscopy. That’s an internal examination of your bladder, to see what’s going on.’
Well, let me just look that up.
According to NHS documentation, the procedure available to me as an outpatient is called a ‘flexible cystoscopy.’ This device has a camera and a light on the end, and a tube that allows water in and out. It’s about as big around as a pencil.
The cystoscope is inserted in the urethra, which is the tube that allows urine to pass out of the body. The urethra is not as big around as a pencil. It’s about as big around as the stem of a Q-tip.
Read ‘inserted into the urethra’ as ‘inserted into the penis.’ No man wants to hear about this, much less contemplate it. Yes, ladies, I’m certain this procedure is just as physically disturbing for you as for us. But for me, as a man, it’s also an assault on my ego. Just sayin’.
Okay – so now I had some information. It appeared that life was about to get more painful. Much more painful.
I waited as patiently as I could, only occasionally drumming my fingers on the table in frustration. My main occupation had to be prayer, doing nothing about any of this (as though I could). That’s easier said than done sometimes.
(Insert big self-piteous Christian sigh here)
It’s exceedingly tough to sit tight while my head yells at me about doom and destruction, such as the eventual need to buy that wheelchair van. I’ll give you a few examples, but only because I’m certain this never happens to you: official mail is automatically bad news; being called into the head office means I’m sacked; my candidate will always lose the election; it’s not only cancer, but terminal cancer, so pick the bouquets for the memorial service now!
I had to repeatedly remind myself I knew nothing, and shouldn’t decide pre-emptively on something as ‘the truth’. All I knew with certainty was that there was blood in my urine. Inventing a reason for it would be mindless speculation. There’s no truth there, only mindlessness.
Speculation leads me to fear, which makes me lose my bearings. Such feelings aren’t a signpost. They are paint thrown on the signpost so I cannot find the way.
My only choice was to respond through surrender. I kept in front of me the only truth I had, tiny slice though it was. Surrender meant wait, rest and pray. Yes, there was an answer – God’s answer – but it hadn’t arrived yet.
Like many things in the Christian life, the way forward was simple. Wait, rest and pray. I wished I was better at them.
Cystoscope – photo by Michael Reeve via Wikimedia Commons
Real surrender. Easy to talk about, but so hard to do. Riveting, my friend.