Cheese chemotherapy

You go to the doc.

You endure the tests and you hear: “You’ve got cancer.”

I’ve wrote about this in my newspaper column in The Pagosa Springs SUN, detailed the blood tests, the exams, the biopsies, the MRIs, the visits to the specialists, the “Oh, let’s see what happens” treatments prior to an appointment with the blade.

I moaned and groaned in print, dragging dedicated readers through descriptions of a prostate cancer diagnosis, decisions about procedures and subsequent surgery. (Had I been someone else, it would have been breast cancer, colon cancer, whatever).

The piece didn’t win my usual press association third-place award for Best Humor Column of the Year.

Nor did a later column in which I took readers through the diagnosis of a pituitary tumor and the subsequent computer assisted, surgical hard metal implement trip to Brainville.

Big deal, you say. Rightly so. Lots of people go through similar nasty procedures.

Many then hear the words: “Everything looks good, now.” They celebrate, convinced they’ve tamed the beast. They dare to drink a beer and eat some bacon.

But, some, like me, hear: “Well, you’ve still got it.” The beast remains at the door.

Oh, for fuck’s sake, I thought, you gotta be kidding. I go through all that shit — the tests, the anxiety, the surgery to hack out my gland and surrounding tissues, the tests, the anxiety — I think everything’s on the up-and-up, and you tell me I’ve still got it?

Oh, and don’t forget the impending cost. Stuff this additional bit of crap in your anxiety backpack and carry it on the Big Hike. Why not increase the load?

This is what some of us go through. We endure a painful process hoping to find ourselves in the clear, but we’re thrown back in the physical and financial blender, to be pulsed to a mushy pulp by the sharp blades of reality.

Snappy way to put it, eh?

If you haven’t had the experience, don’t get too full of yourself.

Guess what? Those of us who get pulsed, who get mushed, who get the bad news twice or more, we know something everyone should keep in mind: We weren’t built to last. None of us. If your day ain’t here, it’s comin’. Trust me: the body will betray you. And, to up the ante, the body might be all there is.

When you hear the bad news twice or more, you’re strolling in a different neighborhood. No white picket fences in sight.

You believed you might make it out of the dilemma, that bright times were ahead, only to have the hope smeared by the fact that… oops … the treatment didn’t work. This squats on your head like a concrete toad and, like it or not, you must tote the toad load. There’s no way around it.

You try to put it out of your mind. You try to forget that the doc says something like “it might be seven years.” You try not to perseverate, but the worm of your reality gnaws at your consciousness, invades without warning, any moment at any time. You try not to think about it when your attention strays from a task during the day or, worse, when you wake in the middle of the night. But, you can’t shut it out. You try to find other things to take the place of the recognition of what is imminent — ponies, football games, porn sites, work, fantasies about fame and fortune. But nothing does the trick.

This probably happens to anyone who indulges in a measure of reflection, anyone cognizant of their transience — with or without the doc’s ominous pronouncement, with or without a diagnosis and the failure of treatment.

But, this isn’t the norm, nor can it be. Not many people are fully or even often aware of their transience. They adopt a “normal” outlook, one not shaped by a doc uttering the words “We weren’t able to deal with it” and making an actuarial move to line out the truncated future. A lot of folks muster delusions in order to remain blissfully unaware of the train wreck coming just around the bend. They’re sitting in the club car sipping a gin and tonic, snacking on feathery tidbits and marveling at the pine trees outside the windows of the Vistadome when …

This condition is probably necessary for the survival of the species, a way of thinking chucked up in the froth of evolution. Dwell on transience and you might opt out of what nature requires: reproduction, contributions to the supply of mutations, the nurturing of options to be roughed up in the process of natural selection.

To avoid pondering the inevitable, to avoid pain or the prospect of pain, to dodge uncertainty, you buy into ideas that allow you to soften the blow, slip the punch: I’m going to live forever in another form, in another dimension, for eternity. I’m going to be rewarded or punished for my behaviors; I am going to come back as a gerbil or a Shetland sheepdog. I am going to be a sequoia tree, an angel, a demon, a spray of atoms in a universal mist.


Who knows? Granted, most people can, and perhaps must allow themselves to mistake faith and desire for fact. This comforts them, keeps them going, keeps them pumping out the variations needed in a randomly shuffled genetic deck. But… who really knows?

 Not me. Not those of us who have heard the word.

What do I know in my current state? What do I know when I hear my doctor tell me that the treatment options for the cancer that continues to grow in me, now seeking a home in bone or brain, are therapies that could be worse than the malady itself? What do I think when he details the possible effects: losing my bladder and/or the lower part of my colon, getting hooked up to bags of all sorts, setting up an account for diapers at the store, taking hormones that cause me to weep when I watch TV commercials involving children and pets?

I think two things:

1). No thanks. No diapers, no more gynecomastia, no bags. Maybe some treatment will be developed in the next decade or so, before the beast bites me big time. But, even I am spared from this beast, there’s always another beast, an inevitable, fatal bite.

2). Thank goodness there’s cheese.

According to my doc, I need to do away with “bad” fats in my diet. This includes things like red meat and dairy. As in, cheese.

“You can have some cheese now and then,” he says, an earnest look on his face. He’s trim, eerily alert and claims he enjoys good food and wine, but he looks as if he doesn’t enjoy them all that often.

“Eat a piece of cheese about this big.” He uses his fingers to illustrate his point. It’s like he’s pinching a domino. (When he describes a portion of meat, he holds a pack of playing cards.)

“And make sure it’s a hard cheese, lower in fat.” (Here he displays the limits of his knowledge: many hard cheeses have a higher fat content than soft cheeses.)

I’m told I need to suffer this deprivation as I wait for the cancer to send out a strong enough indicator that a test can locate its next home. Until I know the “seven years” is up. Until the docs can suggest some more therapies with consequences as nasty as the disease.

No way.

No domino-size chunks.

No low fat crud.

If, as I sense, I am in the front car of the coaster, just about to crest the top of the hill and take the plunge, I am making the trip with a substantial load of a double or triple crème in my paw and in my maw.

Consider it a form of chemotherapy. Treatment for distress. A beam of light, weak but welcome, shining into a dark space.

What will it be?

Graite-Paille: raw, double, earthy, a smear of pasture on a hunk of baguette? Perhaps … if I can find a way to smuggle it into the U.S.

Pierre Robert: triple, with extra cream?

Petit Suisse? Petit, but grand in its double-good way.

Can Pujol? Same last name as one of my fave soccer players on the greatest of the FC Barcelona teams. Double, courtesy the goat.

St. Andre: soft but strong, triple, sour, butter-fatty special?

“You have, maybe seven years.”

That’s a lot of time for cheese, especially when I double and triple the doses.

If you have heard the words, or take account of your mortality in a frank manner, stack seven dominoes and have at it.

If you flitter about in a haze, avoiding the true mystery of your mortality, anticipating your exit from this world to another, happier form or place because you’ve been a good girl or boy, denying yourself all the indulgences prohibited by a dry and pinched creed … buy a box of Velveeta.

Until you come to your senses and suffer with the rest of us, that’s what you deserve.

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2 Responses to Cheese chemotherapy

  1. McQuiggin says:

    Superb writing here, my friend. So nice to see your prose unfettered from The SUN, an Icarus in reverse (or sideways, or something).

    Life in Phoenix has led me to believe in reincarnation. Specifically the flies (which are nearly as ubiquitous here as bleach-blondes in Beemers). Because, when I’m sitting on my patio, sipping my morning coffee and savoring that first cigarette, they buzz my way with a kind of Kamikaze intent, asking to be turned to mush.

    I can’t help but think, “Why? Where is their instinct to survive, to pass on their genes and live long enough to see their maggots become better versions of themselves, as Super Flies or Wall Street investment bankers?”

    Of course, it’s reincarnation, I figured. After living a life of doing some pretty heinous shit (Albert DeSalvo, Lee Atwater, et al) and getting the full Tibetan Book of the Dead treatment, they suddenly arise in the next life, “Fuck me, I’m a goddamned fly! What did I do to deserve… um, oh yeah.”

    At that point, intent on making the incarnation as brief as possible (the fly diet alone is reason enough for a quick death) the obvious solution is to seek me out and scream for the swatter, “Pick it up, goddamnit, put me out of this misery!”

    So, when you say certain beliefs are there to, “buy into ideas that allow you to soften the blow,” I must argue that my experience here in this Sonoran shithole is that there indeed is life after death. I’m writing this comment, aren’t I? QED.

  2. kathleen isberg says:

    Great way of explaining where you’re at with this, Karlitos. I enjoyed it and loved Jim’s reply re: reincarnation

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