I abandoned my embarrassment weeks ago when asked to drop my pants and cover myself beneath a paper sheet. I grew calloused and accustomed to seeing a long catheter and the small vile of medicine on a sterilized tray moments before voyaging toward my bladder, that unseen reservoir where the cancer resides.


Those are lies. It is still embarrassing, and it still hurts. What I am getting better at is hiding those realities.


This whole ordeal reminds me of a Seinfeld scene where Jerry quips to Costanza about how salmon are the opposite of tuna, as salmon swim against the current and the tuna swim with it. It doesn’t do much for the anxiety when you are on Team Salmon, but I cling to the distraction of such aphorisms like a lifeline, a pulley to pull me through.


The ceiling’s drop tiles are like dense cloud cover. I stare up at their acne-scarred markings imagining faces and formations that don’t exist. The frantic search for something in the random design is a diversion tactic, the foreground to the muffled prayers for a painless procedure that ends quickly.


Endure six weeks of this, I’m told, and the cancer therapy is complete. The physical toll recedes in time for the mental toll to rev up. It is week seven, and in week seven the burning question is—what now?


On today’s visit, I wait patiently and clothed in the examination room, in suffocating, sterilized silence—perfect conditions for the mind to run wild, which it does by taking a warm-up lap and piecemealing elements from the day of diagnosis:

My body and parts lay limp, mildly beaten, as I hear the words for the first time: You have cancer. Bladder cancer.

Of course I have cancer. Of course my body has turned against me. I am a writer. We ruminate on the awful, yield to it, wield it into something beautiful even when it isn’t, I want to say. I say nothing.

We’ll go in and remove the tumor, okay? The doctor spoke firmly. It wasn’t a question. I succumb to child-like fear and single-word responses: Okay. I do not know how to adult here. Then it is over. And just beginning.

The wife has questions, a litany of them. After parroting the doctor’s few words, I am speechless, without, having only gained my cancer, its weight indeterminable, the weight of its articulation, crushing.


On the silent drive home, there is a billboard off the highway for the hospital’s cancer clinic: There is no routine cancer. It is a preamble to the unknown. Because there are no definitive answers, just more and more questions submitted into the proverbial question/comment box where a patient reader unfolds every offered question and sighs a soft sigh before moving to the next one.


My mind wanders its way back to the present. The doctor comes in, sits on a wheeled stool and rolls himself toward me while looking at my file. He looks up to ask—how are you feeling?


I tell him about the airplanes. How when I am driving on the highway I look to the sky for flight paths, for large jets taking off or descending, looking for abnormal movements in the wings and fuselage. I stare with expectation and a soft voice at the ready—this is it, the one that doesn’t take full flight, the one that falls short—and how I see a forthcoming and fiery explosion in my mind’s eye. I tell him I am a passenger on that plane. That’s how I’m feeling.


He continues looking down at my file. There is an awkward pause. With head still down, his eyes peer over his rimless glasses and, without regard to bedside manner, gives an undoctor-like response: I know, I know. Every day I feel like I am piloting the planes you’re looking for. The ones coming and those going.  


For the briefest moment, I feel seen. Seen in a way I haven’t felt seen in months.


Then there is a mind-jolting knock at the door. It opens and the doctor walks in, my file in his hands. My mind readjusts, sees it as a boarding pass to a destination unknown. He sits on a stool and rolls toward me, asks me how I am feeling while looking at my chart. It feels like déjà vu. He launches a litany of questions that fly around the room. I cannot tell if I’m on board or not.



About the Author

Thad DeVassie is a writer and artist/painter who creates from the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio. He is the author of three chapbooks including SPLENDID IRRATIONALITIES, which was awarded the James Tate Poetry Prize in 2020 (SurVision Books). Find more of his written and painted works at www.thaddevassie.com.


Image by ThePixelman from Pixabay