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Chris Slatter

My Blog


Don't Look Now

Tags: cancer chemotherapy 


 Cancer is not a fight; sufferers don’t battle with cancer as it is often described in obituaries and news stories. It’s a disorderly retreat while you, with the help of others, search for an escape. Sometimes you do escape from it; increasingly more frequently as medical science improves its knowledge.

I hope this will happen to me.

I was coming back from Brisbane on the train in July. I had moved to the southern Gold Coast a year before, and I needed to visit the French Consul to endorse my Certificat de Vie, the form that pension officials in France require every year so they’ll keep paying you. I had the signed and endorsed form in my pocket when I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming desire to visit the bathroom. It was urgent and I was stuck on a train. Trains on the Gold Coast are considered as local. Local trains don’t have toilets.

By a combination of muscular effort and perhaps a bit of Zen I made it to my station. I rushed to the special room. On finishing my task I gazed down and examined my produce in horror: it was black,  the black of Versace, or a conference of lawyers. I was in serious trouble, but at the time I didn’t quite know how much trouble.

I have never been sick; never in my life. Okay I’ve had colds and bronchitis, but nothing that required hospitalisation. So I had no experience of dealing with it. Some patients, you can tell, are very experienced; they know what their blood pressure should be, their oxygen saturation. They know the names of their medications, how to present themselves to the visiting physician. You could imagine them studying for years to gain entry to the ward. I knew none of these things. When the doctor arrived my first morning in hospital I greeted him and team of assistants with a hearty “Hey, docs! What’s happening?” The doctor-in-charge, whom I later discovered was a consultant (very, very important), shrivelled me with a single look.

I spent my first night in hospital after a joust with a doctor in the emergency department. By the time I arrived there was no sign of the symptom that had made it so evident at the station rest room. The doctor, who was a good diagnostician I surmised, had to satisfy himself that my observation was accurate. I heard the sound that most men dread – it is the stretching, squeaking sound made by rubber gloves being pulled on. He needed to explore my bowel; I was about to be violated.

But I fought back in spite of the male nurse who was holding me in a death grip, but the battle was quickly lost and the diagnosis confirmed: gastric ulcer. Well, that’s not so bad, I thought. Since Australian doctor Barry Marshall and pathologist Robin Warren had discovered that the human gut could be overrun by a nasty bacterium called Heliobacter pylori in the 1980’s, causing ulcers, even stomach cancer – and it was treatable with antibiotics – the scourge of gastric ulcers was in retreat.

I should add here that my father lost half his stomach to gastric ulcers before the discovery of Heliobacter. I briefly worked with someone who eventually died due to peritonitis, caused by ulcers. This was in the 1960’s; he wouldn’t have been more than thirty years old at the time.

 I left hospital after a week’s stay and was told that the ulcer was under control and I should take these tablets, which I did. I felt fine, but just to make sure my doctor organised a PET scan. PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography and the scan involves injecting radioactive dyes into your body. It’s painless and hardly noticeable, if you discount the startling urge to visit the bathroom as the dyes go in. The scan is very good at discovering conditions that you didn’t know you had. As a diagnostic tool it’s invaluable because it shows things that other scans, doctors too, can’t find.

The PET scan that I was given showed a shadow, a very large shadow on one kidney. The long and the short of it was I had stage four lymphoma.

Oh Lordy! Cancer! Fortunately I had left nothing undone in my life. My numerous jobs and several career new-starts had seen to that, so I was content to go, if I were called. My partner Jean and my children were less content however. But I was philosophical. Worrying that you’re going to die is a sure way to hasten your demise, a variant on Murphy’s Law, I observed to myself drily.

Almost immediately the cancer began to show itself. I felt tired all the time and slept sixteen hours a day. Even when I was awake I was semi-comatose. I was confused and had difficulty walking. It was mystifying because only a week before I had felt fine; it was as if by acknowledging the tumour, which was the size of a cantaloupe, I gave it substance.

After intervention by a saintly doctor I was accepted by an oncologist into a world class public hospital on the Gold Coast and began preparation for chemotherapy. Yes, you have to be prepared for chemotherapy; the procedure demands that you are in relatively reasonable health before the oncologists will commence. I obviously wasn’t in good health, not even relatively so, a fact I was told caused by something of an irresponsible lifestyle. “Don’t blame me,” I retorted; when you spend an entire career in advertising, the film industry, journalism and television as I have done a measure of irresponsibility is expected, if not actually mandated.

It was in the hospital that I discovered what cancer is: the result of a cell going rogue and multiplying rapidly to form a tumour. When the tumour is mature cells detach and go rampaging around the body forming new tumours wherever they end up. This is what doctors mean when they say that a cancer has metastasised. The condition used to be terminal, but no longer apparently as my metastasised cancer would present no problems. “We’ll zap them, zap them all,” the consultant oncologist told me in an uncharacteristic departure from medical-speak.

It was about this time that I started to experience hallucinations. They involved the world outside my hospital room window. They always took place at night. One night I saw quite clearly two dryads climbing the vine that snaked up the wall of the building opposite. On other occasions I would awake at night and find my room lit by a ghostly light, the kind familiar to lovers of gothic films, even though the lights were off and the door was closed. I never found these hallucinations disturbing; I used to enjoy them in fact, as they provided relief from the boredom of being in bed all the time.




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About Me

I have been an advertising copywriter, film director, teacher of screenwriting and a television producer. I have worked for some of the world's largest advertising agencies in Australia and the UK before attending the London Film School for two years.

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