I want to be an assassin. Not a hired gun. I would do my own jobs. And I would target a specific enemy. People would laud me as a hero. But most of all, people would feel safe and happy and healthy after my targets were dead. Despite my liberal leanings, I have always had a fascination for weapons, especially guns. I can shoot a pistol, a revolver, a shotgun and a rifle. I’ve tried my hand with a bow and arrow. Knives, I admire the craftsmanship but they don’t have that cathartic appeal. Maybe if I took up knife throwing I would change my mind about that. But my weapon of choice – a gun. With a gun, I’m a good shot. The clang of a metal target satisfies me. I would love to blast the head off of someone holding an innocent person hostage.
There. It’s out there. I do have violent fantasies. Key word, fantasy. The only thing violent I have done recently is smash up a block of ice and a clay pot in my back yard. It felt good but it wasn’t the enemy. And I had a reason for feeling angry.
I’ve talked with a few people about what a great idea it would be to have a place one could go to safely smash things. The appeal, so far, is universal to those I’ve discussed it with.
But back to the assassin. My sister, two years older than me at 51, has cancer. Not just any cancer but large cell neuroendocrine lung cancer, they said. She was diagnosed on August 12, 2009. Just three days ago. I and my family, our friends, are still in shock. Stage IV? Not just the lung but lymph nodes, liver, abdomen, thoracic bones. Shot through with it but treatable. Not curable. Not. Curable. We don’t ask “how long.” No one should ask that and no one should tell that. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Prognosis, OK, that gives an idea of what we’re up against but we haven’t asked that either. Google tells me. Google is a curse when it comes to illness. Symptoms, fears, anxieties, unnecessary doctor visits. Sometimes unnecessary. Or we think we can rationalize away the worst case scenario. “I looked it up on Google, it’s probably just the flu.” And delay necessary doctor visits. Cyberchondria, fear of the doctor. Both bad. Very bad. Or no insurance, so the doctor visit is pushed aside so the family can eat.
In my sister’s case, she went to the doctor. It was a violent cough. The doctor used “step therapy,” try the lowest form of treatment, see if that works. It’s a cost saver! Yay. So, several visits paying out of pocket, budgeting as best she could, three x-rays, done after a couple of months of this persistent cough, three rounds of serious shit antibiotics, and she doesn’t get better. After a few more visits to the useless pay-out-of-pocket doctor, she finds an actual nice, clean low cost clinic (shocker!) and finds a competent and kind nurse practitioner. Still the antibiotic regimen continues. Until mom goes with her and insists she needs something more. Goddammit, I know my daughter! She’s never like this, she says. He orders a CT scan. This happens at one of the county hospitals in Los Angeles. The results will be given to you within a couple of days if it’s “something serious.” Five days go by, at least. She calls the clinic, they don’t have the results. She calls the hospital. Yes, they’re here. She can pick them up at the records window. She goes. Waits in line, barely able to stand. Oh, did I mention that one of her symptoms from at least a month before was an inability to walk across her small house without becoming winded? Yea, kinda serious.
A clerk hands her the report and she holds it, waiting to read it until she gets home. Scared. She is still waiting at the counter for paperwork to finish her application for Medi-Cal. The woman doesn’t come back to the window. She stands, or leans, waiting. She scans the report absentmindedly. “Large mass highly suspicious for malignancy.” Her body goes cold, numb. She walks, walks out the doors quietly to where our dad is waiting for her in the car. They read the report together, still in shock, not talking much on the ride home. I get a phone call at work, she tells me while I sit in my grey cubicle. I am sick. I live almost 400 miles away and can’t hug her and tell her it will be alright. It WILL be alright.
A bronchoscopy is scheduled. A horrible procedure where a tube with a camera on it pushed into your esophagus to reach your lungs and take a look around, grab a piece of that mass to take a closer look. This is done while she is semi-conscious and I can hear her gag and cough from the waiting area a few feet away. My younger sister and my mom wait too, they don’t hear her. I don’t call their attention to it. Why would I? I don’t always think sharing the pain is a good thing.
A week later, she is scheduled to see a doctor who will give her the results. During said week I look up “lung cancer” in every way possible on Google. Small cell, it seems, is the worst kind. Fast growing and virulent. A mass such as this can also be a fungal ball. That’s my hope. It’s a fungal ball, it has to be. I play with the words. “A fun gal ball!” It’s a fungal ball. The doctor calls her name, after hours of waiting (at the county hospital everyone is scheduled at the same time, 7:30 a.m., just like jury duty). “Well,” says the very kind doctor, “it is cancer. I’m sorry to have to tell you that.” “It is cancer. I’m sorry to have to tell you that.” It echoes back, sounding muffled. My other sister is with me in the room. We look at one another. I sit on the exam table, swinging my legs, numb, taking notes. “It is cancer. I’m sorry to have to tell you that.” What kind, my younger sister asks. “Small cell,” he says. Small cell small cell small cell. My sister and I exchange glances, She is a Googler too. I sense that she knows what I know. We are inwardly horrified and sick. We stay strong for our sister, who chokes up briefly, then stoicly listens to him as he patiently answers out questions. We leave, walk into the waiting room and into the arms of our mom and a close friend, both of whom know instantly by our faces that it is bad news. Bad news.
My sister’s daughter, my niece, 19 and coming into her own after being raised by my sister without the help of her scum “father.” We leave them alone upon our arrival home and she is told the bad news. Bad news, sweetie. Mom has cancer. Mom has cancer. Not usually demontrative, my niece, she cries. “Is t too late? What if it’s too late.” My heart aches, my stomach twists when my sister tells me this. “I have cancer, baby, it’ll be OK. We’ll fight it.” They hold on to one another.
What happens now? A PET scan. This lights up the areas that are metabolically active which is a characteristic of cancer cells. It will show if it has spread. “If.” We hang on to that “if” like it’s a plank from the Titanic, floating in the ocean, keeping our hope that the lights of a rescue ship will appear, closer and closer to save us. The ship doesn’t come. The plank is dropped as our hands grow cold when we hear the news. Large cell neuroendocrine lung cancer. It’s a mouthful. One we should not have to taste. But we taste it, the bitterness, the angry heat of it and the sickening after taste.
Stage IV large cell neuroendocrine lung cancer. That’s my target, my mark. I want to blast its fucking head off, around my sister, the hostage, leaving her safe and the deadly enemy dead, gone. Dead and gone. Dead. Gone. The enemy. But instead, others have to try to kill it. And they can’t kill it, only weaken it. They will weaken it. (Won’t they? They will, right?) But I want to do it. Kill Cancer Dead. I want to kill it. With a gun, with a knife, with my bare hands, rip it out. Fix it. They have to go in for the kill, but they know it won’t die.
Goddamn it. Fuck!
She’s gonna live.
(Note: The photo above is my sister and her daughter)