Don't Be A Stranger
By William Benson Huber
“I am battling cancer,” always seemed a fatuous boast. I’ve been sick before: no work, stay in bed, take drugs, binge movies, read. What’s not to like? To a melanin deficient, Y chromosome heterosexual, the Victim Card is all too rarely dealt. But when it is, my creed has always been: play it until your near and dear start packing side-arms.
Cancer, as we’re told about every thirty seconds, is a particularly nasty way to go. Most certainly it’s expensive and prolonged and the urge to take selfies diminishes. But then –compared to what? Jumping 100 stories to avoid being burned alive? Raped to death in the prison laundry? Hogtied to an anthill for winking at Geronimo’s old lady? After watching thousands die very unpleasantly on streaming “entertainment” channels every day, Cancer seemed an almost civilized way to go. If played smartly, The Cancer Victim Card might land the leading role in multiple heart-rending death bed scenes, garner forklift loads of Cute Kitten Sympathy Cards, and definitely entitle my riddled corpus to ever greater doses of morphine, until, in the fullness of time I’d float off the planet an even bigger imbecile than when I arrived.
Unfortunately, as I was to discover almost immediately, Cancer is not like that. At all. Cancer isn’t a battle, it’s a fucking siege. An onslaught in which, if you don’t stay as alert and demanding as a referee in a Mongolian Grudge Fuck, you will end up bottom man in the pile. Sympathy? Morphine drip? HAH! Maybe, and it’s a big, huge maybe, Pin Dick, we’ll allow Nurse Pigface (300 plus pounds with the disposition of a killer Rhino) to give you two Tylenols when she has the time. That is, after she circumnavigates the globe, inhales a blunt in the lot, and rubs one out in the shower.
But I am getting way, way, way ahead of myself …
Tip # 1: Don’t Get Cancer During ‘Rona
In January of 2021 or month 13 of the ‘Rona Neurosis, I was sleeping 16 hours a day, unable to eat and coughing up blood. On rare excursions outside, people were social distancing by 30 yards or more and store managers welcomed me as agreeably as they would anyone with a hacking cough and PLAGUE! tattooed on his forehead. I was sick, really sick, but unluckily with zero ‘Rona symptoms. Fair or unfair, this was like dying of constipation during a cholera epidemic: “Sorry, but The Doctor, whose ‘Time For Your Annual Checkup’ notices you’ve told us to shove up our Culos for years, can’t see you until…how does your calendar look for the 12th of Never?”
Exactly where and to whom was I to complain? I’d lost two friends who had been ‘Rona quarantined in Cuomo Nursing Homes before dying alone. And Columbia-Presbyterian, two blocks away, looked like an abandoned fortress with PLEASE GO AWAY hanging over the entrance
TIP # 2 Get Thee To A Psychiatrist
Luckily, I was also having very alarming nightmares. Hieronymus Bosch type visions so real I knew at the very least I needed industrial strength Depakote to avoid being tasered while running down the block in poop stained jammies to get away from The Giant Ear
Be advised that calling just any Couch Doctor probably won’t do. What you really want is one who works at a big-name hospital. Someone you’ve played tennis with and intentionally let win. And most importantly, a fat gossipy type who treats top specialists and knows their deepest, darkest, career canceling secrets. He can get you in front of practically anybody in 15 minutes or less. And, better still, with a This Clown Is Really Sick! seal of approval
Tip # 3: Shut up and Listen
When interviewing direct descendants of Hippocrates, it’s best not to try and impress him or her with the news you own all the episodes of Quincy, ME, and Diagnosis Murder including the bonus Bloopers and Outtakes DVD, and feel qualified to perform an emergency autopsy in a pinch —as I was quick to learn. You actually learn a bit more if you get medical people –especially ones of the “highly respected” variety –to talk about themselves, which is not that difficult. What you may perceive to your benefit, is this: all doctors have gone to school much longer than you, but it does not follow, even slightly, they are all intelligent and/or talented. Intelligent and talented doctors are endlessly curious and positively enjoy keeping up with the latest research. They like talking about their specialty to patients who seem to have an I.Q. above sleep. Talented doctors make patients feel as though they are part of the process, not only because this is the surest road to success in their profession –as it is in business, marriage, and most cons – but because they are painfully aware “the science” is far from settled and every patient is potentially a learning experience. The merely educated, especially the ones who flaunt their degrees, are always the most dogmatic and really should be doing something else, such as sorting mail or laying linoleum in my kitchen. They are dangerous. Often deadly
Am I Talking To A Healer, A Lawyer, A SJW Loon, Or A Mask?
“There are known knowns, things we know that we know; and there are known unknowns, things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns, things we do not know we don’t know.” Donald H Rumsfeld
Might we not, just maybe, be a less divided, less panicked, less depressed, and a far richer country if the above had been recited before and after every version of RONA RONA FO-EVAH by Doktor Ant-own-ee & The Cee Dee Cees?
Instead of …
On April 15, 2022, 29 months after ‘Rona hit, Rochelle Walensky MD MPH –Biden Appointed Director of the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) since January –told the country that gay young men “an abused and heroic segment of the population” were getting STDs “ in such record numbers the mortality rates might rival the 1980’s AIDS crisis.” And, therefore, and, of course, immediate funding from Congress is needed so the CDC can study the problem in-depth
Sorry, Rochelle, if I don’t lend my slightly off-key baritone to the Gay Men’s Choir in a rousing rendition of “Don’t Cry For Me Gonorrhea.”
Since you seem to have missed it, Rochelle, MD MPH, you are now the appointed head of an organization that for two solid years restricted or prohibited “nonessential” medical care and lab testing –such as STD, Heart, Cancer screenings. And with nugatory legal authority, it also issued mandate after mandate causing unnecessary business closures, school closures, banning of outdoor activities, and millions losing health insurance due to unemployment. It also managed to shut down all dissenting opinions by partnering with Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to suppress ‘Rona “misinformation” by censoring doctors and researchers who disagreed with the “Science Consensus” Researchers and Doctors, by the way, who were right all along and have been vindicated over time. All of which, not only caused STD rates to rise, but suicide rates to skyrocket, untreated pathologies to maturate, and life expectancies to drop.
So please Rochelle MD MPH, double mask, douse yourself in disinfectant, go stand on the painted mark in the elevator, and ride it up and down until people want to hear anything you have to say or pigs fly. At least 70% of the country believes the CDC has become a punchline and Public Health is now synonymous with Political Double Speak.
A major problem for anyone —take me, for example—who needed medical care for two-plus years is that the Rochelle MD MPH / Dr. Fauci’s brand of “We’re Right, You’re Stupid + Racist” has cast a very dark cloud, and will continue to do so, over every aspect of hospital care possibly for years to come. One reason which dare not be uttered, but fuck it: 60% of higher education graduates and 60% of new doctors are female, which also happens to be the only group in the country, according to multiple polls, who believe the CDC and the Biden administration have done “exceedingly well” in combating ‘Rona and rebooting the economy. Far too many are “Woke,” “Me Too,” absurdly angry and resentful, and in the vanguard of this obscene Gang Of Four-style Cultural Revolution which has destroyed lives and reputations for little more than “threatening” body language or saying something deemed “inappropriate.” In hospital environments, where protocols have gotten much stricter due to ’Rona, the tyranny of this militant minority commands way too much attention, simply because most of the staff are too busy to argue, but also due to fear, As I was soon to find out :
Ordered by the surgeon and nurses, all conversant with my medical history, to NOT take any medication three days prior to the biopsy necessary to determine the extent of cancer and how long I might expect to live, I found myself in an early morning hour: prepped, gowned, certain of death under the knife and quivering with savage regret for a misspent life. In the midst of this misery, I was suddenly confronted by a double-masked, skinny young woman who informed me in Valley Girl fry tones that she was my assigned anesthesiologist, and she would NOT allow the biopsy to proceed. Why? Because I had not taken 81 MG of aspirin a day for 3 days –i.e. one regular aspirin total. This was simply absurd: she was pissed about something and didn’t want to work that day–plain and simple. The surgeon and my primary doctor – both cis-gendered-white-evil representatives of the patriarchy, alas — protested vehemently. The Chief Surgeon was called in and decided he did not want to go to war over it, especially if he might face a Hurt Feelings Report that could easily escalate into a costly sex discrimination lawsuit and put his career in jeopardy
Upshot: the biopsy was delayed 2 weeks –that is, 336 long hours in virtual lockdown waiting for what I was now convinced: a death sentence. The middle-aged anesthesiologist who replaced the unhappy millennial didn’t seem to care if I was injecting meth into my eyeballs Are patients allowed to put in a Hurt Feelings Report? no.
Tip # 4: Research Your Cancer, Memorize The Acronyms OR Don’t Because No One Will Listen To You Anyway. Don’t Post On Social Media Looking For Advice Unless You’re Using Stupid As A Defense In An Upcoming Lawsuit
My Cancer verdict was delivered by the young surgeon who performed the biopsy, in easy-to-understand terms: 80% chance of living at least another 5 years IF I underwent 30 radiation treatments and 30 chemo sessions over 8 weeks followed by a 30-day recovery period in the hospital. And by the way, he added, your tooth implants will have to be pulled out before the radiation or your head will explode.
But all my teeth are held in by implants, I remonstrated. “Won’t my smile be … eliminated?”
“Most patients tell me they have no urge to smile after the radiation and chemo.”
“Couldn’t the tumor be taken out by an operation?”
“Yes, but we would have to break your jaw. And while it hardly seems possible, you’d be even uglier. Plus you’ll still have to undergo radiation and chemo .”
“I read there’s this miraculous apricot cure in Mexico that one of The Monkees– or maybe it was one of The Beatles—swore by?”
A period ensued in which we listened to the timer on his instrument sterilizer tick off the seconds before the interview was concluded.
Six weeks of extreme dental torture and gum recovery left me with 7 front teeth and zero desire to smile. A lull I’d soon look back on as “ the phony war.”
After much deliberation, mostly with a one-eared alley cat in a nearby park, I decided to undergo radiation/chemo at the Bronx VA. My other choices –Columbia-Presbyterian on Manhattan’s Upper West Side or Mt. Sinai on the Upper East Side –treat patients from all over the world, but mostly from their respective high rent neighborhoods—the land of Society matrons, Wall Street grandees, and Celebrity Lefties. As someone who never gets a decent restaurant table competing against A-listers and either ends up by the kitchen door or in the kitchen next to the fryer, getting between these types and an oncologist seemed like asking to be a sticky spot on the floor.
The Bronx VA offered three other advantages. First, the patients were mostly older and male. Second, the doctors and surgeons and equipment were exactly the same –the three hospitals rotate staff. But third, and most of all, I was actually able to talk myself into an apartment on the upper floor of the VA during treatments. Although I only intuited this at the outset: if I had had to travel to and from and be left to my own devices for up to 18 hours a day …it’s best not to contemplate.
On the first day at the radiation clinic, an ancient black man who looked like he’d just been released after spending 20 years on the Amistad, sat across from me in the waiting room. In a deep croaking voice, he told me he had just completed 12 weeks of head and neck radiation and chemo and he would not wish the same on a Nazi baby killer. He was forty-two years old
Tip#5: Think Of Happy Tune To Hum During The Bad Parts
For the next ninety days Bernard Hermann’s “Screeching Violins For Shower Knifings” written for the movie Psycho, ran continuously through my increasingly frazzled brain.
The radiation team was comprised of three, preternaturally calm and upbeat, technicians and a tiny Chinese nurse named Sam. Each morning they strapped me onto a table with a tight-fitting helmet that covered me head to clavicle so that a giant robot with one eye could zap me for twenty minutes in the right spots. Owing to my comic gifts and native optimism I was able to keep everyone’s spirits aloft –including 4 guys who gathered each morning for prostate zapping—for almost an hour during week one. As my neck began glowing with what felt like the worst sunburn ever and I could no longer eat or swallow, my mirthful repertoire may have turned a wee bit too sardonic for even an audience of the aforementioned Mongolia Grudge Fuckers Nevertheless, the staff could not have been kinder. Or, to be honest, more forgiving.
Tip # 6–Wear Dark Pants For Chemo
The same was true of the three nurses who strapped me to a chair with IVs for up to 7 hours of chemo five days a week. They joshed and kidded and did everything possible to ease my discomfort and pain, and managed to not burst out laughing during my frequent trips to the bathroom attached to a contraption holding bags of chemicals
As for my 30-day hospital stay after all of the above? Suffice it to say, I was tethered to a bed with IVs inserted into both arms 24/7 with broadcast television on all day and all night. Show after show with morbidly obese women unable to understand why they can’t get laid, or worse, getting or giving fashion or makeup tips. Real-life crime shows with cops arresting the stupidest people on earth. Quiz shows apparently designed to appeal to plant life. Pointing out to all who entered the room that this was ultraviolent droog Alex DeLarge deprogramming type torture, did no good. Nurse Pigface and the aides wanted it on. Why? Anybody’s guess.
At long last, I was released and “Screeching Violins For Shower Knifings” stopped, only to be replaced by “Plaintive Saxophone Dirge for Assassins” coincidentally also written by Bernard Hermann for Taxi Driver
I was 55 pounds thinner, unable to drink water, eat or swallow food except through a feeding tube inserted in my stomach, and unable to stand for longer than 5 minutes, much less walk. I had a radiation burned neck that looked like rare roast beef, no hair below my nose, and an odd, wobbly pouch below my chin that altered my expression such that if I attempted any facial expression I looked like Mitch McConnell after inserting an exploding suppository. And last but not least –ta, da—I now had the piece de resistance: A Black Dick
The good news was movie offers began pouring in to play a body exhumed by a forensics team. And, predictably New York State sent my Black Dick an absentee voter’s ballot even before its obituary was published.
Ninety days after my hospital release, I was summoned back to drink barium and lie still in a buzzing, flashing, low-budget sci-fi-type tube for two hours. A week later I was told by my oncologist that despite my epic tantrums, death threats to staff (their families and pets), and her personal revulsion at the sight of me, she was required to deliver good news: You Are Cancer Free!
An endearing twinkle in her eye told me she also wanted to add “Now, Fuck Off !” Exactly the kind laugh out loud but non-verbal back and forth we both enjoyed over an admittedly stressful period.
As a kid, no one ever mistook me for Tom Sawyer: Eagle Scout. And now that I’ve reached an age gerontologists call “playing in overtime,” no one has ever been tempted to shout: Here Comes Jolly Old St Nick.
But there’s something about being told you’re cured of Cancer that may have turned me into a Big Picture Guy—as opposed to the Impatient “ No fucking Uber in ten seconds and I am officially killing myself ” Guy. Or what I thought I was 16 months before No Picture Guy.
As it happened, I was once again finishing the novel “Konstantin “Kostya” Dmitri Levin” which Leo Tolstoy was forced by his agent to call “Anna Karenina” because a cover with a half-naked vixen and a subtitle like ”Jizz Hound!” was more marketable. Spoiler Alert: Anna kills herself by jumping in front of a train because she is spoiled, stupid, manic, and morphine-addicted To be honest, I was happy to see the bitch go. And I say that with real emotion because Tolstoy’s characters become so real you see them as friends, relatives — you actually can imagine them arguing with checkout people that the reason there are 35 names on their credit card is to confuse the KGB and novel readers. Great novels demand our full attention, the greatest ones move the whole soul –and in Tolstoy’s transformative work of art, finding his soul is the main character’s quest. Levin is a nobleman farmer – obviously Tolstoy’s stand-in –who yearns to be a philosopher/ intellectual governed by pure Reason and to impart this wisdom to his countrymen before a revolution tears Russia apart. Levin adamantly cannot believe in God, until at the very end of the novel, he has a Road To Damascus revelation which so stuns him the earth stops still and he has a vision Reason is not the answer, he realizes. Reason cannot explain or understand God. The human race is not comprised of individual souls, we are all one soul. And that’s God.
I am not sure Levin would include Nurse Pigface in his one soul universe if he got to know her, but he would certainly find evidence in support among the doctors, nurses, technicians, aides, and volunteers who tirelessly work in Cancer wards. They daily must come to grips with what the Episcopalians say at the graveside: “In the midst of life we are in death.” And they keep on keeping on anyway,