The cancer clinic is top-notch, and I’m lucky to receive treatment here. When I drive up, I’m greeted by a valet parking attendant, receive my claim check, and enter through the grand entrance. The lobby is well-appointed. I feel like I’m entering a five-star hotel. My first instinct is to ask for directions to the bar. But there is no bar here.
I leave the lobby and stroll down a hallway. The building is logically partitioned by the type of cancer trying to kill you. I arrive at my hood, the Urologic Cancer Clinic. The waiting area sports leather furniture tucked into a cozy alcove with large windows and a leafy view. In the corner, a man strums a classical guitar. A woman gives free neck massages by the window. There’s a certain relaxed hipness to it, like a New Age coffee house.
All utopian pretense ends when I check in at the reception desk and receive a clipboard stacked with forms. Oh, right, I’m not here to listen to music or get a massage. I’m here because a seven-centimeter malignant tumor was devouring my right testicle until it was unceremoniously removed a few weeks ago.
I sit in a leather chair and get to work. The medical questionnaire is disturbing. After the usual questions about medications and health history, it detours into queries about erections and urination habits. It’s incredibly detailed, demanding a ranking of all urologic plumbing functions on a scale of 1 to 5. Great. Every time I take a leak I’ll be calculating the flow intensity on a 1 to 5 scale.
After I complete the forms, I’m called back to the examination area. The cancer clinic has a serious disconnect between the front and back. The front is rainbows and unicorns, while the back is bleach, latex, and metal. There is no homage to relaxation or utopian distraction. In the front room, I’m a multidimensional human being. In the back, I’m a laboratory specimen. Forget the neck rubs. This is cut, poison, and burn territory.
I’m led to an exam room, my vitals are taken, and I wait. And wait. The doctor finally arrives, along with several residents standing behind her and scrutinizing me. The doctor is excellent, with a great bedside manner, and I appreciate her efforts in my care. But I don’t like these residents leering at me and scribbling notes. I wish the guitarist would sneak back here and hack a few power chords to distract them.
The doctor delegates the physical exam to one of the residents. The guy leaps at it. He seems giddy at the task, but it’s awkward on my end: everyone’s loitering around this cramped room, casually discussing my malignant right testicle (now deceased) while I stand there with my trousers on the floor. The exam is irritating, but I’m not particularly worried about it. The secret sauce is the CT scan and blood tests. That’s where any cancer spread will be detected.
After the exam, the doctor reviews the CT scan on the computer. She points out my abdominal lymph nodes on the scan—a bunch of pixilated white blobs—and searches for any enlargement indicative of my potential demise. It’s a tense few moments and I yearn for a neck rub from the lady by the window. Anything to soften the edges of this place. But the news today is good: the scan is clean.
Relief overtakes me. I will use every resource—both the front and back rooms—to save my life. But cancer is funny, because it forces you to decide whether you’re just a biological robot or something greater. It makes you wonder if everything can be explained in the back room with scans and blood tests, or if perhaps these are simply tools in service to the spiritual being catered to on the leather couches out front.
I feel good as I return to the waiting area. This whole experience has changed me for the better. I know exactly what I am. In no particular hurry, I grab a seat by the window and enjoy a neck massage while listening to the guitar player strum away. Now, if only this place had a bar ….
About the Author
Tom Mahony is a biological consultant in California with an MS from Humboldt State University. He is the author of the novels Imperfect Solitude, Flooding Granite, and Pacific Offering. Visit his website at tommahony.net.