How medical science made "battling" cancer less than revelatory
The one thing I thought I'd salvage from my cancer ordeal was a new attitude. Like anybody else, I'd heard plenty of talks and read plenty of articles from cancer survivors extoling platitudes about gratefulness and seizing days and reevaluating priorities. It's supposed to be revelatory. It turned out my particular cancer was more miserly than that.
I'm not a better person for having endured it, nor do I have better insight into the value of life -- and I blame medical science for that.
I've always been fascinated by death. Over the course of 2009, I traveled New England to write a book that chronicled my experiences visiting some 200 strange, death-related sites and artifacts. A book bound in human skin. The collected artwork of Jack Kevorkian. The grave of the Boston Strangler. I traveled more than 7,000 miles in a year-long Halloween, loving every hourglass grain of my macabre project.
In March of 2010, just one month after I delivered the completed manuscript to my publisher, I got a call from my doctor with some of the worst news of my life.
A few weeks previous I had noticed a swelling on the right side of my neck. I didn't think too much of it, figuring it was a swollen lymph node. I'd noticed it before during a tooth infection, and thought it was a recurrence. My teeth have been at war with me and my bank account for a long time. My wife disagreed, which was how I found myself at the doctor who, after tenderly probing it with latex fingers, decided to do a fine-needle aspiration. Basically, he took a sample of the core of the node, hoping to find enough of the tissue in question to diagnose the cause of the swelling without having to slit my neck.