When I met with my oncologist yesterday to discuss my future chemo treatments, I suspected right away that he had been talking with Nietzsche. He entered the room with a benign grimace, my medical chart, and a pencil from the Oberlin bowling lanes. Looking up from the pullulating numbers he observed me carefully.
– You’re still standing, I see, and not vomiting at this moment. Your nose is a blistered, peeling beet and a rash prevails on your legs like mold on two wet and forgotten baguettes. Your thumbs are twitching nervously like the lips of two blushing pilgrims, your platelet count is so low that you bleed spontaneously when you bite into a soft banana, and you smell funny, like cucumber moisturizer mixed with compost. In short, you are not in catastrophic physical pain but nobody has recently mistaken you for Michelangelo’s David.
– You have the situation.
– That is very satisfactory. And tell me, are you also suffering psychologically every day, fearing the short- and long-term consequences of chemotherapy on your spirit and body? Are you anguished by the fact that you can barely glimpse the end of your pain, that you cannot think about the future but cannot not think about it either? You worry about status of your liver, your eyes, your children, and the article you’re writing about Jean Anouilh?
– That’s also right, yes.
– Excellent. Now, remember that for any healthy kind of person the value of life is certainly not measured by the standard of such trifles as suffering or pleasure. Suffering might predominate, and in spite of that a powerful will might exist, a Yes to life, a need for this predominance. You must learn to think of the effects of the toxic drugs I’ve been giving you on your body and soul the way my drunken bowling competitor thinks of the advent of nihilism on European culture, i.e. as a necessary trauma, a transitional stage between a state of naïveté and a new phase as yet hardly recognizable. You are leaving behind an old skin – billions of unwanted cells – in a massive blast of creative destruction that will create the conditions for a new superhuman self either to perish heroically or to survive and revalue all old values.
- I’m sensing that I might not get a free SpongeBob band-aid today. Something also tells me that you’re not leaning toward reducing the dosage or the number of my remaining treatments.
- Four more infusions of Folfox and Erbitux at the maximum dose are the most I could possibly give you, making for a grand total of 14. Beyond that…
– So how many are you going to give me?
– Why, four more infusions of Folfox and Erbitux at the maximum dose. That will carry you right through July and into August. I guess you’re not bowling too much these days?
– Well, with the thumbs, you know.
– Of course. I’ll give your best to Friedrich. See you back here in a month.