I wrote a post exactly a year and a day ago, in which I reflected on my feelings during a brief period when I neurotically imagined I might have cancer. This is funny because I actually do have cancer right now (though not the kind I feared), and am midway through an 18 week programme of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy is unpleasant. I spend a morning every three weeks having powerful toxins put into my veins and my spine. I’m aware of the poison in my system straight away, but after about 5 days it dominates everything. (And it is poison, though it’s designed to kill cancerous cells before it kills too many others). I feel exhausted and slightly nauseous, there is a permanent unpleasant taste in my mouth, and food tastes absolutely disgusting, like glutinous cardboard. Even water tastes unpleasant. For several days in each cycle it’s almost impossible to eat at all, and I don’t feel up to doing anything except lying down and trying to dissociate from my own experience.

Gradually this eases. It becomes easier to eat, though it remains a rather revolting experience with no pleasure in it. (I never realised until now how much the little treats that are meals help to get me through the day.) For the final few days of the three week cycle, I start to feel a bit more normal, and up to doing things like gardening jobs. Then the whole cycle begins again, but with the twist that there’s a cumulative aspect to it, so that the nastiest bit lasts longer and is a little more unpleasant each time.

During the first cycle I attempted to do some writing, but I’ve given up on that. I’ve pretty much given up on serious reading too. Not only food but pretty much everything else is polluted by the poison. My book diet is mainly audiobooks that don’t ask anything of me, but simply pass the time, or help me to settle into sleep. I’m currently listening to Sherlock Holmes stories, though I’ve never been interested in crime writing: the simple formula chunders round, the problem is resolved without my having to care about anything, and another 45 minutes have gone by.

Giving up on writing isn’t just about lack of energy, it’s also about what’s in my head. This process makes me aware of the disgustingness of the body, of being trapped in the body, no matter what, and my mind goes very quickly to places of horror, those awful places in our world where people would do anything to be released from existence, but must continue to exist anyway, and continue to inhabit the bodies that torment them.

I mean, who would want to read anything that continued for any length of time in the mood of this post?

16 thoughts on “Chemo”

  1. Thank you Jack. Nice to hear from you. It’ll be fine once I’m through it. It’s just that when you’re in it, it can be hard to rise above it.

  2. CANCER! dreaded thing!
    I am attending a funeral of a dear friend tomorrow morning who was taken very suddenly by the big C. Thankfully he did not suffer long.

    I sincerely hope that your prognosis is good Chris and that you will make a speedy recovery and can get back to your writing soon.

    Almería, Spain.

  3. Hi Chris,
    You don’t know me, but I wanted to say that as an sf fan, I thought your Dark Eden Trilogy the best read I’ve had in years! God what a movie that would be! By definition visually different than anything we have seen before. I had cancer, chemo and radiation 20 years ago. I’m clean now. Hang in there.

  4. Thanks John, much appreciated. And thanks for your kind comments about Eden. I’m in pretty good spirits just now. There’s a grim bit in the middle of the chemo cycle when it’s hard to be positive about things. I’m sure you know what I mean!

  5. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this. Your writing has brought me a huge amount of insight and pleasure over the last few years, and I find myself enthusiastically discussing it with and recommending it to other people. I really hope you’ll be up to adding to it again in due course, and that until then, your l0w-fibre literary diet continues to soothe. All the best.

  6. Thanks, Dave. So pleased you’ve found things to value in my books! It means a lot to me. I’m currently listening to Vanity Fair as an audiobook, which I’ve never read before and am enjoying very much. (Whether it classes as low-fibre I’m not sure!) I’m hoping to start work on a new novel as soon as I’m out of this. I have quite a lot of it worked out in my mind. Just need to apply myself to the slog of making a coherent, readable book.

  7. I wish you all the best and a speedy recovery, Mr. Beckett. So you can get back to fully indulge in your little and big enjoyments soon.

  8. So sorry to read this, Chris. I hope the treatment is successful and you’re soon back to a more normal life. Your writing has been a great inspiration to me, and I’m sure your joy of reading and food will return once your energy levels are restored. Wishing you all the best.

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