Cancer Man

A story about getting what you want

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Smug little brat. I’ll never forget his face. Fragile little white kid, smiling his little smile, two teeth gone. His bald head told the story before he ever opened his mouth. Holding up that quaint sign, “I just beat cancer. Can I get a million likes?” This kid, not even old enough to fear death, had already conquered it. And yet, before he could remove the oxygen tube from his nose, he was forgotten. Six million likes on Facebook, but nothing more than a viral fad, a click on a mouse, a momentary glimpse of real emotion, quickly shuffled back into the monotony of info-gazing, the nonstop dopamine rush of the age.

I can do that, I said to myself. I can do it better. I can make the world remember me.

I was twelve years old. I started smoking. At a time when everyone else was dropping real tobacco for that electronic cigarette bullshit, I said give me the tar. Give me the arsenic-laced carbon monoxide. Give me the poison, the carcinogens.

I started sneaking drinks from the liquor cabinet while my parents slept. They both started suspecting the other was a closet alcoholic, but never said a word. They never wondered why their son woke up staggering around the house, asking for coffee like a common beggar.

Sunscreen? What was that? I soaked up sun like an oil rag soaks up oil. I blistered my skin every chance I got. I welcomed the night chills, the aloe slathers. Most summers my skin hardened into shoe leather, brown and sleek. My dark hair was tinged with natural highlights only UV rays can provide.

People avoiding GMO foods? I said give me more! Pollute my body with your plastic, your Round-Up resistant corn, your pesticide-drenched, preservative-rich, growth hormone injected meats. Damage my chromosomes.

I washed my hands with gasoline. I took unnecessary amounts of medicine. I took illegal drugs. I purposefully breathed the fumes of things with exposure warnings: car exhaust, bleach, spray paint, nail polish remover.

Honey, what are you doing in there? You have a chemo appointment at 1:30 you know.

Yes, just finishing a video diary. Will be out in a few minutes, sweetheart.

By the time I was sixteen, I was an alcoholic, nicotine-addled, caffeine junkie. But I had already had cancer twice and won. My Facebook page had four million likes. My twitter had eight hundred thousand followers. It was a start, but little Caleb was able to garner more sympathy simply because he was a younger child. The world apparently was more accepting of eminent death once a person had eclipsed their thirteenth year. Anything before that was an abomination of the natural order. It was an affront to God, a blasphemy. Something that made people question their faith. Survivors were the polar opposite, a reaffirmation. The world needed survivors.

I wanted to be the ultimate survivor, someone the world could look to in its moment of doubt. They said I was the unluckiest man alive, but I knew different.

I’m thirty-three now. I’ve had cancer six times and beat it. I’m working on time number seven right now. My Facebook subscriber count is up to sixty-four million. I have over twelve million Twitter followers, and the hashtag “CancerMan” is routinely trending. I’ve had thirty-seven benign tumors removed from various parts of my body, including my brain. I’ve had one kidney removed, and a large portion of one lung, along with most of my colon. I only have four remaining natural teeth. I’ve paid my dues on the cancer scene. It’s been worth every sacrifice of bodily function or organ. I’m the professional spokesperson of several name brand drugs. I’ve been on television more times than you could count. Every talk show host knows my name. I’ve been featured on most international news networks. I’m a source of inspiration. I’m proof that humanity need not fear its worst mortal enemy.

This time though. This time, I know I’m trying to dig a hole in the ocean. The cancer is in my liver and my stomach. They fear it’s already spread to my brain. The chemotherapy has been extra brutal. I can barely keep any food down, and have mostly been on a liquid diet. Still, I’ve puked blood more than once. I know I look like a living skeleton. It’s all part of the game. In truth, it’s part that I crave more than I should. The more pain I am in, the more people love me. The more they want to help me by donating to my charity. The more they comment with prayers on my Facebook photos or reply to my tweets. I couldn’t be happier. I’m living proof that a person only has to want a dream bad enough to make it come true.

When I’m gone, as I know I eventually will be, I know my legend will live on. This war without end I have waged on my own body, it will not have been in vain. Hospitals will be named after me. Highways, parks, research facilities. The charity I founded will continue to serve those in need. People will continue to search my name and find my digital legacy in their hours of hopeless darkness, searching for a shred of possibility to cling to. Maybe they will found a new religion in my honor. When survivors walk out of their final round of treatment, maybe it will be my name they whisper under their breath when they give thanks to that intangible force that chose to spare them. Either way, I know my purpose in this life has been served. I’ve done the best that any man can do.

Honey, are you finished yet? You’re going to be late.

Yes, okay, I’m done. There, I turned it off, are you happy now? Let’s go. Do you have the hearse ready, or are we still taking the car?

Come on. Jesus. Drama queen.

What did you say?

Nothing. Nothing. Let’s go.

The End

Provocative truth teller, author of 19 poetry collections. Cat dad. Dog dad. Currently working from Portland, Oregon. Learn more at: