You May Have Cancer

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You do realize that the title of this article is completely true. Anyone of you reading this article right now may have cancer — and that includes all of your loved ones and even your small children.

The doctor won’t usually say it that way. They will always say something like, "You may have a tumor;" Or, "You may have a polyp." Or even, "There might be some sort of soft tissue growth or water accumulating." (I’ve heard all of these before). I guess these phrases are not as frightening as the "C" word. Of course, you know what I’m talking about: cancer. Cancer — even though it is common — is still caught up in stigma. A diagnosis of cancer is still synonymous with a death sentence in our societies.

I was diagnosed as having Chronic Spasmodic Coughing on about August 6th of this year. The coughing gets so bad sometimes that I have fainted or passed out from it; there’s been at least four times that I know about. I suppose it’s a pretty safe assumption to say that there were times that I passed out and didn’t realize it; I only know about the times when there was someone around to snap me out of it and ask me, "Are you okay?"

Is there any one of us who hasn’t had some strange symptom at one time or another and — in the back of our minds — had the inkling that it could be cancer? For me, this time, it’s been the coughing. It has affected everything I do: I can’t sleep well therefore I’m always tired; I’m tired so my work quality has slipped up; I’ve even become a bit depressed. And, through this, the cycle gets worse.

Coughing so hard that you pass out and lose consciousness is most certainly not a very good thing. The last time I completely lost consciousness from coughing happened on September 8th, at about 8 pm in the evening. I was trying to get caught up on my e-mail when I started coughing — hard. The next thing I knew was that my head was lying on the computer’s keyboard and my wife was shaking me awake. She was nearly in a panic. I was, finally, frightened. Today I had another coughing spasm that made me feel like I was going to fall down. The coughing shook me all the way to my legs and made my knees shudder. Not good. Not good at all.

Of course, I have already gone to see a general practitioner and he gave me cough medicine and listened to my lungs and heart. But he couldn’t find the cause of my illness. So what could it be? Well, it can’t be anything all that ordinary… It could be something very serious. It could be something very bad.

Not being one to trust doctors all that much, I wrote to my good friend, Robert Klassen to ask for some friendly advice about my condition. Robert is a retired professional respiratory therapist. He had been working as one since 1963 — at many hospitals — so he knows his subject inside and out. Robert told me what the possibilities were: pneumonia, bronchitis, pollution, a polyp, or possibly a tumor; none of them good, one really bad. I knew I didn’t have pneumonia or bronchitis — I’ve had those before; I know what they feel like. Pollution? I don’t think so. Tokyo air is not nearly as polluted as the air above Los Angeles. I’ve never had respiratory problems like that. But, just in case, I checked: negative for all of those. That only leaves a polyp or a tumor — cancerous tissue — or some other yet unexplained reason.

Do I have a polyp or a tumor? Perhaps. Scary stuff if I do. I took Robert’s advice and arranged to see pulmonologist. On Friday, I made an appointment for next Tuesday. This gave me the entire weekend and a day to spend more time with my wife and children and to consider death and my own mortality. What would their lives be like without me? What would/could I expect?

Robert has written a book that I think is a quite necessary and practical read for anyone who is at all worried about their health or knows someone who is (I guess that would include all of us). The book is entitled Death in America and has some very profound and frightening stories about what he had seen in hospitals over these last 40 plus years.

"Terminal illness and death are most definitely not pleasant subjects," but as Robert writes, "…Each one of us will experience both and (we) should contemplate our relationship with the end of life as we know it… Beware; the death of a loved one could change your life before you know it." People rarely die when you expect it and no one dies at a good time. I know: My own mother, healthy and strong at 72, just up and died one day in a freak car accident. It could happen to me; it could happen to you.

Death in America, though written in fictionalized form, goes through the stories of some people who met with death told from their first visits to the hospital or from the point of view of the hospital staff. Some of the stories are gut-wrenching. Some of the stories hint at subjects that our modern Western medicine would never touch or even consider. But all are compelling and a fascinating read. All are most definitely food for thought.

You just have to know that someone who worked for over 40 years with the living, just before — and after their deaths; just has to have some — depending on how you look at it — strange or enlightening experiences. Some experiences are unexplainable; many of them frightening. Robert has seen — and written about — some things that might just drop your jaw. This book is a necessary read for anyone who wishes to consider a different aspect of illness, death, and the modern human condition in America. It is an understatement to say that Death in America is also a deeply profound and philosophical book.

I pulled the book out from the shelf and read it over again. The stories in the book all relate to my medical condition and my future actions — as I suspect they will relate to yours. They are the reason for this book review/article. I know that anyone who thinks about or has come time to think about their own — or a loved one’s — mortality can benefit from what Robert Klassen has written in Death in America.

As for myself, I have now been told by two doctors that they can’t find what the cause is of my chronic cough. I guess that’s good. If it is cancer, it is still too small to detect. Nevertheless, with the help of Robert’s book, I can consider — with some needed insight — what I may have to look forward to — or what I may have to fear.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has the distinction of being fired from every FM radio station in Tokyo — one of them three times. His first book, Schizophrenic in Japan, is now on sale.

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