Two months ago, I developed the nastiest cough of my life on Temodar. And had my lungs X-rayed. And stopped taking chemo. Got tested for flu, COVID-19. That was April. I know that because my CareNow visit has apparently resulted in CareNow reconsidering their acceptance of Missouri Medicaid. Insurance shows still pending.
There was this TV in the exam room displaying the start menu for a children’s movie called Alpha and Omega: Dino Digs (2016). The same three notes of music and crap animation repeating until I stuck my head out and called to the receptionist. She started the movie.
I must have written this poem from Sonnetizer in the throes of this first cough:
I develop my chemo cough like a photograph
in the dark room of my chest. I keep
the cough in my chest of drawers,
out of reach of the children, my rattling bottle,
gravel road. My old neurooncologist
once suggested to Mom it would be the treatment
that kills me, not the tumor. The thunder
of my body gathers in the branches of the lungs.
Something is forming in the dark, or some
one. My children are right to feel afraid. My dog
is right to scamper under the grand piano.
What the end is I cannot conclude from the now
available data. April’s outburst of rain, ice,
all hand sleight, mixed signals. Killing kindness.
Maybe May was my month off, but my reading at Marcus Myer’s on June 11 saw the return of the cough. After about 10 days I tried CareNow but ended up at Urgent Care of Kansas City. Again. I have a long and illustrious history with this friendly little clinic. In the Shadow of Nature’s Grocer’s.
At the reading I began coughing during my reading “The Cough.” Rain fell on my head when I read: “before the rain / breaks its fist against the wall.” And again, I remember, at some other mention of rain, so that I wrote and sent to Marcus the following jokey poem:
Eventually it would start to rain
when I said, “rain.” Deer
would appear, as if responding
to the sound of their own
names, a possum coaxed out
of the woods to be killed
in the bright lines of my notebook.
I knew the reading was over
when the words soaked through
my beard and my eyes ran.
I knew someone had spelled my name
in a smear at the bottom of the stairs
at the gritty end of the drive-
way with the sky gone
suddenly bright yellow after night fell,
a double rainbow
like the arches of a gloomy cathedral.
The strangeness of conjuring … I told the story at breakfast the next day and Theo understood and internalized it: He was bringing it back up again this morning as a joke.
In light of the onslaught of the new cough, I imagined Dr. Tuncer would want to take me off Temodar until it went away. And he has. Pending chest X-rays. I went off last night and felt better this morning as a direct result. I need to be more flexible in this therapeutic dance. To retain the freedom to dose or not dose before bed. And maybe next time just stop at the first symptom, the first sign of wrong, and not press on, ridiculously. Stupidly. Soldier on. There’s no real evidence of recurrence anyway beyond the loss of function Tuncer has suggested to be the result of “invisible tentacles” of tumor cells. The loosening up on my nightly dose, coupled with the fitting for Optune (tumor treatment fields) Monday, probably suggests the way forward is going to be a bit dicier than I expected. Less clear-cut.