The Diagnosis

I was shocked by the prognosis; even more surprised that it was delivered in such a matter-of-fact way, utterly without emotion. The doctor explained that the persistent cough I had been experiencing was symptomatic of an unusual form of lung cancer.

“It’s always terminal, but we never know how quickly it will develop; it could be months, it could be days. There’s just no way to predict how fast it will evolve. You should try to make the best of the time you have left.”

I tried to make sense of it, but it was pointless. Ultimately, I thrashed about enough to wake myself from the dream. It wasn’t real. But it felt real. There was more to it. Much more like reality than dreamscape. I couldn’t sleep after experiencing it. I felt certain that it was, somehow, real. I spent the rest of the night trying to figure out how to organize the limited time left to me so that my unexpected death wouldn’t be so traumatic to my wife.

That dream wasn’t especially unusual. Ever since my lung cancer diagnosis last year, I’ve had dreams like it; never quite the same from one night to the next, but always sufficiently troublesome to ruin what otherwise might have been a good night’s sleep. I’ve never revealed these dreams to anyone because I know they might disturb people. But, given the fact that they have become a regular part of my life, I guess they’re no longer quite the horrors they once were.

The dreams have changed over time. They are not always so shockingly hard on me or others in the dreams. Sometimes, they bother me because I am the only one in the dream who seems to be upset by the prognosis; I am the only one who is bothered that my death is imminent. In one dream, at least, the fact that I’m upset by the prognosis seems to be an annoyance to other people. “We KNOW you’re dying. Can you just let up on it for a while?” I don’t know how to respond to that; I just choke down a sob and turn away.

Given that my cancer is, as far as anyone knows, long gone, I don’t know why I keep having these damn dreams. Maybe my fear hasn’t diminished, in spite of the good news. Or maybe the recurrent issues, like the persistent cough, have convinced my subconscious that the doctors haven’t quite figured out what’s wrong with me. Hypochondria is not outside the realm of possibility; maybe I’m just faking sickness and that artificial illness is invading my dreams.

I’ve said, aloud, that I’m not afraid of whatever it is that I’m facing. That would be a bit of a lie. I am afraid, of course. Who wouldn’t be, knowing the disease that was surgically removed from one’s body was capable of killing its host? From a purely logical, rational, intellectual perspective, I think the likelihood that lung cancer is killing me is slim. I think they got it. But my emotions don’t allow me to be entirely logical. They still permit me to be scared. Though I don’t know what I’m scared of. Only the pain, I guess. I have no fear of death; only of the processes leading there. And, of course, death’s debris; the aftermath that those left behind have to address.

These thoughts are gloomy, drab, ugly ideas. But I can’t help but think them. They emerge from my dreams and infect my waking hours. We all die, don’t we? We don’t need to spend time dwelling on the inevitable, but sometimes I have no control over my thoughts. Well, I never have control over my thoughts. They always have control over me.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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