An upward trend is not always a good sign. I stare at the message that my father – the prostate guy – just texted me. Although he has now had a number of chemo treatments, the cancer level in his blood has risen considerably.
It is unclear why. The measurement may not be reliable, but it could also be wrong. The advice is to wait a few weeks, then measure again and make a scan to see whether the cancer is proliferating.
“It doesn’t happen often that it increases like this during chemo,” I understood, my dad mumbles. But how is that possible? And what does all this say?
The doctor doesn’t know either, something patients usually prefer not to hear. Or yes? Because maybe not knowing is still better than knowing something bad.
Informing, interpreting, accepting: anyone who becomes ill must acquire a lot of skills. The most important one is: parking.
Cancer is waiting. The patient and their loved ones bounce from blood work to tests to photos and back again. Statues keep appearing on screens. They say something but not everything. Because anyone who thinks that you can see every wrong cell on such a nice scan is wrong. Cancer is a sneaky creature that hides in very small corners. So the motto is often: just wait, wait, take another test, wait again, for weeks or even months. What do you do in the meantime? Life of course. Especially now, because you know that death may be lurking. But living in the knowledge that bad news may follow is quite complicated.
The only solution is parking. Park your dark troubles and make room for light. Compartmentalization is what a dear friend calls it. Putting that one rotten aspect of your existence in a hatch in your head and dropping a weighted lid on it. Don’t think about it now. Makes no sense anyway.
During my driving test I kept failing on parking. I still drive in circles until I can find a spot where I can put my car forwards. Backwards is impossible. I have no spatial awareness, it feels like I’m trying to mash a triangle into a square.
I once ran out of my cart in a pissed off way, which I had already tried to straighten along a canal eight times with white knuckles, amid loud laughter from a group of construction workers. “You do it then,” I shouted to the tallest one, as I tossed him my keys. He drove the car neatly into place. “Should I teach you?” he asked sweetly. I shook my head. There was no point anyway.
Now I’ve been staring at the stupid graph with the vertical line like a severely raised eyebrow for days. Suddenly I click the picture away and call my father.
“Shall we book a trip, Dad?”
“That sounds wonderful to me, child.”
“Good idea. I’m going to look for a hotel right away.”
I smile. You can learn how to park. And the prostate guy and I are getting pretty good at it.
Roos Schlikker (1975) is a journalist and writer of books and plays. Every Saturday she writes a column for Het Parool.
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