I have noticed that when people get any kind of illness these days, they go on to the Internet to research it, or they go out and buy a book about it, or, judging from my Amazon-fixated friends, they combine the two by going on the Internet to buy a book about it. I am much more in favour of them buying a book, as I have no idea how to make money out of the Internet, but I can’t see me writing an introductory book to the basic facts about cancer. Can you imagine it? “The Do’s and Don’t’s of Cancer”, or “An Introduction to Cancer” or, as they would say these days, “Cancer – the FAQs” by Dr. Miles Kington. I don’t see it. It’s not my bag.
But I do see an area which I could explore, and which I suspect has not been opened up yet, and that is the odd hinterland of cancer which have been totally ignored in the rush to make things scientific and simple and unscary.
“Cancer – the IFAQs.”
Cancer – the infrequently asked questions.
The things about cancer that nobody tells you, because you’ve never asked and they wouldn’t know the answer anyway.
Questions like these:
1. Who is the patron saint of cancer?
2. Can the experience of dying of cancer be offered as part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme?
3. Who was the first person to dare to use the word “cancer” on radio or TV? (Kenneth Tynan? Johnny Rotten? Dr. Anthony Clare?)
4. If your spouse dies of cancer, can you offload the penalty points from your driving licence on to his or her unexpired driving licence, and then start again with a clean sheet?
5. It is well known that George VI died of cancer, but was there any link between that and his lifelong hobby of philately?
6. That is, is there any connection between the licking of stamps and stamp hinges, and the contraction of cancer?
7. Has any research been done into this?
8. Why not?
9. Did the king actually lick his own stamp hinges, or was there a Philatelist Royal who did it for him?
10. If so, is there any record of whether the man who licked the stamp hinges for George got cancer or not?
11. Why not?
You see what I am driving at, Gill. The lateral approach to cancer. They may not be questions which everyone with cancer wants to ask, but you cannot deny that you wanted to know the answers, can you?
To some of them, anyway.
I know I would.
Here are some more questions about cancer.
12. What does it mean to be in denial about cancer?
13. We all think we know what it means to be in denial, that is, to flagrantly ignore the cold facts, but how can you be in denial over cancer?
14. If you’re told you’ve got cancer, how can you deny it, apart from demanding a second opinion?
15. If the second opinion says you’ve got cancer, how long do you go on disbelieving all the tests and experts?
16. Or does it mean that although deep down you know you’ve got cancer, you would rather not think about it?
17. Which, actually, is not so much denial, is it, as just cold-shouldering?
18. And there again, if you are one of those cheery customers who have been told you have got cancer but who prefer to carry on regardless, is that denial?
19. Or reckless bravery?
20. And if you are one of those tough cookies who say, Dammit! I can be cured! I will recover! I am not going to lie down and give in! – What then? Is that denial? Or is it denial of denial?
21. And if you pursue all other kinds of alternative treatment, in search of a cure, are you in denial of the plain statistic that most people will not be cured by alternative treatment?
22. Are optimism and hopefulness only disguised forms of denial?
23. Will I just shut up about denial for a moment?
24. Don’t you realise that hopeful and optimistic questions about denial can be very depressing?
25. Isn’t there some other question which is infrequently asked?
26. Yes. One question which rarely occurs to a cancer patient to ask is: Can other animals besides humans get cancer?
27. Yes. We know or at least vets know that dogs and cats and cows get what seems to be cancer. (There is also a theory that wasps and bees can get cancer, which is why they sometimes seem extremely bad-tempered and vicious, even when you think you are being nice to them. Luckily, wasps and bees with cancer are mostly too feeble to sting you.)
28. Can animals with cancer be cured?
29. Mmm – tough one, this. Orthodox treatment sometimes seems to work, but it is hard to tell whether they benefit from alternative treatment. Much of the effect of alternative treatment depends on a) you knowing that it is alternative b) you paying a lot of money for it, both of which are beyond the understanding of animals. So it’s a slightly vexed question.
30. Excuse me, but what is a vexed question? I can see how people can be vexed or annoyed, but how can a question be vexed? I’ve always thought that a question had a certain calmness and self-confidence. It’s answers, if anything, that would have to do the worrying. Questions have lots of self-confidence. Answers don’t. Isn’t it much more like to be a vexed answer, than a question?
31. Oh, for heaven’s sake! Couldn’t we just have questions about cancer, please?
32. All right. Do people born under the sign of Cancer actually suffer more from cancer than people under other signs?
35. Less, actually.
38. How come?
39. Well, if you examine the death rates of all the twelve Zodiac signs, you are bound to find that one of them has the highest cancer rate. One of them must. It’s like finding that one month has the highest road death rate, or one season has the most sunshine. So one sign is bound to have the most cancer cases. It happens to be Aquarius, actually. But there again, there also has to be a star sign with the most heart attacks, or suicides, etc.
41. And what?
42. And which signs have the most heart attacks, suicides, etc?
44. What, ALL of them?
45. Yes. Heart attacks, cancer, suicides, everything.
46. But that’s incredible! How is it possible that in every single case . . . ?
AN AQUARIOLOIST WRITES: Hello! Let me introduce myself. I am an Aquariologist. That is to say, I am an astrologer who specialises in the particular problems and properties peculiar to those who were born under the sign of Aquarius.
You probably never realised that some astrologers were restricted to one sign. Most people believe that every astrologer deals equally with all Zodiac signs. But a moment’s thought will reveal how unlikely this is. Does one doctor deal with all known diseases? Can one instructor teach you to play all sports? Would you really want to learn golf from a cricketing coach?
Similarly, you can see what good sense it makes to have one astrologer looking after one sign. Don’t forget that even an astrologer is born under a particular sign! Therefore, like most Aquarians, there are certain signs I am not drawn towards, such as Taurus and Capricorn, and even one sign which I feel distinctly hostile towards. (No names, no pack drill!)
So what happens if, as an astrologer, I am consulted by one of these opposing sign-holders? Exactly! I will have to fight to remain neutral. I will have to ignore my own feelings. Not easy. So I made the momentous decision eventually that I would cater only for people born in Aquarius, people I can relate to, people who know they can relate to me.
Of course, when I say ‘only people born in Aquarius’, that is still a huge amount of people! One twelfth of the world population! We Aquarians are as numerous as the others (I have checked this) and therefore by specialising in one sign I am not exactly endangering my livelihood. Are you surprised when a garage says it will service and repair only Saab cars? I don’t think so. And yet there are more Aquarians than Saab cars! It makes sense.
Q. I am with you so far. But you haven’t answered the big question yet.
Aquariologist: Which big question?
Q. Do Aquarians, statistically, die more often, or younger, of cancer than people born under other signs?
Aquariologist: If you care to make an appointment to see me, I am quite happy to talk about this to you, for the appropriate fee. This is not something I care to talk about casually.
Q. I do not see how I can make an appointment to see you, I am a Taurean.
Aquariologist. Then go see a Taurologist!
Q. OK, OK. But before I go, can you just have a look at my Saab 900? It sometimes makes a strange burning smell in the engine. . .
Aquariologist. No problem . . . let me just see the log book . . . .Ah, here we are . . . your Saab was manufactured in 1991, fourth month, third week . . . . so, this car would have come off the assembly line in Sweden when Uranus was in conjunction with Mars, moving into the influence of Venus . . . oh dear, it’s beginning to look like an oil problem, isn’t it?
(Doctor Kington has professional qualifications which can always be viewed in his premises in a big glass frame over the fireplace, from The Mail Order Degree of Medicine Service, San Jacinto Collegiate Foundation, Texas, 24-Hour Service, No Subject Too Obscure)
I think I may have got too close to this one, Gill, to see the wood for the trees. Can you see any future in it?