Doing Defence

I've been thinking about the skills and experiences that have strengthened my defence, and will bolster me in the cancer arena. I used to box. In boxing, there are a variety of defences - contact and non-contact. There's blocking: covering your face with your gloves and taking the punch to the arms not to the head. There’s parrying: deflecting the blows off to the side with a swat. There’s slipping: ducking or moving to one side to avoid contact all together. For my cancer, I want the slipping defence. But I won’t get to choose.

It’s probably a good thing they were testing the alarm system at the No Frills grocery store the other morning, before my MRI. After 20 minutes, I was ready to rip my head off - literally whimpering while I shopped.

So I was over-prepared for the MRI. It was like 45 minutes at a rave, with loud intermittent experimental jazz. Parts of it reminded me of that bangy intro to the song “I Just Came to Say Hello.”

The noise going on in my head during the MRI – the noise of possible findings – competes with the noise of the machine.

Sunday morning at the Sunnybrook MRI suite (ya, that word suite - not so much) is busy, but unstaffed. Technicians run the machines, but there are no greeters. A chain fence is pulled in front of the desk. There’s a phone on the wall to let someone know you’ve arrived.

A man around my age moves slowly toward the phone, grunting with the effort. He seems drunk but I know he’s sick. He calls in, sits down across from me in the small waiting area, and starts to talk. In cancer land you never know when you’ll find yourself in the ring.

He has an aggressive brain tumour. They’ve been radiating the hell out of his head. He’s lost many teeth. Another one cracked off a couple of days ago. They have plans to remove the rest. 

“I used to be a good looking guy,” he says.

He saved his own life last summer. He couldn’t breathe and ran to the freezer, grabbed a pack of ice and pressed it to the side of his neck. That’s how the paramedics found him, passed out with the ice against his head.

“Don’t ask me why I knew to do that.”

I still haven’t said anything. What can I possibly say? I only know that he needs to talk.

He finally stops and asks me what I have.


“The treatment’s worse than the disease. (That line is starting to get tired) I weighed 200 pounds. I went down to 150. Now I’m back up to 180. Look at you. You’re tiny. This will kill you.”

I parry, to the left, to the right, swatting wildly at this assault.

I don’t think that’s what he meant. I think he meant it will be tough. I don’t have a brain tumour, at least not that I know of. I have a different kind of cancer. We’re not the same. He needs to talk. He has few teeth and fewer filters left.

So before I even slide into the MRI machine, there’s a lot of noise in my head. I’m not just pulling the fears out of my ass (although I'm doing that too). They’re being thrown at me from all sides. Sometimes I forget to keep my arms up. A lot of punches are getting through.

I haven’t trained for cancer. I’ve been thrown in, cold. I guess I’ll need to figure out the equivalent of headgear, a mouth guard and a kidney belt. Or maybe I’ll have to be satisfied with falling back after the bell rings and letting others hold me and prepare me to head back in. 


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