My Last Normal Day
Tomorrow, I start chemotherapy. Today, I reflect on where I am in life.
It is an unassailable fact of the human condition that we believe that we are immune to the disasters that afflict others. Bad things happen to other people, you see, not us. In the midst of a world-historical pandemic, you’ll find otherwise perfectly rational people go about their daily business without a mask assuming that COVID-19 will not happen to them. Unfortunately, we are all “other people” to other people.
I learned this lesson last week. On Monday November 2nd, I was told by doctors that I have a seminoma - a cancer. Seminomas are a highly curable and not uncommon type of cancer among young males, of which I am one. Seminomal tumours form in the testes, or in rare instances like mine, in the retroperitoneum - the lower back. Such tumours are highly responsive to chemotherapy with a ~ 95% cure rate. Tomorrow, I start chemotherapy. Today is the deep breath before the plunge.
Pictured: The author, Saturday November 7th.
In many ways I am extremely fortunate. I was lucky enough to detect the tumour early, before any significant metastases developed. My luck does not stop there however. I am lucky because I come from a comfortable middle class family that put me through K-12 private school back home. Consequently, I was able to apply to and be accepted to the University of Toronto, and my family’s socioeconomic status allowed me to emigrate to Toronto and embark on a rather expensive post-secondary education.
I am lucky because I am a relatively healthy 25 year old male, who arrived here at 17 with minimal obstacles. I am lucky because - after graduating from U of T - I managed to gain Canadian permanent residency. That meant I was covered by Canadian healthcare. I am lucky because I can now receive some of the best healthcare in the world, free at the point of service. I am lucky because I have a unionized job that allows paid medical leaves to focus on treatment. And finally, I am lucky because despite moving to Toronto alone I now have an incredible circle of friends that are a family to me - not by something as accidental as blood, but by something much stronger, by choice. Their support over the past weeks has been immense, and I am grateful beyond words.
Thus, I write this not to extract personal pity but to show how random the world is. People may try to rationalize it via religion, karma, moral punishment, but sooner or later we all must gaze into the abyss that life is a sequence of coin tosses. Sometimes we lose a particular coin toss. Sometimes that loss causes a really bad outcome. Either ways, there is no rhyme and reason to our life.
So why am I writing this? Consider the stranger. What separates me from the many people that may be suffering from a variety of conditions right now is a sequence of sheer dumb luck. Many cancer patients live in societies where healthcare is not free, and rack up six-figure debts pursuing treatment. Many cancer patients have to work through their illness to afford rent and bills. Many cancer patients have to contend with a myriad of other disabilities or health issues that amplify their difficulties. Many cancer patients lack a loving support network of friends and family.
This week has forced me to reflect on my socialism. Those of you who know me know I have been an unapologetic socialist for some time now. However, my politics have been thrown into a new light given my diagnosis. I am a socialist because I believe that strangers deserve to live with the same level of comfort I am blessed to have. Cancer patients should not be forced to pay for treatment, or work through their treatment, or face any form of material need living in the most wealthy period of human history. Moreover, it is an indictment of our society that 8,715 people live homeless in Toronto while 66,000+ homes remain vacant. I am a socialist because I believe that every human being, by virtue of their humanity alone, deserves a life of dignity and respect regardless of whether I will meet them or not.
We are staring down the barrel of ecological collapse even as fascism is spreading across the world. Still, it does not have to be this way. It can be better than this. I thus ask you, the reader, to consider the sympathy and support you might want to extend to me, and to let what personal affection you may have for me to bleed into your politics. Let your politics reflect a sympathy, support, and love for strangers you may never meet as strongly as you would for me. Together, we can forge a better future for every single human being.
Tomorrow, as I embark on my first step in a long and arduous journey of chemotherapy, I think of Ernest Hemingway who wrote in For Whom the Bells Toll, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.” I, too, will fight.