The sleeper cell

Every morning we go out for a long walk, my cancer and I.

Like most new relationships it gets a little awkward sometimes. It’s still early days, and were just getting to know each other. There are still long, uncomfortable silences.

It’s so hard to know how to feel about my new companion.

And I can feel it. Or at least I think I can. It doesn’t hurt. Not yet anyway. But I am aware of something inside, just a vague presence for now. A sense of something there that shouldn’t be, a dull and loosely defined weight just bellow my breastbone.

I joked to someone the other day (rather lamely) that I feel like Ripley from the Alien movies, walking around with this malevolent little monster inside me, growing by the day and waiting to claw it’s way out of my chest, destroying me in the process. But that’s not really the truth of it. This is a more complicated relationship than that of a simple predator, or even a parasite. A parasite doesn’t kill it’s host – at least not intentionally – that would be self defeating, and nature is generally much smarter than that.

This is my own body turning on itself. It’s the ultimate betrayal. State-sponsored terrorism.

Who knows for how many years these sleeper cells of dissatisfaction and dissent have secreted themselves away inside me. Going through the charade of performing normal every-day cell duty. Hiding in plain sight. Blending in. Biding their time. Then one day, they get their orders from revolutionary command to mobilize. They awake to their true work, moving slowly at first, spreading out, quietly snuffing out innocent bystander cells or worse, turning then to their dark cause.

So my body is to become a battleground. For that matter it already is. If I’m not feeling it yet, it’s only because the insurgency is still confined to a few isolated pockets. The fighting is still limited, and the revolution hasn’t had the time or numbers to get a foothold.

But here’s the thing.

If I win the fight, the cancer dies, and it’s business as usual. If the cancer wins, I die, and so does the cancer. It can’t outlive me, it is me. From my point of view it’s a zero sum game, I win all or I lose all. It seems to me the cancer looses either way. It’s strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction only works as long as it never presses the big red button and goes to war. The Soviets and Americans worked all this out twenty-five years ago.

Actually, there is a third possible scenario, outlined by my doctor the other day, which hadn’t occurred to my usually black or white mind. A series of limited tactical skirmishes using chemical and nuclear weapons, designed to disrupt and disorientate the enemy. They don’t get wiped out, and the collateral damage is considerable, but they don’t get the numbers to gain complete control either. You just learn to carry on life in a state of constant civil war, like the population of Belfast in the seventies, or The Gaza Strip now.

It’s called Living With Cancer.

Since we are already shacked-up together, I guess it could work. It seems that options are limited. For both of us.




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