Suddenly, it gets complicated. You think you’re on a simple trajectory — get yourself ready, meet the ship, travel around the world. And then, out of the blue, you notice a symptom that you can’t ignore. You see your doctor in whom, for some time now, you’ve been losing confidence. He dismisses your concerns as probably nothing to worry about and suggests that you simply keep an eye on it. You’re not so sure — over the years, you’ve had to fight for practically every diagnostic test you needed with this fellow.
Fortunately, you’d already scheduled an appointment with a new primary care physician. In a few days you see her and tell her what’s been going on. She does a simple exam and counsels you to get a colonoscopy right away, four years sooner than the actuaries have “scheduled” you for one.
So, you’re lying there on the post-colonoscopy gurney, coming out of the pleasant daze caused by the anesthesia. You’re joking with the nurses and the doctor walks in. He’s not smiling the way he was before you went under. “There’s been a surprise,” he tells you, and instantly you feel that you’ve entered a strange new dimension. “We found something,” he’s saying. “It’s more than a polyp, it’s a tumor, about three centimeters long.” Suddenly, you stop listening.
You try to remember how long the centimeters printed on the other side of the school-days’ ruler looked. “Three centimeters long — is that big for a colo-rectal cancer?” you wonder. And then your mind sets off on a screed: “If Ronald Reagan hadn’t shut down the national plans to go metric,” you tell yourself, “I’d know right now exactly how long three centimeters looked!”
“Hold on, Edward, you’d better concentrate,” a voice within reminds you. The doctor’s gone on talking. You ask him to repeat what he’s just said. This time, you hear him loud and clear: “It’s probably malignant and it needs to come out. We’re looking at surgery.”
And just like that, you’re booked on a new, souped-up adventure. Everything speeds up. You ask the doctor to refer you to the best gastrointestinal surgeon he knows, and he sends you to the head of the colo-rectal oncology center at Boston’s Mass General, a Harvard professor-physician who specializes in laparoscopic surgery.
You work with the GI doctor’s office manager to try for an immediate appointment, and you get it. This is Friday, and you’re scheduled for a bevy of pre-consultation tests in Boston beginning Tuesday. You’ll meet with the surgeon and his medical staff on Thursday. Quite a schedule put together in less than two hours. Good people working hard get things done. They’re conscious, too, that you’re scheduled to set off around the world eight weeks from now, and want to help still make that happen, if they can.
You come home, and continue to organize things — further tests, new housing and travel commitments, many arrangements to make and break. You’re entirely in “Let’s get this done!” mode and, at one point, your kind wife gently reminds you that you’re trying to take control of everything. You realize that she’s right, and it comes to you that the one fearsome thing you can’t control lies deep inside you. You’re trained to look within for problems in spiritual matters; now it’s all about the physical, and still, it’s an inside job.
Your enemy has secured a beachhead in your inmost parts. Your body, once a pleasant, carefree companion, now is plotting to betray you. This lurking mass that is both you and anti-you, this glistening toxicity that lives and bleeds within your core, this bitter thing that, left to grow, will leave you dead, has overtaken your life. And that once-predictable, consuming adventure that you’ve been on has now become immensely more complicated.