“The Show Must Go On”

FOR THE LAST FEW WEEKS, I’ve been undergoing chemotherapy for recurring bladder cancer. I was first diagnosed with it early last year, after I had been passing blood in my urine. I had surgery to remove a small tumor, followed by exams every three months, because the type I have—though the least lethal of all them—tends to come back.

And that it has, despite my urologist twice cauterizing the new growths, which appear as dark spots on the interior of my bladder. So, the other day, I underwent the fourth of six scheduled chemo appointments. They’re not pleasant. A technician slips a catheter up my urethra—which, depending on their skill, can elicit either a twinge of discomfort, or POW camp-style torture—and fills my bladder with a solution containing gemcitabine.

After about 20 minutes, I feel like I’m on a long road trip and I’ve just chugged a two-liter bottle of iced tea. Except that I must hold it in for an hour to let the chemo do its thing. It burns on the way out, and for the next few hours, I dump two cups of bleach in the toilet after every time I pee. For the rest of the day, I’m tired and slightly nauseous. It could be worse. I’ve known people who endured worse.

his isn’t my first go-around with cancer. About 25 years ago, I was diagnosed with melanoma. I underwent a painful surgery where the doctor used something like a soldering iron to cut a piece of skin about the size of a cocktail napkin off my back, leaving me with a question mark-shaped scar. The next day, I did a ten-hour shift at work, on my feet. That was that. No big deal.

But this time is different. This cancer is more persistent, and I’m…I’m ashamed to admit that I’m not as mentally tough as I was in my late twenties. This time, it gnaws at me. Because while my doctor is confident, and people at my church are praying for me, and we’re dealing with this cancer in its very early stages, there’s a little voice in the back of my head that whispers: This is it. This how the end begins.

And that voice might be right. There’s a greater-than-zero chance, however small, that maybe the cancer keeps coming back despite six doses of chemo. Maybe it comes back after more chemo. Maybe they have to take out my bladder. Maybe it spreads.

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

The thought that kept me going through the skin cancer scare was that all I needed to do was go through the pre-op exams and procedures (which weren’t fun) and the operation itself (which I was awake for), and it would be over with. That I had a stark choice—“Do this, or die,”—but that it would turn out well in the end. It also helped that I had that twenty-something sense of immortality: “Sure, other people get cancer and die, but that’s not gonna happen to me.”

But now I’m older and not as certain. People I know have had cancer—and most of them are dead. I think I’ll live, but sometimes, when I’m lying there in the doctor’s office, enduring another painful injection, I think to myself, “Do this, and maybe die anyway.”

The thought that’s getting me through this now is not that everything will turn out well. The thought that’s getting me through this is that it doesn’t matter.

That regardless of what happens in the future, I have to, in the here and now, keep doing what I do–putting in my time at work, going to my appointments, taking care of what needs to be taken care of–because there are people who need me.

Those people are my family, my friends, my co-workers, even my big, horribly-behaved, vicious dog, because I’m the only one who loves that hauswulf and would put up with her.    

I am reminded of someone who had it much worse than me, and still powered through, doing what needed to be done. Dying of AIDS, Freddie Mercury summed it up best in one of the last songs he and his band Queen recorded:

The show must go on

The show must go on

Inside my heart is breaking

My makeup may be flaking

But my smile still stays on  

Unlike me, Freddie Mercury had no hope—and he knew it. But that didn’t matter to him.

The show must go on

The show must go on

I’ll face it with a grin

I’m never giving in

On with the show!

So, whether the chemo succeeds or not, whether this is the end of my cancer, or merely how my end begins, I can’t listen to that little voice that tries to worry me. I have people to take care of, things to do, books to write, blog pieces to post. The show must go on, so it will.  

Kenton Kilgore writes killer sci-fi and fantasy for young adults, and adults who are still young. He also dabbles in children’s books. Follow Kenton on Facebook for frequent posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. You can also catch him on Instagram and TikTok.

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