Diagnosed with metastatic esophageal cancer on June 8, 2011 Christopher Hitchens found that he had been transported to a foreign place. Until his death 18 months later the award winning author picked up pen and wrote about his travels in a “new land” where everyone “smiles encouragingly,” “where the cuisine is the worst of any destination” and where a language is spoken that “manages to be both dull and difficult.” The recently published book “Mortality” is his voyage into “sick country,” a place we will call CancerLand.
The idea of moving far away is also described in Chet Skibinski’s 2012 diary-like book, “Cancer Country. “ “On May 15, 2008, I stepped into a foreign country” with freakish rules and disturbing customs. Skibinski takes the reader along on his journey though several years of complex care and metamorphosis, not only medical, but also social, spiritual and personal.
CancerLand is a place not only of a body which visits hospitals, clinics, subjected to knives, drugs, x-rays and deconstruction by machine, but it is a destination of mind, where confusion, isolation, and fear transform knowing, growing and comfort in a bizarre, painful, spinning world which tries to break down the soul to yield suffering. As both patient authors note, it is a transit from which it is difficult to return.
Cancer patients are cast out from safety, stability and control to a state of danger, chaos and subjugation. Understanding the disease process as a distinct place, with strange language, customs and goals provides clues to the survival of body and mind. Seeing CancerLand as an unwelcome Kafkaesque journey may help us fight the disease and adjust to the changes that occur.