Cohabitating With Cancer

George Johnson marvels at the power of words to convey “what it is like, just a little, to be sentenced to life with cancer”:

The writer Reynolds Price was moving smoothly through life, not a star like Roth or Updike but valued for his novels and poetry, when his body’s own story asserted itself. After stumbling unaccountably on a walk across campus, he went to a doctor and was diagnosed with a very rare cancer — one that took the form of an elongated tumor “pencil-thick and gray-colored, ten inches long from my neck-hair downward . . . intricately braided in the core of my spinal cord.” He named it “the eel” and wrote a poem about it. The verses are included in his memoir, A Whole New Life, along with his description of cancer as a being that seems to assert “its own rights.”

Now it sounds a little cracked to describe, but then I often felt that the tumor was as much a part of me as my liver or lungs and could call for its needs of space and food. I only hoped that it wouldn’t need all of me.