I was told I was dying on a Monday morning. Mondays are usually just a lame excuse to be grumpy or bitchy, but I think I had a legitimate excuse to have a case of the Mondays. I had the kind of cancer I didn’t want to tell anyone about: Testicular cancer, terminal. Apparently boys my age are supposed to check for lumps on their balls. If only I was some sexual deviant into cupping my own balls, then I wouldn’t be dying…but I probably would’ve been pretty weird, so that might be a fair trade-off.
My mom was with me at the appointment. She reacted as expected. Afterward she called my dad, who also reacted as expected. The only reason I ever went to the doctor in the first place was because they were super sensitive, the twins I mean…and by twins I mean my testicles. It was actually the last appointment with my pediatrician before I was too old. I had him my whole life. He even sent me personal birthday cards. As soon as he looked I knew it wasn’t going to be good. He kept dodging saying “cancer,” but he couldn’t help but allude to it.
Then the tests came.
Then that Monday came.
Cancer patients and survivors always talk about cancer like it’s this vicious monster tearing them apart. Not a bad comparison, just not what I imagine. For some reason I see the life of cancer as a tragedy. He finds himself in this great big world, and wants to explore more of it and spread out his control, just like any explorer in an undiscovered land would do. He thinks that he’ll be able to rule this world, not knowing as he takes it over, that he is actually destroying it, inevitably killing himself. Or the cancer is discovered, and the world fights back. He is then trying desperately to survive on this hostel planet. He slowly dies alone and scared, not knowing that if he had lived, the same outcome would’ve been. No amount of fighting could have saved him.
My cancer has had a happy life so far. Discovering the furthest reaches of this world, ignorant of what he is doing.
I told Stephen first. He took it better than expected. I don’t think he actually believed I was dying. I tend to be a pretty negative person. I’m not one of those douche bags who calls themselves a realist when all they do is spew needless negativity, but I do realize I’m not the most optimistic. Most young people you hear about that have cancer get through it. So Stephen probably figured the same for me. I didn’t tell him that I’ve had it for probably half of a year without knowing. I also didn’t tell him that I’m not doing treatment. There’s no need to feel sick all of the time when the outcome is the same.
My mom forced me to go to prom. I think she wanted some kind of normalcy to return to the family. Stephen was already going with a few people. He said he’d ditch and go with me and my date, but I knew he was just trying to be nice. I told him I wasn’t actually going, but just telling my mom I was. I got all suited up, and mom took a couple pictures before I left “to get my date.” Instead I just drove around. There’s a dead-end on 92nd street that has a good view, so I just hung out there for the night. Stephen and I used to hangout there a lot when we first got our licenses. We never knew what to do or where to go, but we loved driving so we just always ended up on 92nd. Sometimes I’d go there with Jackie and we’d sneak back to her house. And there was always this weird echo in the trees from being so close to the highway.
I never told Jackie I’m dying. Shockingly, talking about cancer is kind of a mood killer. The less people who know, the better. I don’t have to deal with any impersonal get-well cards, and I don’t have to talk to people who pity me. Besides, I like to imagine my death will be a big shock. If I can watch it in ghost-form, I hope the whole school misses me, even the kids who were mean to me. They’ll think, “I can’t believe we were so mean to him all of these years.” Or, what is more likely, no one will care, because everyone who isn’t me is looking forward to college. As soon as they move they’re not looking back, and my ghost will forever haunt the hallways, waiting for someone to mention how much they miss me.
At least my parents and Stephen will miss me. Better than nothing.
I am dying, and I don’t want to be. No matter how much I act like I’m not scared, I am. I am so afraid. Not of death itself. I’m afraid of not living. I love waking up everyday. I love a warm spring day and just sitting outside enjoying it. I’m eighteen and I’ve spent all of the years I get.
Stephen would know what to say right now. He’s good at lightening the mood. I’d tell him I’m fine and I’d laugh. But the truth is I’m dying and I’m going to be gone.
I don’t want to go.
more by TYLER CLIFTON
photograph by Alex Wong