The following is not a joyful or inspiring text. It nevertheless says what has to be said. Also, sensitive readers beware that in the second last paragraph, there is a word I rarely use and that might be considered offensive.
So. After losing my phone somewhere on the western ridge above Glen Shee a couple of weeks ago, I had to get myself a new way of communicating with the world. The inevitable sense of loss was tempered by a kind of relief, that I was now disconnected from the big digital machine, free of the need to react to notifications, responsible only to myself. Perhaps one day I will choose to set aside this mobile connection to the world wide web of gossip, disinformation and hyperbole, but that day has not yet arrived.
Back in the city, I visited my mobile internet service provider and had a friendly chat with a nice young man who pointed me in the direction of a very good special offer on a new phone, attached to a new two-year contract, with much more data than I am now getting, for slightly more than I am already paying. So I agreed and signed all the papers, answered all the questions. One of these questions was if I knew of any reason why I would not, within the next two years, be able to pay the agreed amount every month. It gave me pause. For I do know of a very good reason why I might not be able to continue paying every month. I am already well over a year beyond the time I was given to live by the urologist who first offered a prognosis. And recently I learned that in spite of the medication, the blood marker for my disease is rising. This means that it is possible that the disease is now becoming resistant to the medication. Which means, in essence, that the medical options are now at an end.
My current oncologist is a very nice man and he always remains hopeful that new treatments for my condition will be made available, but apart from palliative treatments that will make the spread of the disease throughout my body more comfortable for me, at present, medical science offers only an inevitable trajectory towards death.
The mental effort required to maintain composure under these circumstances is considerable. Often, the best way of dealing with this in my head is with humour and witty repartee, finding the right words to lighten up the mood of wherever I am so I have some sense of the joy of life to hold onto. When I saw the question about whether I knew of any reason why I might not be able to pay for the two years of a new contract with my mobile internet provider, whimsically I asked the salesman, “what about death?” to which he replied straightforwardly, and without me needing to have told him anything about my condition nor the despair and fury its existence produces in me, “oh, there are special rules that apply then.”
Good. So I have a new phone, but I still have cancer and there is an increasing chance that it is now becoming resistant to the medication. It is true that I will not know for certain if this is the case until the next time I take the medication in a little less than six months. The blood marker was measured towards the end of a six-month cycle and it is not impossible that the rise is an effect of the medication running down. But given that its many side effects continue to make my life even more mentally challenging than it would be if I only had the disease, my suspicion is that I am now entering the final phase of the expected trajectory that I always knew one day I would have to face.
Or at least so it goes according to the predominant narrative of medical science. Any fool with access to the internet knows that miracle cures for many diseases are available at the end of a few clicks. Most prominent of these is perhaps cannabis oil, and of course many people of good conscience have been suggesting I investigate this ever since I first made public my diagnosis. So in defiance of this latest stage in the medical trajectory that leads to my death, I begin seriously to investigate the possibilities.
To cut short a complex story of snake-oil salespeople, overpriced miracle cures and much confusion about the many different varieties of therapeutic oils available, I am put in contact with a reputable pharmacist in a foreign country who has just the sort of stuff I need. I talk to him on the phone and he explains that he offers different courses of treatment for different conditions and suggests that what is needed in my case is a fairly intense and heavy dose. He can send it to me at my own risk. Technically what he makes is still illegal in his country, and if I were to receive his product in mine I would be breaking the law.
Thinking this through, the most prominent emotional response is fury, sheer rage that a plant oil is a banned substance, in spite of its reputation in treating a number of conditions that medical science is struggling still to do anything about, in spite of sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest that there must be something going on. If I were not a cynical old bastard with no illusions about the power of the pharmaceutical industry, the dominance of a dependency culture within medical institutions, and the moronic reductionism of the disease model of medicine, I would be at a loss to understand why nobody has thought of actually conducting a proper study to compare and contrast different blends of oils taken from different strains of the plant and used in the treatment of many different conditions. From the point of view of pure science there is absolutely nothing standing in the way of such a program of research. Absolutely nothing.
There are two reasons why this research does not take place. Firstly, the law says that a certain variety of oil is illegal because it has hallucinogenic and narcotic effects. It is thus lumped into the general category “drugs” and takes on all the opprobrium this entails, immediately bringing along associations of criminality, moral depravity and the break down of the social order. Secondly there is the complicity of reductionist scientific morality with the power of the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical companies are interested in profit. Anybody who believes otherwise is deluded. The substances they produce are the result of very costly research and development procedures that keep a great deal of people in employment. In order for the cost of these procedures to be recovered, these substances have to be patented and licensed, owned, mass produced and sold in a carefully controlled and regulated market. Which means that the precise chemical compositions of the active ingredients of the substances have to be isolated and correctly described. But of course the active ingredients of the oils that might help me are too numerous to isolate and too intricately combined to be separated. So there is no profit here for the pharmaceutical industry.
The complicity of the medical profession is to believe that a disease is a thing that can invade a body and that can be expelled by judicious use of the correct substance or surgical procedure. It is to believe that only preparations offered by the pharmaceutical industry and approved by governments, health authorities and insurance companies are those that may legitimately be used to treat disease. It is to maintain a faith that the efficacy of these preparations in the fight against disease is guarantied by their having been developed according to the strict procedures of scientific methodology. This very narrow, self justifying view of legitimate science excludes many more common sense and rigorous methods which do not require the same reductionism. It is one of the most truculent elements of the conventional wisdom that holds together the comfortable world of medical dependency. It is the force – apart from the cancer itself – that is complicit in my approaching demise.
During my conversation with the pharmacist who can offer me a preparation of plant oils that might contribute to my body being better able to expunge this cancer from my system, he said that it is no silver bullet, that there are no guarantees, and that I would also have to work on my diet (which I already do), to practice relaxation and breathing techniques (which I already do) and to free my life of stress. All good advice, except for the stress reproduced by an arbitrary border in the collective consciousness between legitimate and banned therapeutic preparations, and by an actual border that an actual preparation has to cross if it is perhaps to help me against the allegedly inevitable progression of this disease.
It is very difficult not to rage against this particular bit of the big machine, very difficult not to believe that anybody who might stand in the way of my getting hold of this possible treatment for a disease that is otherwise going to kill me, whether they might just be doing a job or otherwise, is a complete cunt. I am on the point of just asking for the stuff to be sent, and to take the risk that it will be intercepted by customs, that I will be arrested for possession of an illegal substance. Let’s take this to court. Let’s publicise the absurdity of it. Let’s expose the complicity for all to see. Bring it on. What have I got to lose?
I am out of other options. If I don’t find some way of keeping this disease at bay, it will rapidly spread throughout my body. And I will die. This is the reality of my life.