A colleague of mine had an issue earlier this year where she was really constipated, but also losing weight, and her stomach was distending a little bit like she was pregnant and you could see that her eyes were kinda sunken. It was bad. And what put everyone on edge was another colleague’s observation that these were the symptoms of a certain kinda stomach cancer: the oscillation between diarrhea and constipation, the bloating belly, the pounds falling away…
One colonoscopy and biopsy later, everything was fine, and she’s eating better and doesn’t drink anymore (not that she drank much to begin with) and her gastric health appears to be tip-top.
I recorded a podcast last month in which I described the group of old men outside of the grocery store near my house who are homeless, mostly, and who sell drugs, DVDs, cologne, fruit. I mentioned that one of these guys in particular, the shortest of the bunch, appears to entertain the most serious internal life. He looks pensive. I’ve seen him reading books. But all day, every day, he just sits around. Sometimes he’s sipping Skyy Vodka out of a brown bag, sometimes he’s smoking a cigarillo or a blunt, sometimes he’s playing the quiet half of a conversation. But mostly he’s just sitting around. Or standing. If you see him walking, he’s going very slowly. No destination in mind.
This is his life.
I’ve been noticing for a while that he’s looking different but it’s one of those things where, if it were your colleague, you’d look them up and down, maybe circle them, and say, “Is it a haircut? New shoes? The glasses—did you always wear glasses?”
But this guy’s not my colleague.
We’ve made eye contact, but never spoken.
So I’ve just been catching my usual glances and trying, in that peepshow kinda way, to figure out what’s different.
It’s only in the past couple weeks that I’ve noticed he’s losing weight. That his face looks more gaunt, his sunbeaten wrinkles more pronounced. His belly, too, is suddenly huger than ever—but it’s solid. Bloated. Ballooning ever forward like he’s pregnant. When he sits on one of the milk crates that he and his friends stash in a hedge behind the grocery store, his posture’s gotten straighter, in what appears to be an accommodation of his unbending belly.
I’m wondering if he’s got cancer.
And if he’s got cancer, and literally no recourse for medical help, how do its ravages manifest? How much pain is he in?
If he’s experiencing these symptoms firsthand, he must know that something’s wrong, right? And if he knows that something’s wrong, how does he reconcile his mortality? Does he reflect? What does he think of where he’s ended up? Was there one thing that brought him here, a succession of bad decisions, a constellation of misfortunes?
Whyfore and how and all that jazz.