I promised a dispatch (Please see title) on the peculiar nature of Hope in Cancerland.
Not that hope is a simple matter back home either, in the United States of Lookin’ Good, Feelin’ Good, What’s for Dinner. The word has all sorts of meanings, and no meaning at all. Hope to see you soon; hope all is well; one would hope; hope’s the thing with feathers; Jeeze, I certainly hope not; hope springs eternal, etc., etc. (There will be more on the negative version — as in, Man, that guy is absolutely hopeless — in a future dispatch on Things Which Simply Aren’t Said in Cancerland.)
Here, though, whether on the shores of Lake Chemo or in the Radiation Archipelago, the whole business of hope is much more complicated even than that.
For starters, you need to understand that there are two unspoken rules in Cancerland, which (though they are unspoken, as I say) nonetheless have the full force of commandments. Indeed, they are in fact what you might call the Whole of the Law, in the sense that Moses brought the law down from Sinai.
These are the Commandments:
One, Thou Shalt Not Take Hope Away.
Two, Thou Shalt Not Allow False Hope.
If you don’t stop to think about these injunctions, there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. Well, yeah, sure. We all need hope (that’s Number One) but mustn’t be allowed (Number Two) to invest ourselves in notions that really aren’t hopes at all but just wisps of wishful impossibility. So fine. Where’s the difficulty?
The difficulty, buckeroos, is in telling the two apart. For this reason, there is a very great deal of what you might call hope appraisal in Cancerland: sniffing, studying, holding up to the light with tweezers, testing with logic, liquids, flame. Is this a bona fide hope, which (because bona fide) is sacrosanct and must not be touched? Or is this a counterfeit hope, which (because counterfeit) must be stripped away instantly and the planter of which severely and summarily punished?
We Cancerlanders are forced to become astonishingly acute connoisseurs of hope. Almost without realizing it at all, and usually in a very short time, we actually do turn ourselves into amazing experts in the hope appraisal process.
We don’t call it hope appraisal, of course. For most purposes, we call it the Solicitation of Second Opinions.
The delivery of these Second Opinions falls, as does everything else here in Cancerland, to the ruling class, the Fizzishuns. They constitute the entire government of the country: They make the laws, administer them, act as courts of appeal in cases of dispute, are first and final arbiters of all important and many entirely unimportant matters. They might properly be called benevolent tyrants if they seized the powers they have, but they don’t: They are simply accorded those powers, ceded them by all and sundry, as a matter of respect for their years in school, their credentials, their white coats, and their fine automobiles. They are the Ones Who Know, to which exalted position there can be no election. And indeed, there are no elections in Cancerland. There are no parties, no campaigns, no politics, no legislature, not a scrap of the apparatus that passes for government in the other nations of the earth. (By the way, I am not making light of the title, One Who Knows: It is an amazing, extraordinary and wonderful title, and can only be had in one of two ways, by humbuggery – such Fizzishuns are known, once they are exposed, as quacks; fortunately, there are very few of them – or by dint of years and years and years of diligent digestion of everything there is to know on the workings of the human body, and the myriad afflictions to which it is prone. Imagine that: Everything there is to know. Okay, sure, some Fizzishuns know more than others; some know better than others; some know things that aren’t true; some don’t know things that are true. Our executive branch is no better than yours, in the end. Believe you’ve had some punk presidents from time to time, no?)
Anyway, back to hope. You can see right off that the Cancerland system would seem to require every Fizzishun to be a born Solomon, able carefully, carefully, carefully, to tread his or her way between Commandments One and Two. Of course, that isn’t possible: Hell, Solomon wasn’t a born Solomon. You develop amazing wisdom or you don’t, and the vast majority of us don’t. This, of course, includes Fizzishuns.
Luckily, however, to go with the Two Commandments, there are the Two Loopholes. (Lest you think it odd that so few commandments come with so relatively many loopholes, please note: Thou Shalt Not Kill is absolute and airtight on its face, but now has volumes of loopholes appended to it. Look at the headlines any day of the year.)
Here’s how our loopholes work.
When Mrs Bronson asks Good Doctor Furbelow whether, as her shaman Lochinvar tells her, she will be rendered cancer-free after eating a banana a day for thirty-three days, Furbelow is permitted to say (this is Loophole Number One)….
It wouldn’t hurt.
Of course, Good Doctor Furbelow has to be absolutely certain that poor Mrs Bronson doesn’t have some bizarre potassium imbalance such that eating a banana every day for thirty-three days actually might hurt. If he knows that for diddly damn sure, then saying It wouldn’t hurt nicely eases him between Commandment One and Commandment Two, and keeps things copasetic with Mrs Bronson, God love her. Let her have her bananas, y’know?
On a more serious level, should Mrs Bronson ask Good Doctor Furbelow whether the torturous treatments to which she is being subjected will rid her of her disease, the Good Doctor, at his discretion, may answer (and this is Loophole Number Two)….
It is to be hoped so.
I should hope.