The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"Chasing the Crab"

If you're a Canadian who's watched the CBC news, you probably saw Bill Cameron. He was a fixture on the network for as long as I could remember. And what was surprising about him was not his appearance -- he had the broad-shouldered, classic good looks of so many TV announcers -- but his wit and originality.

(It speaks volumes of the medium -- unfortunate volumes -- that while professional competence is of course mandatory, physical attractiveness, too, is an extremely valuable characteristic. But originality of mind is simply an option. We all know this and criticize the medium for it. It never changes, however. It never changes yet it should.)

Cameron died roughly a year ago. He had cancer. I recall my mother telling me about it, as a piece of news from back home. We both felt sad, because we both liked him. He was the sort of celebrity you develop a strong liking for. But all this is beside the point, because he was an author in his own right. And it turns out he kept a journal of his illness entitled "Chasing the Crab".

There are other people who've done the same thing, of course. And I suppose that my interest in his writing is magnified proportionately by the reaction that I used to have when I still lived in Canada and enjoyed what he had to say. But putting that whole complex of emotion aside (the complex of "how we know" people we in fact don't know), his journal is still very worth reading. Its last entry has been posted recently by Walrus:

The anaesthetic was lifting. The surgeon's face was two inches above mine, perpendicular to mine, as though he was preparing for a kiss. I'm pretty sure the conversation went this way:

"Can you hear me?"


"I know what this is. We'll do a biopsy but I've seen it before. Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. Advanced. Aggressive, moves quickly. Your wife took some notes." He patted my shoulder. His face lifted away.

In the May sunshine, my wife told me what he'd said. It was difficult to absorb. My chance of survival less than 20 percent. Surgery to remove my esophagus. Before that, chemotherapy, radiation, a clinical trial to test a new drug. I could feel the iron walls of cancer clanging together around me, shutting down the rest of my life. I had a book half-written, grandchildren not yet conceived. The judgment was unacceptable, but how do you resist it?


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