NB: After we went to press, we received this brief piece from our regular columnist Tom Piccirilli. Given his struggle with brain cancer, we’re thrilled to have a new piece by him. Please enjoy it as a website exclusive. We also strongly recommend checking out his essay at Crossroads Press, “Meeting the Black.” One hundred percent of the sale price for that essay, and all of Pic’s Crossroads Press ebooks, go directly to paying for his medical care.
Maybe it’s just because we were superstitious Italians, or maybe I’ve made a lot of embellishments, but when I was a kid every family member we knew seemed to have a ghost room. They were the rooms in houses and apartment building suites where you weren’t allowed to go. Inevitably we were told stories about how they were places where sick or dying people had resided, or where the recently dead had just been taken from. Or the blind lived. Or the crippled.
Now I’m the ghost in the ghost room. I’ve just finished up my first chemo/radiation treatments and it’ll be a month before I have to go back and start again. This past Christmas, when family and friends came to visit, I could hear the whispering as to whether they should come on up and pay a visit and say Merry Christmas, or whether I was too sick for that. I could remember those days of when I was a child and had to play quietly because the ghosts were about.
I even have a ghost mask. It’s the radiation mask I had to wear while getting zapped. It looks a little like a mix between a goalie mask and a pasta colander. There’s a series of locking mechanisms around the edge of the mask. They’d have me lie on the table and then snap the mask down to hold my head in place. It’s the one part of fighting cancer that I really hated.
I wonder now how many of those visits my mother and grandmother took me on as a child were to ghosts with their own masks.
Chemo and radiation are still terrifying words when you’re talking treatment of cancer. I pictured what just about everybody pictures–a group of folks in a room with IVs running into their arms and barf bags nearby. Luckily, it’s not true. Chemo just means you take a pill nowadays right before you go under the radiation lasers.
Noir truth: If you write about it enough, you’ll make it real. I can’t even tell you all how many stories and novellas I’ve written about folks with cognitive problems–amnesia, brain damage, split personality, etc. And now, here I am with scars all over my scalp thinking about all my protagonists who suffered the same way. I write about hospitals incessantly despite rarely having needed to stay over in one. But it’s one of those things inside me that I need to get out, and now that it’s out, I’ve taken up residence.
Thanks again to everyone who’s helped out during these recent months. The cards, donations, email, and phone calls mean more than I can ever explain. Especially since you all remind me that I haven’t become a ghost.