Hope Rears Its Lovely Head

wailing into dancing

Picture by Charles Redfern

They said I’d never announce anything like this, so ‘scuse my slack-jawed, doe-in-the-headlights look.

I’ve been struggling with incurable, metastatic tongue cancer since the summer of 2015, when I lost 60% of my body’s strongest muscle to state-of-the-art reconstructive surgery (it’s now mostly made of skin from my forearm). I speak in an accent called “dweeb.” The disease recurred in January of 2016 and swept across my mouth’s floor, whereupon physicians beat it back with a recipe of rugged, in-patient chemotherapy (cue in bloody vomiting and a gleaming bald head) and risky radiation (I already filled my quota thirty years ago). It spread to an area just above my sternum (radiation again), and then recurred at my tongue’s base (lower chemotherapy doses with no hope of a cure; my tongue’s lifetime rad limit was maxed-out and then some). Along the way, I volunteered for a state-of-the-art immunotherapy trial at Boston’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute, one of the world’s premier cancer research and treatment centers. It failed fabulously.

No. I never smoked. Or chewed. Or toked. Or snorted cocaine or sniffed glue or swilled whiskey. I’m too boring to get cancer, but it happened.

Although doctors never uttered the dreaded “t” word (“terminal”), the message was clear: This disease would eventually kill me. Chemotherapy, after all, only shrinks tumors on solid organs. It never obliterates them. The rebel cells build resistance and inexorably metastasize.

But my drugs kept working – and the PET and CAT scans looked clean. I was an “unusual patient” (insert wry comments here).

Dana Farber’s physicians were interested in talking to me again. My oncologist e-mailed them information on my history after I faxed the proper permissions and, on April 30 — after three and a half years of running the professional patient’s gauntlet — my wife and I drove back to Boston. Two physician assistants interviewed me, after which a team of three doctors filed in, each sizzling with enough brain power to dim the lights. Behold immigration’s blessings: The surgeon’s name hearkens to the Jewish Ashkenazi diaspora; the radiation therapist spoke with a slightly French accent; the oncologist’s ancestry obviously hailed from the Middle East and he bore an Aramaic name. I knew the surgeon and the radiation therapist from before and we greeted each other like long-lost pals.

The surgeon examined me and pronounced satisfaction, then they gave me something of a presentation, with the oncologist serving as the primary spokesman. Essentially, this was their message: “Mr. Redfern, we’ve analyzed your CAT scans and PET scans over the past year and we have examined you. We cannot be sure, of course, but we think there’s a good chance your cancer is gone.”

They don’t think I need more cancer treatment, since the disease may not be there.

Obviously, I’ll be monitored closely. I’ll be slid in and out of machines and scrutinized by studious men and women in white smocks. They’ll wield Everest-high IQs and speak in a language called “medicine.” Most disconcerting, I’ll be old enough to be their father.

Still, I’m beginning to rehearse the following sentence after filing all the cautions and qualifiers: “Don’t look now, but I may have just survived terminal cancer.”

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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One Comment on “Hope Rears Its Lovely Head”

  1. William C. Kovacsik Says:

    Praise God! Praise God for bringing healing power upon you. Praise God for providing you with brilliant doctors. Praise God that you’ll be here.


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