Going to pieces in a Burger King

It was a crazy day. Busy at work, roadworks messing up the highway and then the usual agonising struggle to find parking at the hospital. (All insignificant irritations, in retrospect.)

What started as a pain in my left shoulder a week ago turned into something “abnormal” that needed to be investigated. Although I first dismissed the pain as muscle strain, I guess I knew instinctively that something was off. I rarely break a sweat in gym and my 100% desk job hardly puts serious strain on those muscles, let’s be honest.

While massaging my neck and shoulder in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the N1 soon after, I felt a bump just below my clavicle. The bump turned out to be a swollen lymph node, which needed a biopsy for testing. The doctors also ran a load of scans and tests to see if there were any other swollen nodes in my body.

Today was Results Day, and we sat down anxiously to get the low-down from the doctor…

“It’s lymphoma,” he says and immediately continues describing what it is and how it works, what the best treatment is, what happens next, what my chances are, how long it lasts, how it works, how bad, how good, on and on and on. Stats and data wash over me, drowning out my thoughts, leaving my mouth dry and hurting my chest. I try and remember some of it while I focus very hard on not losing my grip.

I can’t die now.

I am a proud daddy to a beautiful little girl who’s almost two. I am a partner to an incredible, supportive and loving woman. I am a son to the most amazing parents. I am an older brother to two fantastic sisters. I am a friend to so many wonderful people. I love life. I love my life.

I don’t want to die.

“I don’t want to die,” I say to A as we wait for the lift afterwards. “You’re not going to die,” she says firmly. “You heard what the doctor said.” She reaches for me, but I turn away, afraid I will fall apart at her touch, at the overwhelming love and kindness shown in this awful moment.

Turns out I chose “one of the best cancers” to get (lucky me!) as it has an 80% recovery rate with ABVD, a specific regimen of chemotherapy applied for at least six months. Could have been worse, I guess, although it’s hard to see the silver lining at this moment.

We discuss my diagnosis as we head home, making a quick pit stop at the local Burger King as we’re both starving and need to rush home to pick up our daughter for her doctor’s appointment. (So much for a healthy eating plan…)

The Burger King is out of ketchup, which at the time I find wonderfully ironic but we settle in nonetheless, ready to inhale our generic and tasteless burgers while discussing the topic of the day, cancer. Cancer cancer fucking cancer, arriving at the party late with no ketchup and ready to fuck up everyone’s night.

We talk softly among ourselves and joke about the place and the food in the way couples do, but inside I am positively raging. I am mad as hell. I am pissed off. Fuck cancer. Honestly. I am livid. But more than that, I am sad. So terribly sad. I feel helpless, frustrated, anxious, depressed, freaked out, scared and stressed out. This. Is. Such. Fucking. Bullshit. Why me? Why now? Why us? Why this? Why? Why? Why?

Again A reaches for me.

“Please don’t,” I say, my voice thick with emotion. “I can’t… I don’t want to go to pieces in… in a Burger King.”

I look up and our eyes meet. It takes a split second and then our spontaneous laughter catches us by surprise and dials the moment right down. The tears are there, but they’re good tears. We can do this. I can do this. We’re going to be okay. I am going to be okay.

20 Responses to Going to pieces in a Burger King

  1. Charlene 30th May 2017 at 9:57 am #

    I am not really sure how to comment here. Except … FUCK CANCER. My best friend (BEST) was diagnosed last year. Sommer stage 4 melanoma nogal. No fucking around, hey? She is beating it. YOU WILL TOO!!! FUCK CANCER! Praying for you and your family x

    • Chopper Charlie 31st May 2017 at 5:13 am #

      Thanks for the comment. Glad your friend is beating it. And yeah I share the sentiment. FUCK CANCER! Indeed.

  2. Bietjie Tos 30th May 2017 at 12:44 pm #

    Two words: cannabis oil.

    Another two words: Good luck.

    • Chopper Charlie 31st May 2017 at 5:15 am #

      Trying out the cannabis oil vibe at the moment. Definitely blogging about it in the near future. Shot man.

  3. stella 30th May 2017 at 2:17 pm #

    What a beautiful piece of truth as you experienced your emotions.Continue your journey with writing down your experience.Remember it’s going to get tough you are tougher.We never give up.We focus on the final month November that you will be declared CLEAN.All CANCER has disappeared.You have a strong support from family friends + The Lord .You will survive believe it.

    • Chopper Charlie 31st May 2017 at 5:16 am #

      Thanks Mom for all the love and support. I smell a party in December…

  4. Yolanda Laubscher 30th May 2017 at 5:09 pm #

    I was there where you were then. My prognosis much worse, just to find out further thar I was never treated with the correct medication line from the beginning.

    I’ve got a 7 year old girl. Am partner to the best man and daddy of our child.

    Cancer dies place alot of strain on especially your relationships with the closest to you. Make sure you do not protect yourself too much. U need to show vulnerability to your partner too. They don’t know why what to expect either. Just remember ur in this together. Communicate your wants and needs and worries – both of you.

    It’s Mike and Nina getting me out of bed each day.
    Hold on to love and just believe you are cured.
    I don’t have to preach about lifestyle changes, I’m sure u know for now alcohol is your enemy. Darn.
    Juicing vegetables – raw – become addictive. Best stuff to help fcuk up that fucking cancer.

    Let your heart be strong. You’ve got so many people who loves you.

    Take care my friend.

    • Chopper Charlie 31st May 2017 at 5:19 am #

      Yolanda, I have so much respect for you and the hard-fought battle you are engaged in every single day. Thanks for the advice and the words of support. We live to fight another day with sure victory on the horizon. Onwards!

  5. Johanni Meiring 30th May 2017 at 7:01 pm #

    Beautiful words Charles! Thank you!

    • Chopper Charlie 31st May 2017 at 5:19 am #

      Thank you Johanni. Happy you enjoyed it.

  6. Collette 30th May 2017 at 10:51 pm #

    Crazy times Charles, all the best with your treatment. My mom has cancer in her kidney & pancreas, she has to have all cut out next week in a 8hr op 🙁 We on the rollercoaster ride of emotions the uncertainty is hard to deal with. My nephew’s girlfriend has also being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 19. You not alone, stay positive 😊

    • Chopper Charlie 31st May 2017 at 6:12 am #

      Thanks for your message Collette, Wishing your mom and your nephew’s girlfriend full recovery. Can only imagine how you all must feel. All the best to you and yours.

  7. Melissa Barendse 31st May 2017 at 12:29 am #

    Thank you for your honesty and real emotions! I feel alot of us have been touched by this evil disease in one way or another and we all feel the same way about it!!! “Asshole”
    Be strong, keep the faith, speak to your lovely partner (I know her well)❤️
    Praying for you and your family🙏🏽

    • Chopper Charlie 31st May 2017 at 6:09 am #

      Thanks Melissa. My partner and our little girl is what keeps me going. All the best to you too.

  8. Tobias 1st June 2017 at 9:56 pm #

    Charles, ek ken jou skaars. Ek ken jou wel al fokken lank. Seker middle 90s of iets. Ek het baie respek vir jou al vir lank. Jy lewe “flatout” en jy is “class” my ou.
    Ek is bly ons het ontmoed en ek weet hierdie kanker nonsense is net hier om jou nog sterker te maak. Bly sterk dude.

    • Chopper Charlie 11th June 2017 at 9:37 am #

      Shot dude, ek waardeer genuine die woorde en support. Onkruid vergaan nie, so don’t expect me to go anywhere. Once.

  9. Larry 2nd June 2017 at 11:10 pm #

    Ou Chollo. Jou woorde het my diep getref. Ek kan nie eers begin om te dink waardeur jy en A gaan nie. Dankie dat jy sterk genoeg is om dit eerlik met die wêreld te deel, dit beteken meer as wat jy ooit sal weet. My liefde, respek en admirasie vir jou vermeerder by die dag. Jy’s ‘n inspirasie en ek is ongelooflik trots om jou my vriend te noem. Jy gaan hierdie ding plat slat my bra, ek weet dit! Kan nie wag vir die jol met die Millers in Desember nie!

    • Chopper Charlie 11th June 2017 at 9:36 am #

      Once bra. Thanks vir die liefde en support. As ek al ons RAMFKNJAMs kon oorleef, behoort hierdie manageable te wees, ek sê!

  10. Elena 13th September 2017 at 11:57 am #

    I stumbled upon your story today.
    So refreshing to read such an honest piece.
    I remember when my mother was diagnosed how I tried to be and react like the amazing daughters who tell their stories in Sarie magazine… But I wasnt dit was basically n fokop.
    And for some reason everyone wants to tell you about their friend/ mother /aunt/ neighbour who died. But I just wanted to reference my experience of never living up to what a perfect person would react like and how your story is the first one to make sense to me.
    Thank you

    • Chopper Charlie 15th September 2017 at 10:16 am #

      Hi Elena. Thanks for sharing. And I am so happy my story meant something to you. A diagnosis is always a massive shock and the reality is that NONE of us know how to cope, patients, family, friends, etc. We’re all just trying to make sense and come out whole on the other side. There is no perfect in situations like these. As long as there is hope, there is support, there is honesty, there are attempts at understanding what the other person is going through but ultimately there is love.

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