And Then Cancer Struck. Fuck.

Julio Vincent Gambuto
3 min readDec 21, 2023
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

My fiancé was rushed to the hospital two weeks ago for emergency chemotherapy, after his “chronic” leukemia aggressively transformed from treatable and manageable—with just this little pill—to raging and blasting in his blood. No warning. Just a routine trip to the oncologist, then panic and confusion, then the harried packing of a weekend duffel with fresh underwear and socks. What the fuck?

I don’t want to write about it online. Ugh. I don’t want to narrate. Or post. Or share. Or ask for the prayers of thousands. I don’t want to lay out the story or chronicle this dark rollercoaster in web-ready diary entries. And I certainly don’t want to snap a photo of him in this contraption of a hospital bed or launch a teary GoFundMe or make peppy TikToks of how we’re coping with all by choreographing dances in the fucking hospital room.

But I do want to write. Because it’s the only act that has ever made any of it better. Words on paper, or typed on screen, have been my friends in this life — even if, at times, they have helped me lie to myself. When you’re a storyteller, you tell yourself a lot of stories. I guess we all find our own way to manage the shit parts of being alive. Words work for me. I don’t really drink. Drugs are expensive. And yoga hurts my shoulders.

I will say it all looks like you think it looks. The hospital gown. The shaved head. The slow walks through the hall with the IV drip gliding next to us. So unoriginal. You have seen it on every TV show. In fact, I’ve seen so many TV shows with characters smiling through cancer that the first day my love could walk a lap around the room, I blasted Beyoncé and called it our daily “Beyoncé Walk.” And then I caught myself. What am I doing? How supremely annoying.

Mostly it’s a lot of sitting around. Or sleeping on this rubbery extend-o-couch on branded hospital sheets. Waiting. For the chemo to work. For the body to tolerate it all. For the doctors to do rounds. For information. For results. For numbers to go up. For numbers to come down. For the beeping to stop. For clean towels. For the dinner tray. For UPS to deliver a saliva kit to see if his sister is a match for a transplant. For the coordinator to call back with the tracking number. “What is the tracking number? Can I please get the tracking number? Ohmygod, why can’t you get me a tracking number?”

All the while the rest of life disappears. Or takes a seat in the last row. Work is a joke. Mail is a nuisance. The news is that much more obscene. Laundry is a necessity. As are books and crossword puzzles. I haven’t done one in ten years. I did six yesterday. Holiday parties are stories told on FaceTime. Friends and family regale us with exciting tales of Christmas singalongs or the dramatic adventures of late-night gift hauls at Target. We’ll spend the holiday here. Together. There is nowhere else to ever be.

I don’t know if I will write again. But for tonight, it all hurts just a little less. Thanks for reading.

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Julio Vincent Gambuto

Author of “Please Unsubscribe, Thanks!” from Avid Reader Press at Simon & Schuster // Speaking at SXSW in March // juliovincent.com