Home » A Staring Contest with the Reaper, Pt 2

A Staring Contest with the Reaper, Pt 2

Earlier in my cancer experience, I wrote A Staring Contest with the Reaper to explore my mortality and cancer. Things are different now, so I wanted to revisit the topic.

My vision is blurry.

With eyes tired, red, and wide open, I continue to meet the reaper’s gaze.

An optometrist might say it’s lagophthalmos—the inability to blink or close one’s eyes—but they’d be wrong.

Instead, it’s perseverance and willpower keeping me focused on my enemy.

To live, I must continue not to blink, lest the scythe of the reaper cut me down.

So, I stare back. Unwavering. Stalwart. Tired, nonetheless.

Living with pain

My life with Stage IV colon cancer is stranger than ever.

I have physical pain from three cancer-induced compression fractures that pepper my vertebrae. It results in two new things for me.

Firstly, I’m in a nearly unbearable amount of pain.

It’s not easy living with 6/10 pain. I definitely have a new understanding of what those living with chronic pain have to endure.

I’m working with palliative care, my medical oncologist, and my radiation oncologist to improve this. Being allergic to codeine really has an effect on my pain management options. I don’t want this turning into Dopesick.

Sitting, standing, lying in bed: it really doesn’t matter. It all hurts.

Sitting on the toilet is painful and uncomfortable (not just from weird, chemo shits, either).

Showering is hard and painful as I wash my hair and reach behind my back.

Tying my shoes requires me to sit on the stairs to our second floor, using my hands to cross my legs in order to lace up my footwear.

I can’t even lift a fucking grocery basket.

Side note: a broken spine isn’t particularly conducive to amourous congress, either.

You get the idea. My physical abilities have been compromised by cancerous lesions which have grown enough to break bone.

At various moments during the day, pain shoots through my midback, overtaking the painkillers for just a moment. It’s enough to remind me just how serious this all is.

I’m having some peripheral pangs in my feet periodically as the lesions apply pressure to my nerves. It’s pretty wild to feel something in my feet other than my existing neuropathy.

Secondly, I now have a more visible component to my illness.

Until recently, there were only subtle tells that my health has been compromised.

My hair is thinning and turning white, though I wear a hat most of the time anyways.

My hat says “Cancer Canuck” with my lil’ crabby guy on it, but that doesn’t count.

Scars from my bowel resection dot my stomach.

The joker’s smile encircles my belly button.

I have a medical device in my chest.

My skin is dry and peeling.

These are all things that are concealed with clothing.

Now, I use a cane to get around.

I’m not ashamed of the cane. It’s a useful tool and a necessity for me to move around with any degree of comfort these days.

Still, it reminds me further of how cancer is changing my abilities and imposing new limits on my body’s performance.

It also shows others that I’m experiencing some kind of health issue.

Living with progression

There’s also a new fuck you that cancer has given me.

In what is the stupidest, most frustrating turn of events: the chemotherapy is keeping my liver lesions stable (and even having some effect on shrinking a few spots).

…yet, I’ve had progression anyways.


As my oncologist put it: “It’s frustrating and shitty.”

Accurate. So accurate.

Having progression means that the strategy needs to change.

On the pain management front, we’re moving to a sustained release medication that will provide 24-hour pain management coverage. It’ll be supplemented by additional medication which I can take as needed for breakthrough pain.

We’ll also be adding stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) to the mix. It’ll be focused on my spinal metastases and will provide pain relief while also killing the cancer in my vertebrae.

I’m expecting to have between three and five separate doses of radiation, spaced together over the course of a week, which will be enough to blast those little cancerous bastards into the afterlife.

Note to self: in the next life, drink more milk for stronger bones.

Next, since we don’t want to delay starting radiation, I’ll have a bone scan to see if there’s any sign of cancer in other of my bones.

If anything else crops up, we’ll plan additional treatment for new areas of concern.

What are you looking at?

This fucking reaper keeps staring at me.

He’s throwing the kitchen sink at me, trying to force me to break my gaze.

It’s not going to happen, pal.

Sure, life’s swinging hard.

But you know what?

I’m swinging harder.


My name is Jason Manuge. I'm an early onset Stage IV colorectal cancer survivor. You can find me on social as CancerCanuck!

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