I Am The Wildebeest

I had lunch with my Dad yesterday. The last time I saw him was before he started two clinical cancer drug trials, a month ago.

The thing about my Dad and his 22 years of cancer is that any time he’s ever spoken about having cancer it’s always been about how he’s not going to die (despite having the odds stacked against him every single time).

He picked me up after his cancer clinic appointment and we went for lunch. We both ordered pulled pork sandwiches. I ordered a bottle of coke, as coke in a glass bottle always seems so strangely novel to me. He ordered a coffee, black, as he always does. He took a sip of his coffee and turned to me and said, “Everything tastes strange now. I think the chemo’s fried my taste buds.”

And what I had thought would be a casual lunch where we talk about everything but cancer, went the other way.

He did most of the talking and I did most of the listening.

It’s hard to tell with him, sometimes. He hides his pain well. His attitude has always been that cancer can’t kill him. He won’t let cancer kill him.

Yesterday was different. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard my Dad talk about his death. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard him talk about death even being a possibility.

Between bites of pulled pork, he talked about his participation in the drug trials and how his was a choice between “definitely dying” and “maybe living”. Though “maybe living” is also “maybe dying”.

“Maybe I’ll die anyway,” he said. “All I know is it’s important I take part in these trials. What they learn from my body could help save the lives of future cancer patients.”

Silence engulfed us. I swirled my coleslaw around on my plate, and then my Dad laughed and said, “There’s no humanity in nature.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“These past few weeks I keep thinking about a National Geographic special I saw when I was a boy. A pride of lions chased down a wildebeest. They tried to take it down, but it wouldn’t go down. They tried to kill it by biting its neck, but it wouldn’t die. So the lions started eating the wildebeest while it was still alive. The wildebeest stood there, bellowing. The lions split open the wildebeest’s abdomen and its guts spilled out all over the ground. It kept standing as the lions ate its innards. It just kept standing there, bellowing, up until the moment its knees gave way and it died.”

He paused, absentmindedly sopping up a puddle of barbeque sauce on his plate with a piece of bread. “I am the wildebeest.”