I dreamed you came to visit me last night. I knew you at once, though you were not what I expected at all. Handsome and tall with an expensive looking suit. More like a fashion model than an undertaker. There you stood in my door, in all your GQ glory. Cancer. Smiling.
"I caught you, you bastard," I hissed. "You tried to sneak up on me, but the doctors found you, and now you are going to die."
"One of us surely will," you said, smoothly. Such confidence in your eyes. "I think you will die first."
"I'll die killing you," I spat, wondering where the courage was coming from. This was a cold killer. He had taken so many of my family. "You don't decide when I die. I decide."
"No," came a voice that made your face go pale and my skin prickle with goose flesh. "I will decide."
There behind you he stood. Unlike you, Death looked exactly as I expected. Dark, deep eyes in a face of papery skin. Cold fingers. Just as Dickens painted him. "I will decide when you will come. But both of you will come."
You gathered your courage. "Dark one, I have cheated you many times. If you take me from this one, my kind will just spring up for a thousand thousand others. Kill me in his head, I will be in his guts. Kill me there, I will take his lungs or his blood. Simple answers are best, yes? Take him and let me continue elsewhere."
"Death," I whispered. "You will come for me one day, but not today. Not while I lay in my bed. Come when I am running or playing on a stage. Come when I am holding my sweet wife in my arms or driving down a beautiful country road. This thing, this Cancer is unworthy of either of us. Come when my death might bring glory to god or peace to another soul. Don't let this liar do your work for you. He creeps in and devours life in secret. You are ancient and honorable. You come with your fearful face revealed, your bony hand outstretched. He is a thief without honor. You are the servant of God."
In silence, Death turned to Cancer to hear his response. He brushed a bit of lint from his lapel. His smile was no longer arrogant, but cold and sharp. "How old are you?"
"I'll be 50 in July."
"And what do you weigh?"
"I weighed 359.9 lbs this morning."
"And a healthy weight for a man your height and age would be?"
"Maybe 210, 220 lbs."
"Now you have lost quite a bit of weight since I first called on you. Isn't that true?"
"40? Why that's the weight of a small child! Isn't it? You have lost the weight of a small child and still exceed your own healthy size by the weight of a grown man. Isn't that true?"
"Years ago. From the time I was 20 until my 36, 37th birthday."
"Your father smoked. Your uncle smoked. Your grandfathers smoked. All were dead before they could retire. Is that right?"
"But you drink. You have drunk."
"Yes. There was a time in my life when I was drunk quite a lot."
You took a step back then, raising your hands as if to question me more would be cruelty. Turning to Death, you said, "Dark One, from his own mouth, with his own life he has convicted himself." Then to me, the coup de grace, "You have been inviting me to kill you since you were a child, isn't that true? Every step of the way, you chose that path that led to me. Now you call me a trickster and a sneak. That is unjust, sir. No generation has had better warnings than yours, yet you continue to flock to my kind with your headphones in your ears and your noses in your cellular telephones. I did not seek you out. You sought me, knowing what I was, and now you blame me for your own disregard for your life."
Your voice never rose above a whisper, like you were accustomed to winning. Death turned to me, expressionless. What could I answer? "Death," I began, "I am not perfect. No man is perfect. I have done stupid, cruel, destructive things with parts of my life. But I have also tried to do Godly things. To help the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned. I have shared what I have and gathered up precious little treasure on this earth. I am a sinner, wicked as any who have brought corruption to God's creation. But I am also a creature, made in God's own image. I have spent my days learning what it means to live as a child of God. Let me learn what it is to die as a child of God. Wait for me a little longer, until I know what my Creator wants from the end of my life, so I can serve him right up until the moment of my death. This Cancer does not delight in God's creatures, but only in their destruction and perversion. He twists life into death so we must practically kill ourselves to be rid of him. He does not serve our God in heaven. He is nothing but a disease."
At this, death turned his empty eye at you, but you did not speak. Your confidence was gone, your clothes faded. The smile became a sneer on your red, pock-marked face. I watched in silence as you showed your true self. A giant tumor all bloody and viscous. Then Death spoke.
"It is well said that this man has invited Cancer into his body by a long pattern of behavior. It is also well said that Cancer is not part of God's plan, but rather a disordered corruption of creation. The truth is, neither of you deserves to live. Still, it is God's nature to temper justice with mercy. No one will die tonight. But one of you will surely die. You both face a great trial. Fire. Chemicals. The sword. The first to cry "Yield." will come with me."
Then Death turned to Cancer and an icy wind seemed to fill the room. "But you, Cancer. You will die in any case. If you kill this man, you will die with him. If he kills you, you will be cast into oblivion. Your fellow demons may torment humankind, but you will not be among them."
"In that case," the hideous tumor growled, "I have nothing to lose. But you," he cast a gnarled eye in my direction, "You will be my final victory. I will kill you."
At this, Death left us for a time. You left me too, though I can feel your presence always. You choke me awake at night. I laugh you to shame in the daytime. My doctors are filling me with the poison that will kill you before you can beat me down.
Death was right. We will both die, one way or another. But you Cancer, you're going first.
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