It's All Going to Be All Right
About two months after writing this article, on the 26th of December, Nicola lost the uneven battle against cancer, which he describes below in the most humane and open account we've seen. His aim was to take your mind away from the sanitized brochures of hospitals and fake True Hollywood Story specials dedicated to celebrity cancer survivors. The people who edited and published this text had the honor of meeting him and, some, of being his friends. Rest in Peace, Coco! You'll always be an inspiration to us.
I’m sitting in the hospital crapper, laptop on my knees, writing this, while a full-on orgy is taking place to my right. Six pigeons are fucking on the windowsill about a foot away from me, while ten more bombard the tin roof with bird shit. I guess I’m just going to have to look for inspiration in the 12-foot-high heap of rotting trash that's been piling up in the hospital yard. I look toward the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria, where Vitosha Mountain lies, and realize it’s all ablaze with forest fires—that just makes my heart sink. At that very moment my chemo constipation turns into chemo diarrhea, accompanied by a profuse nosebleed, lively convulsions, and muscle spasms, and the inspiration is gone before it has even arrived.
I've told myself the title of this article has to be "Everything's Going to Be All Right." It's a promise that makes me feel better—much better, actually. Then again, I can't stop wondering how many miles I still have to swim against the current with my mouth open in a river full of shit. Having faith in the bright days of your future does nothing to make up for when fate’s boner finally rubs against your back, cutting your skin in the most inappropriate places. Then nothing is really all right, anymore.
I'm basically old in every way but my age. In the space of just a few months, I have suffered from every illness and ailment known to man. At one point, breathing while lying down became impossible so I had to sleep in an armchair, sitting down with my arms crossed against my chest. Finally, I was attacked by a vicious cough, which I decided to cure with vodka, wine, and bad folk music at a two-day-long party somewhere in the Bulgarian countryside. Pneumonia, I thought. You wish I were pneumonia, thought the tumor. The pulmonologist was baffled: “I’m not gonna lie, dude, it’s huge. This tumor weighs about 4.5 pounds. It's almost as big as your head. Go get a CAT scan and keep your fingers crossed—there’s a chance it might be benign.”
"It’s all gonna be all right," I say to myself. "Congratulations, Coco, you old sport, you've managed to grow a malign tumor the size of a baby at the age of 23."
"We still don’t know exactly what kind it is, but we hope to find out soon enough," they say. "Welcome to the oncology unit. Make yourself at home."
"Well, it is what it is," I say to myself. Tumor, humor, the most important thing is that we’re all safe and sound. That motherfucker is going down. I’m gonna kill it with booze and imbecility. The doctors warned me that they were going to start a very intensive and highly toxic chemotherapy, “which is going to make you sick and bedbound.” I quietly sniggered. These doctors can't even begin to imagine the deadly hangovers I’ve survived through the years. Chemo is going to be a spa trip compared to that. So pour in the shit, let's shrink the bastard, and it’s all gonna be all right.
That was the beginning of a fucking amazing chemo party. One more cocktail, please, it’s on the Ministry of Health. All the friends who come to visit are instructed to bring cigarettes, heroin, and cured salted lard with leeks. They get me started on the chemo, I feel a little better, and spend my days reading, watching tennis on TV, and stuffing myself with the finest food—I even earn a few hundred dollars from online betting. A while later, it turns out I've grown resistant to the therapy, and the tumor has actually grown in size. Now they are starting me on a different kind of chemo, which should work. "Relax," they say, "it’s all gonna be all right."
That's when things start to get really fucked up. The side effects of chemo come into play: the taste in my mouth makes it feel like I've been feeding on corpses, nausea is a given, and my sense of smell gets more heightened than a hunting hound's. I can smell the stench of people’s skin, hair, and clothes from 15 feet away. Everyone's breath reeks of something dead that has been left to rot in the sun for a week. Chewing gum turns human breath into an aromatic blend of roadkill and mint. The fridge smells worse than the crapper.
Chemo shots in your spine, bone marrow extractions: cancer should absolutely be on the list of the top 100 things one must experience before turning 30. That’s how you learn to appreciate the little things, like, for example, how cool it is to be able to breathe again. Breathing also helps your sex life. Ouch!
It's July, 100 degrees outside, and even hotter in the hospital room. The air stands still because there are three of us in here, and the only window is about as wide as an anteater's asshole. I am about to spend 80 hours tied to my chemo IV drip. Grandpa Kiro from Samokov lies on the bed next to me; he's wearing a catheter, and his urine is being collected in a plastic bag. The sun heats the bag, and the urine starts to evaporate, so even the slightest of movements on that old man’s part gives out a stench so rank I feel like I’m undergoing inhalation therapy over a septic tank. In the course of four days, I throw up 25 times. Then another 40. At least vomiting is something to look forward to because it makes me feel better, momentarily.
At the other end of the room is Vasko, a 62-year-old conspiracy theorist who hates reptiles and the Jews. He has a fear of needles, so every time he has to give blood he pisses his pants. He has to give blood every fucking morning.
I've met a few more wonderful people. Milovan, from the small mining town of Pernik, did not shower for 23 days and developed a ritual where after each meal he'd burp four times, rip a few farts, then turn to his side and fall asleep. Bay Ivan from Dupnitza was 57 years old and spent his life smoking, drinking, and working with chemicals. He finally got leukemia and for months tried to cure himself by drinking whisky on an empty stomach, refusing to see a doctor. Balkan macho, par excellence. When he lied down on the bed next to mine he looked about 80, had no teeth, and finally kicked the bucket ten days later.
I've seen corpses being taken out of the room twice. There are two mentally ill patients in the ward—a man and a woman, who start wailing every single time someone touches them, so the whole place resonates and the other patients flee their rooms in horror. Today a guy threw up on my feet and then passed out. In the can, three decrepit men are squatting and shitting with the doors wide open, chatting about geopolitics. In the bathroom opposite the exam room, someone has taken a festive dump on the floor—right in front of the toilet bowl.
And that's how my first six months in the wondrous world of oncological diseases have gone by. I have decided to beat it, and when I do, I will publish my first bestseller, Sushi, Sex, and Gambling: My Battle with Cancer. Until then, I can only roll the dice and keep my fingers crossed. But, you know what? Fuck that shit. In the end, it’s all going to be all right.
RIP Coco Rachev (1988 - 2012)
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