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Artisanal Cancer

By Jessica Brook Johnson

 

Image by MONOPOLY919

 

“Wow, you’re so brave,” is what people used to say in the early twenty first century when someone got cancer. Imagine what they’d say to someone who got it on purpose. 

When I arrived outside of Keerthi Anand’s apartment, I found the hobby oncologist’s contact info in my eyelinks and sent her an alert. I ignored the brick of unease sliding through my gut and focused on the growing influence score in the corner of my eye. Comments in translucent font cascaded down my vision, a blizzard of phosphorescent red snow. This was the most attention I had gotten in a lifetime, even more than when I entertained my followers with my collection of glow-in-the-dark dildos.   

HedgehogBoy2187: I can’t believe ur actually gonna do this.

WhereMyHoesAt: You crazy!

MotherofPizza:  You’re a hero! 

SPC_Official_Account: The Suicide Prevention Council would like to thank you again for your brave sacrifice.

It was quite the sacrifice. For every day I went through early twenty-first century chemotherapy treatment, my followers would send some of their own UBI to the Suicide Prevention Council.  

Keerthi Anand opened the door and flashed me a toothy grin. Not the right expression for someone who was about to give me cancer. More the expression of a cat who just snagged her lunch. 

“Come in, come in,” Keerthi chirped. 

The walls of her cramped apartment were plastered with posters of viruses and cells. And with the clutter of medical equipment, there was barely enough room to maneuver. Some of the equipment was modern. Much of it looked ancient. I glanced down into a tray of knives. Sweat built up on my forehead.   

“How much of this stuff are you planning to use on me?” I asked.  

“Don’t you worry, my dear. I’ve been studying early twenty-first century medicine for years. They found ways to make it bearable back then. I can certainly do that now.”

“You ever do this kind of thing with anyone else?” I pressed. 

“Absolutely. I just gave someone Chicken Pox last week and cured them in no time at all. I have many medical hobbies.” 

“You ever do cancer?”

Her smile widened. “Are you getting cold feet?”

My influence score started to dip.    

“No!” I said quickly. “I just wanna make sure you’re the right person for the gig, that’s all.” 

My score trickled back up again.

Keerthi arched an eyebrow. “Do you know any other hobby oncologists in the area?”

That was a fair point. 

“Let’s just get this over with,” I said. 

Continuing to grin her electric grin, Keerthi led me to the Auto-Doc crammed in the corner of her apartment. I took off my clothes and laid in the bed of the machine. The Auto-Doc bathed me in a soft blue light that was warm against my skin. I closed my eyes, feeling like a science experiment. To keep calm, I imagined the Island. They said no one on the Island ever committed suicide. And no one needed UBI because everyone was rich. People drank piña coladas and conversed with the GMO dolphins who swam the Island’s crystal waters. The most beautiful and famous influencers in the whole world lived there, spending their time having orgies. Many of them were the best performers in the business, with several awards from the Porn Academy. They all would share in a miasma of pleasure as they switched on their SimSharing. The rest of the world sat by, roasting in envy.  

Just need a million influence points, I told myself. 

 

#

 

I stood in Keerthi’s closet-sized bathroom staring at my breasts in the mirror. I touched the injection site on my left breast, feeling the new tumor beneath my skin. It was hard, with the consistency of a ball of cartilage. Keerthi had shown me a picture of what the tumor looked like inside me with one of her antique ultrasound machines. The tumor was what she called a ‘spiculated mass,’ with tendrils growing off it like an evil alien squid.   

I was surprised the tumor didn’t make me feel sick. “I don’t feel like I have cancer,” I said. 

Keerthi crowded me in the bathroom’s doorway. “It’s not the cancer itself that makes you feel bad. It’s the treatment. There’s an expression people had back in those days. The cure is worse than the disease. 

Zombiecowgirl88: How awful!

“Don’t worry,” I said to my followers. “Nothing I can’t handle.” I winked in the mirror and gave my breasts a playful jiggle. My influence score continued to climb. 

The Auto-Doc had also given me something called a ‘port.’ Keerthi described the implant as a central venous catheter, which had been placed into a vein inside my chest just below my collarbone. Initially, I didn’t want one, but Keerthi told me early twenty-first century chemotherapy required multiple injections, and if I didn’t get a port, all the injections would destroy the veins in my arm. The port device was visible as a cluster of three bumps protruding from beneath my skin. 

 I pointed to it. “Check out my port, guys.” 

EvilOverlord298: Ew! It looks gross. 

MotherofPizza: Shut up. You can barely see it. 

Keerthi asked, “Would you like to know what kind of cancer you have?” 

“I already know. Breast cancer.” I gave the port a poke. 

“Stop touching your port. And there’s more to cancer than that.”

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know more, but I sensed Keerthi was dying to tell me. So I let her indulge herself like a preteen girl gushing about her favorite holo. 

“Back in the twentieth and early twenty-first century,” Keerthi began, “it could take a month to get diagnosed with all the details of one’s cancer. The size. The stage. The hormone status.”

“A whole month just for that?”

“Oh yes, there would usually be an ultrasound, a biopsy, and then an MRI. And between each step, a patient could wait anywhere from a week to ten days for results.” 

I suddenly felt sorry for people back in those days, just sitting around for a month, not knowing if they were terminal or if there was hope. But there also seemed to be something deliciously exciting about that uncertainty. An uncertainty that made life more precious. 

“So, tell me about my cancer,” I said. “Or are you gonna make me wait a month too?”

“Heavens no. You have an Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Estrogen positive. HER2 positive. Progesterone negative.” 

I didn’t know what any of that meant. 

“Your tumor is 2.5 centimeters,” she continued. “Stage two and—”

“Stage two?” I interrupted. “Why’d you give me stage two instead of stage one?”

She smiled wickedly. “It is more exciting that way. It hasn’t spread to your lymph nodes. Yet,” she added dramatically. “Though it will if we don’t treat it soon. So we must act quickly.”

VivaLaVicious: Oh shit…

WhereAreLukesPants: *Rubs hands together* Here we go!!!

My followers were loving this new urgency. My influence score was skyrocketing. 

“So, my dear, are you ready for your chemotherapy?” Keerthi asked. 

There was clearly still much I didn’t know about this process. And even if I decided to back out of the deal and use an Auto-Doc to heal my cancer, it wouldn’t be able to do much if Keerthi’s antique medicine failed and let the cancer kill me first. But my channel had been waning in popularity over the years. If I didn’t have the Island to look forward to, what else was there? 

“Let’s do it,” I said. 

Keerthi practically jigged to the reclining chair in her living room and gestured for me to take a seat.  

Once I was seated, she asked, “Would you like a warm blanket?” 

“What for?”

“To be honest, I don’t know. I just know that’s what the chemotherapy nurses did back then.”

I shrugged and accepted. Sitting in the reclining chair with the heated blanket did seem kind of cozy. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. 

Keerthi brought me a glass of water and extended a palm full of pills. 

“Is that the chemotherapy?” I asked. 

“No,” she replied. “It’s nausea medicine and something called a steroid.”

My pulse increased. “How nauseous am I gonna get?” 

“It won’t be too bad if the nausea pills help.”

If?

“And the steroid?” I asked. 

“So your body can handle the chemotherapy…I think.”

“You think?” 

I suddenly wished there was still such a thing as doctors in the world. But Keerthi and her knowledge gleaned from the net was what I was stuck with. So I grabbed the pills and swallowed them all at the same time. I was good at swallowing things. My followers could attest to that. 

“Alright,” said Keerthi, with the excitement of a serial murderer about to make her first kill. “Let’s get you hooked up.”

I forced myself to watch as she sanitized the site of my port. I had to, for my followers. She swabbed it down with a cloth that smelled so strongly of rubbing alcohol I could practically taste it in the back of my throat. 

“This might hurt,” she said.   

“Just do it already.”

She wheeled over a metal pole which held a bag of clear liquid. Attached to the bag was a needle. Without further warning, Keerthi jabbed the needle into my port. My eyes watered. Stabbing pain lanced my chest. I had never been injected with a needle before. It was agony. 

“Oops,” Keerthi said. 

“Oops?”

“I forgot to put on a numbing agent beforehand.”

“You forgot?” The brick of unease in my gut doubled in weight. But it would be difficult to stop now. I was already hooked up. And a sensation of sea spray was shooting through my sinuses. 

“Why do I smell salt?” I asked. 

“That’s the saline solution,” Keerthi replied. “We hook you up to that first to flush out your port.” 

Soon the pain in my chest faded and I got used to the salt smell. This didn’t seem so bad. I told myself I could do this until Keerthi brought out a giant red needle. 

ImScaredofClowns: It’s huge!

FinalFury999: Like my dick. 

MotherofPizza: *Facepalm*

I clenched my fingers. “I thought you were going early twenty-first century. Not Medieval.”

Keerthi gave me a good-natured chuckle. “This medicine is called Doxorubicin. Though patients back then had their own name for it.” Her wicked smirk returned. “The red devil.”

My mouth grew dry. “Red devil?”

MotherofPizza: Pretend its cranberry juice. It won’t be so bad. 

Keerthi added, “It will make your urine pink.” 

FinalFury999: Hahahahaaa

With a thought I turned off my feed’s display. My followers would still get to see what was going on through my eyelinks, but their comments were only making me feel worse. 

After Keerthi hooked me up to the red devil, she slowly squeezed the solution into me. I didn’t want to watch but forced my eyes to stay on the process. 

When the red devil was done, Keerthi told me I’d have to sit in the chair for a thirty-minute observation period before she administered the next medicine. I wondered what color the next devil would be.  

As I waited, I passed the time by watching the channels of my followers.

BigToddX and PajamaPartyScott were fucking each other in gladiator costumes. 

They were both hot, but I quickly grew bored and swiped left. 

MotherofPizza was at home in her messy apartment, alone as usual. Empty pill and liquor bottles scattered about. Pizza boxes piling up—true to her username. I swiped left again. TacoKingSunday hung inanimate from a noose he had tied to his balcony. Sad, but all too common these days. 

After receiving another round of chemotherapy, called ‘Cyclophosphamide,’ I was done. 

“Don’t eat anything you’re fond of,” Keerthi warned as she unhooked me.  

“Why?” I said. “I’m feeling fine. Just tired. Really tired.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

#

 

My clean, spacious apartment was a welcome relief from Keerthi’s cramped mad science hut. A Serengeti sunset played on loop from my bay windows, bathing my living room in rose gold hues. I lay on my chaise longue, which was linked to my body through SimSharing. It massaged the tension out of my muscles. I was tired beyond words. Feeling like I could seep beneath the cracks in the chair and never get up.

I called out to DORI, my apartment’s AI, and ordered my favorite meal to perk myself up. I was starting to wonder if this whole process would really be enough to get me to the Island. With deaths like TacoKingSunday’s happening every day, I wasn’t sure if torturing myself was really gonna make a difference. Enough of a difference to keep peoples’ attention before the next big thing on the net.

A drone wheeled over a plate of freshly printed out asparagus, tomato and goat cheese frittatas alongside blueberry muffins. Compared to the strong scent of rubbing alcohol at Keerthi’s apartment, brunch smelled like a heaven. 

Hours later, brunch was swirling in the toilet. A colorful display of abstract art. I should have listened to Keerthi because now I’d never be able to eat frittatas or muffins ever again. I puked for hours. People even started offering donations to the Suicide Prevention Council for every person who joined in on my SimSharing to suffer with me. Soon I had around three thousand users, all riding the nausea train to toilet town. We raised a collective ten grand for the Suicide Prevention Council in just one night. 

Keerthi had warned me to stay ahead of the nausea with the twenty-first century pills she gave me. But they didn’t help much. It was so bad I vomited for three continuous days. I was tempted to pull out my own Auto-Doc and get some real medicine, but that would be cheating. Besides, my influence score was now going through the roof. And the Suicide Prevention Council was running ads showcasing my experience. The ads called me a warrior. A hero. It felt good. But not good enough to take the nausea away. I leaned over the toilet and heaved, even though I had nothing left to puke. 

 

#

 

It wasn’t until my second round of chemotherapy that I started losing my hair. It didn’t come out all at once, but it was more like I was an animal shedding in the summertime. Each morning I’d wake up to more hair on my pillow than before. It would also come out in clumps in the shower, or when I was using a hairbrush. It wasn’t long before I got fed up with the mess. 

I stood in my bathroom. My bare feet cool on the marble tile. I faced the mirror with an electric razor in shaky hands. “You ready for this, guys?”

Juggles_pies: Shave it off! Shave it off! 

FinalFury999: Ur gonna look so ugly bald. 

I bit my lip. I had never been bald before. What if FinalFury was right? What if this made me so ugly my followers started to leave me, regardless of my work with the Suicide Prevention Council?  

MotherofPizza: Don’t listen to him! You can do this. I believe in you. 

I felt a smile rising up within me. How different her words were than the usual texts I got before this experiment. Like, “I wanna cum on your tits, bitch.”

I took a deep breath, switched on the razor and went to work until there was nothing left on my head but a thin tuft of peach fuzz. 

FinalFury999: Eww.

MotherofPizza: Suck it, FinalFury, I think she looks badass.  

I thought so too. 

#

 

More vomiting. This time it lasted eight days. My throat burned, coated in bile. I vomited so hard I could see flecks of blood sprinkled amidst the vomit. My eyelashes were falling out. My once thick eyebrows had thinned. I had lost all my pubic and armpit hair. I had dropped about fifteen pounds of weight, but not in a good way. I didn’t look slim. I looked skeletal. My ribs and collarbone pressed visibly beneath my skin like shards of glass. My eyes loomed large in my sunken face like golf balls. And my saliva tasted like poison, making everything else taste like poison too. 

The nausea was so bad I thought about quitting every day. But it was the messages of my followers that gave me the hope to keep going. Especially those from MotherofPizza, who messaged me more than anyone. 

MotherofPizza: Sometimes life just feels so stupid and pointless, you know? You think people felt this way when they still had to go to work for income? It just seems like all we have is sex, suicide and FinalFury’s dumb dick jokes. But you’ve given me hope that maybe there could be more than that. Maybe things worth fighting for. Worth living for?  

It was strange. Physically, I was sicker than ever. And yet for the first time in my life, I truly felt alive. 

 

#

 

“There’s a problem,” said Keerthi. I sat squished in next to Keerthi on her sofa, alongside two boxed up X-ray machines. Keerthi was reviewing the results of my latest ultrasound on her eyelinks. Her frenetic energy from our earlier visits was gone. She now seemed like a balloon with all the air let out. 

“A problem?” My stomach clenched up into a knot. 

“The tumor is growing.”

“What?”

“It’s now in your lymph nodes. If it goes any further, it’ll metastasize.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning it’ll spread through other parts of your body—” she paused before adding, “—

and kill you.”

I sucked in a long breath of air. “So the chemotherapy didn’t do anything?”

She rang her fingers around her wrist. “A hobby oncologist is a different thing than a twenty-first century doctor. I didn’t train for ten years like they did back in those days. I just look things up on the net and do simulations in VR. I could be using the wrong dose. Or the wrong medication. Cancer is a very complicated disease.”

I put my face into my palms, wondering how I could’ve let such a thing happen to me. 

“It’s not all bad, my dear.” Keerthi’s voice was weak. “An Auto-Doc can still cure you if you back out now before it’s too late. It would take barely thirty minutes. Though it means I wouldn’t get to treat you anymore.” 

My blood percolated hot with anger. This woman didn’t care about the danger she put me in. She was just bummed about losing access to her favorite toy. Though I supposed I should have been grateful she was telling me the risks at all. She seemed the type to pursue her hobby no matter the cost. Maybe it was just her commitment to the doting doctor act.

 “If you wait too long,” Keerthi said, “even the Auto-Doc won’t be able to help you.”

“That means it’ll all be over,” I said quietly. “My followers will be so disappointed.”

Even discussing quitting made my influence score drop.  

Keerthi pursed her lips. “I’d like to keep treating you. For me, this whole process has been fascinating. But it’s ultimately your life. Your choice. You can stop now and save yourself. Or keep going with the hope that we could eventually find the right chemotherapy treatment. But if it doesn’t work, you will die.”

Each day I took to think about it, my influence score plummeted. But it was a big decision. If I stopped and saved myself, I would be known for the rest of my life as ‘the woman who gave up.’ ‘The woman who could have saved the suicides but didn’t.’ And what would my life be like if I quit? I could no longer show my face as an Influencer. I’d have to live off UBI in an apartment smaller than Keerthi’s. I’d never make it to the Island. Though I was surprised to find I didn’t care that much about the Island anymore. My thoughts went to my followers. Particularly MotherofPizza. She’d be so disappointed. 

 

#

 

I lay curled up on my chaise longue, idly scrolling through my followers’ channels as I thought things through. A teenage girl who had sent me a gift basket last week had her face held down into a toilet by her friends. They all laughed as she struggled to escape. I swiped left. Three men were having sex with a woman with bright purple scales and tentacles. The option to SimShare with them for a fee popped up. 

No thank you. 

I swiped left again. A woman’s corpse laid on a sidewalk next to a tall glass building. The corpse looked familiar. Pinpricks darted across my skin. Did I know this woman? People were watching the woman jump off the building over and over again, rendering it in slow motion. Some trolls had apparently hacked the feed and were playing cartoon sound effects as the woman made her way down. When her body splattered against the pavement, they drew penises around her corpse. Other users cursed out the trolls, demanding they have some respect. Though I didn’t see those users leaving the feed. 

When I zoomed in to the figure on the top of the building, my heart froze in place. 

It was MotherofPizza. 

An anguished sound escaped my lips. A tightness gripped my chest, tight enough to suffocate me. Tears trickled down my cheeks. I wrapped my arms around myself, wanting to wither away into dust and be absorbed into the Earth forever.

I was stuck on my couch for days. Not eating. Not sleeping. Feeling as if I had turned to stone. Waves of grief and guilt crashed over me, ebbing and flowing with varying levels of intensity. I ignored the pleas of my apartment’s AI to nourish myself. The agony inside me was something I hadn’t felt in a long time. Maybe not ever. But MotherofPizza’s death felt different from the other suicides. She had been there for me. My number one fan. And what had I done for her? 

I wondered if MotherofPizza was right. When the human struggle for survival was taken away, was sex and suicide all that was left? As I considered her words, I felt as if I were staring into a yawning abyss. A dimly lit corridor lined with tentacles, corpses, and young girls with their faces held down in toilet bowls. Maybe even the people on the Island were miserable and their whole thing was a lie. 

There were no easy answers to the questions MotherofPizza raised, but I knew one way I could try to find out. And I owed it to my number one fan to try. 

I gave Keerthi a call. 

 

THE END

 

About the Author: I am a non-profit writer who lives just forty-five minutes south of Washington D.C and have gotten non-fiction published in places like Gay Life Newsletter and Dark Art Conspiracy. I have won two honorable mentions in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award. I have published a poem on Islamic Audio Bytes. And I have fiction published in The Weird and Whatnot Magazine, Dark Dossier Magazine and Space Squid. https://storiesfromtomorrow.com

 

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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

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