Book excerpt from “Rough Nights”: I have cancer – and have never experienced directly how replaceable I am
Arno Luik is a well-known German journalist, railway critic – and has cancer. In his book “Rough Nights” he describes what his life looks like with the disease, but also how he thinks about world events. An excerpt.
20. September 2022
A beautiful early fall morning. Today there is a market in Hamburg’s Isestraße, right in front of our apartment. In the market, I notice that I move differently now: I stubbornly look ahead, rather downwards, I no longer look people in the face, as I always did. If an acquaintance were to come towards me, I would simply walk past him. I also move much slower.
After a few meters I leave the market, I can’t buy anything here, it’s not possible. Pass a small shop. In front of it an advertising rider with the nonsense slogan: “Spread your love!” There is a spreader in me that exudes anything but love.
Internet research: colon cancer. Just scare.
A thought suddenly pops into your brain and won’t go away: If I’m going to have chemo, should I get a wig made? An Afro look, Angela Davis-like, I ask my wife. That’s not possible in these strange times, she says, it would be interpreted as cultural appropriation. Thoughts that lead nowhere.
I have never experienced so directly how replaceable you are
Tonight I would have a video conference – as I am often apostrophized in the media – as a rail expert for some rail citizens’ initiatives. I cancel because of my illness, seconds later the reply email comes: It doesn’t matter, we have a replacement for you. Not a word of sympathy. I have never experienced so directly how replaceable you are. How superfluous.
Helmut Dubiel describes it like this: “For a while I dreamed that I fell off a pleasure boat into the sea and I see the ship disappearing into the darkness. I can still hear people laughing and dancing, they’re happy, but I’m left in the water and drowning.”
In the evening I received another email from another member of this citizens’ initiative: “Dear Arno Luik, I am with you with lots of good energy and powerful thoughts. People like you are so important to change our society. Please stay brave and confident!”
22. September 2022
Yesterday a long day in the hospital, examinations from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The results are not nice. They are catastrophic.
A pretty young doctor examines my intestines with equipment that I don’t want to describe. Amazing how quickly the thought of shame leaves the brain. I sit there, looking at my body like a car being tinkered with.
This doctor gives me a bleak prognosis that prepares me for a life that no longer seems worth living. Almost like a death sentence. She puts it into perspective a little: the subsequent investigations are also important.
After waking up today, a whirlwind of thoughts in my head: fight past, present, future, hug each other. A sequence of unstoppable stories, memories, childhood, university days, just recently swimming carefree in the Main, so many plans, and now a line from Hannes Wader’s song is spinning in my head, “Now I’m just thinking about how I, how I can still get a good exit”.
In the garden I have a deadly plant, aconite, poisonous plant of the year 2005 – is there a recipe on the Internet how to prepare this aconite? eat & drink.de? Chefkoch.de? Giftkoch.de?
About the author
Arno Luik was a reporter for Geo and the Berliner Tagesspiegel, editor-in-chief of the taz, deputy editor-in-chief of the Munich evening newspaper and long-time author of the magazine Stern. His book “Schaden in der Oberleitung. The planned railway disaster”, which was on the bestseller lists for weeks after its publication, was recently published in an updated form (Westend 2021, 303 pages, 12 euros). For his revelations in the matter of Stuttgart 21, Luik received the “Beacon for Special Journalistic Achievements” from the Recherche network.
Conversations by “Germany’s leading interviewer” (taz) have been translated into more than 25 languages; Luik was named “Culture Journalist of the Year” in 2008 for his conversation with Inge and Walter Jens. He has just published his best interviews, the title of the volume of interviews is a quote from Angela Merkel: “When the wall fell, I was in the sauna” (Westend, 2022, 287 pages, 24 euros)
Now I have to go to the most stupid conference of my life
Afterwards I have a meeting, a kind of council, an interdisciplinary investigative committee with doctors from various disciplines, at which, based on all the investigations, it is determined when and whether I will continue. “Bring your wife,” I’ve been told. And then she asks the questions I’m no longer able to ask.
In a recent interview, I said that my current life as a pensioner is great, also because I don’t have to go to “stupid conferences” anymore, for example.
And now I have to go to a conference, the most stupid conference of my life, a conference that I never wanted to experience, that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, it’s called the tumor conference.
Big screen in the waiting room, ntv news. You can see the hateful Putin without sound, underneath the running line: Partial mobilization of 300,000 Russian soldiers.
The cancer didn’t radiate
I here with my personal drama and there an announcement that – almost foreseeable – can end in the big drama. All unreal. And yet so real.
Result of this tumor conference: The cancer has not spread to other organs. I’ll probably, well, maybe get past the dangerous surgery! One will now try to irradiate the tumor, to fight it at the same time with chemotherapy, “a walk in the park” will not be, say the doctors.
They assume that there are good chances of recovery. I can feel life and lust and joy (albeit subdued) coming back to me. That’s why I’m asking the conference participants this question: Should I have a wig made for chemotherapy?
No, says a young doctor at this suddenly so beautiful conference, a doctor with full, blond hair who could be the leading actor in a doctor’s series: “Your hair won’t go out with this chemo!”
On the way back to our apartment from the hospital – Barbara buys a bottle of champagne.
More about the book:
“Yesterday I was still in the middle of life, today I’m outside and confronted with what we all know, which most of us somehow suppress. But it is no longer possible for me to hide this knowledge: that we all have to die.
The bastard in my body keeps hammering this knowledge into my head: I’ve got you under control!
And I’d like to yell at it: Come out, you stupid creature! But the evil animal doesn’t think about it. Will radiation, chemo wear it down, strangle it?”
After his cancer diagnosis, which bestselling author Arno Luik received last summer, he does what he has never done before: he writes a diary. He notes his inner views, the terror, the nightmares, his longing for life – but suddenly it’s about much more than the personal drama: about this torn, maltreated world. Which could be so beautiful if, for example, those in power didn’t…