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An Awkward Memoir


April 2, 2017, the Washington Post printed a story headlined, “What men should know about cancer that spreads through oral sex.” 

It was a big question the day after April Fools.

What should men know? What should women know? What should I know? The common thought I had reading about the cancer up in my shit was, ‘this is going to be awkward as fuck.’ That’s what I knew.

What should you know? The article came out about a year after I got chemo-ed and radiated half to fucking death. It wasn’t what I expected, that’s what I know now.

Starting with cancer education, I hoped the treatment people I saw all finished near the top of their classes to kill fucking hpv16 tongue cancer, all had graduate degrees in giving a shit, and zen master focus on finding the best way forward for someone like me. After they’ve seen the outcomes of harsh treatments on harsh cancer, being emotionally cold enough to pull it all together would be their final qualification. 

I’ve written a lesson plan for continuing cancer education, a class for you and someone you know, because you know someone. The Cliff Note version? If you get cancer, or the person you know does, be the best listener you’ve ever been. Don’t throw an auto-apology in right off the bat. We don’t like to be reminded. Sorrow was the umbrella over the whole ordeal, the default setting, while terror, anxiety, and fear punched holes in everything else. 

Michael ‘Basic Instinct’ Douglas was the early leader for sex cancer. I remember him called the face of sexually transmitted cancer in comedy routines. I doubt the comedian had had fucking throat cancer, but I laughed when I first heard the ‘face of oral sex cancer’ routine. Funny stuff, junior high funny, like ‘as long as I have a face you’ll have a place to sit’ jokes before anyone knew anything about sitting anywhere. Or anything about consequences.

The Douglas story would have been a riotous laugh for a fourteen year old boy like me in 1969 just hearing about the mechanics of 69 after one of the cool kids’ older brother explained things to him and he told the rest of us. It was the perfect hormonal storm. We had a code in the eighth grade: 

“What year is it?” 


“Where do we live?”

“The Beaver State.”

“What’s the square root of 69?”

“Eight something.”

Oregon’s nickname is the Beaver State, which made everything even more hilarious. In eighth grade.

We had anonymous question day in health class where students wrote on slips of paper so the teacher could read them to the rest of the class for a learning moment. Mr. Peasely told the unknown students who wrote questions about cunnilingus and fellatio to stay after class.

We laughed to tears before class ended and ruined the mystery.

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