‘Hello Toby, I’m Howard.’
‘Hi. I’m Toby’. A laugh: ‘I guess you knew that…’
Doctor and patient shake hands. The doctor takes in the young man with the ready self-laugh. Tall, thin, Ned Kelly beard. Laughing eyes, a vital face and something serious, a gravity lurking between the smiles.
‘I’ve got a Toby’, says the doctor, ‘Every family needs one. And one might be just about the limit – to judge by mine.’
The smiling eyes crinkle: ‘Well my family had two of us, in a manner of speaking. I got my name from my grandfather. That wasn’t his true name but everyone called him Toby on account of the mobile he had above his bed when he was small. He loved Weeties you see…’
The doctor doesn’t see.
‘My Grandpa loved the breakfast cereal so much they hung a mobile made from Uncle Toby’s* Weeties packets over his bed; and everyone always called him Toby. They named me after him. Or at least in memory of him.’
The Ned Kelly beard rises and falls, dances with Toby’s face, mobile, in the telling of his story.
The doctor: ‘Nice beard Toby.’
‘Glad you like it, Doctor, but today’s it’s last day. Tomorrow I shave it off – to raise money – for cancer. And that’s really why I’ve come: I need you to check my wound.’
The man pulls up his shirt, exposing a circle of blood in the centre of a depression just to the right and below his belly button. The doctor indicates the couch. Toby lies down as he explains: ‘They’ve just closed off my colostomy, about six weeks ago. They said I wouldn’t need dressings after six weeks, but I should have the GP check on it. What do you think?’
The doctor thinks it looks like a fresh bullet wound, this dimpled circle of bright dried blood. He has a gentle poke around Toby’s belly: nothing inflamed, healing progressing well…so far as the doctor can tell. He doesn’t deal often with colostomies freshly closed. He looks up, his face a question.
‘Eleven month ago I had rectal cancer. They took out the lower bowel and I passed waste through that hole in my belly.’
‘And now you have the standard plumbing, you use the opening at the back and it all works again?’
‘Like a champion, Doctor.’
‘How does a man of…’ the doctor checks Toby’s date of birth, does some sums: ’How does a twenty-five year old get cancer of the rectum?’
‘Eating bacon… so they reckon.’ A smile as Toby, standing again now, looks down at the doctor’s yarmulka: ‘You’d be pretty safe, Doc.’
‘What was the treatment, Toby? How was it?’
‘Chemo. Radiation.’ A grin. ‘The first chemo wasn’t too bad. Later it was rugged. They’d run it in through a drip over a week.’
The doctor pictures a man of twenty-five enduring that protracted chemical poisoning. For himself he’s always believed he’d accept death rather than the vomiting, the weekly cycles of wretchedness, the titration of benefit – the death of cancer cells – against the loss of weight, the loss of immunity, the vomiting, the vomiting, the vomiting. But as he looks at Toby he sees vitality, faith in living. He sees a man who’d embrace suffering and try to chase death away. The man would believe he’d be cured, like all of them.
‘And it worked. You’re cured?’
‘That’s what they reckon.’ Toby’s whiskers cannot hide his triumph, his delight.
Deeply the doctor too feels delight. And relief, like a cloud lifting, the cloud of many defeats.
‘Will you be able to have children, Toby? After the radiation.’
‘We’ll see. Every chance I will. Might make a new Toby.’
‘Anyway, Doc, the beard goes tomorrow. For charity. I don’t want to boast but I’ve raised seven thousand dollars in less than a week.’
The doctor has an idea, a question: ‘Toby, I write a blog. Would you like me to write your story? And publish it on the net?’
‘Terrific idea, doc.’ Serious now, the face contracts: ‘Tell my story. Use my name. Tell everyone. The address for donations is: gofundme.com/tobyshaveforcancer.’
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Uncle Tobys is an Australian brand of breakfast cereals and other breakfast food products. The brand has a lot of history and is mentioned in an 1892 newspaper. Their main manufacturing base is located in the small town of Wahgunyah, on the NSW / Victorian Border.