Immunology and the Between

Essay Excerpt

Reading Napier's article, which is felicitously “cruel” in the Artaudian sense, reminded me of the shock of my own existential awakening. It occurred on bleak February morning in 2001 in the office of an oncologist. Thinking that the mass he had felt in my abdomen might be malignant, my internist ordered several diagnostic tests and set up an appointment with an oncologist. After a physical examination, the oncologist asked me to his office to view the film of my abdominal CT Scan.

To see a picture of your insides for the first time was, to put it mildly, existentially shocking, especially the perception of a mass that swirled like a nebula in my gut.

“It looks like a slow grower,” my oncologist said, “and it's wrapped around the aorta.”

“Where did it come from?” I asked fearfully, the image having rendered me “dazed and confused.”

“Your body produced it,” my oncologist said.

That short sentence shocked me into the awareness that the distinction between self and nonself was far from distinct. That fundamental realization undermined my comfort in the world, leaving me forever more in a fuzzy indeterminate world. Although my illness, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, had no cure, it was a disease, according to the oncologist, that could be “managed.” Like all cancer patients, I quickly learned what it meant to be in limbo—between things (177).

Stoller, Paul. "Immunology and the Between." Cultural Anthropology 27.1(2012): 175–180.

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