Gustavo PÉrez Firmat


When my father died, embittered and penniless after more than forty years of fruitless exile, I told myself that he had left me one invaluable legacy: the determination not to be like him. Two months later, the diagnosis of prostate cancer, a disease from which he had also suffered, put me in my place, his place.

It's been almost a year since I underwent what is called a radical retropubic prostatectomy--a relatively safe but complicated procedure designed to remove the malignancy with the smallest number of side effects. During these months of slow and sudden changes, I have often thought about my father, about the intertwining of our distant lives, about the links between exile and cancer--both so much concerned with foreignness. If nothing else, illness gives us the gift of self-awareness, in Spanish, conciencia. The wrenching in our body promotes a special kind of clarity, the mind's revenge for the humiliations inflicted by the disease and its treatment.

Not someone who gets over things quickly, for several weeks after the surgery I was unable to do little more than keep myself going from meal to meal. But as Fall crept in (the operation took place in September), I began to feel like myself again, began to reestablish connection with the person I had been before the surgery as well as with the people around me--my wife, my children and stepchildren, my students. The surgeons' term for this is "anastomosis"--the union of blood vessels or organs that have been separated by surgery. The notebook I started during those months, a journal of recovery and reconnection, is also a work of anastomosis. Writing it, I found my way back to a place I had never been, and I had never left.