Baby photo courtesy of Cliff Bostock.

Come Die With Me

While you were rummaging through countless love letters and chocolates on Valentine’s Day, I was shacked up at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital with a row of purple stitches bulging from my forehead after a biopsy. It seems I have a tumor, a probably fatal one, behind my left eye.

This was not a surprise. It all began almost three years ago when I landed in an emergency room in a state of so-called global amnesia. I was told I was transported by police following a wreck in front of the state capitol building, but, as it turned out, there was no wreck and the emergency room doctors were unable, after hours of tests, to find any explanation. In the weeks following, my doctors at Kaiser Permanente administered more tests and ultimately referred me to an Emory neurosurgeon for a biopsy.

He ordered a third MRI and found evidence of some swelling in one area of my brain. He wanted to do a biopsy then, but I refused. I was pretty certain that my incident was the result of stacking Xanax, Ambien, and a new drug I’d been prescribed for maddening restless leg syndrome. More importantly, though: I distrust the medical system. I had surgery on both my knees almost 20 years ago, and it was irreparably botched, leaving me unable to run or even walk down inclined surfaces – a huge game changer for someone who has spent most of his life in gyms. Later, I endured gall bladder surgery that was “complicated,” forcing me to stay in a hospital for several extra days with a nurse who called me a “wimp” repeatedly for complaining that the pain medications I was given weren’t working. And then there was that time I was 28 and came close to dying in a hospital that tried to evict me before they assigned me a doctor who couldn’t diagnose me.

Many doctors don’t like me. I question them and have no hesitation to point out when they are putting concerns about themselves in front of their patients’ needs, which is frequent. That hasn’t been the case with my neurosurgeon, who is also a professor at Emory. He listens and has a calming presence, although I do wonder at times if he holds off on imparting bad news a bit longer than needed. I’m still waiting for the final pathology report on my biopsy, but I’m scheduled to begin radiation and chemo treatment soon. If things are as bad as they seem, this will be palliative care, not a cure. I am thankful, sort of, that my doctor didn’t turn my biopsy into a lobotomy.

I have come to that question that seems so inevitable for the old. Do I keep this to myself until the last minute or do I share my story with others? I’ve been treated for depression most of my life. Weirdly, that disappeared a few years ago, as did another medical problem I had for 30 years. As unhappy as I’ve been, though, I have been profoundly grateful since the 1990s. Literally every close friend, including my first male partner, died during the AIDS epidemic’s worst years, and most of the people I’ve been close to in the last 10 to 20 years have also died. As I told a friend recently, I often feel like my mind is hosting a marathon séance, with dead friends constantly popping into my head.

My writing has always been personal. Lousy parenting, the early torment of being gay, and anger at the excessive suffering so many have to endure in our mainly loveless culture have required that I speak my truth.  So, you’re invited to follow me on this journey and share your own stories and questions in the comments section or in DMs. For the present, I am mainly symptom-free, but I doubt, in the end, I’ll be going out in style.

Cliff Bostock, PhD, is a former psychotherapist who now focuses on life coaching, especially with gay men, creative writers, and other artistic types who are feeling lost or blocked. Consult his website at and contact him at 404-518-4415 or