1. who you gonna call
In a couple of sessions with my therapist about my ever waxing and waning hypochondria, I said, “I know I’m paranoid. But sometimes paranoid people are being followed!”
The last time I said that to him was Election Day, when I was worrying about my annual breast exam that coming Friday. He said, “That’s maybe the worst phrase you’ve said.” We laughed.
But reader, sometimes paranoid people are being followed.
Friday I went in for my exam. They told me they wanted to biopsy a couple of spots. I had a meltdown. A nice nurse said, “Is there someone you can call?”
I launched into a hysterical summary of the past two years of my life: “…and then I had a miscarriage and I was so depressed and angry for so long, and everyone I knew was so nice, and I know they love me, but I’ve used them up. I can’t take one more problem to them.”
“You haven’t used them up,” she said. “Call.”
She also said, of course, that lots of biopsies turn up not-cancer, but I knew I wouldn’t be one of them. And I wasn’t.
2. the signifier becomes the signified. or something. i don’t remember my derrida.
In case that seems like a lot of double negatives, let me be clear: I have breast cancer. Invasive ductal carcinoma, right breast, two fat tumors and a few “in situ” waiting like evil little time bombs, no lymph node action, stage two (I’m told this is still early, although it sounds scary as hell). These details become very important very quickly. So do a lot of details I haven’t learned yet, like what kind of receptors there are on my cancer cells. But I feel pretty sure that I have an aggressive form because 1) they’re more common in young women and 2) my luck has not been excellent lately.
Point #2 is a tricky thing. Say you spend a year of your life convincing yourself that all the diseases you’re sure are creeping through your body (MS, Lupus, Parkinson’s, breast cancer, colon cancer, this weird pregnancy cancer that actually exists, mouth cancer, neck cancer) are simply signs that you’re depressed and feeling like your body betrayed you by losing your babies. Now say one of those symbols is actually a thing itself. Now your body and mind have betrayed you.
I can’t really wrap my head around how I’m supposed to think now, or what anything means, if anything means anything at all.
As my friend Kathy put it when I told her the news, “Oh Cheryl, you really don’t need another opportunity for personal growth.”
3. free tits with purchase
I agree! The personal growth I’ve done thus far is serving me well: I haven’t Googled anything like “breast cancer survival rates” (I happen to know it’s 35 in 36, which is not so bad, but my chances of getting this in my thirties were one in 233, so I never know what to make of statistics). I’ve leaned on AK (who has been wonderful, ready with her new cancer notebook like an ace reporter) without dragging her into my spiral of bad self-esteem, which I’ve learned really hurts her. I’ve managed to distract myself for significant periods of time and to focus when it’s time to focus.
But that’s just the first week. I know how these things go. The ups and downs. But I also know—and AK and I keep reminding ourselves—that this is not the ol’ Miscarriage of 2011. This is it’s own thing. We’re different people now, or at least we’re people who know ourselves better.
I’m not afraid of losing my boobs. Actually, I welcome it. I asked my therapist if I’m like one of those people who secretly wants to amputate a limb, but he said no, not if I’m looking forward to fake tits, which I am. I think it’s only fair (“fair”—don’t you love that useless fucking word?) that any shitty experience comes with a free gift, and personal growth isn’t going to cut it in this case. I want smallish, perky tits that let me wear strapless dresses for the first time in my life. I want to go jogging without wearing two sports bras. I want to not look like Jabba the Hutt in photos that cut me off mid-boob.
|...but do you see the sloping mountain effect?|
I’m not afraid of surgery or puking from chemo. I’m kind of afraid of losing my hair, but Nicole swears by this thing her cousin used called the ChemoCap that basically cuts off circulation to your head and keeps the chemicals out.
I’m totally afraid of uncertainty and recurrences and people treating me like a walking reminder of their own mortality. I’m afraid of watching everyone else’s life march forward in spectacular fashion while I fight for my own.
4. make a wish
AK and I have made a conscious decision to proceed with plans for the future. I love that she is willing to be a little reckless with me. My hot Russian doctor looked at my MRI report and said, “This eez not cancer dat keelz you.” Until I hear otherwise, I’m going to assume our plans aren’t just some sort of Make-A-Wish Foundation fantasy, where everyone’s all, “Oh, it’s so cute that she thinks she’s going to grow up and marry Justin Bieber. It’s so heartbreaking that she thinks she’s going to grow up.”
|Just because he looks like a lesbian doesn't mean I want to marry him.|
I don’t view the future like I used to—and I don’t mean Before Cancer, I mean Before Infertility/Miscarriage—as a simple matter of planning and hard work. I (and Tig Notaro) know that the rug can be pulled out from under you at any time, and when you’ve half stumbled to your feet, it can get yanked again. But I still believe in hard work and planning, if not their infallibility. Doing things other than moping and worrying makes me feel like I’m like the rest of y’all.
It’s easy to feel isolated from the living, for so many reasons, and I can feel it creeping up behind me, whispering that books and a kid and new furniture are the stuff of other, more special people. But this time I’m not going to fucking let it in. I’m going to slam its leg in the door and slam a shot of Jack Daniels if that’s what it takes.
5. your mission, should you choose to accept it
So there’s my call to battle.* Already, my family and friends have heeded theirs, even though they’re tired and busy and retraumatized by all of this. AK with her notebook. My dad and sister, who dropped everything and drove up Monday night without even asking me. Nicole with her endless reassuring facts and unfortunate knowledge of all things breast cancer, since that’s what got her mom a few years ago, and her willingness to indulge my obsessive-ness. Meehan with her walktails (= cocktails in a travel mug) and relentless determination to be my friend, even when I’m like, “Really? Why would you want to do that?”
And all the people who’ve texted and emailed and prayed for me and offered to introduce me to their cancer-survivor friend.
(Everyone has a cancer-survivor friend, just like everyone has a friend who miscarried or a gay friend who adopted. It’s hard being part of yet another involuntary club, because you feel like you should have this kinship, but everyone’s story is a little different. So I can read a lovely essay by a woman who survived cancer at thirty-four and just feel like, “Yeah, but hers was stage zero.” Or someone who miscarried and got pregnant three months later. And then I’m lonely all over again.)
But I do want to know that there are a lot of women who are alive and well years after cancer. And eventually I may want to meet some of them. Maybe you’re one of them. I hope to join your ranks. So keep the stories and offers coming, and forgive me if I’m a little moody and flaky these days. But whatever you do, don’t send me anything pink.
|Against cancer, for heart disease. Let's remember that Chick-fil-A is not the only villain, shall we?|
*Throughout said battle, I plan to blog only minimally about this. I’m doing a lot of writing about it, and there’s totally an I’m an Infertile Lesbian who Miscarried Twins, Had Marital Problems and Got Breast Cancer book in here somewhere. (Agents take note!) But 1) I’m focusing on ensuring a happy ending that is not fiction, which takes some behind-the-scenes work, and 2) I’ve learned the hard way that spewing it all, all the time, doesn’t serve me or AK well. I know you’re dying to hear whether my cancer cells have HER2 receptors, but I’m going to keep blogging about books and shit too.