1. you always hurt the ones you love
Friday night my dad called to say hi, and I mentioned something in passing about fearing a recurrence of cancer. Although I’m prone to medical anxiety, I think it’s safe to say that every person who’s had cancer and who thinks about the future wonders if that future will include cancer. But my dad took this as his cue to launch into a pseudo-scientific list of reasons why I would live to be 112. It’s what he needs to tell himself—and I get it, because a lot of the time it’s what I need to tell myself too, and sometimes it’s what I need him to tell me—but I wish he would admit it’s part of assuaging his own worry. Instead, he says things like, “I’m concerned you don’t have a realistic picture of your prognosis.”
We had a calm, if lengthy, conversation about managing anxiety; at one point I said, “I know you hate emotions,” and he was like, “I do! I do hate emotions!” And then I hung up and felt too tired to clean the house or pack for our trip to San Luis Obispo or make dinner. I spent the rest of the night jumping between Words With Friends and the FORCE message boards.
The next morning, as I was trying to clean, pack and pick up the rental car, my dad called back and said, “I don’t want to upset you any more, but I thought it might help you to know about this article I saw. If you’ve gotten a double mastectomy and had your ovaries removed, your chances of getting ovarian cancer are—”
But before he could say “low” or “next to nil,” I started screaming at him. The cats got big-eyed and ran from the room. “I wasn’t even talking to you about ovarian cancer! I am trying to live my fucking life! Can we not make this a cancer morning?!”
Trying to live one’s fucking life when one’s life is threatened—maybe not immediately or even greatly, but to an extent that no insurance company would ever put its money on you pre-Obama—is the fucking challenge.
2. poster child
When I was still emitting daily primal screams in the months after the miscarriage, I stumbled across the blog, Little Seal, and essays of Emily Rapp, a writer I’d met a handful of times. What I knew about her: She was accomplished, beautiful and had one leg. She’d written a memoir called Poster Child, about how, when one has one leg, one feels extra pressure to be accomplished.
|Little seals in foreground. Big houses in background.|
In one post, she talked about how she sometimes felt judged for doing things like laughing and drinking wine and attending writing residencies; shouldn’t she be attending to and feeling sad about Ronan fulltime? She said she had a responsibility to him to find as much joy as possible, to live the full life his disease prevented him from doing. A blog seemed like the perfect raw, immediate (and also easily judge-able) form to process all of it in the only way a writer can.
Every scary diagnosis comes with a mandate to “live life to the fullest,” instructions which always baffled me and pissed me off. So a truly well adjusted person would just set aside cancer or violence or grief and go tromping through the rainforest? Wasn’t that called denial? Wasn’t that impossible?
But there’s a thing that comes after the primal scream. Or, more accurately, between the primal screams. It’s a setting aside while holding on. I haven’t achieved it for more than a handful of minutes at a time, and I’m not sure if anyone has. I think maybe Emily Rapp found it for hours or even days at a time, but I also suspect she’s not done screaming.
3. gambling, gamboling
Me, all I did was go to San Luis Obispo for the weekend with my girlfriend.
We’d escaped there after other hard periods, and I remembered our June 2011 trip as more of a relief. Because I was sadder when I left, and therefore happier for a break from my grief and anxiety? Or did this trip feel a little more sober because I’m still only a third of the way through chemo and it’s harder to truly escape?
I don’t know. But AK did book us an ocean kayaking tour, and I know it felt like living life to the fullest.
It’s hard to see pictures of my bald-headed self having a good time and not imagine some sort of condescending voice saying, “Oh, good for her. Look at her living life to the fullest, not letting cancer get her down.” The implication being that going on vacation was a noble act; that I was doomed; that these pictures would end up in my funeral slide show. (An imagination is a terrible thing.) The real accomplishment isn’t “not letting cancer get me down,” it’s getting back up and appreciating the world after it does, because it does.
|Suiting up. Wetsuits are so warm and comfortable. I wish I could wear one to work.|
So I will just say that we pointed the bows of our yellow kayaks into the breaking waves, and it was impossible, for a little while, to think about anything else. I will say that it felt great to do something physical that didn’t involve needles or knives or chemicals. I will say that we saw sea otters grooming themselves in kelp beds and seals sunning themselves on the rocks.
Rocks and kelp beds keep them safe from sharks, but they can’t spend their whole lives there.
We burned a zillion calories paddling against the wind that kicked up (they had to cut the trip short, just like our trapeze class, but at least we got to paddle through a few caves first), and spent the rest of the day eating: steamed clams, ice cream sandwiches, Mexican-Greek food at the Wild Donkey.
Monday morning we slept in and shopped at Crazy Jay’s and visited some kind of apple orchard/farmer’s market/petting zoo place near Avila Beach. I think it’s safe to say that baby Nubian goats are the cutest things to ever walk the planet, and they only get cuter when they eat lettuce leaves.
“Do you guys want to do some gamboling?” AK asked. “Come on,
gambol, you guys!”
|That bird is all, "Hey, I'm cute too. WHERE'S MY LETTUCE?"|
*AK’s Israeli supervisor likes to attribute my breast cancer genes to my quarter Jewish-ness, even though the genes come down through the WASPs on my mom’s side of the family. But has anyone written about how oppressing and isolating people for centuries, to the point that they have to marry cousins, is a kind of slow, creepy genocide?
I’ve been reading about the eugenics movement in the U.S. as it relates to American perceptions of “poor white trash,” but it’s hard to read about forced sterilizations and not think about my own upcoming “strongly encouraged” sterilization. And how I’d be on a lot of eugenics hit lists. And how I never really cared about reproducing my DNA, but it’s disturbing to think there might be people who are happy I’m not, and I can’t say fuck you by putting a Jewish-Latino gayby into the world. And how there’s a place inside me where my DNA and my socialization and my grief have formed a sort of psychic tumor that whispers, Yes, you are a degenerate. Best to end you now.