Monday, July 01, 2013

celebration with an asterisk

1. the plasticity of the human spirit

Things that are over: DOMA, Prop. 8, the Voting Rights Act, radiation.

Things that aren’t over: racism, homophobia, my personal cancerphobia.

I realize that this lead sort of equates my personal shit with important historical developments, but this is a blog about my personal shit as it relates to the larger culture, so there.

My point is that last week was bittersweet, and that some endings come too soon and others come too late, and most are false in some way.

Wednesday night I found AK’s long-lost iPad Mini under the passenger seat of my car while looking for my own newly lost phone. When I found my phone, I texted her the good news. She replied, “Can we celebrate at the York?”

I told her that I was feeling fried—literally and figuratively—from radiation. I hadn’t played the cancer card much in my seven months of treatment, so I decided I’d use it to get some extra rest between then and Friday, my last day of radiation.

The next morning, something occurred to me: “I thought you wanted to celebrate finding your iPad—but did you mean gay marriage?”

June 26, 2013: the day it sucked just a little to be queer and single.
“No, I meant my iPad,” she sighed. “I thought it would be fun to go to West Hollywood too, but I figured you’d want to stay close to home. I’m sorry—I shouldn’t make you feel bad about being tired.”

It hit me that one of the many things I’ve lost along Camino de Cancer is my engagement with what’s happening in the world.

South African students: no desks, no books, lots of raised hands.
Although, as a side note, I find longer-ago history profoundly, almost spiritually comforting. Last week I saw an exhibition of Ernest Cole’s photos of apartheid-era South Africa at the Fowler Museum. They were intense, but seeing how long days in the mines or nights in cramped maid’s quarters didn’t destroy anyone’s humanity—even as apartheid destroyed almost everything else—was reassuring. I felt like I was supposed to come away disturbed and depressed, but I felt the way I imagine more nature-oriented people do when they look up at a star-strew sky: small, humbled, part of something big.

2. i’m a self-centered white person

What I know now about outside events—laws, disease—is that they can’t kill your much-lauded-in-film human spirit as easily as you once feared. But they will change you more than you thought possible, and they can kill your human body.

I heard some NPR interview in which the reporter asked someone involved with the anti-Prop. 8 fight, “So, does this mean the struggle for gay rights is finished?” I’m sure this reporter also asked people whether Obama’s election meant that racism was over. And I’m sure he knew what the answer would be and was just trying to be provocative in a stupid way.

Most victories come with an asterisk. Marriage is hardly the only battle. Legal equality is hardly the same as true equality. (After all, racial discrimination has been illegal since 1964.)

The Voting Rights Act decision, which I don’t know all that much about because I’m a white person in a highly self-centered phase of my life, declares racism over in a way that denies the reality of millions of people. Few things feel worse than invisibility.

3. goodbye chocolate binges, hello lifetime of knocking on wood

I’m no longer an active-duty cancer patient, which is cause for celebration. And I celebrated: AK and I had dinner and our favorite donut balls at Westside Tavern, and I allowed myself a chocolate binge, because I figured it was the last day I could rely on medical treatment to rid my body of cancer rather than, you know, blueberries. We saw The Bling Ring, a deliciously deep and shallow movie.

One part social commentary, one part shoe porn.
But my right armpit still looks like a warzone, all sunburn and no beach. And I’ve known from day one that even the best-case scenario involves years (and years and years, knockonwood) of vigilance and tests and worrying-while-trying-not-to. So that began Saturday. Well, not really. I did eat a lot of vegetables and go to the gym, but I also felt light and free and newly inspired to tackle various organizational projects around the house.

War metaphors are weird; I’ve never liked the phrase “battling cancer” because 1) I’m a linguistic contrarian, and 2) every one of my cancer cells contains my own DNA. Did I want to battle myself? (Even though battling myself is the story of my life, and the story of everyone’s life.) Wasn’t there a more peaceful way to engage with my cancer patient status?

But war metaphors are tempting nonetheless, and I find myself explaining to people that while I’m no longer an active-duty cancer patient, I’m now in the reserves. I still have weekends of boot camp (hormone therapy, ovary-ditching surgery, reconstructive surgeries) ahead. I still have PTSD, although ironically less so than after the miscarriage, which is probably the Desert Strom to cancer’s Iraq War. I have to try to be forgiving and nice to myself in a way cancer gave me permission to be; I have to be nice to the rest of the cells in my body.

6 comments:

Terry Wolverton said...

Sending you lots of love, Cheryl. Congratulations on this milestone. We have to celebrate the victories with unqualified exuberance, even as we know there is much more to do (if we're lucky.)

Olga said...

Great blog, Cheryl! And congratulations on no longer being an active-duty cancer patient. That is definitely something to celebrate. By the way, I think "blogging about personal shit as it relates to the larger culture" rocks. It humanizes/personalizes all those big (many times overwhelming) issues out there. Gracias!

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Terry and Olga! :-)

Amy (Kid-FreeLiving) said...

Congratulations! I can't even imagine going through what you've gone through and then having that over your head waiting and worrying. Puts any complaining I do about just about anything into perspective.

PS: Please send me a donut ball. I don't know what it is exactly but I'll take 4 dozen.

Claire said...

Congratulations on finishing radiation! Woo! I heartily second Terry's comment above.

As for June 26, 2013, it didn't suck but it wasn't as personally meaningful as one might think it should be. I'm happy for these steps towards equal rights and for those it makes happy, but it's prompted by a sense of justice rather than an emotional response.

Cheryl said...

A: The thing is, you could totally do it. And I shall continue to complain about all things non-cancer-related as well, because that's how I roll. Four dozen donut balls coming up!

C: Maybe I was just projecting the "but what about meeee?" response *I* tend to have toward everything that doesn't explicitly address said question. :-)