Tag Archives: cancer screening

cancer on my desk

When I got to work this morning there was an envelope on my desk. I opened it to find it full of literature on “young adults & living after cancer.” It might as well have been anthrax. I felt betrayed by it, strangely, and angered by the well-meaning email from my boss; a friend of hers had published these pamphlets on behalf of someone who’d died from the disease.

I don’t want my disease, its reality, to appear on a Monday morning as simply as a stack of filing. It’s as if every time I open a door, or an envelope or some part of myself, there is cancer in it.

I went to Michigan this weekend. “See you in the fall,” they said. It is such an easy thing to say. For everyone else, so easy to say that in six months, one year, two three four five six years I will do this and that thing.

And then these English Ph.D. people grinning flippantly: “I’m at the end of my first year, and I’m still alive.”

I thought: You really have no idea what that means to me, do you?

But how could you.

Saturday I have an MRI of the left side. Only after those results can I speak with any confidence about something as far away as fall. And I’m terrified of this awful always betrayal of my body. I feel so awfully encumbered by it.  And I’m trying not to be embittered by all these people who can read and drink and read and read and pursue their various happinesses, who can consider their deaths as abstract and distant, who can stockpile knowledge soundly in brains undestroyed by chemo.

I wonder if I will ever be a Ph.D. student more completely than I am a cancer patient. I don’t know.

Are you ever actually living “after” cancer?

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Jade Goody & the mythology of redemption: the spectre of cancer in the media

Jade Goody–the Big Brother reality television “star”-cum-cancer martyr–died the day before I started my own chemotherapy. I remember standing on the platform at the Royal Oak train station, waiting to go to the hospital for my first chemo treatment, looking at everybody’s greedily-grabbed copies of the Metro and the London Lite; even in the “real” papers, Jade Goody was the front-page news (alongside findings of a recently-published study, coincidence or no, about the non-improvement of cancer survival rates in the UK).

 I don’t know how large the storm surrounding this woman was in the American media, but in England she was as ubiquitous as Big Brother himself: first for the car-crash entertainment value of her all-around ignorance and repugnance, with the cherry-on-top of racist allegations–and then for the car-crash entertainment value of her stage 4 cervical cancer, and society’s ensuing Schadenfreude at observing her decline, glued to the television with eyes wide.

She made a mint out of that damn cancer, and, maybe even more sickeningly, seemingly won everybody’s sympathy from the media exploitation of her sickness –from her showstoppin’ Cancer Special, to her eight-weeks-to-live “fairy-tale” white(trash) wedding, to which she sold the rights to Ok! magazine for £700,000. (A  few months after Goody’s death, her previously-incarcerated Prince Charming was arrested yet again for an alleged sexual assault on a teenager. This may want to be excluded from the Disney version of the Jade Goody Story).

The debate raged as to whether Jade, being dumb as pig shit, was the victim of the media’s agressive manipulation of her, or whether Jade, being an unscrupulous media whore, was in fact the one doing the manipulating of her audiences. But whoever was pulling the strings, the result was the same–as her Guardian obituary put it:

The pig who deserved burning had become our sacrificial lamb, garnished with sentiment. Britain had turned 180 degrees to embrace a woman it had earlier scorned. Symbolically, at least, it was the right time for Goody to die.

–what someone on the BBC referred to, as I listened to Radio 4 while waiting for my chemo, as “the mythology of redemption.” Continue reading

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Knock knock. Mammogram.

This morning I had a mammogram.

I thought — the last time I did this, I had two breasts.

I had an ultrasound as well, which resulted in a pseudo-PTSD flashback of the first time I had to have a breast ultrasound, shortly before the needle biopsy left me bruised and and bleeding and crying, riding home alone on the Tube, shocked and dazed and terrified.

Today, the doctor opens with, “I don’t want to scare you, but…” 

and ends with, “I’m sorry. You’re too young for this.”

The recommended course of action, apparently, is a screening every six months, alternating mammograms with MRIs. These tests are so panic-inducing, I’m not really sure I’m down with that.

Remember that old Saturday Night Live Land Shark sketch? The Jaws spoof with the shark knocking on the door: “Candygram.”

That’s what I feel like whenever I hear the m-word. That something sinister is lurking on the other side of the door.

 Knock knock. Mammogram.

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And by ‘anxiety,’ we mean ‘expense.’

In case you missed the controversy sparked yesterday by the “government task force” (can anything sound more Orwellian? who are these people?) over new mammography guidelines, and let’s be honest, I doubt you did: women should start having mammograms at 50, not 40,  and every other year, to reduce ‘anxiety.’ Because the aforementioned anxiety, the possibility of ‘unnecessary biopsies’ &c., for the majority who will not be diagnosed with cancer outweighs the inconvenience of death for the few people who will.

Now, I too can dig my John Stuart Mill, but that sounds like some crazy utilitarian bullshit to me.

 And oh, also, breast self-exams are useless and should not be encouraged.

The age debate got me thinking about the mammograms I had done of my left breast, the ones with USLs: unidentified suspicious lesions (still unidentified and suspicious as of this posting). When I handed my file, with an oncologist-ordered mammogram, over to the lady behind the desk of the breast screening department at Charing Cross, she said:

“You can’t have a mammogram because you’re under thirty-five.”

And I stared at her, bald and incredulous. And I wanted to say:

“Can you apply that logic to the cancer in there?”

Three times in the past couple of weeks I have been asked my age, and each time I hesitated. I honestly couldn’t say. Saying “twenty-five” seemed absurd. Because whatever it is you associate with being twenty-five–like having the rest of your life ahead of you, when “the rest of your life” is something long and non-hypothetical–that’s not what I am.

I remember discussing immortality in sixth grade. The teacher asked us, a group of 12-year-olds, what would be the perfect age to spend eternity as.

For some reason, the class consensus was 25.

I wonder what seemed so magical about it. Myself, I’d chosen 10. Maybe even then I had a premonition. Or maybe I was just a strange, precocious pubescent, already nostalgic for my youth.

Something else that is strange. During my last checkup, the nurse asked about my Tamoxifen side effects in near baby-talk: “Are you having little hot flashes or anything?”

I’m tired of having my cancer cute-ified because of my age. I’m terrified by what the chemotherapy and the Tamoxifen have done to my body. I hate that I’ve gone through menopause in my twenties. I hate that I haven’t had a period since July, maybe earlier. I’m worried that I’ll never have one again.

 And there’s nothing “little” about my flashes, lady.

Re: mammograms, The American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are sticking to the earlier recommendation of 40.

Guess they’re not part of the Force.  

(YSC’s response here)

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