Tag Archives: metastasis

Inescapable

I’m in a study carrel at the University of Michigan library, and I want to scream and cry and kick the four walls of my enclosure.  

Yesterday during a break from class I opened up my New York Times homepage to find Elizabeth Edwards had died. This morning I woke up to Elizabeth Edwards’ voice on NPR, from an interview in which she calmly accepts her own death. She could not believe, she said, in a God who allows senseless tragedies to happen. A sixteen year old who dies in a car crash. And breast cancer. The swift erasure of so many women.

Today I procrastinate during paper writing by checking in with the blogosphere, to find that one of  the breast cancer bloggers from my blogroll, Jill, who has been living with Stage 4 triple-negative breast cancer, is in the hospital and not doing at all well. Her family is asking for prayers.

Breast cancer, I fucking hate you.

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“How are you?” *punchface*

   A question a cancer patient can’t answer.

  The problem with providing answers or “updates” is that our conditions are mysteries to us too. We don’t know what’s couched in our bodies, or where, or when it will rear up again. People want to add their own neat  ending to the cancer narrative: “but you’re ok now, right?” Most often meaning: “but you have hair.”  

How am I? I don’t know.  In inexplicable pain, mostly. I might have uterine cancer. My ribs and chest and lungs ache a lot these days; my cancer might have metastasized  and I might die before I’m thirty.  

I also might be fine.

So in response, I just say “fine.”

Recently I had to explain to my boyfriend that chances of recurrance do not decrease by year–that chance of recurrence spikes at year 5 post-treatment. Also that metastasis is The End. Also that when I go to the doctor, it’s to monitor for a second primary cancer in the left breast, not to monitor for metastasis.  That you can’t monitor with blood tests or continual scans. That there’s no benefit to finding it “early.” That you can’t find it “early” anyway. He didn’t know these things. I felt like I’d punched him in the face. I may as well have.

But the reality is too much to bear. It’s easier to believe you’re living in a permanent state of ineffectual hypochondria, and of course you will go on, forever, forever.

There’s no cure for cancer.

If I found out I couldn’t have children, I wouldn’t want to live.

If I knew I was going to die within the next five years, ie. before finishing my Ph.D., what would I do about it? Probably nothing. What could I? But part of me wants to know, because hope can be an embarrassing thing, and I’d rather get it done with.

The New York Times Book Review recently ran a piece on the book The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee. Excerpt:

 The oldest surviving description of cancer is written on a papyrus from about 1600 B.C. The hieroglyphics record a probable case of breast cancer: “a bulging tumor . . . like touching a ball of wrappings.” Under “treatment,” the scribe concludes: “none.”

 In Mukherjee’s words: “dying, even more than death, defines the illness.”

The other day I was reaching up on a high pile of books and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying fell down and hit me in the face. I’ve never read it. I feel like I don’t have to now. I know what  dying feels like. Like a punch in the face.

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26 March 2009: Chemo brain, pt. 2

Head-fog. Waitrose: panic. Feeling everything flaking and peeling. Not myself in my own environment — Kensington Gardens beautiful, and I barely able to register it. Getting from one side of the park to the other. Utter helplessness. Disgust with my body. If I am this disgusted by a tumor, how much moreso by the absence of a breast?

And will I lose faith in God when I finally lose my hair?

Michigan agrees I may defer for a year. Fall 2010. Unreal. Inconsequential. Will something as remote as Fall 2010 ever happen?

My mother’s mailed me ridiculous pajamas and I am wearing them in my absurdity. I can’t believe the lack of consideration with which I’ve approached all of this.

And I honestly wonder–do I deserve this?

There’s no help anywhere I can see, no comfort. But in doing what I have been–ignoring. Denial’s set me plodding along this rash path already. Without choice. Entirely confined to a body which has been set in motion to destroy me. And a body swept over by drugs that attempt to destroy the cancer by destroying everything else.

“Inspirational stories” on the breast cancer websites etc. inspire me to do nothing but want to kill myself before the cancer kills me. These breastless women with cancer metastasising to bones and lungs, eating their ovaries and their eyes. Well, in the middle of it all, they say, they find the time to enjoy ice-cream and dance to Bon Jovi.

Anything could happen.
Anything could have always happened.
But I still don’t quite believe it’s actually happening.

And I’m envious of everyone walking around in their ordinary lives, not knowing with what difficulty I walk to the store and select nectarines.

And I must constantly remind myself that I don’t know, can never know, with what great difficulty they are doing the same.

And that I do not know what I will become as a result of it all–my first instinct was to believe it would be “blessed,” but more and more I fear I will either be merely bitter, or else nothing at all.

My comprehension of time is entirely skewed by the insomnia. It’s seven-thirty and I’m already exhausted, too much so to sleep. Have been awake since 3 AM. If I sleep now, I’ll wake up at 1 or 2 at best. And then be deposited onto the unmerciful day–

Tomorrow the kids & I must finish Hamlet. Assess the damages, body count.

How can I possibly ask him to watch me deteriorate like this? Upon diagnosis I felt close, connected. Now it’s as if we’ve developed alternate identities in order to plunge through the next howevermany months.

Or maybe it’s just that we’ve not become the people I hoped we be through this,

like fucking Love Story.

I’m less afraid of death than afraid of ugliness.

And all I can see stretching infinitely is my own ugliness.

And knowing I have no grace or dignity to draw on,

and no reason to be loved.

(I continue to adore PK. “I don’t even have a dentist,” I wrote to him. “Now I have an oncologist.”

“It’s a bit precocious,” he replied).

K. does not believe in an ‘”interventionist” God. Which means he does not pray for me; prays merely to accept me.

But I want all the prayers and milkshakes there are;

I want to be worth curing.

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