Tag Archives: work

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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still looks like cancer: or, reality bites

A confession:

I really love this movie.

I used to so adore and identify with Lelaina (Winona Ryder) and her angsty smart girl Big Gulp post-college existence. But now it’s Vickie (Janeane Garofolo) with whom I identify, or this part of her character anyway:

“It’s like I’m on Melrose Place and I’m the AIDS character and I teach everyone it’s all right to talk to me or touch me and then I die and everyone goes to my funeral wearing halter-tops and chokers.”

Substitute something vaguely 21st century for the mid-90s cultural references and cancer for AIDS and this is so apt. It’s what I feel I’ve become to most everyone I know: the “cancer character.” People who had no interest or investment in me suddenly came out of the woodwork when they heard I had cancer–even my “best” friends, whom I’d emailed a week previously with good news about my Ph.D; I heard nothing from them until the C-word. Part of it is genuine concern, but, however cynical it seems, I believe there is the thrill of the exotic in it: being able to say ‘My Friend Who Has Cancer.’

Kind of like My Gay Friend, but harder to come by.

And I’m tired of playing the cancer character, even though the whole project of this blog is doing precisely that it’s ok to talk to me, it’s ok to touch me kind of thing. Trying to de-mystify and synthesize the experience of having this disease.

But it’s all a sham, or most of it is anyway. Because what I feel a lot of the time is sheer panic and terror and a loss of the will to live, and you can’t de-mystify or synthesize any of it in handy blog posts for people you don’t even know to peep in on.

So,  

A confession, pt. 2:

No matter how much I tell anyone I’m okay, I am not okay.

None of this is okay.

And I know I’ve been in denial about my level of okay because of the way things have been breaking to the psychological surface.  

Like the other day, after coming across this–Kylie Minogue: Still Looks Like Cancer–I just lost it, and hacked off all the hair I’d regrown in the past several months with a pair of blunt scissors, leaving a sinkful of coarse curls and the remainder a shorn, uneven crop peppered with bald patches.

And it wasn’t that some jackass who writes a stupid celebrity hairstyle blog had really gotten to me, but that I needed a catalyst to act out something irreparably psychologically fucked-up in myself (like cutting your wrists, but with ugliness instead of endorphins), something I have to spend every day repressing and ignoring and pushing away so that I can get out of bed, go to my stupid hateful mindless job, and exist.

Merely exist.

And then the other night I dreamt of the surgery–of the whole thing repeated, for the left side, with a smattering of cruel and unhelpful hospital staff, and awoke so traumatized–not from the dream, but from the reminder that these things had actually happened to me, and I haven’t processed or made peace with them.

I’m getting to feel like Elwood P. Dowd, and my health is like Harvey. I’ve wrestled with reality for twenty-five years, and I’m happy to say I’ve finally won out over it.

I haven’t won yet, but when I sense reality getting ready to rear its ugly head I have to slam it in some drawer or another. Sometimes literally; I found I can’t wear the pajamas I wore when I was in the hospital. Even seeing them, I start to panic. So they’re stuffed to the back of a bottom drawer. I can’t toss them out any more than I can toss out the cancer.

After all, I “still look like cancer.”

But I can’t deal with it.

Because doing so would probably involve turning my life, for whoknowshowlong, into a vortex wherein I would not be able to function–to get up, get dressed, take my Tamoxifen, spend all day moving Microsoft’s data from one place to another, and come home to no one.

So maybe–what’s the point of functioning at all, if that’s what you do?

I think: what would happen if I died now? And the answer is: some of Microsoft’s files would be delayed getting down to archives, and the temp agency would send someone else immediately.


This summer, someone asked me, How are you coping? How are you getting up, walking around?

I admitted it was with a generous dose of denial–but then I had England; then I had K.

Now the only answer I can supply besides denial is

I don’t know what else to do

or–I know what else I can do, and am scared to.

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25 March 2009: Chemo brain

It’s my head more than anything, that and the feeling of being so overwhelmingly alone with more than I can bear to think of. My head–tired tightness, pinching in from the scalp. It’s a bleak fog I can’t step outside of. Not myself. Everything is a struggle–can’t sleep, can’t get from one place to another without carefully planning and imagining the movement from A to B. And then the solitude, after two days…

I acted reprehensibly to everyone at the hospital during the whole six hour process of getting the first chemo treatment–without K. I’d have been an utter disaster. (Yet without K. I’d have been at home). Now he’s gone, and I don’t know which of us is being unreasonable–I for expecting his undivided attention, or he for leaving me. I can’t rely on myself in this poisoned box of an existence I feel myself shut in–with everything from the outside creeping sinister. Ignoring phone calls, texts, emails–Expedia reneging on their promise to refund my flight to Detroit, U. of Michigan prodding me along to make arrangements for the upcoming academic year I will not spend there, the landlord arranging viewings of my flat, the three schools wanting plans for my continued employment, within them fifteen students to assist individually with coursework, with plans for the continuation of the term–always this when the phone rings or the email loads.

The night of the chemo I vomited into a green bin at the foot of my mattress, and so far that is as much definition or achievement I’ve gained from the whole experience.

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