cancer and my ’90s phone

Many of you know about the phone dramas I’ve had lately. First my iPhone died, and so i got a new iPhone5. Six weeks later and 3 weeks into the cancer diagnosis, my phone slid from my back pocket into the toilet bowl, where I peed on it. I only wondered where it was when my mom Facetimed me and it became to ring— from the toilet bowl! I fished it out, but it was too late.

Luckily, Sam had convinced me to buy the insurance, but the phone still took about 10 days to be replaced. In the interim, I have been fielding phone calls from what feels like hundreds  of medical professionals, and I have been doing this from the cheapest replacement phone I could buy: A FLIP PHONE. It has felt like the late 90s and early 2000s.

And there has also been something strange and almost sensual about the tactile sensations I get from this phone. It’s so hard to send texts because I have to click through all the numbers, and it makes these loud beeps when I hit keys, and has ring tones that could only belong to the first few cell phones I owned when I was 17, 18, 19, 20. Sam can even play whole songs on it– this morning at the doc’s office he made me smile while they fished through my bruises for a suitable vein to draw blood by playing “Jingle Bells” and “Mrs. Robinson” with my sexy little flip phone. Only a really musically talented pareja can do that.

Cancerland is not-time, out-of-time, a foreign time. My little black flip phone fit perfectly out-of-time in this f*cked up world.

In her article Living in prognosis, Lochlain Jain writes:
“for one thing, living in prognosis severs the idea of a timeline, and all the usual ways one orients oneself in time: one’s age, generation, and stage in the assumed lifespan……………Living in prognosis, then, is about living in the folds of various representations of time.”

The phones, side by side, for me are these folds of time. I wish when I had my first set of flip phones, I’d found this lump. Known then about this cancer, for surely when I was still delighted about my little flip phones there were cancer cells lurking in my left breast, sliding around in there, waiting until I discovered them. Most breast cancers are around 2-10 years before you find them.

“Cancer is creepy. After it shows up one realized that it must have been there for a while, growing, dispersing, scattering, sending out feelers and fragments. After the treatments, often one hasn’t any idea if it is still there, slinking about in organs or through the lymph system- those parts of the body you can’t really even visualize. But the apparently definitiveness of the prognosis, which seems at first counterposed to the unpredictability of the disease, can be as mysteriously tricky as the errant cells.” -Lochlainn Jain, Living in Prognosis

I wish I knew why. Was it the scoliosis X-rays? My mom swears there were only 4, and judging by the fact that she has in her possession all of the X-rays I’ve ever had since I was 8, with the exception of an ankle X-ray I had at 25, she’s probably right. And so its tricky to treat- should I have the other breast removed, it, too, tainted by the radiation they used to monitor my curvy, curvy spine?

 “Because cancer is always about time. Its progression is marked by stages the staging is not exactly arbitrary, but neither is it terribly precise….. Cancer spreads over time, but no one knows how or when: it is possible to have metastasis after Stage 1 cancer, or none with Stage III. But no matter one’s stage, virtually everybody wants to have been diagnosed sooner”  -Lochlainn Jain, Living in Prognosis

I cannot stop thinking, about this old phone device- that’s also new to me-  and this newer replacement, and the different times they represent in my life, and my different relationships to them, and the way my entire sense of time has radically shifted since Halloween, when I found out I have cancer. It’s the 90s and the now, it’s a recalculating of now and the future, its slipping between these building blocks that were built out of big, sturdy logs and that were the structure I stood on, I understood, I oriented to. I could see for miles, months, years into the future. In that future, I saw myself as a professor, a lover, a mother, a public intellectual, an artist, a Bikram yogi. It’s as though now, the logs are floating on water. They are slippery, moss-covered, and beneath me there are depths unknown. And in my hands, are these phones, a hot pink iPhone5 and an old-style beeping flip phone.


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