you wish you had cancer?

Really? You wish you had cancer? You wish you had cancer instead of mental illness? What is this? The illness Olympics? As a person who has been diagnosed with cancer, I’m wildly offended. You can check out the Postsecret postcard expressing a desire to have cancer instead of mental illness, here.  This isn’t the first time this sentiment has come up. Others have said it to me, too, notably one person before I was diagnosed, complaining about ongoing medical issues and the cadre of doctors who could find nothing wrong. A year or two before I was diagnosed, we attended the wedding of a mutual friend. And clear as a bell, I recall her saying, “You know, I wish it was cancer. At least then they’d know what was going on.” Funny the things you remember. As soon as I was diagnosed, there was her voice in my memory, telling me she wished she had cancer.

Look guys, it’s not the misunderstood illness Olympics. I’m sure your mental illness sucks. I bet it is horrendous to not know what’s going on in a body that doesn’t feel good. But don’t throw me, and my experience under the bus. That’s what you do, when you set up a comparison between cancer and your issues, especially when it’s set up such that you are “wishing for cancer.” It makes it sound like I should be grateful, and damn it, I’m not grateful. I don’t know too many cancer patients who are. It makes it sound like we cancer patients get our illness served on a silver platter of understanding, when in reality, people blame me for my cancer all the time, they misunderstand and pity, they dismiss and derail and are generally bad at supporting. It makes it sound like whole body hair loss, discussing my own morality rates every six weeks with a doctor, and feeling nauseated for four months straight is a walk in the park. It makes it sound like everything it isn’t.

So say something about your issues. Advocate. Activate. Ask for help.

But don’t compare to cancer. You don’t want cancer.

You have no idea what you are asking for. None. So stop asking for cancer.

By asking for cancer, you make ACTUAL people with cancer invisible. You force us into a discursive box where we must behave in grateful, happy, thankful, hopeful, ways. You are not helping yourself or your cause. And you are especially hurting us, and our cause.

Also- people with cancer actually die. Stop joking about that. People who are young, die. And they don’t want to. It’s more complicated than “die or recover.” Recovery involves constant screening, with technologies that are basically known to fail and for many of us, me included, failed to detect our cancers in the first place. Recovery involves permanent damage- numb fingers, aching bones, differently colored hair. Recovery involves wondering if you should come out of the cancer closet, always. Recovery or death, huh? Trust me, you want neither choice.

Stop asking for cancer.

How could you not feel heartbroken? How could your eyes not fill with tears? How could you not take to the streets?

What a crazy, deeply saddening, shocking, two days its been. Yesterday as the events in Ferguson unfolded, I was again and again horrified. I hung my head as I watched the news come forward, I was mortified to witness the kind of deeply structural racism and white supremacy that plagues our system returned the decision on Darren Wilson. Mike Brown’s killer, Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted. Mike Brown, a child. A child who was murdered by a police officer. Black lives matter. Black youth matter. Black voices in the center of this conversation, leading this conversation matter. I sat in JJ Bean Coffee in Vancouver and wished I was surrounded by Americans who could together with me, lament the extraordinary distress we are experiencing. Instead I came home. I watched, riveted, as my Facebook feed filled with posts.

After all, how could you not feel heartbroken? How could your eyes not fill with tears? How could you not take to the streets?

This morning, I posted on FB, a list of ways white folks can be allies. Allies, because black lives are at the center of this fight. And white voices and people need to be here too, and they need to make support rings and rings and rings around the black lives, people, communities, and youth at the center, and we need to listen-not speak, and we need to get our friends and families to show up- not take over, and we need to hold the stories and people at the center carefully-and to protect those stories from danger and violence because they are the stories at the center, the lives and communities at the center, and we need to apologize when we f*ck up, and we need to learn about, and then refuse and reject white supremacy- we must. We’ve got to be allies. Now more than ever.

And two people- my aunt, and a young man I went to middle/high school with- attacked me. They railed against the Mike Brown case being about racism. They put themselves at the center of the debate, asking “But what about me? The system isn’t fair to me and I’m white!,” they refused to accept the black people saying loudly, clearly “We are experiencing racism” (why can’t we just BELIEVE people?)  and they went so far to say that violence- a violent response to the violent state of affairs-

—- you know what? I actually cannot finish this sentence. I’m sorry. I’m not going to subject you, or anyone else, to what those folks said. Suffice to say, I took screen-shots and filed them away because it was so absolutely horrendous, revolting, racist, and reeking of white supremacy. It made me sick to my stomach. I asked these people to stop commenting. More than once. I asked them to stop hikacking my status. They responded only by commenting more, more, and more. My friends asked them to stop, responded to their ridiculousness, sent me messages of love and support. After I’d asked enough times, and when I simply could not take anymore, I de-friended them. I want my Facebook to be safe for people of color, to be safe for women, to be safe for queers, to be safe for feminists, and I just can’t have and don’t want to expose myself to or my community to comments that are so rooted in white supremacy. It’s not safe for me, it’s not safe for my community, it’s not safe for my family, and it’s definitely not safe for my country.

And so I am sad. I am sad people cannot think carefully, critically, caringly, about what is happening in America, Under Distress. I am sad Mike Brown is gone, and I am sad the USA just told his mama that his death was his own fault. What kind of a thing is that to say to a mother, people? What kind of a thing? Soon enough, Sam and I will be parents to a child. A child who will not be white. I will become a white mother parenting a brown child. And the institutional white supremacy is terrifying, angering, and violent.

So no, I don’t condone violence. But right now, there’s not very many ways to respond to this violent system, this system that kills, this system that murders a boy and lets his killer walk without being indicted, this system that is horribly, utterly broken. People in power- mostly white people- enact their violence quietly- like by redrawing voter lines to divide communities of color and weaken their votes and furnishing schools with history books that tell of certain colonial relationships and leave others out. There’s not a lot of non-violent ways for communities to respond to state sanctioned violence right now.

Tonight, my heart aches. I am gutted. I am angry. I feel violent. I have had enough. Enough ruining the environment and causing cancer. Enough police killing young black men. Enough, enough, enough.


I am tired. I am tired of fighting the system. I am tired of filing paperwork. I am tired of advocating, tired of asking, tired of demanding. I am tired, and I feel like going home.

You see, I don’t think Canada wants me much. Since I had cancer, I’ve joined a class of people termed “medically inadmissible.” Canada doesn’t want the sick people, the people who’s bodies have been invaded by capitalism, the people who bear the mark of corporate greed in the form of amputated body parts, shortened life spans, and what they perceive to be a “burden on the health care system. I’m tired of petitions, second opinions, exceptions. Perhaps if this was my first go-around with immigration, my first set of applications and scans and finger prints and attorneys, perhaps then I wouldn’t be so tired. Perhaps then I would shrug, and continue to pour money into the bottomless pit that is legal support, visa fees, and the like. But it is not my first go around. Not even close. We’ve fought immigration for years.

You live in a country to which you hold a passport? Extraordinary privilege. You have a partner who’s passport matches yours? Even more privilege. You live in a country where at least one of you holds citizenship? I’m jealous. Sam has a Mexican passport. I have an American passport. We live in Canada.

You may have never thought about the mounds of paperwork. Maybe you don’t know how we save every wedding invitation, the envelopes from bank statements, and copies of old leases to prove we are a couple- because that is something we have had to do in the past- sit in front of a border agent who lifts his left brow when you can’t recall your partners’ toothbrush color. It’s something we’ve had to do in the past, and its something we fully expect to have to do in the future, evidenced in the file folder we keep that reads across the front: “Us. <3. Real.”

Maybe you don’t realize we live in two year cycles. Two years until another visa expires. Fifteen months until we have to pay the lawyer a four-figure fee again. And then we’ll need to procure documentation about our work, our health, our bank account, and our life together. It will be assembled, we will sign and initial, and then we will pay another fee. And another. We will give finger prints and hand over screen shots of our finances and try to remember exactly which date we first entered the US, seven years ago. Because that is a detail we will be asked- maybe in customs, and when we falter, nervous and tired from travel, it will be understood as a crack in a lying scheme, and we will be detained and questioned. We will be treated like criminals, finally released, and then we will breathe easily for a couple of months before it’s time to gather evidence, do biometrics, write checks, and wish we didn’t have to. It’s so familiar, this cycle of convincing someone to let us stay, to let us be together, to let us live easily. We’ve done it in the States, in Canada, in Mexico. With a few notable differences, it’s mostly the same, involving headaches, finger prints, and an absurd amount of paperwork. And waiting. There is always waiting, tension filled waiting.

Today I took the English test for Canadian immigration. An English test. I kid you not. When I checked in, the man had to call over a colleague to deliberate over whether it was actually me, in my passport photo. As if I’d take this boring test for someone else- sorry I got cancer and my hair is thirteen inches shorter than it was when I took the passport photo, dude. Four hours sitting in a room. One hour for reading, one hour for listening, one hour for writing. I finished each section in fifteen minutes. And then I had to wait, in silence. I took off my sweatshirt and hung it on the back of my chair. The test proctor came to notify I was not allowed to remove my sweater. Seriously. That happened.  I did not check my work. I drummed my fingers. And then came the oral piece. I had to bite my tongue several times, lest I lash out in feminist rage at the stupidity of the questions, including “Do you think male and female relations in marriage are changing, and is that good or bad?” (don’t EVEN get me started on this one) and “Does everyone enjoy family gatherings?” (do YOU enjoy every family gathering?) and “Do you think all families should have children?” (Why? You couldn’t come up with a better question?)

I am tired. I want to stock up on my medicines and move back. I don’t want to deal with attorneys and passports and English tests. And I would, however the reality is… health care. I have it here, and I don’t have it there. And so I continue to slog through, for today. But part of me wonders, who cares? What if we went home and nothing ever happened? What if we went home and something happened? Would it matter? What matters? What’s done is done, and I had cancer. Besides, if I couldn’t get my estrogen blocker because it was too expensive, then maybe the bone pain and stomach irritability and weight gain would become but a memory. That’d be nice. Honestly, I’m just too tired to care. Too tired to care if I have an oncologist, too tired to care if I ever get the expander out of my chest, just too tired to care.

Between cancer in a country that’s not mine, and visas and PhDs and proving we are actually in a relationship, I’ve got stacks and stacks of folders and envelopes and records and forms. We’ve spent tens of thousands on visas, lawyers, and records. I spend time on the phone getting medicines approved, time emailing people for letters that prove I worked here and there, time remembering dates so long ago and so not important in life that there’s no reason anyone would retain the information. I am tired of spending my time this way. I am tired.

For tonight, the tired will be cured with magnesium and a temperpedic pillow. And in the coming weeks, we shall see what pans out, how the border agents draw their lines, who can stay where, and when, and how. But tonight, I will dream of a land where two people can fall in love and live together happily, peacefully, without proving anything, without paying anyone to format documents, without becoming nervous each time we cross a border, filled with the very real fear that we could be separated. Tonight, I will dream of no visas, no health crisis, no borders.

Wait, what?

So I have this little app on my phone. It’s a throwback app. It tells me what I posted on Facebook a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, even five years ago, on this day. Mostly I am embarrassed to have posted whatever it was, especially as the posts get older and older and I see the evolution of how we used to use FB in my own posts.

But today, today this image of my marked up dissertation showed up in my Throwback. The Facebook status below the photo begins with “I love my dissertation… it’s just so perfectly me.” I would like to point out that I was professing dissertation love exactly eight days after my cancer diagnosis. I was sitting in the same cafe I’m sitting in now, and I was drinking the same coffee I am drinking now, and I was writing my dissertation. What the f*ck?

Mostly, when I think about getting a cancer diagnosis, I think of wallowing underneath seventeen pounds of blanket, of only eating ice cream, or numbly watching rom-coms and of ignoring the onslaught of phone calls. Except I photowasn’t doing those things, I was professing love for my dissertation. It was a shock and it wasn’t. I’d known something was wrong for weeks before I got the diagnosis. I’d felt it in my body, I knew- like so many others who have had a cancer diagnosis- that everything was not going to be OK, even when everyone was certain it would be OK, even when the mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, and Dr. Google pointed to not-cancer.

It wasn’t entirely shocking. It was numbing and weird and startling, and shocking at the same time that it was not shocking at all. It wasn’t a total unknown. While I’d never thought it would actually happen, some part of me knew it was inevitable, and that part of me relieved when I was no longer the only one sensing the pending doom. And just as I knew something was wrong in my body, I knew I needed to finish my dissertation. And apparently, that’s what I did. I marched myself down to this coffee shop, I brought a red pen, and I marked that sucker up. And most importantly, I forgot all about cancer, on day eight, because I was preoccupied with youth media and mobilities and democratic practice and ethnographic methods. The dissertation became my security blanket, my numbing rom-coms, my excuse for avoiding phone calls and retreating into a land of theory and ideas and writing, writing, and more writing- a land in which I could write myself into a different reality, a land that let me disembody my sick reality and breathe ideas, a land in which I could feign normalcy.

People always used to say, “Why are you still working so hard?” or “I can’t believe you’re doing this.” It was like a missed the memo with instructions on how to be with cancer entirely. I literally had no idea, at the time, how anyone expected me to stop working on the dissertation, or how I was supposed to cut my teaching short, or what exactly was supposed to fill my days if I closed the academic work. It really felt like there was no other option.

And yet, that throwback popped up on my phone this morning and I was horrified that a year ago, eight days into cancer, I was writing like a woman on a mission. I saw that photo and I blinked. I checked the date. I thought “what the f*ck?” My phone was sitting on a stack of to-do lists and theoretical maps and Assistant Professor job descriptions when it buzzed with the throw-back this morning. And on one of those papers, I had doodled a human heart as I had my morning coffee. It seemed so timely, the professing of dissertation love in the face of eight-day-old cancer a year ago, on top of the black and white image of a human heart drawn a year later, a heart forever changed, an image I keep drawing again and again and again, a black and white heart that begs to be filled in with color and yet resolutely remains black and white.

What a year its been. That heart has broken and torn, it has been patched together by people I met only because I had cancer, it has continued to pump blood around my implant that feels like a plastic sack of water in my chest. That heart has been full of dissertation pride and opened itself up to tender friendships and the total unknown as I dragged it through cancerland. That heart has been through so much. Sometimes I wonder if it’s even the same heart, if my actual heart didn’t hold so tightly to my left breast that when they lifted it off my body my heart went with it to the land for breasts that died to soon. But then I remember how much I trust Dr. Yoga-Surgeon, and how I know she would have pried my heart from my breast before she sent the breast away forever. So I do still have that heart, and that heart is working hard to pump blood all around the implant, and to fill the space the surgery left behind, and to keep the skin warm. I do still have that heart, and it’s OK to take care of it carefully, tenderly, slowly. A year ago, there was nothing to be done but let the heart keep pumping blood and theorize feminist democratic practice in youth media. Today, though, today there is time and urgency to attend to matters of the heart. Because still, she beats. Even after being poisoned by chemotherapy, even after letting a breast be sliced off, even after wandering resolutely into the unknown, even after knocking on deaths’ door, even after being entirely unable to imagine health returning, even after all of this, still, she beats.

the language we speak

There is something so profoundly powerful about being in a room four other young adults who have had cancer and two women who really get it, and listening. It’s not just us, listening, either. It feels like all the other young adults who have ever sat in that circle, under those skylights, around beautifully prepared food are listening, too. Listening to the rain pounding on the skylights. Listening to the silence, to the quiet on everyone’s lips, to the way we sit together and wait until someone decides to speak. Tonight I went to the young adult group. I hadn’t been in a few months, because I’ve been teaching. But what a relief it was to go tonight.

We shared stories and sorrows and the way cancer is met by utter mis/understanding by… well, by the world. As there always are, there were tears and tissues and times when I think all of us had to sit on our hands to keep ourselves from reaching out and gathering the other in our arms and holding them and whispering in their ears “It’s all going to be ok.”  The thing is, this is a crowd that is way too in touch with what happens when it isn’t OK, way too aware that its not always OK, way too weary of believing in OK when its so consistently not OK, because cancer isn’t OK and how are you supposed trust there is even an OK during, or after cancer? It’s so interesting because I can know and believe and want things to be OK so profoundly for each of those other young adults. At the same time, I can be so completely unable to know that I will be OK, and also so completely aware that someone telling me it will be OK is so entirely useless. Those words fall on my ears like oil poured into a glass of water. They don’t stick. They simple cannot get inside of me, those words. And maybe that’s why the group is so incredible. No one says “its going to be OK.” They just listen. And then we listen back.

I thought I would write about all the things that we laughed about after all the tears had been shed, about the way we all know the stand-out characters that make the Cancer Agency feel like you’ve tumbled down Alice’s hole into a warped Wonderland, and about how we all avoid hand sanitizer because it reeks of the alcohol swabs that were used to clean our ports pre-chemo. But I won’t. Those stories are ours. They are little treasures we can share, treasures that we don’t have to give away. They are common touchstones, ways to identify camraderie in a world in which we feel otherwise so lost, so alone, so without others. I want to hide those stories, hoard them, protect them, save them. I want a whole jar of them to keep to myself and admire, a whole jar full of silly experiences and weird encounters that are common in this tribe. A whole jar of stories that remind me I am not alone, a whole jar of stories that remind me I’m not the only one, a whole jar of stories that remind me there are lots of others who can grasp these feelings, those worries, this knowing.

When I was a young, my childhood bestie and I had our own secret language. We thought it was amazing, and it really kind of was. Rong-e-bong-e-cong-cong-a a-nong-dong Cong-hong-e-long-song-e-yong. But what was really special about it was that it identified us to each other, it gave us a way to make our very own world, it was a special passport to our own little make-believe world that we ong-spoke into reality, into something all our own.

The stories I want to stuff in my jar and tuck away for safe keeping, the anecdotes and smells and experiences of all those weird characters, the way we all know about that one really weird porter on the fifth floor- it is our language. It is our way of connecting, of showing each other we understand, of being not alone, of knitting reality together from the broken shards of what feels impossible, of world-making in this absurd Cancerland. It is a language, just like Ong was. It is a language, and it is ours. It is such a relief to speak this language, and have it recognized. It is such a relief to hear this language, and identify. It is just a relief that we can share this writing into being, together.

Judith, of course, wrote something about this. And it is brilliant. I find such comfort in her words, just as I find such comfort in the discursive practices of tonights’ young adult group, in our language of being, making, and social existence, in hearing others call, in answering that call, in the social definition of being together as young adults with/out cancer, in the recognition of my existence in each of them, and their existence, in me.

And by Judith, I mean JB folks. Judith Butler.

Language sustains the body not by bringing it into being or feeding it in a literal way; rather. it is by being interpellated with the terms of language that a certain social existence of the body first becomes possible. To understand this, one must imagine an impossible scene, that of a body that has not yet been given social definition, a body that is, strictly speaking, not accessible to us, that nevertheless becomes accessible on the occasion of an address, a call, an interpellation that does not “discover” this body, but constitutes it fundamentally…….. Thus, to be addressed is not merely to be recognized for what one already is, but to have the very term conferred by which the recognition of existence becomes possible…” (Butler, 1997, p.5)

Butler, J. 1997. Excitable speech: A politics of the performative. New York, Routeledge.

Make it a book, you said.

At least once a week, someone emails me and tells me I should publish this blog into a book.

Today at Crossfit, the question of the day was “If you could do any job and money was no object, what would it be?” It’s an excellent question. And when push comes to shove, for me it’s either writer or public intellectual. I suppose I should grit my teeth and bear it through job market then, because “academic” is part writer and part public intellectual. So now that we know I’m in the right profession, let’s deal with the writer dream.

It was always easy to write. As a kid, I easily aced writing tests and exams, though I nearly failed math. Spelling wasn’t a strong suit, but could be overlooked if I wooed them enough with the handwriting, the story, the way I could put sentences together. Besides, who needs spelling when there’s spellcheck? Though those of you who read this blog will know how often I write there and mean their, its and mean it’s, and whether when I mean weather. The first time I ever got really critical feedback about my writing was when I got into the Ph.D. program. My supervisor didn’t let me get away with anything. And suddenly I was surrounded by all of the good writers, all of the students who had always been at the top, all still trying to be at the top. How weird.

So back to publishing a book from the blog. I need help. Is it a memoir? A novel? Is it in the first person, like my blog, or told by a narrator, like this:

She knows two people who have breast cancer. That number has doubled since yesterday. And the new cancer             buddy is the same age as her, with the same thing as her, a month of two ahead of her in treatment. It’s pretty                 awesome to have a cancer buddy. Chels didn’t even know how much she craved one until someone said:

“Wow, that’s the second time I’ve heard that in six weeks.”

Chelsey thought her old friend Katherine was talking about someone older, someone at risk for breast cancer. But Katherine was talking about her college buddy. She was talking about someone who, as she put it, “was cut from the same cloth as you, Chels.” Cut from the same cloth, born the same year and ripped to shreds by the same menacing cancer. Katie and Chelsey connected immediately. Chels took comfort in the knowledge that “There’s more of me! There’s her, and that makes us.” Never had she ever thought she’d be so excited to have a cancer buddy. But hey, she does and she is. She’s got Katie. They can cancer-world-make together. Cancer-buddies are critical.

Or, does it stay like this?

It was hot as we tried to fall asleep in the second floor bedroom. I’d rented a Tahoe cabin for Megan’s bachelorette. As I stared up at the oak beams in the ceiling and tried to get comfortable in the scratchy twin bed, my hand found my breast. Squishy, normal, just making sure I was all there as I fell asleep. And then I felt a lump. A hard little knot near my taut nipple. I could hear Megan stirring. She couldn’t sleep either, but I couldn’t share this discovery. First of all, it was her bachelorette. And second of all, what was I supposed to say? That I was feeling myself up while we were sharing a bedroom? I mean how do you explain that?

How do I decide? What do you think?

Also, how do I get an agent? Do I really need a complete draft before I send it off? Google would suggest yes, in fact, I do. Who knows about this?

All you people, you many, many people who are always emailing me telling me to make it into a book, help me figure out how. The first question is about the stance of the narrator- me or her- and about the novel or memoir approach. And the second, bigger question is about how to go about this, how to find an agent, who to contact, and when to contact them. So do please answer. Email me. Or comment. But let me know what your thoughts are. Or is this a silly pipe dream, one I should flush down the toilet, like I should flush away the chemo meds I didn’t use (but I hear they’re great for hangovers! What if I need them someday?)?

Do tell, you people. Do tell. Email me. Or comment here. But do tell.

the day we sang to cancer, fuck you

I sing often. By myself. In the car with the windows rolled down. While I cook when I’m the only one home. I can sing in a group, silly camp songs that have little or no melody and are mostly screamy-shouty-silly. And sometimes when in a large group around a campfire, but only when there’s lots of others to carry the tune and I can mumble along under my breath. And that is it. Never in public. And so when we talked about me and some cancer buddies singing the chorus of the cancer-song I wrote with my friend Kate, I was of course really worried about my never-in-public singing voice.

Except today, I sang loudly and you could hear me and it was awesome.  Today we recorded the song. It was complicated and generative and full of emotion and awesome. We left Vancouver early, and pulled up to a house by a creek out in Coquitlam. In the basement recording studio they were setting up drums. Bit by bit, they worked through each line, practicing. The guys on the drums and bass, Kate on her guitar and singing, me in total disbelief that these people were actually recording this story in music, giving voice to my experience, listening and carefully crafting sound so it can be shared. I mean seriously- when does that happen?

On our way over, we discussed the way some folks raised their eyebrows about the swearing in the song. “It takes away from the message,” they explained, “It will turn people off.” Others worried we might offend health care providers with the chorus, which goes “And they took my left tit away like they didn’t even give a shit/and I’m the brink of a fit of rage ’cause all I’m surrounded with is breast cancer pink.” You know what I think? I think people are responding to the voicing of breast cancer as angry more than the expletives or even the “they didn’t give a shit.” I think it’s uncomfortable because its too close to the skin. It cuts too close to the heart. It’s too painful to think about. And so people react.

It certainly is my experience that they didn’t give a shit- literally, they cannot, because it’s not their breast immobilized and cut off. It’s not their breast that becomes hospital trash. They didn’t save the majority of my breast, the parts they didn’t use for the pathology. They trashed it. A cancer-buddy informed me today of a scandal in which hospital trash was used to generate heat and air conditioning for Californian homes. I could maybe get on board with heat. But air conditioning? No. Even if the doc has the best bedside manner ever and even though I certainly feel so cared for by them- they still cut into my body and removed a part of me and it’s gone forever, and probably a lot of it got thrown in the trash, and maybe its in a landfill next to used computer screens and broken wine bottles, and maybe there’s seagulls eating it, and maybe it is being burned to heat some Northern Californian home. That is not caring.That is participating in a system that doesn’t care, and even if you’re participating because you want to cure breast cancer, its still horribly pathologizing and its still not giving a shit. If it was testicles we were talking about, they would have found a way to save them by now that actually works, not like the half-assed attempts at lumpectomies that result in lower survival rates among young women, and that provide no comfort at all, especially if you’re under 40 and have no way to access any kind of reliable screening. Giving a shit would be answering my question when I ask how much longer until they get the needle out of my breast, and giving a shit would be offering me a screening MRI because my cancer was undetectable without me having to ask. Giving a shit is almost impossible in the system.
Anytime any of us says anything negative about our doctors, or anything that’s not “they’re amazing they saved my life” everyone gets up in arms. There’s such a need to glorify doctors, and patients are supposed to be grateful. It’s gendered. An angry man would be more appropriate. I should instead be grateful they saved my nipple, grateful they reconstructed a lump that kind of matches the other half of my chest, grateful grateful grateful. I am of course grateful to be alive, but the purpose of the song isn’t to make those doctors feel OK about their work. Their paychecks should take care of that. The song is supposed to give voice to something else, someone else. There’s not words for cancer-trauma, it is especially word-less, especially unable to be metabolized in language, especially deserving of a giant fuck you. When I asked a fellow young breast cancer buddy if the swearing was OK, ending the question by explaining that some people had reservations, she retorted, “These people with reservations have their left tit intact? Then they get no say. It’s totally appropriate.” Obviously. The song is supposed to shock you into rethinking your assumptions about breast cancer, its supposed to queer this exhausting happy-happy narrative, its supposed to make our experience visible.
And yet something felt weird, a little raw, kind of embarrassing as we sat together in the dark basement studio, and the sounds came together in the most awesome of ways. They appreciated the words, these musician guys, I think. But they were guys, they haven’t had breast cancer- or any cancer- and I doubt they’d call themselves feminists. We slipped upstairs for some tea. Kate felt it too, acknowledging the challenges in doing feminist work in a studio full of men. The breast cancer narrative is so entrenched and so gendered. It’s hard to queer that pink-ribbon story, hard to weave a breast cancer experience defined by anger and frustration into public discourse. I took great comfort knowing Kate felt that too, and that she’s been doing this kind of queer and feminist work for a long time, and sometimes it’s hard, but it’s still insanely critical, so important, good and hard work. You gotta look up to someone who rocks out like that- both literally and metaphorically- so hard. And so we took a few breaks. She’s been close enough to breast cancer that she can grasp the horror, see through the bullshit, and laugh at the right moments. Being able to both grasp the horror and laugh at it is both totally unique and incredibly important.

And when it was time, us cancer girls gathered around the microphone, and tentatively at first, we sang the chorus. And then again. And then again. And then again. Until we sang it so many times there was no more tentative, there was just lyrics on a page and a fuck you cancer feeling and us singing. It was awesome. And I sang in public. Or public-ish, at least.

It was all of the emotions, today in the studio. I was excited to be part of the process, I was nervous to sing, I was intimidated by these amazing musicians, I was in awe of the music, I was sad about the cancer, I was giddy to hear my story sung, I was pissed off about patriarchal capitalism, I was reflective about this whole long year, I was grateful to have such creative-earth-shaking friends. As the music and the feelings filled the basement studio I cried because it was awkward and the boys didn’t get it; I cried because cancer sucks so hard; I cried because when I heard all of our voices together- my voice and Kate’s voice and Kara’s and Kristina’s voices in the second to last chorus- it sounded like an entire cancer-chorus and I felt so not alone; I cried because it’s such an incredible thing to have this story-song and I’m so intensely grateful to Kate and the boy musicians and Kristina and Kara for making it happen.

We did it. It was awesome. You will hear it soon. I love it. I will keep listening, and the song will continue to be a generative source of healing, comfort, and awesome. Here are the four of us, after singing our hearts out in the chorus. It was incredible, and it was healing, comforting, and awesome. Oh, and we’re fucking pissed off about breast cancer.

pissed off