There’s something I haven’t written about. Something that is sort of mine to tell, and sort of not. Something that is haunting.
My mom has breast cancer.
Yah, that’s right. You read it right. Only a few years after I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, my mom gets a call from her own doctor. Her, too. She said I could write about it.
When I first heard about a month ago, it actually seemed impossible. It was already impossible enough, for me to have had breast cancer at 29. It was already impossible enough. I have imagined a million ways this cancer thing could go. I have imagined a recurrence, and how I would break the news. I have wondered if I had a recurrence, if I would be like those rare few who survive despite the grim 0% survival rates for metastatic breast cancer. I have wondered if I’ll never have a recurrence, and if many decades from now, they will have found a cure and I’ll tell the story of when it was still so life threatening, so harrowing, so different. I have wondered if I’ll have a recurrence and die before I turn forty, and what the world would look like without me in it. I have wondered if I’ll ever spend a whole week, a whole month, a whole year even, where I don’t think about cancer. I have wondered if my cancer friends will all make it with me into the next decade, and the next, and the next. I have wondered about a million ways this cancer thing could go.
In none of these multiple scenarios that I’ve imagined, dreamed of, and worried about does my mother have breast cancer. Cancer was mine. Is mine. Not hers.
When I first heard, I told my cancer friends, “Whatever. Everyone has cancer. It’s not a big deal. A little surgery, a little chemo, its fine. Just another one with the cancer. Whatever.” Sweet, wise Ashley, Ashley who’s adorable chemo curl is straightening back to her pre-cancer hair texture, looked at me and said, “OK well when you do wanna talk about it, we’re here.”
Our beautiful, squishy, sweet twin baby girls are due in three weeks. Like I imagined how the cancer could, I have imagined how that will go. We bring them home, we feed them Angela’s expressed breast milk, sometimes they wear matching clothes, they cry a lot and we give them baths, people come over and rock them and we eat chicken soup and drink iced tea because it’s really hot, and then the babies need to be fed again.
Will everyone descend? I hope so. People always say we will want time alone, we will want not to be bothered, they say we will want- they say we will want- they say we will want. They think they know what we need. Except they don’t, because they’re not us. I hate when people use their experiences to tell me what I need, instead of asking me what I need and respecting, knowing, even celebrating it will likely be different from what they needed even in the same scenario. Because you know what? I do not need people to stay away.
When I have a crisis, when something enormous happens, when there are big and exhausting and magical and trying and hopeful and heartbreaking things happening in my life, I want nothing more than to bring everyone close, and have people fill up all the sofa cushions in the living room, and to visit and laugh and be together. Sam always reminds me that when I had cancer, I needed people like crazy, and the house was always filled with friends. Even though I’d had a Bye Bye Boob Party only the night before, the evening before my mastectomy I needed peeps. So I called them. And they came. And we were together, even though they were about to cut my left tit off in twelve hours, and I was comforted.
Likewise, when we have our new babies, and things are crazy and beautiful and unexpected and hard, I will need my peeps.
It’s so confusing to me why you would want people to leave you alone when you have twin newborns. Based on every other experience I’ve had in my life, and based on the fact that I know my own heart pretty damn well, I know what I’ll need: and it’s not to be left alone. It’s all the people. The many dear ones. The family. The friends, together, tired, eating, laughing, being our selves. It’s a gringo thing, Sam explained, the-leave-the-new-family-alone thing. In Mexico, everyone descends. There is no space. No one asks the new parents if they need space to form a family bond. Space means your story echoes into the ethers and no one hears it, no one catches the tears or mirrors the laughter. No thank you. Everyone comes. Because its a big deal, and people come for big deals. They don’t leave you alone to figure it out all by yourselves.
So I wanted my mom to descend. To come. To hold the baby girls. To rock them to sleep. To organize my pantry. To mother me while I mothered them.
She was going to. But, cancer.
Sure, she’ll still come. But not for as long. Not as many days. She’ll still come, but she won’t be able to lift her arm up to get the glasses down from the top shelf, because of her recent surgeries. She’ll probably have to hurry back home, to get infused with cancer poisoning chemo. She might be between chemos, a few days here and there, days she will spend getting to know the side effects of chemo. Fucked much? Yes, yes indeed. She’ll come, but she won’t be able to mother me and Sammy and our baby girls as much as she would have, before cancer.
And also, what does it mean? What does it mean for my babies? Do we carry a gene they could not find? I tested negative for BRCA 1 and 2, and they found no gene mutations. They think my mom will test negative, too, but since more mutations have been found since I was tested, they will test me again if she is positive for anything. So, probably not a gene. So, then what?
It’s profoundly weird.
Were we both exposed to something toxic? What was it? We cannot think of anything. Will we ever know? Probably not.
It’s profoundly weird.
I’ve thought of changing the name of this blog, because I am kind of out of cancerland. I mean certainly, I still get check-up appointments and take hormone therapy every night before bed and schedule scans and make lists of questions for my doctors. But my hair is back, my scars are fading, and some days I don’t even think about cancer for the whole day. Other days, of course, I can’t stop thinking about it.
But clearly, even if the cancer is out of my body, we live in a world that is cancerland. The bees are dying- entire colonies, extinguished. The numbers are rising of people with cancer- my mom, sixteen people under forty at the young adult group the other evening, that friend of a friend’s cousin who someone was telling me about, my cancer friends’ dog.
This cancerland you inhabit, with me? Because we all live in it, cancerland. My initial response was, at least in that way, correct: everyone has cancer. It’s an epidemic. It’s everywhere. It’s so much that it’s not even shocking anymore.
And our cancerland, this one we all live in? It’s profoundly weird.