A friend’s diagnosis

Imagine me saying “You know, I just thought you shaved your head. I mean, hehheh, your parents are hippies and everything.” That’s what my childhood BFF Rebecca said, yesterday when we talked on the phone for the first time in over a decade, as she reflected on having seen me bald without knowing I had cancer (I know there’s others of you out there, who assumed I’d just shaved my head bald….). She said it, but I could have said it. If I had said it, I would have placed the hehheh exactly as she had, and I would have used the same up turn  at the end of the sentence. Because you see, we sound exactly alike. Apparently, during all those years that were pretty much just an ongoing sleepover at each others’ homes, we developed identical speech patterns. Or so we discovered, twenty years after the fact. It was uncanny. In her words, “I feel like I’m talking to myself.”

We were talking because 24 hours earlier, another close friend from those years was diagnosed with cancer. How weird, right? I kind of thought everyone connected to me was safe, like I took one for the team and the statistics would just never allow for someone I know to also get cancer at this age. But, as a cancer friend once said, “Haven’t you learned we’re not statistics yet?” And so, here we found ourselves, on the phone after all this time, though she sounded exactly the same as she did on the phone twenty years ago. Which must also be how I sounded, and how I sound. But more to the point- we have someone else to support. Someone else, young, body contaminated, facing stats and scary surgeries and the dreadful chemo. And so we lapsed into our old patterns, into conversation that could only be described as the most familiar.

I am so heartbroken for the other friend, D. Rebecca is so speechless. She will make it through, but D will be lonely. Lonely. Cancer is lonely, I explained to the childhood BFF. No one understands, no one we know has had cancer (except, of course, me) and no one knows what to do. And as we talked about being alone and being lonely, about getting the other friend wigs, about how f*cked the environment is, about how our parents are just as weird as ever, about that one camp counsellor who turned us vegetarians as children, about cancer-lonely, I realized. I realized cancer sometimes has to be alone. I realized there are people, like Rebecca, making plans to visit the other friend and who care with all their hearts and souls, people like Rebka who would literally do anything to wipe it away, but still. Still, cancer is lonely, because there is no way to wipe it away. It is writing on the wall, writing with a permanent marker that can’t even be scrubbed off with sandpaper.

D is at the very beginning, the time when the words roll around in the mouth like they don’t belong, so big and awkward that they are unspeakable. Rebecca will love on her, I am sure of it. I will stay in touch. A childhood friend, turned cancer buddy. But I know, things will wane. D will get through treatment, and the meal train can’t go on forever. The visits can’t go on forever. Friends cannot support forever. They will get D through this chaos, this madness, this challenge. They will make sure she has chemo buddies and movies and meals. I know because Rebka told me so, in the same voice I would have told you so, and that voice is so close to my own I can do nothing but trust it. How fortunate I feel to have reconnected with this wondrous person, this person I spent most of my childhood with, this person who sounds just like me, this person who now must be protected from cancer, now that both her childhood friends have been diagnosed so young. But I also know, that this won’t be over for D when her hair starts to grow back soft and fuzzy, and I know it won’t be over when she returns to work, and I know it won’t be over when everyone else is breathing a sigh of relief because it’s over.

It likely seems pessimistic to you, reading this. But it’s real, the loneliness that is cancer, the solitude that is the aftermath, the heartfelt sadness and the physical pain that lingers are real. I know that afterwards, when she is looking aghast at the life that has crumbled, that the friends will be tired. They will want to keep giving, but at some point, they will be tired. And they will need to step away to nourish their own bodies and souls and spirits, and by definition cancer does not nourish, cancer taketh. And then D will be there, alone as she really is even when they’re there, and the din of distraction will wane. And that is cancer. D cannot step away. She can’t opt out of the heartache or the doctors appointments or the lingering side effects. I cat yet tell her this story, but that is why my heart is broken for her. That is why my eyes fill with tears for her. It is terrible to endure the treatment, of course. It is the worst when hair falls out, when skin turns dry, when the body aches. And the enduring solitude is expansive, even as the body heals.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to go down to the beach, where the water meets the forrest. I’m going to sit and think of D, and I’m going to ask the earth to take care of her, and I’m going to hope she feels the ways we are interconnected. Because, we must. We have friends, the best of friends, but they can only accompany, and they can only sometimes witness. We cherish them when they do, especially those old friends like Rebka who can pick up the phone and ask all the hard questions, and who can really listen and feel our responses. And sometimes we must be alone, sometimes there are no witnesses, sometimes we must be where the ocean meets the forest and where ultimately, we can heal.

transitions

I’m not fond of transitions. I don’t like goodbyes, I like beginnings. I like the moment before a significant experience, the moment you jump with both feet into something new and meaty and full of possibility. I don’t like the moments before the moment when you jump, the time spent figuring out which way to jump or where to go or what’s next. And I certainly don’t like the moment where you pull yourself out of an experience and look behind you and say, well, that’s over. Of course, I’ve been looking forward to saying, “well, that’s over,” about cancer for so long now. I’m pulling myself out of this cancer but my body is so warped from swimming in the cancer-pool that I need to learn how to be in the world again.

Here I am, finding myself in the midst of a cancer-transition. I jumped into treatment terrified, but relieved to be surrounded by competent medical professionals and comforted  knowing that the cancer center a five minute bike ride from my apartment is state of the art.  Certainly, I still have treatment ahead of me- surgeries and hormone therapies and scans. But the chemotherapy is done. The most traumatic surgery went off with only a few hitches. And my hair is now half as long as my pinky fingernail, which is transition on two counts: both my hair and my nails are growing. That’s a step up from where we were a few months ago.

You know what’s weird right now? I miss my doctors. Badly. You see, when you pull yourself out of the most intensive part of cancer treatment, you vow never to take steroids again, like ever, but then you realize that those steroids were tied to seeing this phenomenal and cancer-destroying team. The oncologists probably tie the significant others of cancer patients for the people who most deeply understand what its like having cancer without actually having cancer. The cancer-doctors are the ones who deal directly with the magnitude of your cancer, they address the hardest parts, they say what few others can articulate, and they wage a battle in your body against that which is trying to kill you. Its no wonder we start to cling to them, the people who can tell us what our life and death chances are and can give us a plan to improve those odds. I was seeing them every single week, multiple times a week. The nurses were checking in about my writing and making guesses about which wig I’d be wearing. And now suddenly and without warning, I am only seeing them once or twice a month. Still way more doctors appointments than I’ve ever had before, but enough space in between them to need to look at my calender to know when my next appointment is. Doctors are comforting, especially in the face of cancer. They are doing something. The are fixing something. They are actively engaged in making you better. And so it follows that there is some separation anxiety, some wishing I was seeing them more often, a coveted sense of action that I get from their presence. Ah, transitions. Who would have thought this one would come with missing my medical team?

I do not miss the sheer exhaustion from chemo that had me sleeping fifteen hours a day, or the bone pain migrating from my femurs into my shoulders into my wrists. I do not miss only being able to eat frozen grapes and sourdough, and I do not miss the smell of antiseptic swabs cleaning my port. What I do miss is the way that dis/ease mapped onto my body, and the way that that very clear mapping could be dealt with by a team of doctors. The cancer was there and being dealt with in the form of bone pain, chemo, and neuropathy. The medical team was responding with pathology reviews, many bottles of pills, and very frequent appointments. Now, the physical manifestation is the brick on my chest, and the very short hair on my head, but the pain no longer maps onto being unwell, and nor does it correspond with weekly medical check-ins. It is of course the truth that there is little my medical team could do if I were to see them every week these days- they’ve done what they can. But there is a gap between the materiality of what they can do and the way believing something is being done is comforting- and now I must face the reality that they’ve done what they can. What is left behind is residual, invisible, aftermath.

And I am here, trying to get my bearings in a world that feels like its still swirling, trying to reconcile the cheers of “You’re so ok!” from those around me with the disaster zone that I inhabit. I hold dual spaces, contradictory spaces, one that is distraught and enraged and sad beyond words, and the other that you see, where everything is better. And so it goes. Another transition, here we are.

necrosis

The Greek root of the word necrosis means death, the stage of dying, the act of killing. Maybe we should use that word to describe all of cancer treatment: trying to kill cancer cells so they don’t kill me first, making me feel like I’m dying in order for me to maybe live, wondering if all the cancer cells died and withered, hoping “the act of killing” that targeted the cancer was wildly successful.

But I’m a little worried about “the act of killing.” You see, in the final minutes before my mastectomy, we switched from skin-sparing to nipple-sparing mastectomy. I’d keep my nipple. The little piece of personality atop my left breast wouldn’t go off to the other side, after all. Rather, she’d stay perched atop my expander, a reminder of what once was. I was happy to have her. Post-surgery, she struggled. She’s black and blue and bruised. There’s not much oxygen, you see. With no breast tissue beneath that little piece of personality, the blood has to travel a lot further, and only through the skin, to deliver much-needed oxygen. The blood has to jump across my lumpectomy scar, and that’s a wide jump for a little blood without a whole lot of space to maneuver.

So I’ve been sending the little nipple good vibes. You send her some too. I’ve been willing the blood to pump there. Yesterday the nurse visited, and in her words, “it doesn’t look good.” She wouldn’t discharge me from home health care. I’m eating tons of protein. Maybe that will help. I’m gently exercising, hoping the blood circulates up there to the little nipple, saving her from dying. Necrosis, the death of tissue, is a risk mastectomy carries, one I was well aware of but didn’t think would happen to me. Everyone probably says that. I never have complications. I just heal up, and everything is fine. But my body is tired. I am so over this cancer crap. Maybe my nipple is rebelling. Maybe she’s pissed that the initial plan, the one we almost went with, was to send her away to the other side. But come on little nipple, get on board. Scream for oxygen. Tell the skin to give you some life.

I’m afraid to pull the bandage off. Tomorrow I have to put a special cream on it again, which means the bandage has to come off. I get lightheaded just thinking about what lies underneath. Worse, pulling a bandage off of skin that is part of your body but has zero sensation is just too jarring. Pulling the bandage off, and feeling and not feeling it come away from the skin at once totally disrupts my sense of where my body is and where my body ends. Tomorrow Sammy and Ariana are going to peel away the bandage and we will see what it looks like. I hope the cream and the protein-loading and the gentle walking will breathe new life into the patch of dark purple skin. I hope there’s no more oozing. I hope it’s not gross. I’ll feel better once it’s covered again. I do not like looking at things like this. Thankfully I’ll soon be a doctor of philosophy (defense set for June 24!) not a doctor of medicine, and the doctors of philosophy-even the ones who study the cultural politics of cancer- mostly look at words and books, not bruised nipples and surgical stitches.

How wildly odd. My arm can brush my side, but I’m unsure if it’s touching my fake boob or my purse, unless I look. When they pull the bandage off, I can feel it in some places, and other spots, I can only hear it- the sound may be worse. It’s not like my leg being asleep, when I can feel pins and needles. It’s like nothing. It’s like someone glued on a breast to my chest. It’s like the skin isn’t mine. It’s like it’s dead. And so here I am, trying to revive a part of my body that I know intellectually is part of me, but which sensationally is not a part of me at all. How does one feel the contours of one’s body in space, with such a large swath of un-feeling? I wonder, if I were to draw an outline of my body on poster paper, like the way you do in elementary school, how would I fill it in? What would the breast look like? Do the lines trace embodied feeling and sensation, or do they trace what everyone else sees?

Having such a large area of my body be so foreign to how I know myself really disrupts my sense of embodied continuity. When I don’t know how to draw the lines around my body, to gauge where I end and the air between me and the next person begins, I can’t quite figure out how to be, how I am, where I am. Me is disrupted. Another person who had breast cancer recently told me that they are still self-conscious, even years later, about how their chest looks and feels to the rest of the world. The way my body feels is totally out of synch with out it is perceived. Embodied feeling and perception are supposed to map onto each other, at least sometimes, where we can be secure in being perceived by others in a way that is at least sort of similar to how we feel. Except now it’s like puzzle pieces from different puzzles. How I feel about my body- literally, how I sense my body, the lines I would draw around where I end and where you begin, my own materiality is disrupted, broken, scrambled.

The other day, the doc said “it’s a breast, it’s just not your breast.” Sure. A breast is all of the things we understand it to be when we layer it with meaning. Who’s to say that a breast filled with silicone and no blood supply isn’t a breast? I mean now that I’ve figured out the bra situation- stick-on cups and seamless camisoles are my best friends- you really can’t tell even in a form-fitting tank top. I mean I can tell, but I can also look in the mirror and know that the breast size difference is minute and that as the expander is filled with saline it will become non-existent. But I’ll always know it’s not my breast. My yoga-teacher-cancer-buddy-J tells me she doesn’t think about her fake breasts anymore, that they seem totally normal. I cross my fingers she is right, that when Dr. Yoga-Surgeon replaces this brick-like expander with an implant, it will seem totally normal. Maybe. But still, it’s not my breast. Maybe I can learn to live with it, though.

For now, I’m spending all my time trying to sending energy vibes to my little purple nipple. It’s not the whole nipple, just a little spot on the side. I know my vibes won’t save the thing. But what else can I do, besides follow the directions to cover it in burn cream and keep the bandages fresh, and try to eat like the nurse suggested- extra protein and lots of water? There’s so many layers. There’s the numb layer. There’s the nipple layer. There’s the cancer layer. There’s the bra layer. There’s the embodied sense of self layer. So many layers. Today, sending the nipple layer all the oxygenated blood vibes that I can possibly muster. Go, oxygen, go! Jump across the scar. Revive the purple part. Let the nipple stay on my body. Let’s not send her yet, to the other side. Come on little nipple, come on!

 

 

A Letter to my Left Breast

Dear left breast,

Thank you. Thank you for holding the cancer inside of you. Thank you for taking one for the team. You saved my life, left breast. You worked your ass off to keep those cancer cells contained, and you did it, and you let me know there was all kinds of pandemonium happening as soon as you could, so we could get this life show on the road without too much traffic.

I love you, left breast. You’re one of the good ones. You’ve been there, leading the way, for so long now. I’m sorry we will part ways. You’ve been so good at matching yourself to my right breast, even though you’ve got two spine curves and some uneven hips to balance out, and I know that made the whole matchy-matchy boob prospect a challenge. But it was a challenge you faced and achieved. There are not too many left breasts in the world who can perfectly match right breasts on the same body at the same point in life, and I’ve prided myself on you, one half of my matchy-matchy boob set, for two decades, now. Sure, it’s purely aesthetic triumph, but triumph none the less.

I guess I don’t have to tell you about triumph, though. You know, because for the last decade or so- or how long was it, really?- you’ve been playing goalie of my body, making sure the cancer-team didn’t kick any of those cancer cells into my lymph nodes or blood stream. You’ll probably never know the awesomeness that your goalie-ship was, because now you’re going another step further, and you’re going away forever. That effing sucks. I know it’s the worst when you hear people tell me that it will be almost the same without you since there will be a silicone implant in your place, or that I’ll still be the same person without you. Of course I won’t be the same person without you, and nor will I be a better person. I’ll be a different person. I know it won’t be the same, or even anything close to the same. After all, a silicone implant can’t grow cells, can’t play goalie, can’t feel anything, can’t go matchy-matchy with the right side, can’t loll to the side, can’t be the total rockstar that you are. Even if that silicone implant stays forever- right now, it’s a stop-gap measure so that I’m not uneven until we make some more decisions and live a little more life- it’s an it. It’ll never be the same as you.

When you go to the other side, dear left breast, you should look for the other breasts that were slashed from our friends bodies, and you guys can galavant together. They’re gonna be waiting in the area for breasts who died too soon, breasts who spent their lifetime playing cancer goalie, just like you. I think the area for breasts who died too soon has lots of sunshine, lots of beach, and lots of salty water to float in. You will love it. And you so deserve it.

You have made me a girl, left breast. You held so many things I hoped for inside of you, tiny little futures and buds of possibility. You are so unique. Even the plastic surgeon said so, when she noted how impossible it would be to match an implant that looked just like you, or even build a breast like you. You’re too unique, too special, too one-in-a-million to be replicated, rebuilt, replaced. You’ll only be remembered.

Signing off for now, left breast.

Xoxoxox,

The rest of your body

on money, working, cancer

Some people are always shocked- happily so- when they find out I continue to work and teach and everything as I do cancer. It seems to satisfy their need for me to be OK- “Well, she’s working, she must be OK!” I want to be clear about why I continue to work.

I have to.

I am a graduate student in the end stages of my dissertation. This is work. Some people have the wild idea that doctoral studies are not really work, and I’m not even going to get into that. I work harder as a doctoral candidate- between writing my dissertation, teaching courses, doing service work, collaborating with other grad students, supporting an academic unit, and participating in various conferences, talks, and other scholarly activities- than I ever did when I worked in non-profits and in schools. This is not the topic.

As a graduate student, I do not have access to paid leave. My Vanier Fellowship only provides paid maternity leave. There is no paid sick leave, not even when you have life-threatening cancer. When I was diagnosed, I did call around my university, wondering what sorts of resources and supports were available. I called all of the appropriate departments and centers and people who oversee graduate studies. There’s really no safety net for students who have life-threatening illness during graduate school. Had I taken a leave of absence, I would have had to pay back funding I had already received in the semester where the leave began. I was welcome to take a leave, but my funding would be put on hold. If I took a leave, I would be ineligible for any university based work- no teaching, no supporting academic units, none of the things available to me as a graduate student.

I decided I did not need to be stressed out financially on top of being stressed out about cancer. Was this a decision? Yes. But would you decide to take a leave when it meant that none of your sources of income would be available to you? And so, I continued working on my Ph.D. It did not seem I had a choice, and even now, six months into cancer, I don’t know how I would have managed the decision to stop working.

Financial stress is one of the major differences between young adults with cancer and everyone else. Often, we do not have the resources to take time away from work in order to heal. Of course, there are plenty of older folks who face similar challenges, but particular to my experience is age. Cancer survivorship is classed, and those with more resources fare much better. But this is about relative age and about youngness. Trust me, it sounds great to be able to watch movies all day and spend more time exercising and crafting perfectly organic meals, and my body would thank me times a million if I could take off time to rest and heal. The thought, though, of having no income at all made my skin crawl at the beginning of this, and the last thing we needed was more stress on top of the cancer. I need to justify this decision to myself and to everyone around me, and so I remind myself what a good distraction the dissertation is, I remind myself I really want to defend in June, I remind myself I want to get on with my life. And it’s true- I do want those things. I just might want something else had there been another option.

So, when you ask why I continue to work, and applaud the decision, take a moment to consider what isn’t said. Think about the financial impact, on top of the cancer, of not working. This comes up with other young adults with cancer all the time. Everyone is stressed about finances. Many of us are working. Others moved in with Mom or Dad to save money and to have access to people who could care for us while we are sick. Those of us who don’t live in the same city as our parents, like me, often ask the parents for financial help during this time, and some of us, like me, are lucky enough to have parents who can help, but many of us are not. I am unsure why finances are so taboo, but let me tell you, cancer burns right through any savings, cancer eats up extra money, cancer makes money really, really tight. For some reason, it seems like the world wants cancer patients to take it easy, do nothing, rest, but the world never whispers about the financial strain of resting. It seems like those around us want to believe in this mythic world of resting and relaxing in the face of cancer, and in this mythic world there is enough money for organic groceries and naturopathic care and expensive post-surgery clothing. It’s a myth, guys. Please join me in reality, where I spend my time with other young adults with cancer who tell me stories of  watering down yogurt to save money, sewing their own drain-holders into camisoles since they can’t afford the post-surgery clothing, moving in with their parents because their resources have been obliterated, and, in my case, teaching a course starting ten days after my mastectomy surgery. Don’t tell my surgeon.

Finances considered, I think there are better and worse times for getting cancer. A worse time is when you are not financially stable enough to take time away from work to heal. A worse time is when your barely existent savings are wiped out entirely by cancer costs. A worse time is when you worry about how much parking and wigs and mastectomy camis cost more than you worry about how long you have to nap or which kind of reconstruction you should have. A better time is when you are much older, have a secure job and nest egg, and can take time off work without worrying about how you will pay for the organic cucumber juice your naturopath recommended. Sure, it’s never going to be great, and it’s always going to be a horrendous time because cancer is horrendous.

For many of us young adults, cancer smashes the heart and the piggy bank at the same time, and we are left to wonder how to start picking up the pieces from this particular kind of ruin. It seems good, productive, helpful, necessary to acknowledge these distinct challenges. Don’t assume that a working young adult with cancer is working because they want to, they need to be distracted, they like their work, they are doing “well,” whatever that means. They have cancer. It’s probably a very complex decision, and there are probably layers and layers of challenges underneath the decision to work. For me, there are. I am glad I am working on my dissertation, I and do hope to finish in June. But that is not the whole story, and somewhere a little bit of the road that led to the decision to continue work should be illuminated for everyone else, should be heard and seen and considered. I don’t know why we cringe so much at the mention of finances- and even I was worried, as I began writing this post, about exposing our financial situation, about discussing money. But really? That’s what our world is built on. Why would it be any different in cancerland? Cancer bodies play in capitalism, too. You would think that would be obvious, with all the products marketed to us, especially to breast cancer patients. Our buying power is coveted, but we forgot to talk about our piggy banks. Broken hearts, broken piggy banks. That is young adult cancer.

regrowth. resistance. resurgence.

 There has to be regrowth. Resistance. Resurgence.

My body has resisted. Each time I was pumped full of poison meant to kill the cancer cells, poison that also killed my intestinal cells, the cells that become my hair, my red and white blood cells, and the cells on the inside of my mouth, my body resisted. That poison made me feel like I was dying, and each time, my body built itself back up. My body scrambled to make sense of what was happening, and I got better. Every time. It got harder and harder, as evidenced in my blood cell counts, where each week, my white blood cells count dropped lower and lower, and each week, it couldn’t quite get back up to where it had been the previous week. That said, it never dropped below the very low end of normal, hovering at .4 above the lowest “normal” at last count. Bodies are amazing. I am amazed that my body recovered each time, time after time, especially because as soon as my body was just starting to get a hold of things again, boom, I was pumped again full of poison. No time to recover on the dose-dense cycle. As the weeks wore on, my nails really started turning colors. They yellowed, and they grew extraordinarily brittle, and they flaked and they grew too tender for manicures. I hated it.

Now, it’s been just about three weeks since my last chemo. A week ago, my friend Ariana and I got manicures. The manicurist tried to buff off the yellow, but of course failed, for this is a yellow deep inside my nails, the physical manifestation of weeks in and weeks out of chemotherapy, the way the cancer treatment wreaked havoc on my body. In the last few days, I felt like the top half of my nail was not attached to my nail bed. It was odd. Today, I removed the remaining pale pink nail polish, and look what gross-ness I found underneath.

ImageImage

But also. Underneath the yellow and the white and the dead and the ridges of nail utterly exhausted from trying to cling on, there is normal, pink nail bed. Time is marked on each nail, and I can see that after the ugliness grows out there is something sweet and pink and healthy. I can tell that the poison will drain from my body (and hopefully it will take the last of the cancer cells with it) and that soon, there will be evidence of health growing on my fingertips. They might still fall off. I do not know. Where they are discolored, they are not attached to my nail bed, and each time they bump against something, or get caught on the sponge when I’m washing dishes they hurt and I have to look down, wondering if I’ve torn the entire nail off.

I could get a manicure. I did once already, to cover up the ugliness. I won’t this time. I’ll watch, as they grow out and the gross-ness fades away and new nail is born, and my body stays strong enough to keep growing new nail until all of my nails are pink and healthy, and none of them are dead, yellow, painful. It is the passing of time, marked visibly on my body. It is the passing of cancer, marked visibly on my body.

There are so many ways that my nail growth mirrors the emotional havoc that cancer has wrecked on my life, and on the lives of people close to me. It will pass. I will still snag my nails, they will still ache, just as cancer will continue to f*ck sh*t up and meddle in both my day to day decisions and my longer life plans. But soon, it will be less visible. I will cut my nails and the cancer will move to a place of lesser prominence. It will no longer be front and center.

There will be regrowth, even in place my body has resisted. There will be resurgence of things I love, and already, that is happening, resurgence of things I love that were pushed to the side and forgotten about while cancer took center stage. There will also be splinters of resistance, the cancer not wanting to be entirely forgotten, and I see the small white marks still marring the bottoms of my nails, and I wonder how long it will be until my skin returns to normal, and the dry, dry chemo-wrinkles that make my hands look over sixty fade. Or will they fade? Certainly, there will be permanent scars, on my breasts and in my armpit, and on my collarbone. With time, those will fade, too. But my body will be forever changed, and because my body will be changed so to, will my experience of the world. For now, I will watch as time marks my fingernails, and the days go on and on and pile up high enough that my fingernail clippers can remove all traces of discoloration, all the brittle and yellow and brown cut off, forgotten. For now, my fingernails will remind me that time marches on, and that cancer has an end, and that there will be resistance, resurgence, and regrowth.

moments

Sammy called me this morning, frantic. The car was missing. Last night, I parked it on the corner. This morning, it was gone. He needed to go to work. How had our one-year old Prius vanished? We had four phone calls in a five minute period. All four were haphazard, fragmented, incomplete. I straddled my bike on the corner of Broadway and Ash, and dialed the impound lot. Sammy called back. I disconnected the impound lot. No car, frantic Sammy on the line. I was the one who used the car last. Where was it?

You know that kind of moment? Frantic, scared, incredulous, the moment when you need the world to stop so you can right everything immediately before you lost your brand new car right when you have a seventeen page to-do list? Cancer is like that, but the moment doesn’t right itself. Instead the world spins in slow-motion while you stand there and get dizzingly sick from chemo, and you are trying to hear but you are too tired, and you are straddling your bike  but you can’t hold on because your hands are swollen as f*ck and tender and blistering, and there is someone offering you three different flavors of a re-hydration drink but you can’t quite reach them, and your pounding heart is seventeen hundred times louder than the very busy intersection. The moment lasts six months.

Then, after being in this moment for six months, you can clip your helmet back on and start peddling, and at least get to the next intersection, where the crossing guard is Dr. Yoga-Surgeon. It will probably be the worst intersection because it is the intersection at which you will volunteer your arm to a nurse who will wiggle a needle into your vein even though you detest needles, and you will wake up hours later after Dr. Yoga-Surgeon amputates a body part that is intimately a part of how you understand your entire way of being in the world. Dr. Yoga-Surgeon will leave that body part in a specimen jar in a drawer at the cancer agency and it will never feel pleasure, it will never go topless in the sunshine, it will never overflow out of a push-up bra, it will never be whistled at by an inappropriate someone, it will never feed a baby, it will never bounce around in a built-in-bra tank top, it will never shimmy in between your shoulders (ok it never did that anyway, but now it really won’t). It will never do those things ever again because it will be in a specimen jar in formaldehyde at the cancer agency and the top of the jar will probably gather dust as it sits in its spot on a shelf with all the other cancerous, amputated breasts who’s owners traveled this particular and harrowing path.

This intersection will be worse, but before you even get there you find yourself weaving through a gauntlet someone called a street. It is a gauntlet. Broken glass pops your tires. You weave through cars and you carry in your backpack a prescription for a medication that will cause false menopause and block all estrogen in your body, all folded up with your list of dissertation references that somehow still has a thousand errors. The medicine will make your bones weak and your belly flabby. You haven’t fallen off your bike in years, but you skin your knees and your chin and your left elbow when you fall off again and again and again and again. Even though all the knobby points of your body are bloodied from the number of times they have scraped asphalt, there’s some really warped cheerleaders silently screaming about positivity, and you could care less because you think they must be dead cheerleaders come back from the worst Halloween you can remember. Their costumes are terrible. The phone rings, and you ride one-handed while listening to your doctors’ secretary explain something that makes no sense. You wonder about gender and why you never realized how much you loved your breasts. You pause on the curb to download medical articles so you can explain to your doctors’ secretary, so she can explain to your doctor, why she makes no sense. The clasp on your helmet clatters to the ground and that’s the loudest sound you hear even though there are trucks blowing carcinogens into a cloud right in front of you. You begin emailing with your cancer-buddy about the media-archive-storytelling-young-cancer-project you need to do more than you need to breathe, and in rapid-fire style you hammer out a goal broader than the sky itself. What kind of activism would it take, you wonder, to throw the trucks that make clouds of carcinogens off the edge of the world? The amputation intersection is a mirage in the distance, and you cannot tell how close or how far the amputation intersection is from where you straddle your bike, you only know that like you desperately need to start your media-archive-storytelling-young-cancer-project, you  desperately need Dr. Yoga-Surgeon’s secretary to change the number of days until the mirage is closer.  It would be ironic, asking her to move the mirage, if you had time to think about what a mirage is. But meaning is lost, vocabulary woefully insufficient, language has never seemed more destitute. The feminists/poststructuralists/queer theorists/critical decolonial thought producers had better get to making up some words with slashes and dashes and lots of letters in between, new words, words we’ve never heard of, sounds that have yet to roll around in our mouths, but probably we will also have to make up a whole new alphabet for this one. Language fails. Metaphor fails. Mirage fails. This is these days between chemo and surgery. The only respite is yoga. The bike isn’t allowed inside the yoga studio, but Dr. Yoga-Surgeon is there, and so you know it’s not a dream.

In case you were wondering, the car was moved, towed to the other side of the street. Thank you, tow-truck, for not towing to the impound lot. I left it too close to the driveway. That worked out a little better than cancer.