I was reading over this blog. There are a lot of typos and mistakes, although I did proofread it (sort of).
I’m going to leave them alone, for now. I don’t feel like fixing them, but more, it says a great deal about how difficult life has been for me, especially in terms of mental focus. It’s getting a lot better, but things are still more difficult for me than you might think.
In addition, I do not think the errors in this blog detract from its message and purpose. They’re like the scars on my body which do not detract from my beauty.
The cicadas have begin creeping from their underground burrows. This brood of cicadas last emerged in 1996. I remember. It was a glorious summer, as all summers are, and we spent our weekends outdoors, hiking and canoeing, cooking food on the grill, or just walking through the neighborhoods of Washington, DC, where Chris and I were living at that time. The sound of cicadas was everywhere. We were young and newly in love, and we had just gotten married. We made guesses about the future
I’m glad we didn’t know that cancer would find us.
The cicadas are out again, “our” cicadas. I won’t hear them this year. Cicadas do live in Texas, but they don’t swarm in the billions the way East Coast cicadas do, although we do have plenty of cicada killers flying around.
I miss a lot of things about living back East, including the sound of cicadas.
I wonder where I’ll be in another 17 years. I hope I’ll find out.
Scott brings up a good point, which is that’s quite nasty, and beneath me, to bring up some of the less than ideal aspects of Angelina Jolie’s personal life when discussing her medical choice.
He’s right. It is. That’s why I did it.
I brought it up not only because I couldn’t resist the cheap shot, but to shine a spotlight into that dark and nasty corner of our minds. We all do it, not all of us all the time, but we do it.
A good friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer about a year after I was. I remember her weeping in my arms, asking, “What did I do to deserve this? What sin have I committed? What wrong did I do?” I assured her that she hadn’t done anything, but I don’t think she believed me.
It’s human nature. The idea that terrible things can happen to us, for no reason at all, is so terrifying that we create all sorts of structures and superstitions to create a false sense of causality around random events.
“Does it run in your family?” people always ask me. What they are really saying is, “How can I be sure that what happened to you won’t happen to me?” and the answer, which I put into words more often than I should is that it could happen, so do what you know to do and examine your breasts and get a regular mammogram.
Breast cancer is easier than other cancers because we’re blameless. It’s not like skin cancer, “Didn’t you wear sunscreen?” or lung cancer, “So, do you smoke,” or, worst of all, oral cancer from chewing tobacco.
I can’t get the thought of one kid out of my memory.
The only place in the hospital with no privacy is the pre-op room where all the beds are lined up in a row, with curtains between them. They bring in patients like an assembly line. First, the consent paperwork team comes through. Then the chaplain comes to pray, then your medical team comes, and then the IV team comes through, and I don’t remember what comes next because with the IV comes the first round of anesthesia. I think they think that the anesthesia blocks your memory of the whole thing, which is why they don’t take more precautions to keep you from hearing all the details of other people’s medical cases.
Once — and I can’t remember which surgery — I was in the assembly line next to a 22-year-old guy who has having facial reconstruction after surgery for oral cancer. His doctor and consent team were explaining the procedure — they were going to take a couple of ribs to rebuild his lower jaw. I could hear the medical team clearly — and believe me, when someone is explaining something like that four feet away, your ears perk up, but I couldn’t understand what the guy was saying, probably because, at the time, he was missing a lot of his lower jaw. It was mumbly, and I think he was supplementing with a note pad. I could tell he was crying, and then I heard a member of his team say, strongly, “No, don’t feel like that. This isn’t your fault. A lot of people use chewing tobacco. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. The important thing to think about is that you are going to be well again.” Then my IV team came and zonked me out. I was hoping to get a glimpse of the kid with half his face missing, because I am morbid like that, but I never did. I hope he’s doing okay now. Most of all, I hope he’s gotten past the feeling that he somehow deserved it.
We can talk a lot about risk reduction and strategies for keeping ourselves safe, and a healthy lifestyle and making good choices, and all of those are good practices, but that doesn’t mean that bad stuff won’t happen. Sometimes there is a correlation between our actions and choices and the stuff that can happen to us. Sometimes there isn’t.
Either way, I think it’s critical to separate making good choices from blaming people for bad ones, and above all, it’s critical to recognize that sometimes, there isn’t any correlation at all between things that are absolutely not connected.
We all want to find order and meaning in our lives. The idea that ill fortune can fall on us at any time is frightening. But looking for an explanation, any explanation, for why one person gets cancer and another person doesn’t is about as asinine as blaming beautiful, strong Angelina’s tough decision on the ill-fated and over-publicized circumstances of her romance.
Angelina Jolie published an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times discussing her medical choice to have a preventative bilateral mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer. Evidently she carries one of the two genes known to greatly increase the chances of a woman (or man) developing breast and ovarian cancer, and she did not want to die from breast cancer and leave her children motherless, a loss she could understand because her own mother died after a ten-year battle with the disease.
Good for her. That’s a brave choice, not least because her body is her art.
It’s obvious what I would have to say about her decision: to put life and motherhood ahead of anything else; to seek out information and act on it; and (perhaps most difficult) to go public with the most private of choices. I think she’s awesome on all counts.
I wonder how many children will grow to adulthood with living mothers because of her op-ed. I would have gone to see her next movie anyway (I was already a fan) but I’ll definitely enjoy it more for her having taken this very public stance.
I also wonder whether Jennifer Aniston is sitting around in the privacy of her own house enjoying a cup of coffee that tastes just a little bit better than usual this morning. We’ll never know. There’s no way to know. I certainly don’t want to know. It’s a horrible thought, and by all accounts, Jennifer Aniston is a lovely person who would never think such a thing. In fact, you might think I deserve having had breast cancer for thinking it, which leads to. . .
What I really wonder is this: On the rare occasions where I have unequivocally found myself out of favor with people, I wonder, are they thinking that kind of mean-spirited thought about me? Sometimes, I think they might be. I get a glimmer. It’s a sucker punch in the gut, ugh, followed my the most blissful wave of self-righteousness because I know I’m better than that.
Props to you, Ms. Jolie.
I love Joy. It’s been my favorite perfume since I got a bottle of it as a college graduation gift in 1990. My grandmother Bessie, my mother’s mother, wore it, so it reminds me of her, plus I love it for its own sake.
I also love the friend who sent it to me. We’ve been friends for aeons — since before my marriage. We’ve been friends for 20 years during which we have stayed more or less in touch. After I finished having cancer, during the months (years?) when I didn’t talk, not to anyone, not at all, for over a year, she forgave me for my silence, and yet she holds me accountable for it.
She sent me Joy.
Why did she send me a surprise bottle of perfume? I don’t like the answer. It’s because she is sick. I don’t know how sick she is, although I know the name of her disease and I know that her prognosis is not good.
She recently wrote, “I’m only beginning to understand what you went through,” which may explain why she chose this week to send me a bottle of Joy.
I immediately opened it up and sprayed it on. I haven’t had Joy in forever — I gave away all of my perfume when I was going through chemotherapy and radiation. I sprayed it on and breathed deep and with the heady fragrance came a rush of memories, so many, many memories.
Joy is the fragrance of my life.
The smell of it brought back the memory of who I used to be, before I got cancer, before I found out that what was wrong with me was cancer, and I cried. I cried for the loss of who I was, and I cried for my friend. My wonderful, zany, crazy, unpredictable friend who is suffering so bravely and doing everything she can to cope with an illness so horrid that I can’t bear to think about it, and the best way she has found to cope with it is to send me a bottle of Joy.
I’ve has some non-cancer related stuff going on for a while and it has choked out my ability to write. I think I might be moving past it now, finally.
Thank you for being patient.
I had coffee with a new friend this morning. We spent two hours enmeshed in one of the more memorable getting-to-know-you conversations of my adult life.
I’m not gonna lie. I’m pretty psyched.
“I’m thinking of cutting off my hair and going all short and edgy,” I confessed.
Oh, my, g-d. I’m talking about my hair. She’s going to think I’m self-centered and superficial.
“When we do that, it’s always in reaction to something else,” she said. “What’s really going on?”
I thought for a moment. “It’s this conservative morass we’re stuck living in. I just want to make it obvious that when you scratch the surface, I’m a radical.”
My new friend looked at me.
“Really, I am.”
She looked at me.
“All right, I have this old theory, a really old theory that I came up with when I was in my teens. If you really get to know someone who is heavily goth, or punk, or whatever, you find out that they’re quite often just a regular person with the same insecurities and anxieties as everyone else, and the look, goth, or punk, or whatever, is, to a large degree, compensating for just feeling extremely normal. I’ve typically had a very conservative look, compensating in the other direction. And I think I want to move away from that.”
“So you’re telling me that you’re a punk, a part of the counterculture?”
I thought about it. “Not quite punk. It’s more of a strong gothic streak.”
I blog about death.
“Is this new, after your illness? Or have you always been this way?”
“Always been this way. I was a goth little kid with a morbid sense of humor, a little Tuesday Adams. In the seventies. In retrospect it was hilarious.”
I think I’ve always known. When I heard the word cancer, I wasn’t surprised. It’s as if the first half of my life was one big opening act for me to live out the second half of it in this semi-undead state of post-life existence.
I’m not a woo-woo kind of person, generally speaking, but I wonder how it is that I’ve always known this about myself, and I wonder what else I could find about myself if only I were open to listening.