All My Friends Got Engaged, and I Got Cancer. Malignant and indignant at 25.
About I was diagnosed with stage I invasive mammary carcinoma - breast cancer - on December 26, 2012. I had just turned 25. Merry Christmas to me! On January 11, I underwent a double mastectomy with reconstruction. On February 26, I started an aggressive course of adjuvant chemotherapy. I will complete treatment on June 11, 2013 with plans to live forever and ever and never die. The following essays are excerpts taken from my personal blog, Iâ€™m 25 and My Boobs are Trying to Kill Me, as well as my column on ThoughtCatalog.com, All My Friends Got Engaged and I Got Cancer.
The Five Stages of Finding Out You Have Cancer p. 3-5 Never-Ending Mardi Gras p. 6-7 The Side Effect Checklist p. 8-10 Releasing p. 11-12 The Hidden Perks of Baldness p. 13-15 Why I Still Believe in Marriage p. 16-18 Being Alive Kicks Ass p. 19-20 10% p. 21-22 10%
The Five Stages of Finding Out You Have Cancer Coping
hen my cancer and I woke up this morning , we were immediately plunged into a horrible quagmire of worry and depression. In fact, waking up is pretty much the worst part of the day when you have cancer, because every single morning , for just a few seconds, I think to myself, â€œWhat an awful nightmare!
Thank God none of that was real!â€? But the relief melts away in seconds when I realize that actually, every single part of it was and is totally, completely, undeniably real. On the day after Christmas, 2012, a surprisingly calm doctor really did call to deliver the news that I was cancerous.
“I don’t know what it is, but when someone says the word “cancer,” you lose the ability to hear the rest of the sentence.” •••
The little lump I’d felt in my breast back in August was and is, in fact, growing unchecked, ready to ravage my body and choke out my organs with its immortal life force. “I think you’ve made a mistake,” I said, numb. “I’m 25 years old. And also, I never even grew boobs. I’m wearing the exact same size bra I wore when I was 13.” “I know this is hard for you,” the radiologist continued. “It’s not uncommon for patients to experience the five stages of grief.” Ah, the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining , depression and, finally, acceptance. She didn’t really give me a timeline for experiencing these, and I would say I experienced all five of them within the first 30 seconds of her phone call, and not necessarily in the order she predicted. Or an order that made any sense at all. Then, as the days went on
and I continued to wake up in the morning to the horrible Groundhog Day realization that I Have Cancer, it occurred to me that those five feelings are not really sufficient to explain the completely unsafe, smalltown, carnie-run emotional rollercoaster that is a cancer diagnosis. So, these are my new and improved: Five Stages of Finding Out You Have Cancer Stage 1. Temporary deafness I don’t know what it is, but when someone says the word “cancer,” you lose the ability to hear the rest of the sentence. I know I was on the phone with this radiologist for like 20 minutes while she explained what the next steps would be for my now-cancerous self, but the call right might as well have been a text message that said “u have cancer LOL” for all I remember of it. Even afterwards, when my parents and my brother tried to talk to me about it, I felt like I was lying at the bottom of a pool
and they were shouting at me from above the surface, their words distorted and muted. Stage 2. Manic inspirational Pinterest quote searching A few hours after my temporary deafness subsided, I morphed into Oprah. I was like a fountain of crappy needlepoint sayings, spouting out bullshit like, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger!” and “God wouldn’t give me anything I couldn’t handle!” I wouldn’t call it hopefulness, exactly; it was more like last minute, panic-induced mania, probably caused by the same biological response that causes all of your capillaries to explode in a futile attempt to warm you moments before you die of hypothermia. Stage 3. Public crying Once I realized that no amount of typographic posters talking about hope and love were going to undo the fact that I would have my breasts cut off, my body pumped full of poison and my bald head on display
for all to see for at least six months, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. I mean, like, not even for a few minutes. I cried when I woke up. I cried over the breakfast I couldn’t eat. I cried while watching CNN for hours, hoping to hear some news stories of people that were even worse off than I was. I cried while looking at Facebook. I cried on the toilet. I cried in the shower. I cried in the car. I cried in the yard. It didn’t matter who was around or if they were looking at me or if they appeared alarmed or what. I cried on an airplane, and as I was sobbing hysterically, the woman next to me said comfortingly, “Oh, honey, what’s wrong ? Boy troubles?” Try again, lady. Stage 4. Googlemania If you are ever diagnosed with a deadly disease – and I pray to God that you never are – STAY. FAR . AWAY. FROM. GOOGLE. Dr. Google is a great search engine, but he is not a very good physician. He’s full of statistics that will get in
your head and make you certain – and I mean certain – that you are going to die. After a few hours of Googling horrible things like “how long before breast cancer metastasizes,” “how many people are stage IV breast cancer at diagnosis”, “what if my lymph nodes are enlarged with breast cancer”, I was pretty much ready to roll over and wait for the cancer to ravage my body and leave me a dead, hollowed-out shell of myself before age 28. Finally, I vowed that I just didn’t care what Google or the stats had to say. Only 0.3% of breast cancer cases occur in women under age 30. Statistics already screwed me once. I ain’t listening to them again. Suck it, Google. Stage 5. Finding the funny Finally, the realization began to sink in that self-pity doesn’t cure cancer. No matter how many tears splashed down my reddened cheeks, they were not soaking into my pores and eliminating cancer cells from my body. So why not laugh? Why not see the humor in
the situation? I’m 25; I get emotional when ModCloth is sold out of the dress I want, and God help you if your establishment doesn’t carry cake batter-flavored frozen yogurt when I roll up with my frequent customer punch card. When that’s the level of your emotional maturity, it’s tough not to find humor virtually everywhere. After chemotherapy, when your long brown hair starts coming out in tufts so thick you actually, literally look down at them and considering making a braided bracelet out of them, I dare you not to laugh-cry. I know I did, and I was in public.
Never-Ending Mardi Gras Surgery
he fun thing about a double mastectomy, if there can be a fun thing , is that I finally get to go through the puberty that Mother Nature denied me. Every week, I head into the plastic surgeonâ€™s office, where she stabs me in the chest with a giant syringe like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction and fills my fake boobies up with
saline. Meanwhile, I watch myself inflate with a mixture of disgust and awe. The funniest part about the whole ordeal, though, is when the nurse offers me some privacy so I can change into the gown. I literally laugh out loud every time because, at this point, who hasnâ€™t seen my boobs? I feel
like I should be getting Mardi Gras beads every time I have to go in for a test, which is every 10 minutes. I pretty much just start stripping as soon as I get into any exam room. I’m like a compulsive flasher any time I’m within 100 feet of a hospital. My foobs are now almost entirely pain-free, but I am experiencing something very unpleasant whenever the doctor presses on them. It feels like a combination between hitting your elbow on the edge of a wooden chair and getting slammed in the chest with a soccer ball – something that, unfortunately, happened to me multiple times over the course of my short AYSO career. (Can that cause cancer?) The doctor said it’s “deferred sensation” – I can’t feel her hand or alcohol swab on my skin, but I can feel the movement of the tissue expander against my ribs, and the combination plus the visual input from me watching her touch me without actually receiving any sensory information about said touching causes the disoriented feeling of having your funny bone located in your breasts. That’s the bad, now on to the good. Not to brag , but just to brag for a second: My foobs look fantastic. I don’t even mind the
scars. They’re like free tattoos with way better backstories. The fill was event-free – no pain this time! – but I do think my mom and I are about to get blacklisted for life at every oncologist’s and surgeon’s office in the greater Los Angeles area. My mom has the double curse of completely irrational paranoia coupled with an incredibly active imagination – traits that she passed onto me. Here’s a small sampling of the questions we’ve asked. Q. “Am I allowed to fly on an airplane?” A. “Yes, I’ll give you something to get you through the TSA screeners.” Q. “Oh, no, I was actually going to ask if pressure changes in the airplane cabin could cause my tissue expanders to explode and shower everyone with saline and human debris.” A. “Um…no one has ever asked that before. I promise your tissue expanders won’t explode.” Q. “Why won’t they explode?” A. “Trust me. I promise they won’t.”
Q. “I feel like the skin on my sternum is gonna rip off and lift up as the expanders keep getting larger.” A. “What? That…isn’t going to happen. That has never happened.” Q. “Is chemotherapy going to make me die?” A. “No, it’s going to make you live.” Q. “So it’s not going to accidentally kill all of my cells instead of just the cancer ones and then I’m gonna just be a pile of goo in a recliner in an infusion suite?” A. “No. We give it to 80 year olds. You’re going to do fine.” Q. “I have a metal bar in my mouth, so I don’t think I can get an MRI.” A. “That’s not a problem. You can still have an MRI.” Q. “So my teeth aren’t gonna rip out of my face and fly into the MRI machine and leave me with an empty, bleeding jaw ?” A. “…No. Please stop.”
The Side Effect Checklist Chemotherapy
t’s been three days since chemotherapy, and my nurse called this morning to ask how I was feeling. I told her I was feeling alright, and she congratulated me, saying that today and tomorrow would probably be my worst days and that I’d be on the upswing soon. Really? I feel like I really dodged a bullet here. I’ve been going
over my giant list of potential side effects and considering myself incredibly lucky that I seem to have avoided the worst of them. Before I started chemotherapy, I was massively frustrated that no one could offer me a really detailed description of what it was like. Basically, what I
learned from the movies is that I could expect to barf a lot and go bald. So here’s my summary: It wasn’t as awful as the entertainment industry made me believe it would be, but it has been difficult and challenging and sickening in ways I didn’t expect. I decided to put together this little list of how chemo’s made me feel so far in order to document my progress back to the world of the living. I’m not out of the woods yet, but I’ve packed up my tent and I’m fighting my way through the leaves and rocks and trying to avoid the bears while I get back to normal. Let me begin by saying that everyone is different and everyone’s body reacts differently, especially when it comes to literal poison like chemo drugs. It’s like that old saying, “You can’t wash in the same chemotherapy biohazard medical waste twice.” Wait, that doesn’t seem right. What I’m trying to say is, I don’t want to – and indeed, I can’t – speak for all chemotherapy patients; this is just one girl’s crappy little journey with some vein detergent.
[x] Fatigue Whenever I asked the doctors how chemotherapy would make me feel, they’d always say it would make me fatigued. And I was like, “Whatever, I’m 25, I ran a half-marathon once and sometimes I stay up ‘til like 3am just watching puppy videos, so you’re just saying that because you normally give this to 80-year-olds.” Y ’all, that was hubris, and I am sorry. Last night I went to bed at 10pm, then woke up this morning at 10am (which, I might add, felt to me like the absolute ass crack of dawn) to attend class via Skype. Despite 12 hours of sleep, I felt like I’d just eaten a giant plate of week-old sushi covered in mayonnaise left out in the sun, then ran an IronMan and gotten hit by a bus right before I crossed the finish line. Chemotherapy makes getting out of bed seem like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Asking me to wake up before 11am is like asking me to a paddle a canoe to the moon. Since all I have to do to Skypeattend class is lay in my bed, I
decided to call in anyway – but my computer had other plans, and my internet connection cut out after an hour. My professor decided to give me the rest of the afternoon off. I immediately fell back asleep until 3:30pm, when I finally dragged myself downstairs to eat some macaroni and cheese, then I fell back asleep on the chaise lounge until I just woke up to write this. I’m not going to lie, though, I could go back to sleep right now. I am giving your cat a run for his money. [x] Gagginess I don’t want to say nausea because I really haven’t experienced much, if any, nausea. If I knew who they were, I would personally write a thank-you letter and mail a basket of Harry & David pears to whoever invented my combination of antinausea drugs, because they do an incredible job of keeping my discomfort to a very manageable level of low-grade hangoverness that generally doesn’t bother me unless someone opens a container of Roquefort cheese near me.
“I felt like I’d just eaten a giant plate of week-old sushi covered in mayonnaise left out in the sun, then ran an IronMan and gotten hit by a bus right before I crossed the finish line.” •••
I do, however, feel sort of oddly gagg y. Like, a picture of some food won’t really make me feel nauseated, but it’ll just…gross me out. I feel like I’ve gone back in time to 1992 when I was four years old and all I liked was cupcakes, macaroni and cheese, French fries, rice and plain chicken. I was scrolling through my TV options during the 20 minutes I was awake in between my naps and passed an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and honestly had to just turn the TV off. But then again, that could just be a side effect of Guy Fieri’s face. [x] Taste alteration Things just taste a little off in my mouth right now. I don’t care, though, because my mom bought me Limeaid and it tastes amazing and I love it. When I was a kid I used to eat lemons the way other kids would eat orange slices during AYSO soccer halftime, so I’m glad that acidity still tastes awesome to me. I mean, would it really be the worst thing in the world if I didn’t want any chocolate for a few months? I’m sure my thighs wouldn’t mind.
[x] Bowel issues I’m not getting into this, but yeah. If you ever need chemotherapy, just understand that nothing going on in your digestive tract will make sense for several days. It feels like an 8th grader is conducting his science fair project in my large intestine, and he is not going to win, because he is screwing it up really badly. Give it up, Timmy! [x] Aches and pains My oncologist agrees with me that chemotherapy can S a D and that I shouldn’t have to miss any important things in my life because of this little boob-shaped road block, so she is giving me a shot of a medicine called Neulasta that’ll ensure my white blood cell counts stay high enough for me to eat at a giant buffet kids are sneezing on and dance with a ton of people until midnight without getting a deadly infection at this wedding I am going to attend literally no matter how bad I feel because WEDDING. Neulasta has a little side effect, though: pain. That’s it. Just pain. Bone pain, muscle pain,
aches, pains, all different kinds of discomfort. The reason for this is a “bone marrow flare,” when the meds cause your white blood cell counts to explode and put pressure on the insides of your bones until you get a full-body migraine. Sounds fun, guys! [x] Ugliness Chemotherapy turns you into a Disney villain. All of your hair falls out, your nails turn black, your skin dries out, your bones ache and suddenly you’re looking around at the all the other pretty t went ysomething s and thinking that giving away some poisonous apples is kind of a good idea and maybe that witch was onto something there.
y oncologist called me the other day to check in and make sure I was feeling alright as we begin the countdown to my next chemotherapy treatment, which will be on Tuesday. “I’m doing well,” I said, “except that my hair is rapidly falling out. I mean, like, rapidly.“
“Yeah, it’s about that time,” she said. “Generally, about two weeks after the first treatment, the hair starts releasing.” “Releasing” is the medical term for the way the poor, sad little strands come out when their little follicle homes are obliterated by the chemo drugs. It seems, to me, to be the most accurate term
possible for the process. In many ways, this whole cancer experience has been about releasing. Releasing control. Releasing expectations. Releasing vanity. Releasing fear. Due to the speed with which my hair began abandoning my scalp, I decided to come up with a measurement unit for it. So far, I’d say I’ve lost at least 2.5 cats of hair, a “cat” being defined as the amount of hair one can brush from a domestic feline in a onehour period. If you have ever owned a cat, you know that this is an enormous amount of hair, yet my bald spots were still easily covered by my remaining tresses up until Friday night (more on that shortly). Nevertheless, I started wearing my caps anyway, in order to: a) prevent uncontrollable shedding all over everyone and everything I love, and b) get used to people staring at me as I meander around in 85 degree SoCal heat in a ski beanie. Now, the shedding is moot: I am bald. Or, more accurately, I am buzzed – shaved down with an electric clipper and a 3-guard like a freshfaced army recruit.
For one thing, I got tired of waking up to a pillow so covered in hair it looked like I’d grabbed someone’s shedding collie in August and rubbed him on it. For another, watching yourself go bald is emotionally trying, even when you’re expecting it. Plus, the “releasing” process is actually sort of painful – my scalp was sore and sensitive, like I’d had my hair pulled back too tight or parted in an unnatural way and secured like that with tons of hairspray and bobby pins for two to three weeks. I’d heard enough horror stories about cancer patients weeping quietly as, resigned to their fates, they shaved their own heads, alone, in front of the bathroom mirror. That wasn’t going to be me. I wanted a party, because why shave your head if you’re going to be just as miserable doing it as you’d be sitting in front of the Oprah Winfrey Network pulling it out by the fistful? I called up my brother, who has sported varying degrees of buzz cuts over the years, and asked if he’d shave me down. “I’d be honored,” he said. We invited some friends, bought a bottle of wine and some beer, and set out a chair in his living room. I felt strange – like Old
Yeller being taken out back – yet strangely excited about my fate. I wasn’t scared, because my boyfriend surprise-shaved his head in support, and that made me: a) cry and b) get psyched up to join him. Could I have found a better man? I literally, honestly do not think I could have. I only wish he were here so that we could rub our buzz cuts together and give each other static shocks. After we’d gotten my area set up, we poured some drinks, put on a great party playlist and my friend Pat, who has the most experience with the buzzer, had the honor of sending my tresses to hair heaven. The whole deal took 10 silly, adrenalin-pumping minutes. I honestly think my brother may have a calling in starting a business that throws big parties to shave cancer patients’ heads, because this is the way it should be. (We’d call it, “Shave ‘n’ Rave.”) I’m so glad that I can look back on this memory as a fantastic night with friends instead of something sad, lonely and upsetting. I mean, if you’re going to shave your head, the only way to do it is with a glass of vino in hand, tons of friends surrounding you and 2Chainz on in the background.
The Hidden Perks of Baldness Coping
remature baldness runs in my family.
My grandfather hasnâ€™t had a strand of hair on his head since probably his 35th birthday, and my dad wasnâ€™t far behind. When I was in third grade, I drew a picture of my father with hair shaped sort of like a fleur-de-lis, with three distinct
lobes representing his rapidly receding hairline. (Soon after, all trace of any kind of hairline disappeared entirely, replaced by a shiny, smooth dome that looks strangely handsome on him, like a younger, even more badass Bruce Willis.) Even my younger brother, whose determined locks are still hanging on for now, is constantly stressed heâ€™ll be the
next Hairless Heir to the family name. But the joke’s on him, because I have usurped the throne. I am now, without question, the baldest one in the family. When selecting emojis to represent myself in text message vignettes, I am now forced to pick the old, bald man over the brunette in pink in order to remain most truthful to my current appearance. I’m not entirely hairless; I look a bit like a featherless baby bird, with weird fuzz sticking up in odd places, barely clinging on to my Casperwhite skull. But being bald, or nearly so, isn’t all bad! In fact, I’ve found a number of silver linings to my new condition. 1. My shower time has been reduced by 75%.
I used to spend at least, at least, 30 minutes in the shower each morning, shampooing my hair twice and standing under the faucet singing horribly offtune country music into the hairbrush while I waited for the conditioner to work its magic. These days, I’m stumped as to what to do with myself after about a minute and thirty
seconds. Before I went bald, I never realized how much of my shower time was devoted solely to hair. If I wasn’t washing the hair on my head, I was shaving the hair on my legs or plucking the hair in my eyebrows. Since I no longer have to do any of those things, I can now devote a far larger portion of my shower time to torturing everyone with my singing voice. You’re all welcome. 2. I’m reducing noise pollution. I literally don’t know where my blowdryer is. 3. I can pack far more lightly. Time to pack for a trip? Hold up, just let me allot a good square foot of space and at least seven pounds of my luggage quota to my blowdryer, flat iron, round brush, curling iron, hairspray, headbands, ponytail holders, comb and shine serum. No longer, my friends! I can now pack two extra pairs of shoes, a whole ‘nother pair of jeans, a special dress and yet another sweater just in case there’s some weird chill on our tropical vacay in the space that I used to dedicate solely to hair products. In fact, packing for St. Louis, I found myself with UNUSED
SPACE in my luggage for the first time in my memory. (I wasn’t bald yet, but my pixie didn’t require as much attention as my old, cascading locks did.) So this is what it’s like when Gordie packs to come visit me. 4. I look like a diva. There’s something about a wig that’s just so much more polished and voluminous and shiny than my real hair. The curls always stay put, bobby pins don’t get lost in the Bermuda Triangle between my left ear, the nape of my neck and the crown of my head, and it feels amazing to stand in front of the mirror and go from Wallace Shawn to Beyonce in two seconds flat. 5. Beanies are cozy. Beanies just feel good on my head, y’all. It’s like letting your scalp sit in front of the fireplace with some hot cocoa and a warm blankie. By the way, you know when you go to the hairdresser and she washes your hair and spends like, way, way too short of a time scratching your scalp with her fingernails and it feels like you’ve died and gone to heaven? Every time someone touches my head, it feels like that now.
“When selecting emojis to represent myself in text message vignettes, I am now forced to pick the old, bald man over the brunette in pink in order to remain most truthful to my current appearance.” •••
It’s ecstasy. I would honestly consider re-shaving my head just to enjoy more headrubs. I am like the second, weirdly talkative dog my parents didn’t ask for, just wandering around hoping someone is going to start touching my head.
So do I recommend shaving your head? Yes. 10/10, would shave again. In a weird way, I’m incredibly thankful for the experience. I have an entirely new level of empathy for people who are visibly different now, people who suffer from disabilities or deformities or just
oddities that attract attention wherever they go. I understand what it’s like to go somewhere and get stares, to wear your condition on your sleeve (or your head) and be forced to acknowledge that you can no longer hide from what’s clear to strangers and loved ones alike. The experience of being a Cancer Patient – or any other kind of visible Patient – is different for everyone, I’m sure; but as far as I’m concerned, I hope it’s made me a better person. But for all of the wisdom, and two-minute showers, and time I’ve spent looking in the bathroom mirror pretending I’m RuPaul, I’m still looking forward to getting my real hair back. I’m sure my blowdryer is around here somewhere.
Why I Still Believe In Marriage Coping
‘m 25, which means I’m of a generation that’s supposed to be super cynical about marriage. I’m totally aware that 50 percent of people who say “till death do us part” will actually part when one of them gets bored and fucks a coworker or starts spending all of their money on big screen TVs and booze. I know that the idea of monogamy is really kind of
crazy and it’s super insane that there could be a person out there I could fall in love with right now and not get sick of over the next sixty-something years slash eternity because I totally expect scientists to develop immortality before my time is up. I get it, you guys, I really do – the whole idea is bafflingly
insane and whoever thought it would work in the first place was obviously nuts. But I can’t help it. I still believe in marriage. Two things happened that convinced me marriage is for me: First, I got a Pinterest account and realized that oh my God, having the perfect floral arrangements at my wedding is of, like, utmost importance to me and I cannot possibly die without going to a bridal salon and poo-poo’ing 500 different dresses and making everyone’s life hell for like five hours. Second, I got cancer. When you’re 25, there’s not a whole lot you can’t do on your own. Now you’ve got a job and it pays sort of not entirely peanuts, so you can do Big Adult Things like buy your own plane tickets, take international vacations by yourself and pay your own cell phone bill. You live in your own apartment and you pay your rent almost on time every month. You feed yourself and make your own g ynecologist appointments and figure out public transit all by yourself. And when you’re 25, the kind of independence is new and exhilarating and awesome and you can’t ever see it ending ,
and who needs to be tied down with a spouse forever and ever? And then someone calls you one day and they’re like, “Hey, you have cancer,” and you’re like, oh shit, I so didn’t prepare for this. And the next thing you know, you’re moving back in with your parents, and you can’t cook your own meals because you’re too busy barfing up a bunch of chemotherapy drugs, and you can’t drive because of this one time you fainted in an MRI machine and the DMV heard about it and took your license away, and your long beautiful
But then your boyfriend acts like you’re totally insane when you suggest that maybe he doesn’t want to stick around for the Cancer Show. Even though surgery disfigured your body and you feel like a hungover marathon finisher who got hit by an eighteen-wheeler every day, he still wants to shower you with love and devotion. And he does amazing things like send you cute packages in the mail and call you every night before bed and shave his head for you. He still wants to have sex with you even though you look like a hairless baby mouse.
hair and your eyelashes and eyebrows all fall out and you look like Gollum after he pissed off a SuperCuts employee, and all of that independence is just gone. Just like that. Bye-bye.
And then you realize not that you can’t do it all alone, but that you don’t want to. That family – the family you were born into and the family you will one day create – is amazing and beautiful
“And then you realize not that you can’t do it all alone, but that you don’t want to.” •••
and the most important and supportive thing in this life. Maybe you don’t need a marriage to have a supportive partnership with the person you love, but when you’ve been as ill as I have, you’re not opposed to asking someone to swear before God that they’ll love you in sickness and in health.
Recently, an old and dear friend of mine said “I do” to the man of her dreams. She walked down the aisle unescorted and she looked like a fucking angel, because she’s incredible like that. But even though she chose to give herself away, she wasn’t alone. A church full of us stood behind her in loving admiration to celebrate as she and her beloved pledged their lives to one another.
Here’s to hoping those lives are long and healthy, filled with both independence and support.
Being Alive Kicks Ass Coping
went for a long walk today, and even tried a light jog. It was slow, it was embarrassing, I looked like a fool because I wasn’t wearing any of the right equipment, but I DON’T CARE. I am constantly amazed at the mood-lifting power of a little exercise and a little sunshine. Thank you, Lord, for giving Southern California 330 days of beautiful weather a year. And also for inventing iced tea. Amen.
The body is an amazing thing , and I think even more so in the wake of a cancer diagnosis. Here’s this earthly vessel, this flesh and blood that I only get one of, this little 5’2’, 100 pound sack of meat and offal, that one moment tried to kill me and the next spent four weeks miraculously healing me from not one but two traumatic surgical wounds.
“It’s such a cliche to say that having a brush with death will change your outlook, but I’ve found that it’s a cliche for a good reason.” •••
Of their own volition, my cells saw the holes in my sides where the drains had been, the pokes in my hand and arm where the IVs went, and patched them up, little by little rebuilding what had been destroyed. One month before my diagnosis, this body carried me to a 1 hour, 51 minute finish in my first ever half-marathon, a time that shattered my goal of two hours and exceeded my wildest expectations of what I was capable of achieving. From August to December, I had the incredible privilege to be a member of Richmond’s X-Team, a group of incredible individuals who wake up each morning at 6am to dedicate an hour of their day to working out in the grass and dew. I was
diagnosed on a Friday; the Wednesday before, I ran 17 miles, prepping for my first full marathon. All that time, all those hours I was building muscle, eating kale, doing pushups, running laps, my body was simultaneously improving and dismantling itself on a cellular level. What a paradox this life can be. It’s such a cliche to say that having a brush with death will change your outlook, but I’ve found that it’s a cliche for a good reason. I’m not saying I treasure every single second of life, because sometimes, I’m still pissed off about the DVR not recording this week’s episode of Girls or opening the fridge and being out of Greek yogurt. But overall, being alive
rules. It just rules, you guys. Basically, my post-cancer plan is this: Step 1: Live. Step 2: ??? Step 3: Never die. So far, so good.
eing born and living life is really awesome, but there’s this one pesky little thing about it that I’m kind of shocked that in however many thousands of years of scientific progress we haven’t figured out how to fix, and that’s the fact that you have to die at the end of it.
It’s not that I’m scared to die. No, wait, yes it is. I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about my odds of survival, and truth be told, they’re pretty good – if anything that forces you to calculate your odds of survival can be considered good. According to both my real doctors and my
frenemy Dr. Google, my chances of surviving at least five years (and hopefully much longer) are about 90 percent. Which is great, but which also means that despite all of this horrible, miserable medical junk I’m subjecting myself to, there’s still this nagging 10 percent chance that I’m gonna die. Ten percent isn’t really that much. I’m kind of a clumsy idiot so really there’s probably a 10 percent chance that I’m gonna die just trying not to trip over my own shoelaces on a bridge or something on any given day. But still, 10 percent is like, not ideal. Ideal would be zero percent. A zero percent chance of dying, ever. It’s honestly really terrifying not knowing what happens after you die. Because that’s what scares me, really, is the unknown. Suffering will end, sadness will pass, but death is…permanent. And it could be anything. For example, I have this very irrational fear that when you die, actually, your consciousness doesn’t cease, and you remain totally aware of everything that’s happening to you as they close the coffin lid and you go insane from boredom in an immobile body trapped six feet under forever and ever. I
know that’s completely insane, and if you’re a doctor, please feel free to explain to me why, so I can stop worrying about it. But my point is like, there’s no way to know. Maybe Heaven is real and when I die God’s gonna be up there looking like The Dude (which is how I’ve always pictured Him, like a big, laid-back guy in a sweater and moccasins who hates The Eagles) and He’s gonna be like, “Hey, buddy! We’ve got your room ready over here, it’s right next to your grandparents and Princess Diana, and they are all like, super excited to hang out with you. Also, we serve wine. Red or white?” Or maybe the Hindus have it right, and as I take my last breaths, I’m suddenly going to blink back into existence as a majestic bird of prey floating high above cold Alaskan waters. Or maybe it’s just nothingness. Maybe it’s just peace, and love, and contentment for all eternity. Most of the time, I take my 90 percent odds and I just feel grateful for them. I know I’m in a small minority of incredibly lucky cancer patients who, at least for the time being, can not just hope but can expect to recover someday. But sometimes,
I can’t shake the fear that I’m going to wind up in that 10 percent, and sometimes it gets to me to the point that I cry and worry and feel that I might get gypped out of the best years of my life. Once, in one of the latter moods, I cried to my boyfriend – the most logical and measured of all logical and measured people, ever – that I was sinking into a vicious cycle of terror. “Babe,” he said, calm as ever, “if there were a 90 percent chance of rain tomorrow, would you bring an umbrella?” Ninety percent is a pretty good bet, but if there’s one thing I’ve taken away from this experience, it’s this: Nothing in life is certain, ever. No matter how low or high the odds, anything is possible. Existence is basically a cosmic trip to Las Vegas where in between enjoying yourself at the pool and the dance club you bet your soul on stuff like driving on the freeway, eating red meat and SCUBA diving, and eventually the house always wins but that doesn’t mean you can’t have the best bachelorette party ever while you’re there. So screw statistics. Obliterate odds. Alliteration! What I’m saying is, just live today. But don’t forget your umbrella.