Growing up, my imagination was easily captured by historical fiction and fantasy books, by the idea of living in a world very different from the one I was born into. Take away modern conveniences, my reasoning went, and I’d find myself somewhere more wondrous, with more room for adventure and self-discovery. My world was too safe and sanitized, too well understood by science. What a life I might have lived, if only I hadn’t been born in the late 20th century. Read more
“I’m going to tattoo you now, and this will be permanent.”
No, the speaker wasn’t a tattoo artist with a penchant for stating the obvious; she was a radiation oncology tech. And, what she was telling me was completely routine and something I had been prepared for — supposedly. Read more
Beauty is a difficult thing to lose all at once. I’ve heard that it’s even a difficult thing to lose slowly, year by year, over decades. I have an early memory of an old woman (my grandmother? a family friend?) telling me it wasn’t “her face” she saw anymore in the mirror. Even though the change happened gradually, in her mind’s eye, she stayed forever young.
My chemo nurse Diane talked a lot about women losing their hair. The ones who shaved it all off in the beginning, before any ever fell out. The one who had a little balding at the hairline, and covered it up with headbands. The one who lost every strand but one, smack in the middle of her scalp, which she refused to shave. It lasted right through to the end. Read more
“This is what psychological collapse looks like.”
The speaker was my therapist. The only other person in the room was me. I was about six weeks into a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had thus far included stopping work on my novel, my first chemotherapy session, my first lost hairs, and being ghosted on by someone I’d been there for, and who I’d thought would be there for me.
Yet I was not the one experiencing psychological collapse. Read more
I don’t have a lot of experience with depression. I’d gone through two depressed periods in my life: one after being diagnosed with a chronic GI illness when I was 20, and one after ending an abusive relationship. But both of those periods were short-lived, and they were characterized by an intense anxiety that made me endlessly active. Read more
Last night, a friend asked me how I was doing. “I’m depressed,” I said. “My hair’s falling out and I have writer’s block.”
He squirmed. Evidently, this was not the correct response. “I know this isn’t helpful at all,” he said, “but there are people going through chemo who are much, much sicker than you. It really could be a lot worse.” Read more
I had my first cancer epiphany before I knew for sure that I had cancer. I was on the Q train, crossing the bridge from Manhattan into Brooklyn. I was looking at the Statue of Liberty, telling myself (as usual) that I wasn’t properly appreciative of the view. Even when things were going well, this tended to ring false. The day I had my epiphany, I couldn’t even get through the thought. That view — who the hell cares. I took my phone out. Again. Read more
I expect there are very few people who realize how vain I am. I mention it sometimes — literally, I tell people, “I’m really, really vain” — but for the most part this gets minimal to no reaction. Some people counter with “No, you’re not,” which brings me up short. How would they know?
Despite being fairly self-aware where vanity is concerned, I was completely unprepared for my reaction to learning that I’d likely lose my hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes while undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For days, I kept stopping to look in the mirror. I’d hold my fingers over my eyebrows and try to imagine my face without them. I was going to look like an alien. Read more
There’s a 300-page novel manuscript sitting on my desk. To write it, I had to hitchhike across the country, walk away from the man I thought I’d marry, survive an abusive relationship, and work on the novel nearly every day for three years. It’s not finished yet, but I‘ve reached the point where I can feel myself rushing towards the end. Or I did feel that. Ever since I learned that I probably, “realistically” have cancer, I have’t written a word. Read more
“I’ve been sick for the past nine years!” This phrase keeps running through my mind and I want to shout it: at the doctors performing their surgeries and running their tests, at the Universe Appeals Court that really should be set up to create a more fair and just world, and even at all the amazing friends who are showing up for me and asking what I need. Read more
On Monday, August 15th my doctor told me that “realistically” I have lymphoma. I texted the Kitten and asked her to come over after work. We cuddled and cried and looked at pathology reports and Wikipedia articles and flapper hats on Etsy. Because if I go bald, I want to do it vintage style and I like to be prepared. Then the Kitten had an idea to call her friend, an oncology pharmacist, who told me to prepare myself for 4 to 6 rounds of chemotherapy followed by radiation. Read more