One Sharp Dame

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Cancer Calculus

Peter Finch, fixing to lay down some truth.

If you haven’t seen the 1976 film Network, in which Peter Finch plays a beloved network newscaster who looses his marbles, live, on the air, you should. You should because the screenplay is one of Paddy Chayefsky’s best and that is saying something. You should also see it because then what I am about to say will make sense.

I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE. AAAAUUUUGGGHHHHhhhhhhhhh!!!!!! Hell! Fuck! Shit! Damn! Damnshitfuck! Fuck, fuck, fuckety, fuckfuck! Hellfire, shitdamn! AAUUUUGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Me and Cancer.

I’m so damn angry, mad, incensed, full of impotent rage. I have a shit-awful disease and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it. In the past almost three years now, breast cancer has forced some truly Sophie’s Choice-choices on me. And I’ve made them. And now, here I sit, I’m still alive. I’m in pieces, lots and lots of pieces. My plastic surgeon has done her level best to put all of my pieces back together but despite her very skilled care, my body has not cooperated. My body will not cooperate.

As part of my treatment, I underwent a heavy dose of radiation, twenty-eight treatments. The radiation did what it was supposed to, killing the small amount of cells left behind after chemotherapy and a bi-lateral mastectomy and even better, it put a knife in the heart of those bastard metastatic spots that had been hanging on to my spine.


When you go in for an x-ray, there is a reason the tech goes behind a screen before pushing the little button that lights you up. Radiation is not kind to the human body. It is not kind to human tissue. I finished radiation treatment a year and a half ago and the radiadated tissue where my left breast used to be continues to degrade. And that means our first attempt at making me a new breast has failed.

I met with my surgeon to discuss my options. All my options suck. They all suck a lot. If I want even a sub-normative female form, it is going to cost me a lot of my own muscle and tissue and about six months of my life and a whole mess of pain. And that is if there are no complications. I have yet to have any phase of this shit show not have complications. Even for a cancer patient, I’m a difficult case. I’m high-risk for heart attack and stroke. I’ve already dealt with one hospital-acquired infection. I have practically no immune system left.

All my options suck and I am so very tired. I am so very, very, tired of having to decide which of the fucked up options I have would be the most survivable and least awful.




I’m angry and I have nowhere for my anger to go. There isn’t a person or a thing or a group or even an idea for me to direct my anger toward. My anger is just there. I am angry and sad and pissed off and frustrated and irate but mostly angry and sad.

I spent most of yesterday laying in my bed, staring at the ceiling, feeling all my feelings, alternately hugging my dog and listening to Robert Johnson or yelling strings of obscenities at the dragons in my head. I feel so powerless. I puncuated the yelling with displays of frustration, flopping around, kicking my mattress, throwing a pillow. My dog is so used to this kind of thing now, she doesn’t even lift up her head.

I don’t think of life in terms of fairness. We all have some portion of misery. We all have some portion of joy. We all do what we can to lessen the former and increase the latter. But a lot of what happens, it just happens. It simply is. Cancer simply is. Depression is. Addiction is. Anger and bigotry and love and acceptance are. There is no rhyme or reason to their apportionment. We get what we get and it is up to us to make something of it, or not.

I’m angry I have cancer but I don’t ask why I have it. I ask why does it have to be so hard. Why so difficult? Why so many trade-offs? Why so much less than and why not a little more than enough? Financial ruin and terminal illness? Depression and busted heart? Crappy childhood and bad boyfriends? No orgasms and no breasts? It all seems a bit excessive.

I’m not content with the way I look naked. The area where my breasts used to be is now a mess of lumps and scars and scar tissue, a sad little bunch of busted hope, all right there for anyone to see. I want to be content with my naked body because I want to fall in love and I want to have sex and I want to enjoy the sex and the love and being comfortable with my body is one of the things that makes all of that easier.

I’m not so much worried about what someone else would think about my body, that imaginary putative significant other, but that I won’t be able to get over my own fear, my own sense of lacking, to have a relationship, to open up to the possibilities that love could bring. Can I get happy in this skin I’m in? Can I be okay enough with my body that I could stand someone looking away? Can I put together my own Humpty Dumpty bits?

Is the pay-off, a normative female form, worth the price? Is it worth that much time? Is it worth putting everything on hold and spending most of the next six months in bed? Can I put my body and my mind through that again, knowing what I know about the suck that is surgery and recovery?




I spent a few hours this week making my plan for the year. It is a whole thing I do, a process, and I haven’t done it for the past couple of years because my plan for three years now has bee simple: survive. I made my plan, made a list of everything I could think of, small and large, I want to do and then I worked out how to make each thing happen. None of the things I want to do requires a set of pretty boobs, even a set of ugly tits. Lots that I want to do would have to be put off while I recover.

I think I’m going to pass on surgery, for now. I have spent way too long recovering. I am ready to live my life, make some noise, give some love and get some in return. I want to take back my body, take back my life. I’m going to love the skin I’m in.


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  1. I think you’ve made the right decision.
    For now, survive, heal.
    The body is only an outer wrapping for the mind.
    When you get old you still won’t be happy about the way you look naked. Along with 99% of the human population. We’re funny that way.
    Huge Hugs.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Kelly … I just now saw you on twitter as a new follower …. firstly I will followback within 24 hours, I batch fbs … But I noticed your profile where you said “Books, film, and making a difference is my thing.” Well I have interest in all of those so I clicked to your Twitter feed and I saw your story …

    “bad news” indeed… this sucks … and I cant seem to find any more eloquent word than that. I am deeply sorry your journey through this cancer has been such a nightmare for you. I have family and friends who suffered with Cancer (including my Dad who actually conquered his Cancer thank God, but died suddenly of diabetes after he fought and won against the cancer.)

    Im rarely post on blogs and Im not exactly sure being frank what I wanted to say except that I see your pain and from one human who was touched by loved ones with cancer I just wanted to reach out and say I really hope for better days for your life.

    You might want to connect with Nancy Horne who helps people with Leukemia because both of her sons passed because of the disease and she has incredible courage and insights in how to deal with the pain of cancer … when this dreaded disease consumes loved ones lives, coping is our only choice … she is @Cure_Leukemia on

    I guess maybe that’s it … I just want to applaud your courage as you find your way in the coming days to learn to cope with this horrid situation. My thoughts and prayers go out to you …

  3. Wow! I get it … I had it!

    If I were a better typist, I’d type more but, here are the basics. I am 3 years cancer free following a fucking battle with prostate cancer. Calling it a fucking battle IS intentional! One of the side effects of prostate removal is Erectile Disfunction. But, I’m thinking a guy has to have an erection in order for it to Disfunction, right?

    My story however has been positive, thankfully! Following that war, I made the decision to return to a Songwriting and Performing … It had been twenty two years. I retired from my day job, and have found my way back into the songwriters community, here in Nashville.

    I’m now performing around Nashville on a regular basis, writing with some great young artist and enjoying every moment. A few of my songs have begun to find there way to hearts and minds of the listeners … Lovin what I’m doing!

    Yes, just like you, when I learned I had cancer I was so hurt, so angry, so lost, so scared … And then I decided to face it and and go to war! I know I’m luckier than some, I won my war with my body 90% intact. Life is good.

  4. Oh, honey. I cannot even begin to imagine how it must feel to be you right now. Just reading this post makes my heart ache for you. Four things occur to me:

    First, hugs, hugs and more hugs. Own that anger, baby, just as you’re doing. Your situation sucks.

    Second, get a copy of the book “The Dave Test” by my friend and colleague Fred Schmidt (officially he’s the Rev. Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt). His book is real, as real as it gets, about these kinds of horrible, awful, very bad things that happen to people, and how to get hope in the midst of them.

    Third, when you’re up to it, read some of the Psalms, the ones where the writer cries out to God at the unfairness of it all. God can take it, even the profanity. It doesn’t faze Her, because She loves you that much. Really. Truly.

    Finally, more hugs. I may have mentioned that I’m a cancer survivor, too, going on 17 years now. Thyroid cancer, 1997. Left me without a thyroid gland, made me gain about 75 pounds, gave me radiation scars around my throat, have to take a little orange bullet-shaped pill every damn day or I become a lump. My sitch isn’t nearly as bad as yours, but I have some tiny inkling of what it’s like to do cancer calculus. And it sucks. You do it, you’ve done it, and you’ve made up your mind to keep on keepin’ on. So good on you. Just know that I’m there for you, especially on days when you want to do nothing but lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. From afar, I’m sitting by that bed with you while you and God work through things. We’ll sit together for as long as it takes, spiritually and emotionally and every other way.

    All your friends and fans love you, babe. Love yourself.

  5. I wish I could think of something useful or insightful to say other than that I got mad, for you, reading what you wrote, and I just wanted to kick the ass of God or Vishnu or Management. I don’t know what you should do, either, but I know you’ve got the brains and the eyes to see it through. Peace.

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