I opened this blog over a year ago with an essay about my first heart attack. I started with that essay because it had been an idea that I had been carrying with me for a long time and I both needed to get it out of the way, out of my mind, so I could go on to write other things and I was ready to write about it, had enough distance from it to make light, put it in context, write about what I had learned from it. I was also looking back on it as part of my medically nuts thirties, when my heart tried to kill me. All of that was my past and there was nothing but blue skies and the promise of exciting things to come in my next decade.
Then, last spring, I found a lump in my breast. It was cancer, the bad kind. The cancer had metastasized to my spine, it was in all four quadrants of my breast, the tumor had adhered to both the dermis and the chest wall and all three levels of lymph nodes were involved. In the lexiconography of cancer, that means end stage – terminal. The polite word for it is chronic.
I started treatment immediately, first chemotherapy, then a bilateral mastectomy and then radiation. Treatment only ended two weeks ago. It seems to have worked. The chemotherapy shrank everything and made the cancer disappear from my spine altogether and left two little bitty cells in one lymph node. The mastectomy rid my body of all but a very few cells firmly wedged into the dermis and I expect, when I have my next scan, to find the radiation killed off those cells as well as making doubly sure the mets on my spine will not be returning anytime soon. Against grim odds, it looks like I may have cheated death, again.
I haven’t written a word since the day I looked in my mirror and said out loud what I had known for weeks “You have cancer”. I’m not sure what to write now. I knew I couldn’t continue blogging without revealing my cancer but I did not want to make it public, not because I was ashamed or shy about discussing it, but I did not want to process it publicly. I could not deal with the entire world wide web AND my friends AND my family AND myself. So the world wide web did not make the cut.
I’m unsure what I have to say about cancer now. I’m not sure what I’ve learned. My main coping mechanism in life is humor and while I have been able to find insanely funny moments in the past year, frankly most of it has been an absolute horror show, grim as hell, excruciatingly painful and not one bit funny. I also don’t want to be “that woman that writes about breast cancer”.
On the other hand, much like my first heart attack, I’ve finally faced the fact I’m going to have write about the cancer if for no other reason than to get it out of my head so I can go on to write about the things I want to write about. Therefore, this probably isn’t the last time you will see something about cancer with my byline and I apologize in advance if it is a downer for you. I’m not exactly tap dancing through it myself.
Finally, I want to share with you something I wrote to my friends when I couldn’t make any more phone calls or have one more sad lunch. Last July, this is what I wrote:
“I want everyone to know, I am okay. I really am. I am okay now and I am going to be okay in the future. And even if I’m not going to be the best kind of okay, I will still be okay. I promise.”
It still holds true.