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seriously

seriously

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I went to the bookstore. It’s what I do. Some people go to the liquor store. Some people go to the grocery store. I go to the bookstore. Anyway, I went to the bookstore. I bought an iced coffee the size of my head and went straight for the sections on health, which happened to be beside the happy, clappy, self-help books. There were no hard science books on breast cancer but I did find a few that purported to be practical guides through breast cancer and a few more that were memoir-types. Why they were filed in health and not straight biography/nonfiction is another thought for another day.

I found a comfortable chair, smack dab in the middle of a gaggle of junior high students practicing their mating rituals, and started browsing through my pile. It didn’t take long before the kids left. There is nothing that puts a damper on your fun like a grown-up with a pile of books marked CANCER.

I hoped to find something in that pile of books that could explain what was about to happen to me. I wanted to find an explanation for why. There had to be a reason. I thumbed through book after book. There was nothing. Everything that purported to be a practical guide were not such thing. The books either detailed a process I had already undergone, i.e. everything that happens between finding a lump and getting a diagnosis, or were so generalized about treatment, they were useless.

The memoirs were a bust, too, for different reasons. I rejected everything written by someone Stage II or under because not relevant to my situation. That left two anthologies from groups of breast cancer patients and one memoir written by a woman who was diagnosed with Stage III. In the anthologies, every essay written by a Stage III or higher patient ended with an editor’s note that read in some way “and then she died”. The memoir was the same.

“And then she died.”

“And then she died.”

“And then she died.”

“And then she died.”

Every time.

I understood then I wasn’t going to be able to ‘book’ my way through this. I left the bookstore empty handed. It was dark. I walked around the shopping center, looking in the windows but not seeing, until I found myself in front of Victoria’s Secret.

I thought about everything that had happened inside that store. What it all meant. There is more going on in that store than pretty nightgowns and push-up bras. So much more. And now, I was going to forever be on the outside of that, looking in.

When tears threatened, I started moving again. By the time I was to my car and then home, I was composed, once again. I put my favorite old jazz standards on the stereo and I made myself a gin and tonic. I sat in my reading chair, dog at my feet.

I made lists. Lists of people I needed to tell. Lists of things that needed to be done before treatment started. Lists of things I might need. I needed to write a will. I needed more cute pajamas. I needed to shred some old legal documents I didn’t want my daughter to find . I needed to return a dress. When the ice melted away in my drink, I got up and made another one.

“And then she died.”

“And then she died.”

“And then she died.”

By the time I managed to make it to bed, the night was turning into morning. I laid in bed, still wearing my clothes from the day before. I didn’t know anymore about breast cancer than I did the day before. There were no facts except “and then she died”. But something clicked over in those hours. I don’t know what it was. But that is when I decided this was not going to do me in. Cancer might kill me but it wasn’t going to do me in. I don’t think I can still articulate the difference between those two things. I can’t, now. But I knew the difference, then.¬†Somewhere in that night I decided I was going to live. Whatever live meant, I was going to do that thing. If I had months, I was going to live those months. If I had years, I was going to live. But this wasn’t going to end me.

I was going to live on my terms. I was going to write my story, my way. I was going to be me, right to the very end.

Four years later, this is what gets me out of bed. Cancer hasn’t ended me. If I can’t remember anything else good I’ve done, I did this. I’m standing upright. Not dead yet.

Feels good.

 

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