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Friday, November 29, 2013

More Required Reading

"Here was a man who now for the first time found himself looking into the eyes of death -- who was passing through one of those rare moments of experience when we feel the truth of a commonplace, which is as different from what we call knowing it, as the vision of water which cannot be had to cool the burning tongue. When the commonplace 'We all must die' transforms itself suddenly into the acute consciousness 'I must die-- and soon,' then death grapples us, and his fingers are cruel; afterwards, he may come to fold us in his arms as our mother did, and our last moment of dim earthly discerning may be like the first." (Eliot 398)

My longed for wish has come true: I can read again. I've been reading books after the chemo brain hiatus and it's been glorious. I plowed first through children's and YA, and then contemporary fiction and nonfiction. And now Middlemarch, my old friend, has been my traveling companion for the last two weeks, and probably for two weeks more.

What I love about this passage is all that Eliot captures, all the depth and complexity that is achieved. The travel from terror to comfort. And how she neatly she communicates that odd moment when you understand your mortality fully. I read this and want and want to scream, "YES!" And then give it to all those "I could get hit by a bus," people. Because yes, smarty pants, you intellectually understand that you will die, but it seems likely that the fact has not knocked you over the head, or rammed you in the gut, or cut you off at the knees, and crushed your heart.

Which is not to say that the knowledge is permanent. I've had those moments of extreme clarity, followed by a blissful lack of foresight.

And is one better than the other? Of course not. It's just different. But frustrating.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The lock

A couple of weeks ago, I had my first real haircut post chemo. It was an important step to feeling like a human again. While I was in the chair, the stylist marveled at the new texture of my hair as she ran her hands through it. It was curly, and coarser, too.

"And it looks a bit darker, don't you think?"

I did think so, but hadn't been sure. I thought that maybe I was remembering my hair wrong. Later at home I pull out the braided lock she cut off for me last October. It was finer, blonder.

What she said was an acknowledgement of everything that's happened in the last year. She saw me, before and after, and noted a change.

It may seem like nothing, but it's important. Most of the time people say things like, "You look good!" which I know is meaning to be nice, but actually feels like something of a negation of this experience. It feels like they're saying, "You don't look sick," or like they're saying that it's over when it's not. I know I should just smile and say thank you and be grateful for the compliment, but it rankles me.

Am I like my hair? Have I become darker, and rougher? Maybe.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Elegy for last week

On Sunday, I baked with a generous expert in her own kitchen, and made the pie crust that had baffled me my whole life. I went home excited to think about food again.

Roasted a chicken, and ate the challah I made with the baker.

On Monday, I began sorting through all the clothes I packed away last year. I started with the smallest basket, which I thought would be the easiest. It turned out to be full of my old bras. Awesome. Most of them I felt fine parting with; they were of the Macy's clearance rack, workhorse variety. But a few were very pretty. I tried on my favorite one, made of black lace. The first beautiful bra I ever owned, I bought it when I was 26. It cost something like $60, which I thought was ludicrously, deliciously, expensive. I was expecting to be swimming in it when I put it on. Even my right side, which has an implant, is much smaller than it used to be. I slipped the straps over my shoulders, and reached my arms behind me to clasp it. I realized I hadn't used my arms like that since August of last year. I did that motion at least twice a day, every day, since I was about 13. Fifteen years of a movement that can look impossibly elegant, or just impossible, depending on the equipment. And then nothing, for over a year, until that moment. I was full of regret, before I even looked in the mirror. It would show my diminishment. But when I looked, it was kind of okay. Believable. The bra little big, definitely, but I looked passable. Even the completely flat left side looked alright if I squinted. I tried on all the other bras in quick succession. I was thanking god for pretty lingerie when I took off the last one, a white one. There, in the lining of the left cup, was a dime sized dried up puddle. See, I never felt a lump in my breast. My symptom was a bit of blood, or serosanguinous fluid as they say, coming from my nipple. And there, in that soft lining, was the mark, the very last physical clue of my breasts. That I had them, that they existed.

Made pot pies for dinner.

On Tuesday I had a sore throat, and Matt pushed me to go to the doctor. "With your immune system..." he began, but I cut him off. "My immune system is fine. Chemo didn't hurt it too badly." "Why not?" I shrugged, and made muscle man arms.

Ordered pizza.

On Wednesday I saw my breast surgeon, and got disappointing news about the reconstruction process. Her recommendation: wait at least a year before proceeding. I thought I was ready to walk away from fake breasts, but it hit me hard, and I mourned the loss in a way I never did last summer.

Dinner, again pizza, with support group friends.

On Thursday I left work early, and ate a pie from Sunday while watching TV. Watching the Daily Show, I found some hope for the future of my chest while using the internet on my phone. I was elated, but Matt preached caution.

Went to an Indian restaurant, and my eyes were to big for my stomach. I had a little bit of everything.

On Friday my coworker asked if someone had kissed my cheek, but it was just an odd blush. Blood near the skin. Sanguine.

Lunch with a former professor. Thai curry, and jasmine tea that she found too bitter, but for me was just right.

On Saturday I cleaned my bedroom windows for an hour. Walking by everyday, I didn't notice how filthy they had become. I used six rags and half a bottle of natural cleaner wiping the glass and scraping out of the dust from every crevice in the molding. I cleaned everything inside; the dirt on the sill between the glass and the screen was another matter. It was too cold to open the window. I did the baseboards too. By the end I found it sparkling, but Matt said he'd never know the difference. The light shines through differently now.

Took fresh juice from the new place, and a two mile roundabout walk to get there.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Losing eyelashes again, for the third time since chemo. The first time was about a month after, during radiation, when I actually got down to about one or to lashes. Second time was a thinning sometime in the late spring. Now, I'm almost a year PFC (that's Post Fucking Chemo for the uninitiated) and they're falling like snowflakes.

It's the tiny things that make us feel human, or inhuman. Like, during chemo everything tastes bad. Water tasted like pennies. WATER. The thing with no taste. It was infuriating to me. The big things, the headscarf, the trips to the infusion center, those I came to accept. The little things are what fuck with my psyche, and are what can push me over the edge. The big things get you near the precipice, the little breezes make you lose your balance.

So I don't wish on these lashes and blow them away, for that little stirring might be just too much.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

More Required Reading

"In the President's Cancer Panel report released in April 2010, the authors stated that cancers caused by chemicals have been 'grossly underestimated.'"


"...diagnostics and treatments are already measures of defeat: the tumor has already arrived. ...we need to think more about the bigger picture of health and, ultimately, prevention. Yet surprisingly few national research dollars--about 7 
percent of the budget of the National Cancer Institute--are spent on prevention, even broadly defined to include early screening."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Worst Possible

Here's Matt doing an impression of the "worst possible pain" face on the pain scale:

At Matt's onc's office. Five year anniversary of his diagnosis coming up in December. I believe the traditional fifth anniversary gift is something made of wood, so anyone know where I can get a hand-whittled version of Grand Theft Auto?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I love this video.

I used to be pretty anti-tattoo for myself. All you have to do is look at the quote I picked in my high school yearbook to know why. (No, I am not telling you what it was.) What I mean is, I'm phase oriented, and my tastes change. A lot sometimes.

But for the last year I've been wanting one. I guess there's been so much change, so many new permanent marks on me, that I feel like a little more won't matter much. I love Amanda Wachob's work. And rabbits haunt me a bit, like that Velveteen excerpt, and Hazel from Watership Down. Rabbits are quick, on alert. They are connected with the moon, and can be indicative of rebirth or resurrection.

I already have some tattoos. Little dots, from radiation, which I'd want to incorporate in some way. I'd like something that looks like it's taken from Beatrix Potter's sketchbook, like this:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The (un)Real World

Well, here I am, back in NJ after three beautiful weeks at a residency program. (The Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.) Back to the real world.

But as I move about here, I am struck over and over by the unreality of it all. Walking to get a blood draw, thinking about what the fuck to do about this reconstruction shit, I'm confronted by this:

At the eye doctor after work, my one appointment which should have nothing to do with the C word (the other one) the optometrist says, "the breast cancer was last year?" I smile and say yes, but obviously, no. No, it is now and it was yesterday, and it is in five minutes and five years, or fifty.

At night, on 14th street, a cello swells from underneath me. Then it is gone, then it is back again. I am walking over subway grates, and a subterranean cellist.

For three weeks, I didn't see a single doctor. A record, since diagnosis. I had a couple of anxiety attacks, certainly. But that's what feels real, not being in this soup of my actual life.

On the last day of the residency, I saw a gathering of manatees. I, and a few others from the residency, had assembled an unassuming bank near a playground to try to see them. It was the kind of place you'd have to know about to find. The kind of place without an address, just a "hang a right at the liquor store shaped like a sombrero" kind of thing. Someone told me it wasn't so exciting to see them, that they just look like rocks.

I could never see their whole bodies at once, but I loved them. Their peaceful presence, their quiet curiosity. And while they were mistaken for magical beings once (Columbus thought they were mermaids), when I saw them they were scarred and muddy and full of the murk of real life.

One showed me the pink scar on her back, and I felt like she was saying hello to me. I wanted to sit all day with them, but there was a schedule (promises, and miles to go, and all that).

There is something about my life that makes me think of fumbling around in the dark, in a room with other beings. We feeling around, everyone asking "Am I okay?" and then everyone answering, "You're okay." Am I okay, you're okay, am I okay, you're okay. You are okay.

I felt like she said it to me, when her scar was up above the water. And I believed her.