December 7, 2011
I guess I could try and say a bunch of cliche and profound things about having cancer.
“I’m lucky to be here.”
“I shouldn’t be here”
“I’m fighting for my life.”
That one really gets me: I’m fighting for my life. The thing is, it doesn’t feel like fighting, it feels like an inconvenience. Yes, I’ve got this huge tumor the size of my fist right near my heart and I’m 21 years old and this shouldn’t be happening at my age, with my overall health, etc. etc.
This shouldn’t be happening.
But the thing is also, I don’t believe in that: This shouldn’t be happening. I’ve always felt the absurdity of anything occurring because it is so unlikely. The odds for any incident occurring are miniscule (if you consider how unlikely it is that any of us be born. The right sperm meets the right egg not to mention the unlikelihood of your parents meeting in the first place, etc.) The world is filled with improbability. I’ve always seen it that way. And so it is not entirely shocking to me, the randomness of having cancer at age 21. It’s not fighting. I mean, maybe it is but I feel like I just lay there in a barcalounger and take a benadryl-induced nap while they pump me with chemicals that will hopefully make the tumor go away. (They think it will, they think its working.)
Fighting is active. What I’m doing feels passive. I am letting them do things to my body to combat something my body and my soul have manifested that overall I will benefit from (experience wise) but all I have to do is lay there and let it happen to me. I am not cutting the tumor out of my body with a knife. I am not inventing new chemicals to destroy cancer cells. I am not fighting cancer. I’m letting them fight what my body has created that is not in its best interests in terms of survival. Fighting just doesn’t seem like the right word.
There are moments of vulnerability where I break down and feel the simple sadness of the diagnosis. Of the situation. Like when Victoria, my goddessmother, sent me a package and in it was this ring. It had a gold clover on it and I realized it was for luck. I put it on the ring finger of my left hand and squeezed my fingers together as tight as I could because I realized for the first time in my young life I needed luck in a life or death sort of way. Not a ‘luck to pass my finals’ sort of way, but a ‘luck to survive’ sort of way. I needed luck to survive. That was a blow. That concept struck me and made me sad.
What else: When I left the cancer center after my second chemo treatment my mom told me a story: There were two older people sitting next to me in the barcaloungers, getting chemo. (Well one of them was, the other was there for support). I always try and be cheerful when I go in to get chemo, even though I know I’ll feel like shit in a couple hours, when it starts I feel fine and everyone takes it so seriously. As if being serious will make them more likely to survive or something. I guess they are just scared. I try and be all smiles and long sexy hair flips of my gorgeous brown wig (the best thick brown real human hair China can export and New York can sell). I wear sexy yet respectful outfits, comfortable since I’ll be napping. I do my makeup the way I always do, with liquid black eyeliner, and soft lips. I try and look pretty for the nurses to prove to them I don’t always look as shitty and swollen to a crazy degree (the way I did when I came in the first time and the tumor was blocking the blood and fluid in my head and neck from leaving and I looked like I gained 50 pounds all in my face). I try and look pretty for the nurses. Especially my favorite, Else, who is from the Netherlands and pricks my veins no problem even though they are slippery, and speaks in her soft accented perfect English without hesitation or doubt that she knows what she is doing. Sometimes I love her, my angel mother.
I try and look pretty for the nurses and cheerful to make their jobs a little easier/better. I try and smile at the other patients and give them disapproving looks when they complain or smell bad or are rude to the nurses. I really shouldn’t. I should learn to be more compassionate.
When I walk around the cancer center I wear high heels so I can hear my feet clacking on the tile floors so I know I exist. So I know I don’t shuffle like an old person with soft shoes and a cane/walker. I keep my head up the way Maya Angelou told me to and I’m not particularly nice to anyone. By not particularly nice to anyone I mean I’m the way I always am. Professional, efficient, kind but distanced. I treat people formally and with smiles when they are helpful and harsh eyebrows when they are not.
Anyway, my mom told me this story: When I was getting chemo for the second time and I got up to use the bathroom the old woman next to me told my mom “She’s too young, she’s too young to be here.”
My mom, wise woman that she is, responded: “everyone is, everyone is too young to be here.”
But the old woman’s eyes welled up with tears and she said “yes, but she is especially too young.”
When my mom told me that it made me cry because yes, I am too young. But at least I have my beauty and my youth and a future to realize to help me make it through. I don’t know if it would be better to be old.
That was the other moment.
© Elizabeth Blue, 2013