I’m writing a book. I’m writing a book because I had cancer. It was terrifying and filled with all kinds of terrifying unknowns. When I am faced with something like that – something that I need to know more about in order that I can get a handle on it – I inevitably head to the book store. Of course usually it has been for something more like a cook book because I have assured some client that of course I know how to make coquille st. jacques, or an idiot’s guide to home repair because I’ve decided to become a decorator. Looking for cancer books was different, and not nearly as much fun.
There was no book there that I wanted to read. There were a couple of celebrity biographies that seemed miles away from my life. There were a few tales of sparkly new-age gurus that basically meditated their tumours away. There were some stories of people struggling and battling and disintegrating and fighting, always fighting. Fighting to stay alive. There were medical books filled with statistics and prognoses and tests and frustration about this apparently still mysterious disease. Finally, there were a lot, a lot, of books written by people that lost people to cancer – guides to getting over the horrific sadness of having watched someone you love fight and lose.
It was too much. I fled the book store: my usual refuge. I just wanted to read a book about some average, middle aged chick that trudged through some chaos and fear and went through the steps that brought her out the other side. I wanted to know it could be done. I wanted to know it could be done without completely giving yourself over to Cancer and the whole world of meaning that has grown up around it.
I didn’t want to be preached to by some millionaire about fabulous doctors and fabulous spas with all kinds of fabulous treatments, or a personal chef to feed me the fabulous organic meals that I should have been eating all along (you clearly put yourself here with your shitty lifestyle… so tragically unlike mine).
I didn’t need to have it shoved down my throat that when the chips really fall, maybe I don’t have the guts to eschew evil big medicine after all. I couldn’t handle the debate right then about whether or not chemotherapy was a poisonous conspiracy to keep us weak. And I really, really did not want to even go near anything that seemed to be assuring me that this was not going to end well. My head was already full to bursting with the blackest thoughts I have ever entertained – I didn’t need to peruse the grieving guides to figure out how much pain this was all going to cause the people that I love the most.
So I think I decided right there, in the parking lot, that I’d write my own book if I got through this. I did get through it – as much as you ever really get through this kind of thing: it just keeps coming, every day, it’s there in the back of your mind. Every ache, any change to anything, and CANCER is the first reason that pops up. Today I have a little red patch on my forearm. It doesn’t hurt or itch, it isn’t raised, and I’ve had it before, and it always just fades away in a day or two. Today I googled “red painless skin rash”. The one that looks like mine may be a symptom of malignancy. Of course it may be one zillion other things too. But that one: malignant tumours, is the only one I see, the only one that I will fret about until my next CT scan or scope or x-ray or any one of the multitude of tests that I will now forever be subject to.
But anyway. Right now, as far as I know, I don’t have cancer, and I’ve been given every indication that I can expect not to ever again. So I’m writing a book. It’s just a story about coming out the other side. I hope it’s funny. I hope it’s helpful. It’s not sparkly, and it’s not about any epic battle. I hope it will just say: you can do it. You can do it, and still be yourself. Fuck Cancer.