Friday, May 25, 2012


(I wrote this a few weeks ago, but never published it. I guess I didn't find it that interesting. But here it is now, anyway.)

As many of you know, Adam Yauch ("MCA") of the Beastie Boys passed away recently. From cancer. Of the salivary gland.

It's weird. People die of this disease every day. It seems like I read or hear about cancer (unrelated to my own situation) probably 10 times a day. And when you actually HAVE cancer, you're forced to grow thick skin, rhinoceraus skin, in order to persevere, or it'll crush you. You simply can't get emotionally involved with every cancer diagnosis and death you read about, or you'll go insane.

But try as I might, I couldn't shake off the MCA news. It punctured my gut, pierced right through my grey, leathery megafauna shield.

Why him? Why now?

MCA was diagnosed around the same time I was.  (Him: July '09. Me: Nov '09.) This alone linked us in my mind. Kind of like when you're pregnant at the exact same time as someone else, and you share the milestones of the journey together. Although I recall thinking, "He's luckier than me." His diagnosis was considered highly treatable. In fact, he was quoted as calling it, "a setback and a pain in the ass", but everyone was fired up that they caught it very early, and it was localized. It wouldn't even affect his voice. He was SET.

We were both young at diagnosis. He, 45. Me, 35. In my mind this also set us apart from say, the 98-year old man with prostate cancer. We were both young! We had health and exuberance on our side! We were just kids! Adam and Shelly: Just a pair of punks! (OK--Admittedly, linking us is a bit of a stretch, but in my mind, I could probably roll with the Beastie Boys. Yeah, definitely I could. BFFs. In my mind.)

Then there's the fact that this guy and his crew were cultural icons to my generation. Whether you liked them or not. Starting as adolescent upstarts then maturing into sonic innovators, they never left the scene, never went out of style, never got stale. They had this crazy, creative energy and enthusiasm about life. They had a knack for making everything they touch turn cool. Many scenes from my life are punctuated by a Beastie Boys soundtrack (I particularly favor "Paul's Boutique" and "Check Your Head". I dislike the early Beastie Boys stuff. See? Something for everyone).

To sum it up, I suppose MCA just seemed immortal. And, hell, his cancer wasn't even considered THAT bad. So explain this one: HE DIED! How does that happen?

And! I'm still here. Me, who has never heard the reassuring words, "highly treatable". And I'm doing great. At least I think I am. I'm sure he thought he was, too.  So how am I supposed to feel? Sad? Scared? Confused? Tired? Same shit, different death.

It's just a reminder that cancer is incredibly unpredictable. It's inconsistent with this greater world in which we live, where everything IS predictable. The sun rises, we make coffee, we take this road to work, certain people will fill our days, food will be plentiful, health is a given, mail arrives, weekend plans are made. It all just WORKS. With cancer, you're forced to re-condition yourself to understand that NOTHING'S a given. Sure, you can make vacation plans, but they might not happen. Your cancer might suddenly blossom. Or, it might go away. Either could happen, so just sit tight and wait and see! Better to plan a few days at a time.

It's true, we all feel immune to mortality. Even though we KNOW that we're all eventually doomed (death and taxes), let's face it-- none of us REALLY think our number's going to be up anytime soon. It happens to other people, but not us, not to our close circle of friends. Even I, who am arguably in a worse position for survival than you, don't think this thing will REALLY, ACTUALLY kill me-- because that's too hard to imagine. Who knows what's in the cards? The fact of the matter is, someone reading this blog could very well keel over and die before I do.

And that's why you read my blog. To feel uplifted and hopeful.  You're welcome.

And so, our pact for this week is NOT to keel over and die, to try to appreciate life because it's NOT a given, and it's not forever. Try to treat the people around us like the gifts that they are. And don't do it because they might die next week, do it because that's the right way to live.

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
-My man Tolstoy

A sinister dimension

I don't usually write while in the midst of chemo because the drugs make it hard for me to string a sentence together.  I don't know-- I get distracted, lost, uninspired, and my tone takes on a, shall we say, pissy quality. Writing (or talking) are some of the last things I feel like doing. (This coming from ME. You know the drugs must be strong).

But I just wanted to tell you, as I lie in my bed, nauseous, and swollen in the face, that I did not have a great time yesterday at chemo. No backflips were turned. And I wanted to tell you this because I think my blog tends to skew towards the "chipper", and the reality is, often this cancer world skews towards the "crapper". And I don't tell you about that side as often as I maybe should.

The night before chemo, I dreamt all these anxiety dreams. I was working in a restaurant (never done that in my life) and I was messing up everything-- customers were mad! Then, we were living in our old home, and there was tons of crime and danger happening right outside, and it made me so anxious and scared! Stuff like that. I rarely have bad dreams, so I figure it was happening because I was dreading chemo in the morning.

The next day, as I got ready, I was dragging my feet. Doing unnecessary things, like flossing. (sorry, mom). I didn't want to go in. I wore a bright pink shirt (HELLO, OPTIMISM. IF YOU CAN'T FEEL IT, JUST WEAR IT!). I met with my doc but our usual cheerful, happy banter was replaced with me just sitting there with nothing to say. My eyes had that perpetual wetness along the lower rims, you know, the kind where if someone said just the wrong thing, they'd turn into tears in .0004 seconds. I dragged my feet up to the chemo floor and slowly made my way to my room. I just COULDN'T muster an optimistic perspective. I just felt blue. Sick of it all. SO SICK OF THIS. 9 months of this so far. Enough! I dug deep, but I came up dry.

Please don't give me a hard time about this next part. I actually told my oncologist, when he asked me why I was blue, that I felt like I was being herded off to a concentration camp. (I KNOW, I KNOW, THIS IS A VERY LOADED COMPARISON AND I MEAN NO DISRESPECT TO ANYONE BY THIS). But here's my logic. As cancer patients, we are forced to be part of this unfortunate select group by utterly random criteria that defy logic. We are a mishmash of people in various stages of thinness, baldness, weakness, and sickness. We often can't eat. Death is a very real possibility for all of us, we just don't know when or how, but we think about it daily. Even hourly. People around us die every week. We see it happen. We are submitted to painful, toxic medicines and treatments that cause us to become wretchedly ill. And though it all, the world around us marches merrily onward, filling its members' time with coffee runs and trips to Ikea and dry cleaning and Facebook and camping trips. I look out the waiting room window and see it all happening, the people plugging away at their days, oblivious to what's going on with us inside these walls. It's not their fault, of course. Why should they be aware of the intricacies of this bleak parallel world? This other dimension. The 12th dimension. (Wait, how many dimensions are there? String theory, anyone?)

(I should add here that even in my toxic, Screw-the-Fates! state, I am now feeling a bit of guilt and nervousness: Someone is surely going to hurl a pie at me for comparing cancer treatment to a concentration camp. Nothing is as bad as a camp. In my world, the doctors and nurses are loving and caring. And we do get to go home at intervals to be with our family, in our comfortable surroundings. So no, it is certainly not the same thing. But there are certain similar sinister elements that link the two more closely than any other two situations I can readily imagine. So let's just say that both are very, very bad places to find oneself, and let's move on.)

On that happy note, look forward to my next blog entry, where I'll tackle the topic of the child-slave trade, or something equally inspiring!

Thanks for reading, and sorry for... everything I've said.  This is why I don't write when I'm on chemo.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I heart my blog stalkers

Hi friends,

I took a little unintentional sabbatical from my blog this past month. No reason. I'm not dead or anything like that, so hold off on running to the Hallmark store for a tasteful card to send to Neil. On the contrary, I'm doing really well. Y'all, I STOPPED HAVING ALLERGIC REACTIONS TO MY CHEMO. They figured it out. After months! It was the anti-nausea drugs and the steroids (also given to combat nausea) that were causing me so much woe, so now they've removed them from my chemo regimen, and now I get to do my chemo old-skool -style, full of vomiting and insane nausea but LEST YOU THINK I AM COMPLAINING, au contraire--it's a walk in the park versus doing chemo coupled with an allergic reaction, when your body is almost shut down, and THEN they hit you with 3 days of poison!

Oh, the cathartic joys of a good run-on sentence.

After my last round of chemo, I was actually up and in good partying form by Saturday night. (That's not to say I was doing shots and streaking down May Valley Road, but I was up and at 'em, happy and conversant.) This pleased me greatly, as it showed me I'm not falling apart at all, and I'm still strong as an ox. I love feeling like an ox. Every girl does.

The other ridiculously good news is that, due to my now-stable condition while receiving chemo, I get to return to the out-patient chemo center for my bi-weekly chemos, versus being admitted to the hospital and having to bide my day and night on the dreary oncology floor of Swedish Hospital. BLECH. (Maybe THAT'S the real cause of all that barf...)  I bet no person will have ever been so thrilled to re-enter the out-patient chemo ward as I will be this Thursday. I have half a mind to enter by doing a round-off/back handspring/back handspring/back handspring/back tuck down the hall as they escort me to my chemo chair.

I'm on a good path, people. It's going away again. I'm getting better. It's been almost 9 months of chemo, the time it takes to grow another baby (ah, but who's jealous), and I'm actually getting STRONGER. I've been swimming and hiking and my head is clear. Fuck off, cancer, you picked on the wrong ox.

And a final note to you, my dear blog followers/readers: Since I stopped blogging in the last month-ish, a few friends/acquaintances have sheepishly asked me why I wasn't writing anymore. Then each one of them followed up the question with a back-pedalling, embarrased comment like, "I'm not stalking your blog or anything, I mean, I hardly ever read it, I was just wondering..."

PLEASE know that I am THRILLED that you read this thing. I would never consider you a creep or a stalker. To me, it simply means that you CARE. That's worth a ton to someone in my position. I honestly believe that the collective "you" helps me get better, just by knowing you care. So read away. Comment, if you want to. I love reading comments. Don't be shy. Forward the link if you think it's worth something to someone else dealing this disease. I put this thing on the worldwide web, for goodness sake. It's fair game to anyone.