The Angel

I read Cancer Vixen, and it is in color and hardbound, and the author is alive, and none of the people look like real people, just outlines of real people, and it’s very odd that her “(s)mother” goes to chemo with her and never her husband, and she tells the oncologist she needs light chemo because she can’t lose her hair because of all the super-beautiful women who are always after her husband. And she loves fancy, expensive, high-heeled shoes. All reasons not to like her. I admire nothing about her except her work ethic. She is a reporter-cartoonist, taking camera, tape recorder, sketch pad and notebook with her to her cancer appointments. And she works hard, standing in line with the other cartoonists every week in front of Bob Mankoff’s office at the New Yorker, sending out her work even though the rejection rate is estimated to be 97 percent for cartoonists. I like her because she is a good recorder, and her reporting is so precise. Her book scares me; she makes me afraid of the horribleness of chemo, the cold in your veins, the fatigue, the nausea, the fatigue, the very long needles, the pain in your hand where the nurse sticks the very long needle,the fatigue, the weight gain, the $3,500 shot you have to get if your white blood cells are languishing, and the way that shot feels like it’s filling your whole body up with concrete.

I don’t want to be her. I want to be like Miriam Engelberg, author of the black-and-white and crudely-drawn Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person, but she died. I cried for her tonight because she’s the one I want to be like and she died. I’m so sad that someone who was clever and like me died. And I know I’m crying because today I’ve felt tense because of various things having to do with non-cancer, but OK, I’m not denying I have cancer. L asked tonight if I was traumatized by looking at my chest and I said no. It’s true. It seems familiar for some reason. Something about the chest with its bruises and stitches seems familiar. Because I’ve seen pictures of mastectomy scars? Maybe. Because my body reminds me of pictures of torture victims? Maybe. Maybe the numbness, the actual numbness of my smashed-in breast is familiar from the biopsies (was going to say autopsies!), especially the recent ones; how those specialists grab and push and poke the breast like they don’t care about it. But they are trying to save it. Like bombing the village.

I love my right breast which is still there. And still banged up from the MRI-assisted biopsy.

I’m glad I don’t need my chest for my job. I don’t need my chest for my job but I would like to have it reconstructed because it would make life easier for me. My job is my writing. Right now most of my writing is Cancer Bitch, but it’s the writing that’s important, more than the cancer. The cancer is just the subject right now.

I can’t let the cancer become my angel of the house that Virginia Woolf talked about. I have to work. Even with chemo I’ll have to work. Like I said, I admired Cancer Vixen’s work ethic, and her mother yelling in the middle of the chemo room, as the nurse is sticking her daughter’s right hand over and over, That’s her drawing hand!

2 comments:

Son said...

I can't cure you, but I can cry with you. I'll do some of that. It probably won't make you feel better, but I'll probably feel better after. Sorry, I'm still new at this.

Anonymous said...

Who to find as a role model? The brave one who dies? The false one who lives? When attributes and fate didn't add up, I too got scared. I wanted justice, style, fairness. I wanted them to matter. But in the end what mattered was what my husband said one night when I was weeping: "You have to play the hand that's dealt--as well as you can." I stopped weeping that night, stopped worrying, mostly, and those words have worked for me for 19 years--now that justice has nothing to do with it.