Hamlet & Fools

To get dressed or not to get dressed; that is the question. I slept till 2pm today. I dreamed of driving in Texas, and coming across, outside, pairs of guys dressed as scorpions fighting one: one. Each scorpion carapace was made of fried-food crust. It was nighttime with sepia light and the fighting guys were friendly.

I have this headache. It's like a sinus+tension headache and nothing helps it except, if I'm trying to sleep, Ambien. I'm afraid I'll become addicted to Ambien. I've had it about five nights straight. I didn't know this morning/afternoon if I should get up and walk three miles or sit around in my robe and read--listening to my body. L said to listen to my body and lie around. I didn't know if I should push through. That's always the question. Goes back to Rousseau/Hobbes and I'm sure to the classical philosophers. Natalie Goldberg, the free-writing advocate, talks about pushing through tofu. It's making yourself write when your mind feels mushy as processed soy. That's how I felt writing about the stores (below). Do you listen to you body at this time when it's reeling from the chemo, do you rest, or do you push on because you've promised yourself to walk every day, and walking will make you feel better? Which part of yourself do you listen to? Which is the legitimate part? Which is the whiney, weepy, wimpy part that needs a push? The thing is you don't know. I was sitting in a corner of the couch and reading the Groopman book about hope. No one can tell me if even after the 20 weeks of chemo, I'll be cancer-free forever. That is true. And it seems stupid to be hopeful because you could be wrong. But it seems self-defeating not to be. Isn't it better to hope and believe that I'm already cancer-free, that the chemo is just to make sure, that all this will be a bump in the road when I look back on a long, healthy life? The opposite is to be the sadder but wiser girl, the I-told-you-so girl. But what is the value of being able to say I told you so on your death bed?

But my mood ultimately depends on how I feel. I canceled the acupuncture appointment on Friday because I didn't hear back in time from the absent-minded practitioner. I have an appointment on Wednesday with someone else. I think if I'd gone on Friday, I'd feel better, I wouldn't have this headache and more of my cough back. And then I would feel better, and thus more hopeful. So I am still working on how to make yourself feel more hopeful when you feel whiney. How to punch through the tofu. How to know you should punch through the tofu. Instead of curling up. Which isn't a sign of defeat.

I did get dressed. I am going to go out and walk even though it looks like rain.

I write all this and I ignore the reality of yesterday: that I walked part-way to a reading sponsored by WRU (Well-Regarded University), and I saw a lot of students, and I hugged them, even though I wondered if I was exposing myself too much to germs, and I emceed the reading and afterward went for sushi (cooked) with the featured reader, the exceptionally talented Tara Ison, and we talked about cancer, but not only about cancer. It required a few pauses here and there to think of other topics. My world has gotten that small. We did talk about books and family, and how hard it is for her to write book reviews, but she does it. It is hard for me, too. Which again is the tofu question. If it's hard to write book reviews, do you still write them, or do you do something else? That question has plagued me all my life. When I was in journalism school I didn't know if I should transfer because journalism was so difficult for me. It was harder for me than for other students because I was scared to interview people and I didn't have an inherent sense of how to structure stories. The same with the novel that I've been writing or "writing" since 1991. Should I give it up because it's so difficult or is that the nature of novels and me? Which leads us back to hope and faith. There are people who are bound and determined to write or make art, and though they persevere, they are terrible. They make fools of themselves. Does that matter?

The Circle

Yesterday I was droopy and couldn't concentrate. I could remember hardly anything about the theatrical/costume shop I went to, even right after I walked out. My brain wasn't working. I think it's because I didn't have enough sleep. Also I was borderline nauseated. I wasn't sure. I kept asking myself. I tried to tell myself: If you don't know if you're nauseated, you probably aren't. But I think it was the opposite. Today I got enough sleep, I got my half-caf, half-decaf cappuccino, and I feel focused. I've been reading Jerome Groopman's The Anatomy of Hope. It is easier to be hopeful when you're not nauseated and fatigued. I am hopeful today. It's all a circle. I'm a fair-weather optimist. I don't know how the foul-weather ones do it. Groopman writes about a doctor who insisted on grueling treatment for his stomach cancer--and who survived. How could you push through like that?

The Stores

I've been wandering around the neighborhood, scouting out stores that look like they might sell hats or wigs. Last night I went to punk store that had mannikins in the display window wearing red, black and white scarves. Like they were just waiting for Cancer Bitch, ready to tell her that scarf-wearing was fashionable. Inside the music was blaring. There were little displays of hats, mostly berets. I don't need scarves. I don't like them. There were a few punk wigs that looked promising, for later. I went to another store that specialized in accessories for bachelorette parties. The closest useful thing I found was a plastic halter that had three breasts on it. I thought I could wear it for my follow-up exam with the surgeon. I would put it on under the gown and say, Doctor, I've been feeling funny... Or better yet, try it on the Fellow first.

It took a while to figure out what I'm looking for are "fun wigs"--colored, unrealistic, maybe $10. Not hairpieces I would waste my "cranial prosthesis" prescription on. I don't want a realistic wig. A couple of places referred me to a nearby store that was closed right then. I've been in the neighborhood long enought to remember it as the place where the Bread Shop used to be. It was an independent bakery and health food store. Then it was a candy store. Now it's a retro-fun-dress-up kind of place. There are a number of those in the area. Vintage. Costume. With loud music and bored-looking hipsters at the cash register.

Today I was walking from the post office and stopped in a store that I'd never seen open before. It was one of those storefronts that's so messy that it seems between rents. But the door had an Open sign on it. When I went in, a bell rang. I could hear someone coming up basement stairs. The place was narrow, with red walls. Painted on them for no obvious reason were: Theatre, Laundry, Kitchen. The space was filled with racks and racks of costumes. Black and gold corsets. Blue net. So much of muchness you couldn't say what was what. The woman came up. She had slightly buck teeth and wore a faded denim skirt. I asked if she had wigs. She pointed to some. I have wigs here, and here, she said. They were hanging on a wall, and seemed worn. They were across the room, too. A red yarn one, as from a Raggedy Ann. Long dark wigs. Blue. I felt persnickety, but I didn't want a wig that wasn't sealed up in a bag. I didn't want one that had been hanging on a hook for decades. She said she had blond ones. Do you have purple? I asked. I don't have purple wigs, she said. I'm not a wig store, darling, she said. It was like being backstage of a huge theater. In the back room were shiny Mardis-Gras bead necklaces. Everything was old and used-looking and historic. The place was dense with fabric. I'm reorganizing today, she said, to get ready for the Cubs. I'm not a wig store, darling, she kept saying. Apparently she was going to have Cubs-related clothing ready for the start of the season next week. She said to come back later. She gave me her card. It was a photocopied square of paper with the name of the store, a drawing of a dominatrix with whip and "Collectibles, Bath products, Make-up and Seasonal gifts." As I left I saw jars of bath salts, with hand-written labels.

I felt like I had just been in a Mary Poppins story, and that the store and its proprietor might vanish overnight. This is the sort of place that doesn't spring up in my neighborhood, where the hair salons can be as airy and spare as the sushi bars, with Product displayed in diagonal rows, and the restaurants have all their reviews color-photocopied and taped up outside. Oh, not everything's self-conscious and interior-decorated, but that's the trend. What is authentic? Around the corner from that store is a historic block of townhomes that's on the National Register. They're patterned after rowhouses in London. The street reminds me of frozen-in-time street in East Berlin. My friend R, who lives there, hated it, for being so fake and perfect.

This is the home of the concept restaurant. I remember going to a restaurant that was supposed to be set in a border town between Spain and France. You were supposed to feel that you were in both countries, and none. The walls were fakely aged and the food was more or less Italian. Much of the food here is more or less Italian.

We went to New York between Christmas and New Year's and I brought a guide to historic restaurants and stores. They all sounded wonderful, but a number were so touristed-out that their souls had been wiped away. I'm looking through the book now to figure out which Italian bakery it was that sounded so promising and pleasing, with green-patterned tile floor and great-grandchildren lovingly creating the family recipes. Can't find it. But I remember going to a crowded place where the pastry didn't look so great and squeezing into a table, surrounded by tourists (as if we weren't), and feeling that nothing was left. We saw a man come out from an office door and sit down with another man and do some sort of business with papers, and that seemed real. Maybe real has to do with the day to day. With duty. Can nothing a tourist "discovers" be real, then? In Barcelona several years ago we went to a store that sold fans. The whole place was paneled in wood and behind the counter there was more wood. Drawer after drawer, I think. I asked L tonight if he remembered it. He did. Did they sell just fans? I asked. Or fabric? Just fans, he said. There was something solid and beautiful about the store. For one, the way it looked. There may even have been a sign somewhere attesting to how long it had been in business. I've always felt comforted by old wood, especially if it's carved. I don't like modern much. I love Italianate buildings. The streets in my neighborhood are filling up with dense ugly brick condos. I wonder if, decades from now, they'll ever be seen as having "character." That's hard to imagine.

In New York we walked around the Upper West Side around Columbia, where Broadway gives way to one franchise after the other. Starbucks was everywhere. I wanted to go to the Hungarian Pastry Shop and we found it by calling Information. It was on Amsterdam Avenue, which isn't as ruined as Broadway. I'd been to the Hungarian a couple of times before. We stood at the counter. An elderly woman accused us of elbowing our way in front of her, and we let her pass. We sat down. I wrote and L read. About 45 minutes passed. We suspected, then confirmed, that there was no table service. We went up the counter and ordered apple streudel. I probably had cappuccino. Two girls behind the counter spoke Amharic to one another. (I asked.) I copied down some of the kinds of coffee drinks--Hungarian coffee: American coffee, almond extract, whipped cream and cinnamon. Viennese: espresso, steamed milk, whipped cream. Russian: espresso, hot chocolate, whipped cream. You could help yourself to refills of regular coffee. All day. I could imagine spending the summer in New York and writing at the Hungarian. The bathroom was very literate--quotes from Larkin, Eliot, Stevens, Dylan Thomas. On the wall toward the front of the cafe were framed covers of books that had been written in the cafe. So it wasn't a place entirely unconscious of itself. You could also buy post cards. Which I did.

(The thing is we each want to be irreplaceable, and if we can't have that, then we want to know that there's a building or a concept or a history that's irreplaceable. Immutable. Immortal. That's why people will martyr themselves to a religion or idea, like Patria. It's comforting that X will stand forever: I built the Pyramids/the Eiffel Tower/ the Empire State Building/ the World Trade Center...

Jerome Groopman dedicates his book on hope to his children, asking, what greater hope is there? Where does it leave those of us without children? We just have our words, spun out in the universe...)

The Peace Flag

Tonight L and I fought about the peace flag. It is an American flag with a white peace sign in the blue square instead of stars. It hangs in the middle bay window. I was irritable when I got home, and he was, too, or else he caught it from me. He hates the peace flag. Maybe even more than he hates war.* He hates the flag because it keeps out the sun and gets in the way when you open the window. I offered suggestions: He can move it to another window, which is narrower. He can make this work by folding the flag so it's thinner, pinning it with safety pins (reducing the number of stripes, but who cares?) He can move it to the bedroom and pin it to one of the curtains of the french doors. That way fewer people will see it, but we do get a lot of traffic in the alley. He was not appeased. He hates the flag. He was moving furniture and plants around. We're going to get our long-awaited red lounging chair delivered tomorrow. We ordered it in December or January.

I love the peace flag because people can see it from the street and sidewalk and we get even more traffic in the front. It reminds passersby and drivers-by that there's a war and that people are against it. L hates the peace flag because it's one more thing that he didn't put up.** He says the living room looks junky and the flag makes it look junkier. Everything here is mine--furniture, posters, tchotchkes. This is my condo and he has a house about 35 miles away. He visits it once a week or so. He loves his house and the national park right behind it. We talk about living together full-time. After 11-1/2 years I'm almost finally ready. I was alone for so long that it's taken me years and years to understand how to live with someone. I still am learning that two people can be in the same place at the same time and go about their own business. "Parallel play" it's called in child-development circles.

The red chair will be the second piece of furniture we've bought together. The first was the next-door neighbors' entertainment center. They were moving. It was so big that it couldn't go through the door. L took it apart in their apartment and put it back together in ours, an admirable feat. Other than that, he has 1-1/2 chests of drawers in the bedroom, half the closet, half the bathroom. Every so often he gets upset and cries out, I don't live anywhere! He has a green bag that is his transfer bag. He puts stuff in it that goes to the other place.

We have pretended for a year that we were looking for a new place. We were seriously pretending, before I got cancer. There's a dear little frame house about a half-mile away whose price keeps going down. It would be an easy move, I said yesterday. There's no such thing as an easy move, he said. Or else my sister said it. I don't remember, just that we were sitting in the living room. Which I don't think is tacky. Or junky.

Tonight I sat on the futon for a while. (I bought it in the 1980s and I love it. He hates it and says it isn't comfortable. He likes the white couch-bed we inherited from the neighbors and claims it's more comfortable than the futon. Which is plain wrong.) I didn't feel so cranky any more. I said I was tired. L came over and put his hand on my head. I had big procedures yesterday, I said. Your whole way of operating throughout this cancer, he said, is to keep on with your normal activities. You have to rest. Or something like that. I asked him to repeat it, because I knew I was going to write it here but it all slid off me.

*Of course, L hates war. The second thing I liked about him when I met him was his politics.
**He would dispute this, positing the junkiness factor.


Tonight I walked to the Lesser Than Two Evils mega-bookstore and bought The Breast Cancer Suvivor's Fitness Plan, recommended to me indirectly by my student A. I went to the mega-sports store and bought a pedometer, recommended by my student B. (Both are correct initials.) I took with me my two-liter water bottle, bought for me years ago by my step-daughter R. I've drunk a liter and half so far today. I peed three times at the bookstore and once at the sports store. Chemo is dehydrating, so I'm supposed to drink 2-3 liters a day. Soon I'll know where every bathroom in the neighborhood is. (In Sports Authority in Lakeview, it's in the back, left of the shoes.) It hurts my neck a little to lean back to drink from the bottle, because of my port insertion yesterday, so I'm glad I can use a straw at home. I'm glad Sports Authority isn't the kind of store where the saleswoman checks in on you. She'd see my mastectomy stitches and my port bandages. No, no, I was going to shout, covering my chest, for your own sake, don't look! But she didn't even return to see how I was doing. Which was OK. I bought, alas, some extra-large mid-length sweat pants and a sports bra. It was hard to find a bra that didn't rub against my sentinel-node stitches. I will take the shorts out of my bottom drawer in my bottom drawer out and put them in the plastic box under the bed, and wait to retrieve them when I've started to regain my girlish figure. Which will be a challenge, since women have a tendency to gain afer breast cancer. This book is a guide to help you counteract that.

The book recommends finding a personal trainer who's worked with women with breast cancer. That makes sense. Even working with a trainer once is good, it says, to get a routine. Because among my many faults is procrastination, I haven't canceled my membership at the local Y. I keep meaning to. But if someone there has the expertise, I will go. Even not, I can bring the book with me to show a trainer. The walk will be a good warm-up. It's about a mile and a quarter. Wait. I just checked Mapquest, and it's 1.43 miles. Maybe 1.4 if I cut through the parking lot. It's close to Whole Foods, which is an incentive: work out then eat at the salad bar. Even though when my white blood cell counts are low, I'm supposed to avoid salad bars, because of the risk of infection. My oncologist didn't tell me this; I read it in Cancer Vixen. How we bitches get our information! No raw sushi, either, which I never eat anyway.

The ftiness book shows how important exercise it by showing it as the lowest level of the food pyramid. It also says that within one year of chemo, especially if it induces early menopause (which I predict it will), "a woman can lose 7 percent of bone mass from her spine and 4 percent of her hips." It ordinarily takes five years for this destruction. My mother has osteoporosis, and so did her mother. My mother works out with weights with some ladies in her building. It's my medicine that's not in a bottle, she says.

The book also says (which I've heard before) that carbonated drinks can leach calcium from bones. I gave L a seltzer-making machine for Chanukah. I guess this means there will be more seltzer for him. I can drink it "in moderation." Can you imagine, we're not talking about regular drinking in moderation, but drinking soda water in moderation. I may concede soon that I'm reaching middle age.

Acupuncture Folo-folo

Tonight I wrote to the absent-minded acupuncturist and told her that if she's always like that, i can't continue working with her. I wonder what she'll say. I gave her the examples that I listed here. (Below.) E-mail is great. It's easier than getting someone on the phone and saying something directly to her ear.

On the other hand, my cold has gotten so much better, and I don't have nausea...at least YET.


...is not as bad as advertised, said the legendary journalist Harry Golden Jr., back in the late '80s. I interviewed him for a magazine profile when he was dying of cancer. Of the throat? The magazine soon died, too. He was still working as a beat reporter in Harold Washington's City Hall. Working for the Sun-Times. Dean of the City Hall newsroom. His editor told me he never complained about his medical treatment, never let it interfere. My story was nominated for a journalism award and I invited him to go to the awards dinner with me, but he died before we could. He was that close to death. He was small with sharp features and laughed like this: hahhahhhahahahahhahahhahahahha.

So far I will have to say the same. For today at least. Chemo began with the installation of a port below my collarbone, in the jugular vein. It's an underground tube with a hole so that I won't have to be stuck time and again by the nurses. I hope it's the right choice. L has a friend at work who had trouble with her port. I wanted one because Cancer Vixen's drawing hand started getting numb from the chemo needles. And when I was in the hospital for surgery I had an IV in my hand and it hurt during and for two weeks after. I learned from a nurse that after constantly poking the inside of the elbow you might have no good veins left. So I hope this port is a port for the good.

Yesterday when a hospital person called to tell me to fast for 12 hours and such, I told her I wanted an attending ("real") doctor to do the surgery. She said to tell the people today. I did and they said, This is the first we've heard of it, we don't know if we can do it, the doctors spend a lot of time supervising... But I got a real doctor, a very nice one who rattled off information but had time to listen, too. When I thanked him for making the time, he demurred, that that's what he does. For the first time in Fancy Hospital, I encountered no apprentices! It was liberating! I realized I should have told the nurse who made the appointment for me that I wanted a real live doctor. What a crazy world when it's an imposition to get senior staff to do the work.

In the prep room there was a fake skylight on the ceiling, lit with a photograph of cherry blossoms. The little rooms to left and right had different photos. A nice touch.

The doctor said it would be like dental work, where you don't feel pain but you feel pressure. I felt nothing. Or don't remember feeling anything. It was quite Proustian--awake and dreaming at the same time--I remember talking about numbers in dreams. The nurse said I also talked about flying in dreams. That sounded right.

Next was the recovery room, where I recovered quickly and ate last night's leftovers from Red Light with alacrity. Green beans, basmati brown rice, kung pao tofu.

Then we were off to the 21st floor for the chemo. I thought it would be a room with three to five lounge chairs and ladies in varying stages of side effects. And then one day we would find out melodramatically why one person never came back. Instead, I was in a private room with a regular exam bed and a rocking chair, and the nurse gave me Ativan and some anti-nausea through the IV and then she "pushed in" the medicine, as she said, the Adriamycin in a syringe attached to the tube attached to the needle in the port. I couldn't feel much. I could see the Adriamaycin, which is red. Then more saline. Then it was over, after maybe 30 minutes.

We left with three prescriptions for pills to fight nausea. L and I picked them up later at the drug store. Two medicines are mandatory. One is optional. I asked the pharmacist if he knew anyone who went on chemo and didn't get nausea, and he just looked at me haplessly.

But I am hoping. I had some Indonesian ginger chews sent by a friend in Oakland and I am wearing the anti-motion-sickness wristband my sister sent me.

My sister also sent herself. She arrived yesterday afternoon and we sat around then walked around the neighborhood, finding a few crocuses. I showed her three-flat graystones that cost $1 million. Prices in Houston are much more modest. We had dinner with L's daughter for her birthday. It was the first time my step-daughter met her step-aunt.

My sister drove a borrowed car from the suburbs to pick me up this morning and we got to the Fancy Hospital parking lot in good time. She stayed with me as much as she was allowed to. She is very easy. I haven't spent much time with her alone, for years and years. She is cheerful, easily amused, calm and not irritable. She's a learning disabilities diagnostitian in a school and we talked about special ed and autistic kids. She's taking a class so she had to finish a paper for it, and fly home tomorrow to hand it in. We also talked about my mother, and about my sister's plans to hold both Passover seders at her house, for the first time ever. When my father was alive, he and I led the seders, using some feminist material I'd found in Ms.magazine. After he died in 1991, I led at least one family seder in Houston by myself every year, adding new tricks, checking out new haggadahs. I always thought the seders there couldn't go on without me. I think my constituents likened me to Castro. It seemed I would always be there, and never name a successor. This year I'm not going home; seems like too much coming on the heels of chemo. I will be a participant and not a leader in two seders here. We will see how it goes. I did warn my friend B that I would try to wrest control of the seder from him.

When I went to the Oriental Institute last week with a friend, I saw a display that said that there is no proof that the Jews were ever slaves in Egypt. Even the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary says it ain't necessarily so. Ah, well. Then we can universalize the slavery experience. Or treat it as metaphor.

Meanwhile I keep asking myself if I'm nauseated. Like poking at a bruise and seeing if it really hurts. Right now, I'm OK. Let's hope.

Why I Hate Elizabeth Edwards

Because she might die.
Because she didn't find her lump in 2004 until it was the size of a half dollar.
Was it the size of a half dollar spinning? Because cancer is in the shape of a stone or rock, it is not flat like a coin. It is not even a perfect sphere like a spinning fifty-cent piece. That shape is saved for the benign cysts. They appear as black smooth spheres in the ultrasound. I saw that. The radiologists will not tell you anything outright, but they will point out what is typically benign.
The cancer mass (larger than one centimeter) or node (smaller than one centimeter) looks jagged, it has crab-leg-like protusions, for which it earned its name. In the sky, you can see Cancer the Crab, a constellation, put up there by Hydra because the crab helped in her struggle to crush Heracles. The hero smashed the crab with his foot. In the afterlife, the crab was rewarded. But because the crab wasn't successful, its constellation isn't the brightest.
I hate Elizabeth Edwards because she smiles. She smiles and she is dying, the cancer is in her bones, it is eating in her bones, and though there are drugs that may stop it, that might stop it, the drugs might not work. I hate Elizabeth Edwards because her husband is not quitting to take care of her, she doesn't want him to quit, she is in the race for him, for both of them. The presidency is a mom-and-pop affair, according to her. She is not working as a lawyer. She wants to work to help her husband get into the presidency. She wanted many things. She wanted children in her 50s and got them. She got a husband who became a senator. Did she want that? I don't know.
She can have quality of life. People use this term and it makes no sense. There is a good quality of life and a bad quality of life, not just a quality. She can have a good life, she can take a pill, and another pill, and a treatment, and she could be in the five percent. Or ten percent. She could live more than ten years. She wants a legacy of helping her husband into the White House, not of keeping him from it.
I do not like her husband. I heard him speak the first time he ran and he was vague and said he understood the poor and the workers because his parents had been poor and workers. He wanted us to vote for him because of that. Because of who he had been. Of what he had been born with. Nothing. Now everyone says he is seasoned, he knows he was wrong about the war. He is for universal health care. See, his wife is so sick and he wants everyone to have the health care she can have. This is his bully pulpit. When I heard the candidates speak last time around the ones who made the most sense, who spoke most of equality were the ones least likely to succeed: Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton. They have gone away. They are not serious candidates this time around.
I hate Elizabeth Edwards because she does not have a life of her own. She has her husband's campaign as her life. Because she believes in him. Because she wants to live for his win. Because, she says, he says, they want service. He wants to serve his country. He is not blindly ambitious, he wants to help, and he can help the best by becoming the most powerful person in the world. On earth.
I hate her because she does not talk, he does not talk, about pollution. About the possible causes of breast cancer. About pesticides and pollution and the company that created tamoxifen being the one that makes pesticides that might be connected to cancer. The name is AstraZeneca and it was part of Imperial Chemical, which produces carcinogens that have been linked to cancer. And because AstroZeneca founded Breast Cancer Awareness Month and supervises and must approve all its brochures and pr because who knows what might come out otherwise. Words like that of Rachel Carson might, for example. Who warned us in the 1960s about the environment failing us and moreover us failing the environment, and she was scorned and is now a secular saint.
I do not dislike John Edwards. I don't trust him. IHe wants to be president, and who wouldn't?
You can't be president and speak the truth and I wonder if you can run for president and speak the truth.
I hate his wife because she's going along with the everyday, or at least she wants to and can't she see it's going to kill her, this cancer?
But maybe it won't kill her soon. Maybe she'll be part of the lucky, maybe she'll live a long time with treatment, maybe there will be a cure. Let's race for the cure. Not the cause, but the test that catches it and the cure.
I hate her because she didn't get a mammogram for the four years before she felt the lump.
Because I didn't feel my lump. It was there but I didn't feel it because my breasts confuse me. Rather, past tense, my breasts were confusing. Now I have one. It confuses me too, with its lumps and bumps and dense vagueness. I cannot map it from month to month, I cannot remember which lumps used to be there or there, which are scars and which are old, which are new. I should draw a picture of what I feel, that's what I should do. I will do it now.
There are two holes in my right breast from a biopsy, and there are wrinkles in the place that used to be my left breast. There's some roundness around the perimeter and some stitches inside, like the grin of a toothless old man. Then there are steri-strips still covering it. I do exercises with my left arm so it won't develop lymphedoma, so it will regain its range of motion. So it will be normal. So I will be normal.
I hate her because hers came back after chemo and radiation, and I start chemo tomorrow and it's not supposed to come back. It's supposed to keep from coming back. The odds are good.
Because she doesn't rage. Because she is smiling, and she is hoping for the best. She is brave in the face of possible death, she says, we are all going to die, I just know what it is that will kill me. Thought of course there is that proverbial bus. The one we always talk about: You could walk down the street and get killed by a bus. It does happen. The other day, in fact, a firefighter was killed by a bus smashing into his firetruck.
Because we don't know anything. We know that Elizabeth Edwards had stage 3 cancer, a lump and malignant lymph nodes. My nodes are clear. I am a better person than she is because I have clean lymph nodes. They are shiny and perfect, doing their job, lymphing and sieving. They are like blood but without color, they are clear and not red. They are virginal cells, cleaning and clearing, coming to the fore when there is a bacteria or virus. Mine work. I am proud of my lymph nodes. Which by chance, are not cancerous.
I am a better person because I am only stage 2a, because mine was caught earlier. I am on track. I am prompt. Though she found hers on her own, and I found mine through a mammogram. We should have joined forces; I would have urged her to get annual mammograms and she would have pursuaded me to do a breast self exam each month. We could have been bosom buddies. Bosom pals.
Better in this case meaning less mortal. Less close to death.
She is going to die and she is not raging. I am not raging. Because my cancer hasn't come back. Because it hasn't had time to come back. It was just removed a few weeks ago. I am not raging, people notice that. I am not angry. I feel I deserve this. Because? Because I am fundamentally flawed. Because I have not lived a perfect life, a clean life. The breast cancer attached its crabby legs around me, it caught me living an imperfect life. It caught me drinking milk with bovine growth hormones. It caught me eating cheese. It caught me drinking public water in the farm belt. It caught me getting chest x-rays and dental x-rays, and oh honey these rays are nothing nothing, don't worry about them. Just the same thing you would get from a day at the beach. It caught me because it catches one out of every seven or eight of us, women. Because that is the luck of the draw. Because that is the price we pay for modernity. For post-modernity. For the mosquito fogging trucks. Fogging, that was the term. For not being the perfect athlete, the perfect vegan, the perfect organic-eater. For not being even a good athlete or good exerciser or proper vegan.
I hate Elizabeth Edwards because I hate this cancer, this strange overgrowth inside me that is against my own interests. Because the cancer is in her rib and her hip, breast cancer has migrated there. Because you can't hate cancer, it's just cells that took the wrong message, answered the wrong phone, opened the wrong letter. Cells that did not know you could return to sender. Because I have to hate something out there. Because she is not screaming, screaming: This is unfair. I didn't want this. I don't deserve this.
Because I know hate is fear.
Because hers came back.
Because it could come back.
It might come back.
Any time.

Acupuncture Follow-Up

I must report that my cold-cough-sore throat is mostly is gone, even though the acupuncturist wasn't that attentive to what I was saying. I did remind her about my cold/sore throat and she put in needles specifically for them. And I suppose my alleged parasite and its attendant alleged eggs (creepy thought) are gone. So if I use the first-person plural, you'll know that I'm intending the royal "we" or the editorial "we" and not the I've-got-a-tapeworm "we."

I Get Acupuncture

I was acupunctured for the first time today. Uh oh, I forgot I've been punctured before. I must be catching the forgetfulness of the acupuncturist. Such as: I tell her I've had acupuncture before, in the mid-1990s, for asthma and anxiety, and it worked only on a headache I happened to have one day. What worked most of all was when the MD/acupuncturist prescribed Prozac. I tell her I have asthma. I tell her I'm starting chemo on Monday.
She asks: Do you ever have a cough? Are you ever short of breath?
Asthma, I remind her.
You haven't had acupuncture before, have you?
She asks if I'm starting chemo Saturday, then later when I say my hair is going to fall out she says, Why?
Complain, complain, complain. That's all Cancer Bitch does. Why did I stay? I was there, I wanted acupuncture for my cold so I'd be ready for chemo on Monday, she was part of Fancy Hospital. She was part of a secret part of Fancy Hospital, listed in the pink chemo binder under Resources. She was the nurse/acupuncturist in integrative health care. When I'd asked someone in oncology if acupuncture was available, she'd said no. So this is hush-hush, in the big old building where The Plastic Surgeon to the Stars was temporarily ensconced. The outside of the rooms are stenciled with words such as Serenity, Celestial, Abundance, Peace. There's a waterfall in the waiting room. But this is not affiliated with my insurance because acupuncture isn't covered usually covered, the woman at the desk says. If I met with an internist it would be covered but the doctors are just regular internists, she says. Nothing makes sense. This nurse is equipped to prescribe Chinese herbs, but not vitamins. She doesn't do massage; the chiropractors have that covered. The naturopaths do the nutrition and supplements and vitamins. OK, Cancer Bitch, you went to the MD/acupuncturist 12 years ago, she of the Chinese herbs and supplements and diet, and she did nothing for you. But why does everything have to be so balkanized? Why is each specialist separated from the other, and why do the oncologists barely respond, this nurse says, when she sends an email and says she's given a patient of theirs treatment? And why is this nurse saying I might have parasites? That this treatment will get the eggs out? There's no trouble with my bowel but everything begins with the bowel and these needles will get rid of parasites. She can't seem to explain why she thinks I might have parasites. Does everyone have them? I came here because it seemed to be too much trouble to go to the nearby suburb for what *may* be integrative, coordinated care, but I'm having doubts.
So of course I make an appointment for next week. With this same nurse-acupuncturist.

A Brighter Shade of Pink

That's the title of a general Yahoo site on breast cancer awareness. Elizabeth Edwards wrote a column under this rubric, posted in October. She talks about telling her kids she had cancer and that her hair would fall out. I just read that her cancer has come back, and is in her ribs. Her husband claims he will continue campaigning for president, which means that he will drop out within the week. As Brecht has written, When the Leaders Speak of Peace/
The common folk know/ That war is coming. Her husband says it's not curable but treatable. Like diabetes, he says. Maybe. I've read that her chances of five-year survival are one in five. My chances of recurrence without chemo are 30 percent. With chemo, about half that. I have/had stage 2a. Edwards had stage 3. She had chemo (first), and a lumpectomy, then radiation and more chemo. Her breast cancer was in her lymph nodes. Oddly, when looking up stories about her cancer, I found one from 2004 written by my former college best friend (see two posts ago). We are all connected. Edwards has stage 4 (the last stage) now.

What shade of pink are Elizabeth Edwards' glasses now? That sounds cruel. I'm just tired of the pink pink pink optimism. I started reading a book called Pink Ribbons, Inc., which is critical of the big-business breast cancer complex. I will be quoting from it later.

Even I am tending to blame the victim: she hadn't had a mammogram in four years. Well, I was a few months late with my mammogram and I am a failure at breast self-exams because I can't figure out what's what. Everything is so lumpy and indistinct at the same time. Like trying to map a territory without looking. Still I resolve to do better by my surviving breast.

I turn to Brecht again. From The Shoe of Empedocles: For the mountain believes nothing and is not concerned with us.

That's how I see the universe. I guess that's how I see cancer, except cancer is within. And it responds: to chemo, radiation, food, hormones, exercise. We are the mountain.

And in a fundamental way, Empedocles, who killed himself in old age by jumping into Mount Aetna, became Aetna. His bones and blood turned to lava and dust then rain then drinking water and plants and then the bones and blood of his followers' followers.

Mr Toad

Mr Toad was arrested for stealing a motor-car and being cheeky to the police. That was my day; I have a cold (which L insists did not originate from his virus) and stayed in all day reading and sleeping. I want the cold to be over with quickly so I'll be in shape for chemo on Monday. If chemo gets a late start, then its ending with be late. So far it's set to end in early August. When I'm sick or upset I reach for the classics. For the easy books. Either out of comfort or laziness I read children's books and teen books. And when I go home to visit my mother I read the old books: Louisa May Alcott's lesser-known sequels to Little Women, Judy Bolton mysteries and A Little Princess. Here I just have a handful of the old comfort books. There's Fifteen by Beverly Cleary, with my older sister's name written in cursive and crossed out. Then: This belongs to (her name), with my name added in a different pen and handwriting. I thought everything that was hers should rightfully belong to me, just as I thought her bedtime should become mine. Fifteen is one of the Scholastic Books we'd order in the classroom. When I first read Fifteen I was probably eight or ten, and 15 seemed very old. Now I'm older than her parents. When I read Little Women when I was in second grade I tried to make analogies for 19th-century items I couldn't quite fathom. I couldn't tell the difference between a fancy coach and a plain one. (I still can't. A fiacre is one or the other.) I wasn't sure what all the parts of clothing were. I didn't know what blanc-mange was. Did I think to look it up? Maybe not. I remember asking my mother what a receipt-book was. Did she know it was a recipe book that Meg (in a sequel) couldn't figure out well? I remember asking my parents what Hogwash was, and not getting a satisfactory answer. That was from another book. When I read Fifteen now, I wonder if teens were ever this innocent, and parents so trusting. It takes to end of the book for the girl and boy to kiss. Her parents never have to meet his parents or find out exactly who they are.

A gentleman in his 70s gave me this copy of Wind in the Willows. It was printed in China and sold at Borders. I was skeptical about his enthusiasm for it. Now that I reread it, I'm surprised by its sophistication. I read a portion today about a spiritual experience that Mole and Rat have while looking for Otter's runaway son. Then see God, their God, who is Pan, with his hooves and horns and pan-pipes, and the sight is so magnificent that He must make them forget it. I read about an intervention with Toad. His friends keep watch over him so he won't order another motor-car and ruin it. This works for a while but he tricks them and sneaks out.

I don't quite understand how the animals and humans co-exist., and why some animals are characters and others are just animals. Toad is put in a human prison with human jailers. The daughter of the old jailer has pets,which she discreetly doesn't mention. to Toad. Even he, when not in captivity, has a pet bird in a cage. Other animals are undifferentiated. In another part of the book we see a herd of sheep, unclothed, who speak. The animals have money (which Toad inherited) but it's unclear where his friends' spending money comes from, how they buy their statues and paintings and jackets and shoes and boats. These questions bother me some. They didn't bother me as a child. I didn't think about why there was only one Mole or Rat or Toad. I didn't wonder about amphibians who ate ham and eggs and sardines. But what amazes me is the sophistication of the animals' personalities. Toad is easily chagrined, will take criticism from his friends, but is in sway to his addiction to a new hobby; for most of the book it's motor-cars. He reminded me of a friend. Which I would never say. Mr Toad is much more complex, in some ways, than Jane, the protagonist of Fifteen. She doesn't do anything that matches the mystical experience of Mole and Toad. Or display anything like the deep hunger River Rat gets to follow a traveling Sea Rat to places unknown. That deep longing for something else, to abandon the familiar for the exotic, to finally be like the birds who leave North every year because they are called South. River Rat is undergoing a fundamental crisis about, as William Morris put it, "how we live and how we might live." Those are essential ponderings.

Gender: Hiding the Evidence

When I went for the scan to see if my heart was up to snuff for chemo, I wore the Soviet camisole under a red flannel button-down shirt of L's. He brought me some button-down offerings before chemo. Luckily, I was able to put shirts on over my head only a few days after surgery. The day of the scan I didn't wear earrings because I thought I'd have to take them off in the scanner. I looked in the mirror and thought I looked androgynous. I don't think the thought occurred to me because I had only one breast. It didn't bother me so much to look androgynous but I wondered if people on the subway would wonder about my gender.

This is the abiding mystery: Why do we need to know someone's gender? I remember in the days of the hippies, how Middle Americans would say, in accusation: I can't tell if that's a boy or a girl! The question is, Why do you need to know? Unlike Nora Ephron, (In "A Few Words About Breasts," one of her earliest and best essays), I was never afraid I might turn into a boy if I did something boyish. But I had moments of insecurity. Once in high school a girl named B looked at my fingers and exclaimed: You have men's hands! because I had hair growing on them. Hair that I must have bleached at least once when I was bleaching the hair on my whole arms. We bleached and shaved, a way of lying about our bodies, Adrienne Rich was writing and thinking at the time, though in my teens I'd never heard of her. It was female to shave our legs and underarms, but still shaving was something we did so we wouldn't look manly.

I've been mistaken for a male three times that I can remember. Two were in Paris where I went my junior year of college in my attempt to escape a cloying college boyfriend. In France a person did have to know what gender another person was, out of politesse. You had to say, Mademoiselle, may I see your ticket? Or, Merci, monsieur. Or Oui, madame. The first time was when I was coming back to Paris from London on the ferry, in those pre-Chunnel days. I'd rolled my hair so it would be springy on the way there to visit my summer boyfriend who was spending his junior year abroad in England because he wanted the adventure, not because he was running away. I was tormented because I didn't have a good reason for being in France. Or Europe, or anywhere. He was unhappy that weekend because I wasn't fun. On the way back, my hair fell and and the ticket-taker on the ferry called me monsieur. When I arrived back in Paris it was Sunday night and I was so upset that I called--who else?--the American Embassy emergency number. Cancer Bitch has never been afraid to ask for help. I called a crisis hotline once in college while on a date to hear Muddy Waters. My problem, I told the counselor during intermission, was I wasn't getting into the music. In Paris, unbelievably, the embassy worker on duty invited me to her apartment. (I think I'm remembering this right.) She was very sympathetic. I was very hysterical. I must have gone home to the French widow I was boarding with, and soon I was in therapy with a Greek woman at an American cultural center. I remember being so desperate that once I showed up for the appointment and she said she had food poisoning from seafood but that she would stay for the hour if I really needed her to. Of course I needed her to. Later that year I was in therapy with a polyglot Jewish woman originally from Romania who had been living in Israel. I'm not sure what she was doing in Paris, but France in the mid-70s must have been more appealing than Israel at that time, with its Second World infrastructure and rampant inflation. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) We mostly spoke in French. At the Alliance Francaise I met a handsome Tunisian who'd been speaking French most of his life, thanks to colonialism. I remember how surprised I was that he didn't know the word "angoisse," anguish. That was a daily necessity for me.

The second time was also in France. I had bought a few items from a departing American, including her French typewriter and thick suspenders. Both were mistakes. The French keyboard, only slightly different from the American, ruined my typing forever. The suspenders made me look like a monsieur, at least in the eyes of one merchant. I remember standing at the counter helplessly.

The third time was a couple of years ago when L and I were on our way back from the state capital. We stopped at a vegetarian cafe in a college town half-way. I went in back toward the restrooms and ran into a guy and asked him where they were. He said, The men's is there... L says I don't look male. Maybe the guy was stoned. It confounded me more than bothered me. I mean, I was a married woman. So I had to be a girl!

In college I had a best friend freshman (as it was then called) year who was stocky with boxy shoulders and short hair. I remember she came back to the dorm in tears one afternoon because in Marshall Field's she'd asked where the bathroom was and had been directed to the men's. In college so much matters so much. She didn't have a boyfriend and I don't know if she'd ever had one. She did have a crush. She was haunted by her sister, who was a year younger, not so smart, and thin and sleek. My friend had bad skin and was very smart and ambitious. She'd already been published in Seventeen Magazine in high school. Now she's in broadcasting and is married with at least one child. I know this from the alumni magazine. She stopped speaking to me sophomore year when my ex-boyfriend went out with her and then dropped her to go out with me again. I tried for years to be friends with her again, maybe not friends in the clinging-to-one-another first-semester way, but friendly friends. No dice. She couldn't forgive me for being more desirable. (Hey, my last name's Bitch, it has to come out every now and then.)

Of course, she wouldn't have been traumatized if the ERA had passed and every bathroom was unisex.

Am I afraid that when I'm bald--whether I have a swirly tattoo or not--I'll look male? I don't think so. I'll be wearing earrings to clue in the general public. I've noticed that scarves and hats and turbans for chemo-heads bill themselves as feminine. The flowers and pastels remind me of unfashionable Easter hats. The bright prints and stripes seem doggedly determined to convince the buyer and the world that there's a girl underneath the fabric. A smiling girl, if you look at the pictures in the catalogues. But the world is going to look at you and figure out that you're undergoing chemo, because no one else wears those turbans, no matter what the ad copy says. The caps and scarves are supposed to cover up our loss, hide the evidence of our treatment. Give us privacy, perhaps. The bald head publicly declares: I had cancer and I'm not pretending that I'm not getting chemo. In other words, Death has brushed me.


Today is the fourth anniversary of the start of the war and I went to a candlelight vigil (arriving late) in my neighborhood. I didn't have time to go home and get my peace flag from out of the window, and to put on my Out of Iraq button, which I wear on my hat. It was another day of early spring so I didn't wear the hat. I also didn't bring a candle, but figured someone would have an extra one, and I was right. My father used to keep yarmulkes and a small prayer book in his glove compartment, so he'd be equipped if he needed to go to a funeral. I now have the candle in mine. I should keep an extra peace flag at the ready. I had on my Cancer Sucks button but I didn't want to dilute the message so I put it in my pocket. The event was local but two TV stations were there. As I said, I got there late. There were about 100 people on a triangular piece of land that had an American Legion commemorative stone on it. I don't know if that's why the corner was chosen. Once I saw a man get out of his car in broad daylight on this corner and catch pigeons in a bag. Tonight it became clear that people were reading the names of the dead from our state, alphabetically by city. Unfortunately there wasn't a mike so it was very hard to hear. Also some of the big signs were facing toward the center of the group, with people standing between the signs and the street, so that people driving by could see only a crowd and not anti-war signs. Nit, nit, nit. I am so critical. I won't complain about the wind, which kept attempting to douse out our candles. It was a respectful event. I saw about four or five cops on the perimeter, and they were laughing and lounging. I saw them in riot gear a year or so ago, at an afternoon weekend protest in a small city park, where there were about 200 people, standing and lying on the grass.

I went to this event because I can't go to the big rally downtown tomorrow night. I could go but I made a plan to meet a friend that afternoon and for dinner. I haven't seen her for about a year, and in that year her husband died of a brain tumor. He started chemo, then stopped when it became futile. Same with radiation. That was this summer. We will see an exhibit of Palestinian clothing at a museum on the south side, then we'll have dinner.

I went to the event because I have been against the war since it started. I started to tell myself, Oh, Cancer Bitch, you've got your own problems, you're feeling run down and you might be getting L's cold, you don't have to go. But I decided I should. You can argue that vigils and rallies don't matter, but they *are* reported, and are a public manifestation of opinion. And I was keeping the number of participants steady; I replaced the person who was leaving and who gave me his candle. At the rally I was looking for women from Code Pink. I would tell them, O I haven't done anything lately because I have breast cancer, and then they would fall all over me and say, O that's so great that you're here, etc. etc. But they weren't there. They'll probably be at the one downtown tomorrow.

I thought I could have brought a yahrzeit candle. This was a funereal gesture for all the soldiers who died. Did their families realize we were standing around for their sons and daughters? Would it matter? Support the troops, send them home, said the signs. A very gentle message. Not aggressive. And the war goes on, and meanwhile the prosthetics industry is booming in research and development because of this war.

Yesterday and today I spent too much time on the web looking at chemo-head headgear. I don't like most turbans and scarves out there in cyberspace and catalogues and I would want to try them on anyway before buying them. I did send off for temporary tattoos for the scalp. The medium is henna, and the design is a swirling leaf pattern. I also sent off for eyebrown stencils. A girl has to plan. My friend S has agreed to apply the henna. She has an MFA in art so she should be able to combine a peace sign with the leaves.

My First Hair Cut of 2007

Cancer Bitch went for her $60 hair cut Friday with trepidations and a ruler so that she could send 10 inches of hair to Locks of Love, though it’s a controversial outfit, as her friend from Iowa City pointed out in a comment. (In 2002, it supposedly gave out fewer than 200 wigs and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars.) She came back with a more sophisticated haircut as part of her Gradual Program. This will get her used to seeing her own face. Hairdressers always say this: Now you can see your face.
It was a one-person salon not far from my house, on a street with restaurants and houses and a liquor store. The owner has long Afro-Korean hair made up of little curly waves. It was tied back. She was very friendly and when I told her about my plan to cut my hair progressively shorter, she told me about her mother’s cervical cancer. Amazingly, she’d been treated well and successfully at the county hospital. She asked me if I was sure I’d lose all my hair, and I told her yes.

She did not approve of my triangle AKA umbrella cut, which I’ve had for many years. I never saw anything wrong with having hair that got progressively wider on its way to my shoulders. She also did not approve of my hair-around-my-face trim of a few weeks ago, which looks good when I put gel on it, which I hadn’t had time to do that day. I did it so that the hair around my face would curl. I told her I wanted today’s haircut, then a shorter all-around haircut, and then a Mohawk for a week. She wanted to make my hair very short, but I wasn’t ready for it. Her strategy was to make a diamond cut, which means that the hair would be wider on the sides than the bottom.

She measured the strands before she cut it and said to forget the ruler, she’d just give me a good cut. The pieces on the floor were about 4 inches long. So I’ll send a monetary instead of a 10-inch cuticle, cortex and medulla donation to one of the wig programs, for women or children. Once again, vanity triumphs. (I'm still not sure how effective any of the wig programs are. Locks of Love has been criticized, but now it's in the BBB's good graces. Wigs for Kids' finances weren't audited by a CPA. I can't find an evaluation for Beautiful Lengths.)

But back to the hair cut at hand. I think it looks good. It’s curly all over and you can see my face, which is rounder than I would like. At its longest, it's a few inches below my ears. I don't feel bad that this cut is only temporary. I’m going about this hair-cutting the way I have to. Losing all my hair at once would be too much of a shock. The hairdresser reminded me not to be lazy, and to put gel on my hair every day.

I am planning to get extra holes pierced in my ears so I can decorate myself when I’m bald. L doesn’t like multiple piercings, I found out today, after 11 years together. But he has no plans to try to stop me. He knows I have the cancer card.

I think I am burying the lede here: Chemo starts Monday, March 26, and hair is due to fall out 16 days later.

The Neighbor Boy

The neighbor boy came by the other day. This is accurate but also misleading. He did not amble by, tapping on the kitchen window next to pies cooling on the sill, and say, Howdy, Missus Cancer Bitch, I’m home for spring break and thought I’d give you a look-see.

No, this neighbor boy came over because his father sent him to pick up a fax. His parents give out my fax machine number as their own. They have a fax machine that’s like Blood Type O, the universal donor. They can send only. They could receive but each spouse has been waiting for the other to buy fax paper. For years.

His father is B, who was whisked to a hospital when his plane brought him home from the AWP convention in Atlanta. B had been home for a few days, and had told the hospital to send him a form on my fax machine.

The NB rang the bell and I buzzed him in. He knocked on the door and I answered it, resplendant in my glasses and long and full Lanz nightgown. It was late Saturday morning and the NB said: You’re taking it easy.

I have breast cancer, I told him.

He was floored. Literally: he sat down on the stairs. No one told me, he said. Cancer brought me closer to this neighbor boy, starting about seven years ago, though I’ve been friends with his parents more than 20 years. He had a twin and I could never tell them apart until the other one had cancer. I used to drive them to soccer practice when they were about 10? and they’d sit in the back like aspects of the same person, riffingoff one another. They both had gifts for mimickry and memorization and sometimes the sound from the back seat sounded like spliced tapes—first part of a speech, then word plays, things that made a sort of logic by association. One of them had mused to me once, All things considered, all kings considered, that…. At the time, I couldn’t tell which one it was. One of them told me more than once that I had a pointy nose like a witch’s. Or maybe each said it once. I told him/them it wasn’t a nice thing to say. My suspicions are it was this neighbor boy, the one who survived.

I learned about giving people what they want the first time his brother was in the hospital. I asked his mother what I could do, assuming she would ask me to buy groceries, which I like doing. I like wandering around the supermarket. Instead she asked me to go home and make sure that the NB wrote a paper due the next day. I didn’t want to do that, but I did. He was smart. They were both really smart, early readers, eager readers, having so much to say their tongues couldn’t keep up with their thoughts. The paper was about pollution, and he did a good job with it. My job was to keep him on task, which wasn’t so pleasant. I learned that what you want to give isn’t necessarily what the other person wants to be given.

The other twin died of a rare sarcoma, one that people rarely survive. He died at the end of January 2001, just before he was to turn 14. His brother is a sophomore in college and told me about his upper-level anthropology course on the drug culture. He was planning to write about the image of the drug dealer in movies of the past 40 years. He was going to start with Easy Rider and go up through Trainspotting. Both are famous and I haven’t seen either. It is tricky with the NB. He is temperamental and won’t answer questions directly. Like a lot of kids. I think of him as a night-blooming plant. You never know when the flower will come so you have to be ready for it. I let him talk. I made comments. He told me he’d loan me some DVDs. He said, Now we’ll have to visit you in the hospital. I said, I’m already out. They didn’t keep me long.

I told him sort of vagely, I think, that I knew cancer was scary for him but that it seemed like mine was caught early and that I would be OK, that a lot of people survive breast cancer.

His twin died of cancer, his father has MS. His life has been full of loss, if that’s not oxymoronic. . His brother was in the hospital on Halloween when they were 12 and I went trick-or-treating with the NB. He was on the cusp of being too old. We went to a historic street nearby, full of families that decorate to the hilt. We both liked it. I got to feel like I had a child. He got to feel like he had a parent with him. Once months later I was in the car with the boys and their father and the sick twin was talking about a camp he was going to for kids with cancer. The NB said, I wish I had cancer. His brother said, No you don’t.


The local print media are not cooperating. Yesterday this was the banner headline and main story in our city's tabloid:
Finding solace in memories
Filling book with reflections on wife a labor of love...

It took a while to find the breast cancer, but there it was, on an inside page: "In 1993, Maggie felt a lump in her right breast. It was cancer and the start of a 'year of hell,' King says. A lumpectomy. Chemotherapy that made her hair fall out." Only a lumpectomy? (Only a labor camp?) And chemotherapy, which always makes your hair fall out unless it's chemo-lite, which Cancer Vixen had so she could compete with the super models trying to horn in on her husband. Eight years later, the article said, Maggie had uterine and ovarian cancer. So she officially died of ovarian cancer. Yesterday I glanced at this while lunching with P and I laughed. I don't know why I'm laughing, I said. Dark, cackly laughter, she said, quoting me to myself. Today I talked with my friend Y the cartoonist in the wilds of Ohio, and I was telling her I feel foolish feeling OK, feeling that After I Get Through all this, I'll be fine, when people are dying of breast cancer left and right. (The obit page of the other daily the day before yesterday had profiles of three dead women. Two, breast cancer. One, esophageal) I must say that two of my mother's exercise pals are longterm survivors (12 and 20 years) of breast cancer. Y said she had a good feeling about my health. Today L and I were waiting at Fancy Hospital (this time, for his doctor) and I was looking at our palms, wondering what our life lines showed. I should get my palm read and see if the fortune teller can see the breast cancer first, to test her, I said. She can just look at you, he said. You're missing a breast.

We were waiting for a cardiologist, for L's hypertrophic cardiomyopathy AKA idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis. First we had to undergo the sacrifice of Those Who Go To Teaching Hospitals: the ritual humoring of the medical apprentice. The Fellow was slightly nervous and slim with beautiful dark eyes and lashes. He asked all the questions whose answers were probably right there in the file: age, activity (baskeball 3-4 times a week, bicycling in reasonable weather), medicines, symptoms. L really has no symptoms. His main complaints are two very cautious doctors--his internist and the cardiologist his internist sent him to. He's had an angiogram (squeaky clean) and cardio-tests that left round pink irritations on his chest for three weeks. He has a thickened something (wall?) and a murmur. His blood pressure doesn't go up much when he exercises; it could be because he's in such great shape or it could be part of his malfunctioning heart. The cardiologist has been muttering for a couple of years about a heart-valve replacement. What L has is what makes student athletes drop dead on the playing field. The thing is, they never knew they had it.

The Fellow listened to L's heart and breathing. Then the doctor put L through all the same paces. (That's my main complaint about these apprentices. They basically use the patients for role-playing. I told L I should have told the apprentice that I was feeling sore around my heart, could he take a look. Would he be in for a surprise!) The cardiologist said that it seemed L was OK, that to be totally safe maybe he shouldn't engage in competitive basketball; even Michael Jordan hung up his sneakers. Hard exercise carries a risk, he said, but it was unknown what exactly the risk is. Basketball is L's great love, his Zen, his flow experience. L explained that he plays with old guys, that the game isn't as competitive as it could be. In fact, they call themselves the Geezers. The doctor said that heart-valve surgery is usually performed in order to make people feel better and that L seems to feel good. L said: Somebody would have to speak more forcefully than you are to make me stop playing basketball.

The cardiologist said he would check with the cautious cardiologist about the results of other tests, and would probably put L in a 24-hour harness to follow all his heart-blood comings and goings. L is supposed to call him tomorrow. The doctor was late in getting to the examination room, and had to leave for a phone call, but otherwise he gave us all the time in the world. He even was almost sitting down--half-sitting-half-leaning on the exam table, one leg bent, the other on the floor. Like movie stars had to do in bedroom scenes in the days of censorship: one leg always on the floor.

On the way to the elevator L said, Dropping dead doesn't scare me at all. What he meant was he wouldn't mind dying on the court; he'd rather be dead than languish. He said he thought the cautious cardiologist had sent him to this guy (who's apparently tops in the field; his work is often cited by other cardiologists) because he knew what he would say. He knew he would play the good cop to his bad cop.

L's father had many heart attacks and that is why L started exercising seriously in his 30s. I am proud of him. It hasn't rubbed off. He's more or less the same size as the day we met. I have gained 30 pounds since, and those pounds have turned me from a pear-shape to an apple, which makes one more at risk for ... ahem... cancer. It seems an hour of exercise a day is one of the best preventatives. Cancer Bitch will work on motivating herself. Her heart, according to the scan she had the other day in preparation for chemo, has nothing wrong with it.


I was standing in line at one of my favorite coffee houses, a place with wood everywhere and antiques for sale, and I was thinking, I want a blueberry scone. I asked myself: Would that make you happy? (The answer was supposed to be No, I don't need all that butter.) And I thought, I am happy. I feel good. I was sort of excited and scared to think about getting my hair cut. I felt a sense of contentment. It was hot, and crowded, but there was no jostling. It was the city's fourth day of early spring, and I'd seen daffodil buds outside Fancy Hospital an hour before. I was anticipating the coldness of my iced latte.

Fancy Hospital is near WRU (Well-Regarded University), and I'd gone there after my appointments to print out some student papers. The computer room was closed down, so someone showed me to a computer with printer attached. I printed out two student papers while I was looking out the window at the lake. I checked my e-mail messages, and found one from a friend who'd just heard about my cancer. She said, It must be scary and terrible. But it didn't feel that way. I was drain free! (See previous entry.) I felt happy in my hot pink long-sleeved t-shirt with L's blue work shirt over it, with my Cancer Sucks button over the left pocket.

I knew at least one reason I was happy was that I had all my medication. I'd been out of Cymbalta for a couple of days last week, and it showed. From age 16 on I was in therapy (because I wanted to be) , and the therapist and I--or the group, the therapist, and I--would try to analyze my emotions and change them. Or analyze my thoughts and change them. Or dig deep into my feelings and the family dynamic to find IT, the Reason. Over the years I've tried affirmations, feeling dumb while doing so, and they didn't work. In the gift basket my students gave me last week was a book of linked stories by Margaret Atwood. In one of them the narrator talks about her sensitive weepy, unhappy, suicidal sister, and how finally everything changed--when she took a pill. Snap! That was it.

It is like that. I think of all the years I spent analyzing anxiety--which the pills later dissolved. Years. Years. I was at the point of not returning calls because I was crying all the time. I lost a friend for about a decade because of that. And then, Prozac. I found him again, in Wisconsin. (And after Prozac, I stayed in therapy another ten year.)

We are so influenced by Freud, who in turn was influenced by his society, of course. The question my best professor used to ask about every phenomenon was, What question is this the answer to? What question was Freud the answer to? I think Freud was the answer to the question, How can Enlightenment principles be applied to solving emotional problems? For Freud, it was easy: The patient suffered X because she suppressed an unconscious desire to do Y. You get them to talk long enough, and they'll figure that out. Narratives that illustrated the trajectory of these desires had already been mapped out by the ancients. Interestingly, Freud turned to the Greeks and not the Hebrews; he didn't give us the Solomon or Ruth complex.

Your parents wanted a boy, a therapist with a New York accent and beard concluded when I was in my 20s. That's why I was anxious. But my parents wanted girls. They wouldn't have known how to deal with boys. But still.

Freud would ferret out the offending belief or repressed urge, bring it into the light, and poof! he would ease the person into "ordinary unhappiness." If that person was a female, he would urge her to accept the acceptable role of the bourgeois female. Second-wave feminists criticized pyschoanalysis for this, as well as for the idea that the vaginal orgasm was the only real, mature kind. Many years ago I read a well-known and sort of silly biography-as-novel of Freud' & Breuer's Anna O. I couldn't figure out why the author let herself be photographed wearing what appeared to be thick mascara or false eyelashes, and (if I remember correctly) pearls. Then I got it: She was showing us that although she had succeeded in the male world by producing a creative and intellectual object, she had managed to keep a tight hold on her femininity.

I was thinking about all this as I sat upstairs, next to an open window, at the coffee house. I had finished grading the papers and eating my blueberry buttermilk scone. Last summer I got involved in a conversation about Freud, in that very room, and in so doing met a rabbinical student who'd gone to school (it turned out later) with a student of mine. The room has red walls, a bookcase with old books, a pink velvet sofa and a fireplace with a carved mantel. We were married there in our 15-minute ceremony three years ago. When people see the wedding photos, they think we were in the rabbi's study. At about 6:30 tonight L met up with me there. He was self-castigatory because he'd lost his cell phone. I called his phone and a very nice guy named Carl answered, and then we jumped up to go meet him and retrieve it.


****news flash ****
Got the second drain removed. I am now a drain-free woman. It is so nice not to have the bulgey bulb sticking out of my shirt.
**** **** **** ****

I went back to Fancy Hospital today, and on the way out of the subway I saw that the Cancer Sucks sticker I'd stuck onto the side of the escalator was gone. I felt bad that a public employee (or anyone) had to work at scraping it off. I'll have to find better places to plaster, places that no one cares about, but places where people look. On my way to the hospital I looked for my hair nemesis (see yesterday's post), but she wasn't there. Maybe she and her colleagues hawked all they could at that corner and had lit out for other territory.

The physician's assistant I saw at Fancy told me she doubted that I'd really needed the antibiotic that the other PA had prescribed on Friday. I sensed they were dueling PAs. I was glad there were no medical students poking their noses into the examination room. It was good to deal with someone who knew what she was doing and not just pretending that she knew what she was doing. I asked her about exercising my "surgical arm," and she said not to do the exercises in the pink book I was given, but to do the ones in a DVD that she was going to give me, which she did. Before she gave it to me, she asked if I had a DVD player. I do. I thought everyone did; I figure by the time I acquire anything electronic, at least 99 percent of the population has bought at least one. This PA told me I could stop the antibiotics without worrying about building up a resistance. And she said I could go back to yoga!! Hasta miercoles.

Next stop after the Breast Floor was the Cancer Floor, where blood was taken for some reason related to the upcoming chemo. I met the chemo nurse and asked her if I would lose my hair, even though it's so thick. She said yes. I said, Is there no way it would still be there? and she said no. I told her I was planning to cut it to ease the transition but I didn't want to cut it if there was a chance it wouldn't all fall out. She told me that it was going to be gone from Day 16 after the first chemo treatment until 3 weeks after the last treatment. So that means from early April through late August or early September. That's a long time. For some reason I thought it would be for just a couple of months. I will have to get a number of official Cancer Bitch hats. The other day I got a prescription for a "cranial prosthesis." That means a wig. I may frame the Rx. It was written by a third-year oncology Fellow who was confident and droll. He'd even read my file before meeting with me.

Last night I spent a lot of time on a curly hair site. Last year my friend Miz P (as opposed to my friend P) found a hairdresser on that site and recommended her. I went to her last summer or fall and I liked her set-up: a one-chair salon in a labyrinthine basement, and I liked her but she didn't get the bottom layer right. To go into more detail would be boring, especially for me. I trim my hair myself. I found out from the web site that I have curly hair type 2c, with some characteristics of 3b. I suppose there are products (or as the professionals say, Product) geared to designated types and sub-types. I wrote down the names of about a dozen recommended salons in town. Tonight after dinner L and I walked past two of them. Of course they were closed at 9pm, but I wanted a sense of the vibe. L said it was silly for me to be shopping around so carefully. It's not rocket science, he said. But it is. You read the testimonials on the site and if they are to be believed, and are not all written by the hairdressers themselves, people have had all sorts of terrible experiences with other (unnamed) hair stylists until coming to X salon. I've had my share of trouble, mostly with overzealous cutters, which is why I usually cut my own hair. The trouble, Miz P's stylist told me, is that most of the stylists practicing now came of age professionally when straight hair was in, and they don't know what to do with curly hair except straighten it. I'd had that exact experience in a neighborhood salon. I'd told the guy I wanted him to let my hair dry curly but he kept pulling on it to make it straight. I guess he just didn't know better. This narrowness of hairdresser education baffles me. I wonder if it's the same in Manhattan, where curly Jewish hair is more prevalent.

My hair is in waves almost down to my collarbone. I was planning on donating it to Locks of Love, which provides hairpieces to needy children, but then I wondered if a kid would want my salt-and-pepper hair. (Here, kid, the good news is we got you a free wig. The bad news is you'll be a 10-year-old with gray hair.) However, the web site says "Hair that is short, gray, or unsuitable for children will be separated from the ponytails and sold at fair market value to offset the cost of manufacturing. " I'm not sure what that means. I imagine nuns going blind painstakingly picking out the gray. (Nuns from the order that used to go blind from tatting lace.) The important thing is that my hair would qualify, just so it's at least 10 inches long and in a ponytail. So then that means that the first stage of my hair-shortening will require at least 10 inches off my head. At its longest, my hair is about 14 inches long (stretched out). I was thinking it might be fun to get a different hair cut every week. I would love to have a Mohawk for a week or so, as long as I didn't have to represent WRU in any public programs. I wouldn't mind, but I think WRU would. Such are the travails of the non-tenured. The first phone exchange we had when I was growing up was Mohawk. Our number was MOhawk 5-3998. (MO is 66.) L grew up in a small town and remembers picking up the phone and giving the operator the three- or four-digit phone number he wanted to be connected to. His home number was 1097. I guess exchanges became extinct when phone companies started using zero and 1 as second numbers. Too bad the early phone designers didn't link letters of the alphabet to every number on the dial.

Contest Winner!

The winner of the contest is the first Anonymous. Could Anonymous please let me know how to get in touch with him/her? Thank you to the other contestants, related and not. I was pleased with all the entries.

The Cancer Card

Today I used the cancer card. It was the second time. The first was when a telemarketer called in the morning (!) and I said, I'm going to have breast cancer surgery and I'm on the do-not call list and I hung up. The second time was this afternoon. Using the card is apparently a big issue in breast-cancer circles. In Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person, Miriam Engelberg says her support group discussed whether it was ethical to use cancer to get rid of a telemarketer. (Yes and no.) In Cancer Vixen, Marisa Acocella Marchetto devotes a page to The Cancer Card--"When you carry the cancer card, it gets you out of dinners, lunches, breakfasts, brunches, social obligations, family functions, concerts, shows, sporting events, parties, movies and more!" Today I was walking from the subway to Fancy Hospital to get my heart scanned to see if it could withstand chemo. I was on the corner of a large shopping street when a young woman approached me. She had on a cross, so I immediately assumed she was an evangelist. But her first question was, Do you live here? Usually I pass up street hawkers but I was curious. Yes, I told her. Then she said, Can I talk to you about your hair? I said, I'm going to have chemo and lose all my hair. Oh, she said, falling back.

I felt so guilty I called L immediately on my cell. He said that no one has a right to accost me on the street, that whatever she got in return was fair. You didn't invite her to talk to you, he said. Later tonight he said, People don't have an inalienable right to sell things.

Yep, that's true, but it's also true that telemarketers and street hawkers are low paid and so we should be nice to them. Am I saying that we should be mean to people who are high paid? What I mean is we should sympathize with these people who can't find any other jobs except those that involve harassing other people. I'm afraid I traumatized the hair-girl. But she was back in action about two hours later when I emerged from the hospital. I saw her on another corner, still approaching people, this time wearing sunglasses.

I'll bet by now she's already told 12 friends what I said and she'll dine out on my remark for years to come.

The real mystery is: Nobody I know listens to telemarketers, but their pitches must be successful or else companies wouldn't hire people to make the calls. Who are the people who pick up the phone and say, Yes, yes, tell me more?

The Prestidigitator

We read in our languishing weekly (it has to be languishing because I haven't published there recently and because this here blog has been rejected there) about a Mexican restaurant with great tilapia tacos at a bargain price. We went there tonight and sat at the bar because it was so crowded. Luckily the whole restaurant was non-smoking. Behind the bar women with white blouses and black pants, ranging in age from around 13 to 40s, moved in and out, sometimes five or six people at a time, usually good-natured and not bumping into one another. A very very young girl with braces and small voice and a clipboard was taking names of people waiting for tables. This was not a perfect job for a girl with a small small voice in a crowded restaurant. After a while a guy sat on a stool near us and took out a deck of blue Bicycle cards. He was shuffling them, a mixture between awkwardly and nimbly. I couldn't tell if he wanted people to ask him if he did tricks. I asked him. He did tricks. What can I say? We picked cards, we put them back, he found them; we shuffled, we picked cards, he found them; we cut cards, we shuffled, etc. He always got his card. He had gone to arts summer camp in Canada where he'd had a bunkmate, who had learned from Doug Henning. The bunkmate's father was Henning's lawyer. Our prestidigitator said he'd looked for his old campmate on the internet but couldn't find him. He lives a block from the restaurant and said he comes there about once a fortnight. Because he used that term and because of the location of the summer camp I asked if he was Canadian, but he said no. Fortnight is a useful term, but like the metric system, it just hasn't caught on here. He said he used to bring a deck of cards to high school and do tricks during recess. He seemed like a shy high school kid grown up who was still using cards to open conversations. He asked us boilerplate questions about where we were from and what we did. He did not seem a natural at patter. He works for a law firm that L recognized as a notorious union-busting operation. But L remained cordial.

Last night we had rented Woody Allen's movie Scoop, in which Allen is the fabulous Splendini who does card tricks and rearranges molecules, so card tricks were on our minds. I wanted our prestidigitator to read our minds but I didn't ask because he didn't seem to be that kind of performer. I thought we would be easy to read as a couple, even though we weren't wearing wedding rings. L doesn't like them and I'd never put mine back on after surgery. L and I shared our food without much comment and when I asked him if he was doing anything with his after-dinner mint wrapper, he gave it to me without batting an eye. He knew I was going to use it in a collage. We decided toward the end of the meal that this was our anniversary dinner. We were married three years ago yesterday, but the wedding was so small and quick we keep forgetting the date. The day we remember is the one we met: June 3, 1995. The prestidigitator said he had a lot of books and DVDs on card tricks and magic, and I said, I thought magicians aren't supposed to give away their secrets. Give is the word, he said. They don't give away their secrets. They sell them. I was surprised by this. I thought that magicians were secretive because of the pseudo-mystical nature of the work, and because it takes so much practice to perfect their show. In the movie Woody Allen had said the same thing over and over at the end of his act --you've been a great audience, you're a credit to your race--delivered with the characteristic Woody Allen stutter and you knew he wasn't supposed to be sincere. It was mindless patter, and supposed to be mindlessly offensive. Our local man wasn't mindless enough. Magic is supposed to look effortless, and even if you're pretending, for effect, that it's difficult, you're still supposed to be smooth. You're supposed to be insincere. We want that polished, infinitely repeated insincerity. It's part of the magic, the unreality. We want it to turn out the same way each time, though there's always that tension that it might not. So the magician has to say the same words, like an incantation. Our prestidigitator said he likes doing card tricks to make people happy. But I think the reason we delight in them is their surety. You pick this card and you put it back in the deck and the guy holds it up--amazing!--the same way, each and every time.

The tilapia was great, just as the review had told us it would be.

Bad News, East & West

Our good friend S, who is married to L's cousin, just found out today that she has breast cancer. So she will be starting the MRI-chemo dance. She lives in Marin County, which has a high rate of breast cancer, but no one can figure out why. She lives cleanly, exercises, and is a very light presence. Some day someone will figure out this epidemic, if we haven't blown ourselves up before that. (For possible environmental causes, see links on the right to Breast Cancer Action and Collaborative on Health and the Environment.) In the meantime, I tell myself how lucky I am that I'm here and not trying to get treatment in a hospital in Baghdad. Of course, I wouldn't have been diagnosed yet if I were there or most other places. When I have more time and energy I'm going to find out what a person like me, but without insurance, would be going through now in my fair city. The public hospital is run by the county, and all you hear about is how long people have to wait to get treated there. And the county government is cutting its health care budget. I'll also have links to the health situation in Iraq.

A Contest!

I guess you'd think a person with cancer wouldn't be worried about being a hypochrondriac, but I was today. Worried. First of all I was tired of the drains and wanted to call to see if I could get them out. L offered to do that for me and left a message with the nurse. Later I noticed that one of them seemed to be sliding out from inside me. (Just a note: These are plastic tubes inserted in the incision so that blood, etc., can flow out instead of gathering on a bandage. There are bulbs at the end that I empty out. More details in earlier posts.) I was worried that it would fall out over the weekend. Then I noticed that I couldn't straighten my arm like I could the other day and thought there must be something wrong with the tubes. I called the nurse rather panicky and so in the afternoon I took a cab down to Fancy Hospital, all the while thinking that I was panicky and there was really nothing wrong. The nurse said the area looked infected. She took out the one sliding-down tube. There had been a good four inches of plastic inside me. She left in the other tube and got me a prescription for an antibiotic. All this is a buildup to the real excitement of the evening. I went to the Walgreens to fill the prescription and while I was waiting I heard a woman at the counter say to a female member of the pharmacy staff: ...so I won't take the vaginal one and put it on my face ever.

That is the exact quote. I wrote it down. It was 4:57 pm and the speaker was late-middle-aged with dyed blond hair. Apparently this was in response to some advice she had solicited. This is the contest: Send me, via comments section of this post, what you imagine or surmise the context of that conversation to have been. Deadline for entries is 4:57 pm on Monday, March 12. The winner will receive a book or a kitchen utensil.

As Nora Ephron once said, This is the gamey section.

But you knew that.

What is a Meltdown?

It might be when you're feeling very very shatterable and don't want to answer "fine" when people ask you how you are and you're feeling shaky and so instead of going to your mother's hotel to meet her and your husband for an early dinner at 5.30, you go at 5 and lie down in her second bed and start crying and saying that everything is so hard and you hate these drains they won't take out, they hurt you and get in the way (the drains being two long drinking straws stuck under your arms to siphon away blood and blood-like portions of your body that need to have somewhere to go, which is into two emptiable bulbs at the end), and its' so terribly they have to to start giving you poison for 20 weeks, even though the chemo man today said most people don't have nausea or vomiting, and she is perfect in her mother role and says yes, it's hard, and lets you sleep till 6.30, when you have to get up and teach your 7pm class at WRU (Well-Regarded University) three blocks away. And so you teach your class which isn't as lively and fun as at its best, but still has content and is hysteria-free. At the break your students have a basket at your place at the table with chocolates and soaps and colored pens and books, and you are able to be enthusastic and grateful. Truly.

Afterwards, as planned, you come back to your mother's hotel room to sleep (because your husband is sick and can't sleep with you because you can't afford to get his cold now) and watch the montage of TV you always watch in hotels: some Friends, some Tom Hanks-ish movie, CNN, Fox, actors vaguely familiar and young, mostly double-entendres that aren't funny though the lafftrack thinks everything is funny, so many particular that you can't recall a night later when you write this because you spent a lot of the next day awash in the fewer variations of TV available at home.

Then in the morning she has to leave for the airport and you leave and sit at the Starbucks and read through the big pink binder, Breast Cancer Treatment and Follow-up, and wait until you're not too exhausted to walk the block to the subway to go home and go to sleep.

At home you sleep and watch said TV and call the chemo nurse back to schedule your first round of it and you pause to weep, you think silently, and she says are you OK, and you say you are.

Your first high-quality sleep is after your husband comes home from work and still in your dream you ask him if the baby was a boy or a girl and it takes you a while to figure out that in your dream your mother was helping his ex-wife give birth, and you thought, What a great unification of the family.

And you remember you need to get your husband's ex's address. In Yiddish there would be a term for your relation with her. There's a term for your mother and his mother; they are makhetenestes. You have to write your husband's ex a thank-you note for Cancer Vixen, which you liked reading very much though the author is too high-fashion for you to love.

Your husband said at work someone asked how you were and he said you had a meltdown.

And now it is time to go back to sleep

The Mysteries

The pathology report is full of mysteries, and the surgeon says, Do you have any questions, secretly hoping that you don't. O please please don't have any questions, she's silently begging, that's why I'm standing up instead of sitting down and not caring what your mother's name is. (Our friend the costumed activist has a sister who's a doctor in a small Northeastern state. Her employer, the largest medical institutition in the state, has informed her that she spends too much time with her patients. And, horror of horrors, she SITS DOWN with patients. Stand up, girl, the bosses are telling her.)
L alleges that the oncologist tomorrow will answer all. We'll see. It makes me angry that the report is deliberately written to obscure. Would it kill them to have a glossary attached? Or to double-space the report so that you'd have room to write notes? I have Stage 2a, which I always thought I had. Why did the physician assistant have to go out of the room and check this? Wouldn't she have it right there at hand? I have lobular carcinoma in situ, which has a 20 percent chance of showing up in the other breast. I also have invasive breast cancer, which is 15 percent likely to show up in the other breast. Are these calculated together or separately, meaning do I have a 35 percent chance of getting some kind of cancer in the other breast? The largest tumor is 4 cm. My tumors dine on estrogen and progesterone. That sort of tumor-diet is more common among the post-menopausal. I am a meno woman, never pausing, bearer of the never-ending period, it flows from a normal cycle into a pseudo-period egged on by the fibroids. Without chemo, I have about a 70 percent chance of not getting cancer again. The thing, Dr. Susan Love points out, is you have to find out what your chances are *with* the chemo and "without* and figure out if chemo's worth the difference. Between each appointment with The Expert, you think: This One will explain all... I think I will get a second chemo opinion.

I still have to wear the damn tubes, which hurt when I walk.

This cancer is starting to wear me down.