Some Things I Learned from Cancer. And My Dog.

Last week I mentioned thinking about my mortality and burning the cancer chart of doom (I was afraid I might accidentally burn down the house too so I actually put it in the shredder). Cancer has obviously prompted more of these types of thoughts, and I dislike getting sentimental but what I didn’t mention at the time was that something else happened recently to make me think about life and death. My dog died. My grief was so acute I couldn’t even fathom writing about it. But I realized that she taught me things and I’m a better person because of her. A few things I’ve learned from my dog over the years is that unconditional love and loyalty are never in short supply. And that something that scares or upsets you will usually not be a big deal 20 minutes later. Sometimes supporting someone means just licking their face. And if two strangers sniff each other first, they’re likely to get along better.

I want my life to matter, and I want to be remembered fondly but also with infinite humor. To do that I think I need to make my life about more than just surviving because just surviving isn’t the same as living. I wrote an entry for The Rainbow Bridge in honor of Sammy. It’s nothing prolific, just my own stream of consciousness, unedited.

Burning the Cancer Chart of Doom

I’ve been thinking about my future lately, or more specifically, how long of a future I might have. A lot of people ask me questions about what doctors say now that chemo and radiation are finished. Basically they tell me to take my tamoxifen and watch for any symptom that is new, persistent, and a third thing I can’t remember right now. What I haven’t told many people (because talking about it makes that shit real) is that during my oncologist visit after surgery he used this on-line prognosticator program and based on tumor size, number of positive nodes, and being estrogen receptor positive, my chances of being alive in ten years were 52% if I had no treatment, and 76% with combined hormonal therapy and chemotherapy.


I don’t know how radiation figures into that equation so I guess there’s another question for my next visit. Looking back I wish to hell he hadn’t given me this stupid chart. I was prepared to undergo whatever treatment he recommended, but I guess it’s his job though to present me with my prognosis based on the data. I stuffed this chart away in my closet right after I got it but over the last 8 months I’ve pulled it out several times, stared at it, and gotten depressed. And scared. Well I’ve decided my future is not a pie chart and I am more than just a statistic. Accordingly, I’ve decided to burn the chart of doom. In ten years, my daughter will be 22 and I will NOT be fucking dead. I will be there when she gets married, and I will be there when she has babies, so that cancer chart of doom can just fuck off. Now excuse me while I go find some matches.

The Nerve Reawakening

You might think nerves waking up are a good thing, but you would be wrong. My mastectomy scars and my chest in general, were largely pain free, however now the left side feels like muscles pulling very tight like rubber bands and it has created a big stress knot on the back of my shoulder and trapezius. I talked to my surgeon’s nurse and this is some of the nerves “waking up.” Apparently there are exercises to help. I liked it better when they were “sleeping.” Because then I didn’t have discomfort that reminded me of things like, breasts no longer there and cancer that may or may not return (because cancer is an asshole). Even driving is a reminder because the seatbelt doesn’t stay in the middle of my chest like it used to, now it seems to ride up the side of my neck. Sometimes when I’m getting dressed I think how much better I’d look with a prosthetic bra. I think I’ve mentioned it before that I always thought I would want one until I could get reconstruction, and I was given a bunch of brochures, but I just can’t do it. First, it wouldn’t be very comfortable. Second, I would feel ridiculous because everyone KNOWS. If I showed up to work with boobs tomorrow I would feel like an idiot. It’s hard enough sometimes to walk around knowing people KNOW. And I act all blasé about it but in truth sometimes it’s hard to know people might be looking at you and thinking about the fact your boobs are gone. I know if I’m talking to someone missing a leg I can’t help thinking about how he’s missing his leg. Or the person with the lazy eye, you can’t help trying not to stare at it and end up looking rude for not making eye contact.

Last week I saw my oncologist who said my blood work looks good-I always forget to ask him what bad blood work would be and what it would mean. For some reason I become a half wit at the doctor’s office. Same thing at the plastic surgeon, I had questions but they all fled my brain when I was there, like, I don’t know maybe “how many procedures will there be?” And “how long will they take, and which ones will require a hospital stay?” Or “how long is the recovery time?” “What are the risks?” I’m writing them down now so when I’m struck dumb next time I can whip out my list. Maybe I should just memorize by chanting it over and over like I’m Arya Stark chanting her death list.