Saturday, February 27, 2010

someone else's cancer.

Last night, while sitting at my computer doing my usual twitter/facebook/NY Times/Daily Beast/ebay/etsy/amazon dance, Jon came over and put his hand on my shoulder.

I knew something was wrong.

We'd just come back from an impromptu ice cream stroll. The new gelateria on the corner is just too good and too accessible to pass up. Even Jack, who never wants to go anywhere, happily throws on sneakers (in spite of my plea to wear snow boots as the streets are still slushy muck) to get a cup of oreo gelato. After my sweet but sharp dark chocolate sorbet and Jon's foray into coconut, we came home. Iz was at a sleepover party so there was blissful silence as we all settled into one form of technology or another before getting Saturday night back on track.

Jon's device of choice was his phone. He'd forgotten it in the car and was catching up on the day.

Still listening, he sat down with a stunned look on his face, mouthing "cancer."

He spat out the long and strange words that had been left on the message, while listening to the rest. Multiple myeloma. Amyloidosis. Words that inherently are scary because they're associated with cancer and therefore have to suck.

The message was from a college friend. A funny, smart, goofy, always something new up his sleeve, guitar-playing, guys guy that every girl wanted to be best friends with. We don't see him often, but when we do it was like no time had passed.


I could see the look of panic on Jon's face. He sat there. Shell-shocked. Almost as if someone had sucker punched him and took his breath away. As he wandered off something in me clicked.

I started researching like mad. I was at the Mayo Clinic. WebMD. Myeloma sites. I scrounged for every bit of pertinent info I could find. And then I called my dad, the oncologist. I never call that late. I try not to call him at home. But I knew speaking to the source would get me what I needed to know as wading through the overwhelming sea of information was sending me into an almost panic.

But, I don't panic. Which is the opposite of what I'd expect from myself.

I'm really good in emergencies.

Something clicks in my head and I leap into action. I put on battle armor, shut down my emotions and plunge in, needing to do something. Find answers. Create a plan of action. I can't deal, process, handle, the enormity of the situation. So instead, I forge ahead, blinders welded into place, needing to rally, pump up, research, reassure. It's almost as if by pouring all my energy into information searching, I can stave off the inevitable soul crushing.

But I can't.

Sometime, days from now, something will pierce my defensive shield. A word. A thought. A snippet of a song. Something seemingly insignificant and my reaction will be completely inappropriate. My heart will crack open and I'll be swept away in torrents of tears, pain ripping through me so deep, so hard, so all-consuming it feels like I've lost the ability to breathe. In those moments, when reality smashes through my carefully constructed barriers, as I'm curled on the floor in a ball, wracked with sobs, I'm terrified I'll never find my way out.

I spend my life trying to keep fear shoved in the back of a drawer I never check. Pain tucked in the uppermost corner of a closet. As if by keeping them hidden away, they'll lose their power, their potency, their ability to destroy. By pretending they're not there, I won't get swept away by their inherent power. I wonder if other people can possibly feel as deeply as I do, experiencing those moments of being thrown over the edge of a cliff, careening into shards of glass.

Sometimes I wish I could crawl back in that destructive yet protective anorexic shell I lived in so long and not be here. In this terrifying place. Teetering on the edge. Knowing I have to fall in before I can climb out the other side.

Someone else's cancer is making me face the deepest fears I try so hard to pretend aren't there.


Cole Bitting said...

Your "someone else's cancer" blog post is great. I love how you describe the inevitable moment of break down. It so hard to go from nothing to everything and scary too. Everyone should recognize your story in themselves. Thanks for writing it.

Suzanna said...

Your description of cracking open to the fear is fascinating, especially in face of the topic. When I had cancer, the things I feared broke open and spilled out until the fear was almost all gone. I mean, after all, what's left to fear? Everything seemed so silly. 11 years later, I have plenty of fears, and am starting a new writing venture to share more of who I have become in the interim. I'm still see-saw-ing: Which is my closest ally, fear or death? Both are in my face every moment. To continue to live with it, I have to speak to it.
Your very fine writing joggles my brain into better words too. Thank you for the courage it took to write this.
Suzanna Stinnett (@brainmaker)