Friday, September 26, 2008

Fox-Colored Paint Chips

How are you? We ask people this every day. How ya doin'? How are the kids? Howzit? How are you.....Lately people ask me this question and I'll say things like, you know, "Fine," or "Hanging in there," or something like that depending on the extent of our relationship and how closely they are associated with THE NEWS and whatnot. Then they'll be all "No, really, how are you?" and they'll look at me very seriously as if perhaps I didn't understand the gravity of the situation and I will reply "Oh, good, fine, you know, getting by, livin' the dream..." and then with all the earnestness in their hearts they'll say something like "Are you doing alright?" What am I supposed to say? "I'm not dead yet," or "Better step back actually, the chemo is leaking through my shoes," Heavens sake! I'm convinced sometimes people love a car wreck. I'm never quite sure how to handle these situations. No one really wants the details three drinks in on a Saturday night but I will offer them up. I have no qualms. There are gory details. I could go on for days....
I go back and forth. In the same way I want people to know about how fucked up this particular version of breast cancer is and am willing to tell anyone who will listen about it there are also some days I want to worry about something less ridiculously weighty and scary. I want to worry about normal shit again like what color are we going to paint the bathroom darling? Or did we remember to pay the water bill? The importance of haircuts and outfits, though not really ever my thing to begin with, have been completely upstaged by really annoying bullshit like metastatic skin involvement and cytoxin therapy.
I've been away from the computer for awhile. I do this sometimes. I don't have a job that requires me to use it so I kind of forget about it on purpose and pretend like its 1993 again. The chemo kind of knocked me out this week and I'm pissed about it. I feel like I'm letting folks down when it knocks me on my ass. I want to fight this thing. All I want to do is get in a ring and fight this thing. I want to beat it bloody, rip its cheeks off with my teeth, tear at its eyes, break it in two. I want there to be some measure of success. I want there to be some sort of winning not just ragged victory by virtue of getting through. That just seems so pussy to me. "We'll shoot all this poison in you and see how long you can still get out of bed and function like a normal person" does not seem like a proactive plan to me!! I can't do anything. Things are done to me, through me, in my veins, over my heart, under my skin, silently, strangely. I'm used to fighting- whoever, whatever,whenever, let's go! When these strange things knock me down I get mad and just start throwing punches at the shadows on the wall. I want it to be over.
I saw my fox again. The night before I was diagnosed I saw a fox trotting down Ward Parkway, on the sidewalk mind you, at 4am. That's just weird. I've seen her three times since. She's always got something in her mouth. Apparently she's a fan of snacks. I didn't grow up with foxes. Squirrels were a big deal when I was growing up (citygrrl). Foxes are new for me. I've done a little nosing around in regards to what they're supposed to mean. Some folks say they're the spiritual manifestation of dead relatives. I'm not sure about that. My people weren't very fox-like. They were sort of big and German. Some folks say they're tricksters and are meant to bring joy. They represent cunning, longevity, family. All good things. I just think she's awesome. There is a fox living where she shouldn't, getting by, hanging out. Maybe she's been there all along. It's strange what I see now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cancergrrl Goes to the Grocery Store

An hour and a half if I'm lucky. That's how long it takes cancergrrl at the grocery store. More if I have time and I don't feel the uneasy glares of the stock boys as i traverse the frozen foods section for the umpteenth time reading bags of frozen peas. I frequent a little hoity-toity market in the Brookside area where well-intended (but perhaps overexerted?) "liberal elitism" rears its holistically coiffed head everywhere, including the cereal aisle. Perhaps it is because of my fragile state at the moment but I found my self yelling at the heavens "WHY! WHY do we need 487 kinds of gluten-free organic folate-and-calcium-enhanced 100% fiber all-natural animal friendly panda-snuggling free-trading PVC free breakfast cereals!!" I was pummeled by healthy choices and pummeling is no good for a woman in my condition. Please don't misunderstand. I love pandas and everything, likely more than the next guy, but the level of nutritional options is mind numbing when there are so many studies involving the link between nutrition and cancer. (This is why republicans hate my team; the mother scratching litany of do-gooder breakfast cereals, tofurkey just as a concept.... and the free-range cinnamon rolls.)

The grocery store has become a library, a medicine chest, a mine field. The farmers market is so much easier. Not so many labels. When you have a messed up wicked ugly disease you tend to do a ridiculous amount of reading about it. First you read all the horrible statistics then you get into the rah-rah stuff so you'll stop fucking weeping and take out the trash. Then you eat six pints of ice cream because you have cancer (why did you eat six pints of ice cream?). After that you try to earnestly figure out why you have the wicked ass ugly nasty disease. And then after several weeks of alternating between fashioning a wonder woman outfit made entirely of pink ribbons and flat out refusing to put on anything but pajamas, you settle into where I am now: how do I synthesize all this information regarding science, nutrition, wellness and the stuff I put in my mouth and get on with my damned life.

I love bacon and diet coke! Lets make that clear. And bourbon, and mayonnaise, and cheese. I love crappy tacos at three am and breakfast sandwiches when I'm hungover and late for work. Let's not forget how MUCH I LOVE CIGARETTES and fried chicken. I have been forced, as an occupational hazard, to create entire meals from the enticing selections at Kum-n-Go's, Snappy Stores, Truck-o-mats, and any other of the Stop-n-Robs that line our American highway system. I have eaten bologna and canned tuna as protein staples (and shared them with my cat) due to poverty. I am not a vegetarian. I am not a proponent of vegan-ism, macrobiotic-ism, raw food-ism. But I tell you what...the more I read about the shit we have been fed as a nation, from the dollar menu to the DDT, the less crazy the macrobiotic free range vegans of the world seem to be.

Yes, fucking cigarettes are bad for me. I get it. But the cumulative effects of all the marginally safe additives in the human body have not yet been studied and they can't be good. It's just amazing to me that more research has not been done into how our environment and our genetics play significant roles in contributing to getting the disease as well as not getting it. What did my grandmother say, something about an ounce of prevention.....but broccoli isn't sexy! It already exists. A pharmaceutical company can't create it and profit from it. Elegant science does nothing for actual people. Find me a cure darlings! Find me a cure. And in the interim, figure out what my husband, best friends, and boss have to do to not get it...and don't just tell me to give up cigarettes and bacon. I will raise you money darlings. I will walk your walks and someday run your runs. Getting my fat ass off the couch isn't about being thin anymore, its about being alive. But let us not set our sights on the fame and the glory, the magic bullets and the wonder drugs. Those would be nice. I got no time for nice. What do we have to work with now?

Back to the grocery store......This wickedness can't all be genetic. What we put in and on our bodies has to be a factor. So I will spend 20 minutes reading bread labels because you know what there's no fucking reason for high fructose corn syrup to be in bread (and every other thing). Stabilization my ass! Buy local and help the wretched economy. There's no reason for anyone to eat a pineapple in December. Pick up a parsnip and figure it out. I'm just trying to figure it out. Some things take time. But the less far food has to travel the less weirdness goes into preserving it so less of that bullshit ends up in me. The shorter the ingredient list the less crap goes in my body. Its an expensive shift for a girl who is going to owe the GDP of New Zealand in medical bills. Tell me this, why is the nasty ass wonder bread from Jersey cheaper than the stuff made two blocks from my house? Why are Twinkies three boxes for a dollar and you have to sell blood to afford antibiotic-free beef? If I only had two bucks I'd say fuck it, let's get a taco. All of this makes me want to throw things!

Rotten, organic things.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Gratitude & Thespians

The air has changed. It happens in the Midwest. A certain day when the air gets colder, cleaner, only for a few hours, signalling fall. The dog stood outside with her nose in the air for half the afternoon trying to figure out what corner of her world summer had escaped to, snuffling about at the holes in the fence as if it might have followed a rabbit into the neighbor's yard. It will undoubtedly get hot again. The Midwest does that too. Wretched hot in October. And then it will give way to autumn and then winter. I have never waited for winter. I'm waiting for winter now.

Wednesday night (the fabulous Wing Nite of previous mention) my folks came in to the bar. And by my folks I mean my theater kids, a group of grad students who haunt a particular joint where I happen to work. These, just for the record, are not my insane wing nite dinner clientele. They are insane, but in a totally different way. I have waited on them every Wednesday for the better part of two years now. They are my brave ones, my thespian cavalry, my darlings who believe wholeheartedly in the art they have sacrificed for. You don't get to grad school in theater for any other reason besides love; love of lighting or stage managing or sound wrangling or play writing or set designing or (heaven help them) acting. (The plays the thing, right? Someone might have said that once...). My mother was an actress. It is a difficult life full of struggle. And perhaps that is why I've always felt a certain kinship with my late night theatrical wing eaters. My people chose music. They chose theater. In an older world, the work we do would matter just as much as the work the accountants do, or the IT people, or the money movers, or the big contractors. But this is not Greece, or a Paris of a certain age, nor Rome before the fall (even though sometimes it feels that way). In this country, right now, art in all its incarnations is marginalized so thoroughly that the work we do has become nothing more than frosting on rather dysfunctional cultural cake. I have never considered music frosting. Its sort of important. As is theater, poetry, art, and language. I could go on about this for days (my soapbox doesn't go to chemo with me)......but back to Wednesday...
So every Wednesday my theater kids come in and get shit hammered. They eat their wings and drink their vodka-tonic-double-tall-whiskey-press-captain's punch-extra-pineapple-miller-pitcher-drrty-shirley-appletini-jeagerbomb-slut-shot-rum-and-cokes-after-11pm-please-Miss-Abigails. I, too, have a bar I walk into where I don't even have to speak and there is a Beam and diet waiting for me. I understand the importance of the joint you go to when the world ends, when the world begins, when you nailed it, when you failed. These places are important. I do what I can for them. I like them. And they are kind. But what they did for me last Wednesday was amazing.
Certain angels among them (Beth & Phil) rallied the troops, shared the news of my awesome $100,000 haircut, organized a cocktail assault, and basically fed the evil insurance monster for a good, long while. Thank you! I'm sure there are far better combinations of words but I have thought for days about this and cannot think of them. I am a proud and stubborn girl. So stubborn that even some of my hair is refusing to fall out. I have, for many years, been the cavalry director, the cat wrangler, the sword wielder. It is strange watching the advance from the other side. From this vantage point, please know, I am learning something I may have never really known before. Gratitude is not something you have for something or someone, but something you are shown you have and often painfully. You all left on Wednesday night, and when I was good and safe and alone I walked out into the rain and cried. And they were good tears. Full circle tears. Thank you, my darlings, thank you, thank you, thank you more than you will know!!
There are other people too, whispering away in secret meetings they don't think I know about. My Apocalypse Meow contingent. So much whirls in my head. I think, "This is community. This is taking care of your own. If no one else will do it, it is our responsibility." I remember sitting in the room with the nurse having the initial biopsy for this beast done, unsure, unknowing, scared shitless of the huge black shadow on the xray machine, and she asked me "Why didn't you come in sooner?" and I said to her, "Debt kills people too." I don't want the super-bestest-cutting-edge-elephant-placenta-magic health care, I just want some health care. I want someone who loves medicine like I love music to lay hands on me and tell me "This is how we're going to beat this fucker" and I want to be able to pay for it and get on with my life. I don't want it for free, I want it for possible. I am worth saving even though I don't make $100,000 a year, and it took me awhile to come to that conclusion. The painters and the dancers and the actors and the writers are just as worthy of being well and safe as the lawyers and the doctors and the used car dealers. "What matters most," Bukowski said, "Is how well you walk through fire." Fire ain't no thing for some of us. We've learned how to live on a quarter. But its a hell of a lot easier to fight through with an army. So gratitude....gratitude deep enough to change the way the world looks now. Eight letters are not enough, but thank you.