WHAT’S THE POINT
“(Insert name here) broke her neck, she’s in the hospital..”
This is a text from a friend of mine. She and I have the pleasure of a shared connection with this lovely friend who actually broke her neck. This kind of horrible shit happens when cancer has moved in and metastasized all over your bones, moved into your brain, spread its wings on your spine and decided that your body feels pretty darn good so it takes up residence rent free. This is the cancer that everyone knows and thinks about when they hear the word cancer. The bad kind, the kind that seems like the cancer we all know and fear. I know that my situation is not this and I am so grateful, but then that almost makes me feel bad and I know this is absolutely nuts. Maybe it is like survivor’s guilt. Our friend’s situation could have been me, could have been a lot of us. Kind of like that DUI of some friend you know who never drives drunk, but that one night had one too many glasses of wine and was driving home and you think for a split second, that could have been me back in the day. This could have been me if I hadn’t gone back to my doctor to check on that weird random high blood pressure and she hadn’t mentioned,
“By the way, Alayne, you haven’t had a mammogram in four years.” If I hadn’t gone right then, if I hadn’t had my father’s and brother’s cancer death lingering in my life… if I had waited just a little longer….if, if, if.
Eat clean, workout, meditate, be kind, be calm, take your supplements, don’t eat dairy, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t do drugs, be disciplined and regimented in all of these things and health = no illness. It’s all bullshit apparently because this is the description of our friend and this is not her equal sign (=). She is the unfortunate recipient of this dire prognosis and it fucking sucks.
“Will I lose my hair?” she asked me a month back as we were walking into the gym together.
“I didn’t have chemo, (insert name here) so I don’t know, but if you are having the strong shit, probably.” See, the word cancer, to anyone who hasn’t experienced direct loss or connection with its presence in their life, tend to generalize it. The generalization is that it is all of this bad shit.
“What can I do for my appetite?” she asked me because she couldn’t keep any food down from the mass in her stomach.
“Medical marijuana.” I replied. “Can I bring you some?” I asked.
“I have been sober for twenty five years,” she replied.
Here’s where I wanted to scream out, “You have metastasized cancer! Drink, eat fried food, do drugs, watch reality television, tell people to fuck off, take a few twirls around the McDonald’s drive through, (well maybe not that, seriously in my darkest junk food days of eating this thought would never occur to me, maybe Five Guys? But they don’t have a drive through so it doesn’t work with the writing). FUCK the rules. There are no rules and they don’t matter anyway. Besides, what do you think chemo and oxy and morphine are? D-R-U-G-S!!!”
But what I said was, “Ok dear, I am here when you need me,” (or it).
“What can I do for this horrible pain?” she texted me last week.
“Medical marijuana,” I stated again, hoping that this time she would break her hard fast rules and let me help her.
She agreed and said, “I’m getting a card.”
“That’s great, love but they take like three ridiculous fucking months, its easier to get oxy then to get a Medical marijuana card. Let me bring you some; it’s the only thing that will help.” I know this because of my brother. His cancer had metastasized and he had to get pot illegally to ease his pain. I’ll risk the law breaking, you have fucking bad cancer and if I have to go to jail for helping a sister who is on the precipice of life, charge me.
Cancer is this when it is undiagnosed. Cancer is this when we have the unfortunate too late wisdom of retrospect. There is the balance of too much information and putting our heads in the sand. This is the struggle I have because of this bummer BRCA2 gene. I think many of us struggle with the decision to be proactive with the possibility of preventative and the ‘I’d rather not know so I’ll take what life serves me.’ How much is too much information? How much is fishing for trouble and how much is being proactive? How much is starting my son off early on the path of self care or full blown anxiety if he tests positive? I don’t know what preventative measures our friend took and it doesn’t really matter. It is kind of like asking that insensitive question to someone who loses someone they love to lung cancer, “Did they smoke?” Who the fuck cares, they are dead and hindsight is in fact after the fact. I think I would rather ask, “Did they have a great time in their life doing everything they wanted?” Because like my dad, he loved to smoke and drink and for him, this gave him immense pleasure. If he were answering the question that I just posed, his answer would have been a resounding yes. I am sure of that.
Some people say, ‘when it’s your time, it’s your time.’ So I guess that can be true because as I look back at my family history, I can see the wisdom of my grandmother who found a spot because of a regular check up and had a mastectomy at 37. Because she did her regular checkups, she was blessed with survivorship and lived until 93 not dying from cancer, but just a heart that decided to say, “Enough. I’m done here.” Healthy and barking orders at my grandfather on their 71st wedding anniversary and dead two days later. I can see the burying of the head in the sand from my brother who went for one of those studies kids do to make money in college and was rejected because they saw a spot on his lung and recommended he get it checked. He, (at the immortal super stud muffin age of 22), decided not to and died three years later.
My father who never believed in mandated health insurance, (why he moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire. LIVE FREE OR DIE- he did, so I guess the NH mantra worked) played Russian roulette with his health. He never went to the doctor and as soon as he could get Medicare got with that the unfortunate diagnosis of esophagus cancer at 66. My father led his life with gusto and was a total rule breaker, opened businesses left and right whenever the idea spoke to him. He smoked, drank brandy in his coffee, did as he pleased. I remember being at the doctor with him when he was first diagnosed and saying to the doctor in my back then self righteous tone, “Can you please tell my father that smoking is not helpful to his healing from this cancer?” (back when I got sucked into the vortex that he could survive if he only tried this one more chemo treatment.) This NYC doctor, who got out of the city and moved to beautiful St. Johnsbury, Vermont to live and practice a quieter life, looked him right in the eye and said, “Dave, do what you enjoy.” What he really was saying, there is no positive outcome here, so who gives a flying fuck if you smoke or drink.
We all think we have some type of control over our lives by our choices. I guess there is some element of truth to this, but how many stories do we hear of the opposite? The healthy ones getting cancer, the unhealthy ones living and smoking well into their eighties. The stories of a man surviving the Holocaust, surviving a terrorist bomb when he was visiting Israel and then dying in a car accident. No justice. What’s the point? We are all specs on the planet and we probably won’t even be remembered three generations from now. I struggle with this question in my moments of anxiety about bullshit, “Will I have enough money saved for retirement? Will I continue to be able to manage my house as things continue to go south because my house is over 150 years old? Will I be able to buy my Airstream or blah blah blah? What’s the point of this whole shebang we call life. (I just noticed the word shebang is SHE BANG.) I guess that’s the point. Can we live in our world with a SHE BANG attitude? Maybe this is the point. A little preventative, a little put your head in the sand, but make sure it is all about BANG.
I have a funny memory of my father, pretty wasted away. He had turned into a New Hampshire, hang out in the woods, under the radar, ATV riding Libertarian. Our family wasn’t sure what to make of his transformation, but we loved his no bullshit SHE BANG attitude. His pants barely staying up except for his trademark suspenders he now had to wear, his beard yellowed and straggly from all of his GO FUCK YOURSELF, CANCER sassitude smoking and wearing his Connelly Campground hat with the pin that says, “cancer sucks” like a bagde of honor. As I commented, like I had for my whole life on his incessant smoking on the cigarette he had dangling from his thin lips,he said to me, “What’s it going to do, kill me?”
Well actually, yes. It did, but it did his way and I know that was his point for sure.