On fighting

It’s 12:10AM, and I can’t sleep. Warning: seriousness ahead.

As a young adult with cancer, I’m in a weird limbo. I went from living in my own apartment to staying with my parents. I went from financial independence to costing my insurance a zillion dollars a minute. I’m not supposed to drive since the fainting episode, which the ER had to report the DMV. Everything I do these days is a bizarre mix of young and old – part grown-up, part little girl, part totally terrified animal just fighting to survive, like a wolf caught in a trap willing to gnaw off its own leg (or in my case, boobs) to be free.

I was lying in my childhood bed, staring up my childhood ceiling still dotted with those silly glow-in-the-dark stars, thinking big scary adulthood thoughts and listening to talk radio, which is a pretty adulthood thing to do, if you ask me. A story came on about a young boy battling leukemia. How sad, I thought to myself, that little boy has cancer. That’s awful.

And then I thought, Wait a minute, I have cancer! That’s totally awful, too! What the f–k? This sucks!

As I’ve mentioned in some of my posts, I’m receiving a lot of my treatment through the USC Norris Cancer Center. The University of Southern California cheers its sports teams to victory with the motto “Fight on!” When my plastic surgeon showed me reconstruction photos, she used a Keynote presentation entitled, “Fight on against breast cancer.” Cute, right?

When it comes to fighting, I just don’t know what to do. So many wonderful and well-meaning people have told me, in myriad different ways, to keep fighting. The language of “fighting” is ubiquitous in the cancer lexicon – we “battle,” we become “survivors” and “warriors,” we “win” or “lose” depending on which way our luck goes. In Costa Rica, my tour guide – who unfortunately had to be informed of the situation after I cancelled a ziplining session to sit by the phone awaiting the results of my terrible biopsy – cried and hugged me and made me promise, in heavily accented English, that I would fight with everything I’ve got.

But how? What can I do? I’ve never felt more impotent in my life. I can’t exercise more or eat better or drink more water to cure myself. Cancer isn’t like a cold, where I can feel my body reacting with the aches and fevers it takes to kill off the intruders. On the contrary, I feel fine. Cancer is a sneaky asshole; it’s a Trojan horse poised at my most vulnerable gates, and while the city of my cells slumbers on in oblivion, its toxic legions spill out into my lymph system and plunder my unassuming body.

So fight? I don’t know how. At least not physically, not until the doctors arm me with the intravenous chemical weapons I need. The doctors are the ones who will go in with knives and needles and cut me up, take me apart and stitch me back together again with the poisonous parts of my anatomy (hopefully) missing. The only way I can fight right now is with my attitude, which is subject to its own crests and troughs but more or less remains positive and upbeat. Cancer can take a lot, like my driver’s license (dammit, Michelle, why’d you have to faint in the MRI prep room?), but it can’t take away love, happiness, support, laughter. It can’t take away who I am, or what I love, or all-day Law & Order: SVU marathons on USA, which are literally the best thing in the world. It can’t make me stop making jokes about primate buttocks and Mexican food and it can’t stop me from trying to teach my dad how to Gangnam Style while we watch the season premier of The Biggest Loser, which was awesome, by the way. Jillian Michaels for president.

Fight on, indeed.

7 thoughts on “On fighting

  1. marilynn ware says:

    Michell, Just read your whole blog. Hardly know WHAT to say. But this should not be happening. We are loving you from afar and looking forward to the day you return to Virginia, healthy, sassy, strong, and WEARING SEQUINS. We are getting a new Good Will Store here, so in addition to Hawaiian shirts for Robert which he and his friends wear every Friday bc nothing says,” I’m not doing anything today like a Hawaiian shirt”, I will scour the racks for sequins for you and Katie Bo and me and who ever else. And though I come from a family of men, we don’t care what size your boobs are when you return, we just can’t wait to see YOU. Good luck and keep blogging. It’s good. Seems good for you too. much love, marilynn ware

    • Michelle says:

      Marilynn, thank you for taking the time to read these posts! I still can’t believe anyone is reading them! Finally, I’m a sort-of successful writer…all it took was a little bit of cancer, who knew? 🙂 I am very excited to sport sequins with you and Katie Bo when I’m back in Virginia. We will all look fabulous.

  2. Weenter is my favorite time of year says:

    Beautiful piece Michelle (as usual). Very soon you will begin the physical “fight”. Yes with the assistance of doctors, but also with your smart choices and decisions. And this “fight” only began because you used your mind and persistence when you discovered that lump- something I, and many others, may’ve ignored or let slide for some time.

    Your spirit (ie. mind, persistence, passion and attitude) has always been your best strength(s), whether debating the merits of 30 Rock vs. Glee, training for a marathon or kicking ass in grad school. And those not already have helped you start this battle, but they will help you throughout this journey (see, stepping away from the battle language for you). You’re right-cancer won’t get your spirit, and that is going to be one of the things that gets you through this. As I’ve I said before, you are the strongest and wittiest person I know, and to quote Mr. Trojan “fight on.” And if you ever need help getting pumped up for battle, remember that myself and others are there to support you. You’ve got a whole team fighting for you!

    Donkey….you know the rest

    • Michelle says:

      Jenny this comment is beautiful and moving and wonderful and I love you. But what I really want to say is one time my cousin and I touched…touched WEEEEEE–

      Seriously though, I love you.

  3. shikha! says:

    we should probably find you some sequined running shoes. i mean, come on. gotta do it.

  4. Forrest says:

    Some excellent Jillian quotes:

    “Unless You Puke, Faint or Die, Keep Going!”
    “I am doing the best I can given what I have today.”
    “Why are you going to choose failure when success is an option?”
    “Will is a skill.”

    and of course:
    “Do I look like the kind of person who gives a ****?”

    Also here is a picture of her standing up to cancer: http://www.accesshollywood.com/jillian-michaels-explains-why-she-came-back-to-the-biggest-loser_article_74543

    JMichaels for prez, for realz. Also, you are an fantastic writer. Love you!

    • Michelle says:

      I feel totally inspired by every single one of those quotes, no joke. Is it acceptable to pump myself up for surgery by listening to Jillian Michaels yell at me? It’s the kind of tough love I need.

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