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.