Writing about cancer
Cancer threw me into a vortex, agitated and spun me around until I was completely disoriented—and then spit me back out into vaguely familiar, but eerily not-quite-right territory. In writing and assembling this memoir, I felt the absurdity of trying to make sense of the messiness of disease, of trying to cram the entirety of my experience into a tidy, outlined format, to impose expository control on the discombobulation of cancer and create order out of the bedlam of disease. It’s near impossible.
The mornings are the hardest. I am disoriented from a dream of walking my dog in the rain. In the dream there are huge puddles. I don’t know which way to go. Some kids are playing catch nearby. A child misses and the ball rolls to my feet.
Suddenly I am awake with the realization of an unfamiliar and heavy weight. Various body parts ache. The emotions begin to swell. I feel the guilt of abandoning my kids and the pain I’ll cause my husband. I am overwhelmed with every maudlin thought from the trite why me, why now to the desperate, despairing sadness of my grandchildren growing up not knowing me, of my husband remarrying, of my children without the rudder of mom. All the things I wished to do, the woman I hoped to become pour in through the gaping wound of emotional exhaustion. I spiral out of control for maybe 10 minutes before I cannot stand it any longer.
I get out of bed and do the little things that add up to a daily life. I take care of the dog who is so practical. Cancer or not she needs to pee, to eat, to get a biscuit because she’s a good girl. All of this I do regardless of the weight that grinds away at me. I make tea and, surprisingly, there is still happiness in the cup. I eat oatmeal.
I try to find the calm and strength that had stabilized me the night before. But it has disappeared. I realize it is something I have to create anew every day, piece by piece. It is something of my own making, my own design. It’s not inherent or innate in me. I have to choose it, define it, and design it again and again. This realization is daunting but it is my task now. Build the calm.
And then somewhere in the night it is knocked down again. So I start each morning with the weight, the dog, the tea, and my task before me.