Thursday, September 27, 2007

Elephant Seals

Last February Scout and I drove down to Ano Nuevo state park near Santa Cruz, California. Every Winter thousands of Elephant Seals come to small strip of beach in order to mate. In order to get to the seals you have to book tickets in advance and take a 2 mi hike through sand dunes to get to the shore. I was two months into my chemo and not sure if I was going to make it, but I did! I was very proud of myself and had an amazing time.

The seals were HUGE (I think they weighed about 500-1000 lbs) but even more impressive than their size were the sounds they made. These enormous bellows that sounded like a cross between a sea lion and a Harley Davidson. I've been thinking of these guys a lot lately. Maybe because I seem to be crying a lot lately and making similar noises.

The nature guide gave us a lecture about the seals as we were walking to the mating site. The struggle the seals had to make to get to this beach hardly seemed worth it. Only a small percentage of offspring survive. Then they have to trek back to this beach. They weigh so much that they can barely move on the sand and mostly just lie around all day. Seems like a lot of effort. It made my two mile hike seem like a walk in the park. (Um, well, it was a walk in the park, but you know what I mean.)

Not sure why I'm posting this now. I've just been thinking about them. And how we are such different creatures, but we are both part of the same cycle of life.

Deep, I know.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An Open Letter to My Cancer

Dear cancer,

It's been exactly one year since we were introduced. I have to say you scared the shit out of me when we first met. In fact, you still scare the shit out of me sometimes. But a year has passed and we've had time to work out some of the rocky bits. Don't get me wrong—I'm still not happy with you—but I think we've managed to get past the blinding fear stage into something a bit more mellow, yet more complex.

Let's talk about that first introduction. One year ago today I woke up early to go to the hospital for my first ever colonoscopy. I wasn't worried. My sister had had many of them and she assured me the prep was the worst part. I was actually kind of curious, looking forward to seeing some of the images. What did the inside of me look like? I still have MRI scans of my brain that I had done about 15 years ago—I just I think it's cool to see the inside of my head. They suited me up in a scanty hospital gown, wheeled my gurney into the exam room, hooked up my IV and one of the nurses said count back from ten. So I said, "10, 9…Zzzzzzz" and I was out. I came to in fits and starts. I'd hear some fuzzy voices or see a flash as I opened my eyes, but then lose consciousness again. I have no idea how long this went on, but I do remember that in the fog I thought I heard my Gastroenterologist say, "Megan, you have colon cancer." And I thought to myself, "that's just my fear talking, my brain playing tricks on me. Don't be ridiculous, Megan, you don't have cancer." I went under again and that whole exchange was lost to me. Moments? Minutes? I don't know how long it was but I heard my GI again. This time she was telling me my sister was on her way. "My sister?" I thought, "Why?" Scout was waiting for me in the waiting room. Did something happen to him? Was he okay? I must have looked quite confused because my GI asked me, "Megan, do you remember talking before? Do you remember what I told you?" I had some very hazy memory of her speaking to me, but nothing concrete so I answered no. "You have colon cancer." "I…What?? That's not…but I… I'm too young for cancer. This is not what I was expecting. " Somehow I thought that if I clearly pointed out that I was way too young for this sort of thing and this is not what the brochure had promised, logic and order would prevail and somebody would tell me they'd made a mistake. "Your sister is on her way and your dad is flying up from L.A." How did she know this? Where was Scout? I had fucking cancer? No fucking way! This was just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I went in and out of consciousness again for a while and suddenly my sister appeared by the bed. I don't know where she came from. I asked where Scout was and she said he'd gone for lunch, and was on his way back. So he didn’t know. Since we're not married, they couldn't tell him the diagnosis. Which meant I was going to have to tell him. Well, shit. Scout came in and the three of us went to a little room walled off by privacy curtains. Then I introduced you two. "Scout, I have cancer." I couldn't hear your response from deep in my colon, but I'm guessing it was along the lines of "Rowwwr...gurgle... puthah!" or something. Whatever it was, you managed to scare the shit out of Scout, too.

For the next nine moths or so, you had the upper hand, at least physically. Surgery and chemo left me a pitiful shambles. But mentally I was ready to smash you to pieces. You weren’t ever going to get me to give up. I should walk as soon as I can after surgery? I took a lap of floor five the next day. Chemo might mess with my blood cell counts? I did a meditation every other Wednesday (a.k.a. chemo day) to imagine my healthy cells fending off the chemo and only the cancer cells getting hit by the toxins. When my oncologist suggested we might reduce dosage to make me more comfortable, I always thought, "no, I wanna make life as miserable as possible for any cancer cells that still think they might get away with it." I was in full battle mode. Cancer, I was going to smash you to smithereens and come out stronger on the other side. Take that! Bam! Pow! Smush!

Then the war was done and now the peace process has begun. I wish I could say that I left the chemo room on my last day of treatment, walked out on the street, and threw my hat up in the air, MTM style. It wasn't as much "you're gonna make it after all!" as it was "can I just go home and curl up under a blanket now?" And so I've tried to spend the last four months making peace with you. You've brought some good things into my life. I am now much more in tune with what's important to me and how I want to be in this world. My friends came out in full force to surround me, help me and shower me with good lovin'. I am more able to live in the moment. The knowledge that each moment is sacred really hit home when I realized that I might not have that many moments left to savor. I stop to look at birds and squirrels and trees in the wind. I eat fruit with more lust. I rub my kitty's belly when he's eating for as long as he wants because, really, is there anything more important that I have to do right now? I know the depth of my strength. It's pretty deep, my cancer friend.

But just as you brought out my strength, you've also brought out my demons. Issues? Oh yeah, I got issues. I'm dirt poor. I'm not even quite sure I'll have the money to pay the rent next month. I haven't told most of my family about you, save my sister, my dad, one cousin and my uncle. Why? Because of where you came from: my mother. You arose because of a mutated gene I inherited from her. Ah, mom. She's only really a mother in the vaguest, most scientific form of the word. I haven't spoken to her in about 7 years because of the horrible effect she has on me. (Did you ever see "Mommie Dearest", cancer? She considered it a parenting how-to film.) One of my first thoughts after being introduced to you one year ago was "please don't let my mother find out about this." And so far the family that I have told have helped me keep you two from meeting. But I have to decide what to do now. Do I ever tell her about you?

Then there is the whole breaking-through-the-colon-wall-and-invading-my-uterus issue. On this one, I have to say, I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive you. You see, I haven't had kids yet. And I really wanted to. So, for you to take my uterus like that is just really fucking evil. I know I can adopt and it's something that I even considered before all this but for you to just take away my options like that, well, for that you suck. I'll never know what it's like to be pregnant. I'll never know what it's like to give birth to a tiny baby and know that I made that! I made it from love and sperm and eggs and I nurtured it and made it a whole and happy baby. I am still having a hard time looking at pregnant women or seeing women with their cute babies in their arms. I get mad, cancer, really pissed off at those times.

So here we are. You are hopefully dearly departed and I am trying to pick up the pieces left in your wake. I know that your memory will fade with time. In a few years, when I look back at how much I was still entangled with you at our one year anniversary, I'll be able to sigh and say "glad that's over." But for now, I'm still figuring out how to negotiate our peace. How to get to know this new, post-cancer me. How to let go of the sadness, rage, grief, injustice and fear. How to hold the love, kindness, laughter, gratitude and interconnectedness of it all. I'll get there. Slowly. With patience, compassion and an open heart.

One day maybe we'll even be friends.

With love, because that's the strongest weapon I've got,


Friday, September 21, 2007

The Force in strong in this one

So, y'all think I should use the Force?

Okay, I'll go get my divining rod, close my eyes and see where it leads me.

I'll post when it leads me somewhere good.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I'd like to poll the audience, Regis

I'm just going to put it out there and, in the parlance of reality shows, let America decide. (Although in this case I know there are some international votes out there, too.) I know most of you don't know me personally, but that shouldn't stop you from making a snap judgment about my life. So here goes:

I have a choice to make. I want to go back to school and I am trying to decide between two paths: Library Science and Sonographer.

Before I was diagnosed I had just started a Master's in Library and Information Science. I was doing school part-time, working full time and then, Bam! Cancer. It was going to take me about 3.5-4 years to complete my masters this way, but I don't hate my job or anything so that was fine. I had dreams of being an academic librarian - helping with research and getting to learn cool, new stuff in the process, getting on the tenure track, going to some gorgeous, old, gothic library in the middle of an ivy-covered campus for work everyday. This is, like all fantasies, an idealized version, but you get the gist. In the end, I'm a nerd -- science, books, films. You name it, I nerd in it.

Then cancer happened and I realized a few things. About 10 years ago I had gone back to school to take a whole bunch of pre-med classes in the hopes of becoming a doctor. It's a long story, but eventually I decided not to, mostly because the thought of working in the crazy, f^&%ed up American healthcare system and going $100, 000 into debt from student loans sounded too unappealing. I still don't think getting an MD is for me, but while cruising the internet one day in my chemo haze I came across the idea of being an ultrasound technician or "sonographer" as they prefer to be called. This was appealing for a few reasons. First, it was still in the patient care field that had appealed to me as a pre-med, second it was intellectually stimulating (it's a bit like solving a 3-D puzzle to get the image right) and third it pays reaaalllllly well. Which, b.c., never was that important to me but one heinous year and thousands of dollars in co-pays n' crap later (which, I have to thank my dad for paying for -- I would have been in massive debt at this point without him) is something that seems more important.

So, what to do? I have decided that either way I think I will take some time off work to be a full-time student. If I do, the Sonography program will take about 1 to 1.5 years and the Library Science about 2.5 years. So, obviously, I can start to make some money sooner with the Sonography and replace my cancer-demolished war chest sooner. Both are cheap programs through state schools. (Go publicly funded education! Woo woo!) The Library Science would offer me more diversity in career options. The Sonography would allow me to travel much like nurses can. Really, there are pros and cons for both.

So, friends and random strangers reading my blog, what should I do? I have put up a poll on the top left side of the blog. It'll be there for a week. Go ahead -- you make the call! The power is in your hands, America!

What... should... I... do?

Monday, September 10, 2007

One more hallucination, for old times sake...

While on chemo I was taking deacadron to help control the nausea. Decadron has many interesting side effects, one of which is hallucination. These hallucinations manifested themselves for me as odd phrases popping into my head at random moments. I remember once there was something about a train in Madrid scheduled to leave at 3pm and another time something about the meaning of cloud formations. They were generally quite poetic and, aside from the creepy feeling of my thoughts being out of my control for a second or two, I didn't really mind. Haven't had one in months, but today while walking down the street to my office I heard a voice as clear as day:

"Landed Gentry"

What does it mean? What great insight into my psyche can I gleam from this? Is it a potent of my future? A memory of a past life? Random misfiring of some bored neuron?

I guess we'll never know.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


A few years ago I became enamored with mullet websites such as mulletsgalore. While bored at work, I would peruse pages and pages of photos of different mullets. These mullets were classified into categories with names like "cameromullet" or "meximullet". They always cracked me up. Who would *do* that to their hair?

Sadly, I have unwittingly cultivated my own category: "cancermullet"

My hair is growing back, which is good, but the new hair is now about 3 inches long which, apparently, is bad. The new hair seems to stick up and out and then the old, thin hair kind of falls limply to the sides and back. (See embarrassing photo above.) It's kind of like a pompadour/mullet, but it certainly has the business in the front/party in the back quality that all mullets share.


I guess that's what happens when you judge people for having mullets. The universe gives you cancer and then you have to live the mullet lifestyle for months while your hair grows back.

I will never make fun of anyone's hairstyle again. I promise.