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,



Anonymous said...

I just found your log off of another bog I red:"Michell vs. Cancer" All I can say is "WOW" This letter is amazing...for those of us who have yet to experience something so profoundly life changing, reading this letter was so real to me...and it's really making me stop and think. I appreciate you posting that and giving us a view into waht it was like for you this past year. You definitely have a way with words!!!!

ETinKC said...

Megan -

hi, it is one of your other cousins that you didn't tell. I am just sorry that i wasn't able to be there for you but glad you had amazing friends to support you and that you are doing okay it seems.

don't know what else to say - as you most likely know, my mom is going through chemo right now and seems to be doing okay with it. Somewhere we got a fucked up gene in this family - guess I should get that screening done earlier rather than later as I turned 40 this year.

Sorry things got so screwed up family wise as I miss you all and am sad that my kids don't really know you. Please be well.


Kerry Crochets said...

this made me cry. I saw so much of myself and the ways I've felt over the last year that it was frightening. Comforting, too. I'm not alone, and I'm not crazy.

Hang in there - we can see the light at the edge of the forest now, right?

Oh, and for what it's worth, my fertility was never up to snuff, so I had to take fertility drugs to have my two daughters, and now no amount of fertility drugs would allow me to do it again. While I wasn't planning on, or even wanting to, have any more, I understand that having the choice snatched from you against your will is painful.

Spencer Douglas said...

This is the most powerful entry I've read on your blog. It made me cry, even though I believe the worst is over.

I love you and I have a great admiration and respect for how you've handled every aspect of it.

I'm so proud of who you were before and during, and who you've become since.


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