Many years ago I went to see Stanley Kubrick's film "Full Metal Jacket" (Yes, I was that much of a film geek, even at 15.) If you've never seen it, it may be one of the most graphic depictions of war ever put on film. Stuff you really don't want to see. Of the many ultra violent images, one has always stuck with me. I may be getting the details fuzzy (I haven't seen the movie since it came out) but there's a scene where one soldier gets his guts blown out. The horror is that he's still alive and he's scrambling to pick up his intestines and stuff them back in while his friends watch, unable to help.
That visual hit me hard. It showed up in my nightmares while I slept, my angsty teen poetry, my images of what I imagined my worst fate could be.
Today I realized why that image has such a profound hold on me. It's about control. Or really, it's about lack of control. The feeling of my slimy intestines in my hands, slipping through my fingers, and there's nothing I can do. As soon as I get a hold of one section, another I had been holding fast slips out of my hand. And another. And another. Nothing I do to try to get things back under control -- speed, planning, panic, calm -- nothing will stop the feeling of my slimy guts slipping out of my control.
And that's what cancer does. No matter how much I felt like I had my life in control, no matter how much I felt that I had built myself a safe place with friends and love and a home, it didn't matter. It all slipped through my fingers the instant I met cancer. Cancer blew my guts out, literally and figuratively.
Since I stopped chemo I've been on a quest. I feel compelled to get order back, logic back, get control of my life back. If I could feel in control, somehow it would make everything better. When everything is out of control, you try to control whatever you can.
So I made grand plans. I'm going to apply to grad school for next fall. Take the GRE, write essays, take prerequisites, fill out applications, go for interviews. I'm going to go to Japan next month. I'm going to write articles and a book. I'm going to invent a new card game. I'm going to be a pillar for the young girl I met who just lost her mom to cancer. I'm going to learn new things, buy new things, be new things. go go go go Go GO!
Enough. Rewind. Back the fuck up.
I can't control my cancer. It may be gone and it may not. I may have 50 years left or only five. I don't know and, really, it doesn't matter. Whatever happens, it's not up to me. And no matter how much I scramble, how much I plan, how much I try to make it perfect, it's not. It's messy and loud and weird and unfair and the best thing ever and the worst thing ever. It's chaos. If you've never really experienced chaos, let me tell you, it's seamlessly both infuriating and beautiful.
And don't you think it's ironic that I got colon cancer? One of the images that haunts me my whole life is my guts spilling out and what happens? My guts spill out. Maybe I should take comfort in that. My guts spilled out and I'm still here.