I try to be the best-dressed person in the infusion room. I wrap myself up in thrift-store luxury and pin it together with a large gold brooch in the shape of a horseshoe. The nurses always praise the way I dress. I need that. Then they infuse me with a platinum agent, among other things, and I am a person in thrift-store luxury with platinum running through her veins.
Listen For That Good
After the infusion is done, I sit up until I fall over. I try to win all the board games, remember all the books any of us have read, stay up late. Terrible things are happening in my body. People with breast cancer are supposed to be ourselves as we were before, but also better and stronger and at the same time heart-wrenchingly worse. We are supposed to keep our unhappiness to ourselves but donate our courage to everyone.
If we die later, as Dana does, we are supposed to know that our friends will participate in a fund-raising athletic event and take a minute, before moving on to other episodes, to remember that we once lived. We are supposed to be legible as patients while navigating hospitals and getting treatment, and illegible as our actual, sick selves while going to work and taking care of others. Our actual selves must now wear the false heroics of disease: every patient a celebrity survivor, smiling before the surgery and smiling after it, too.
Vocation of Sr. Clare Crockett
We are supposed to be feisty, sexy, snarky women, or girls, or ladies, or whatever. During treatment, you must have a desire to live, but it is also necessary to believe that you are a person worth keeping alive. Cancer requires painful, expensive, environmentally harmful, extractive medicine.
Many of the chemotherapy drugs I take, like cyclophosphamide, pass from urine into wastewater, and traces of them may last in the common water supply for up to eight hundred days. Another, carboplatin, accumulates in aquatic environments, where it lingers, but no one yet knows what damage it does. The West Himalayan yew tree, from which one of my drugs is harvested, has been endangered since In , a hundred and thirty billion dollars was spent on cancer drugs globally, an amount greater than the G.
The cost of one chemotherapy infusion was more money than I had earned in any year of my life. How many books, to pay back the world for my still existing, would I have to write? While I was recovering from one of my treatments, I asked a friend to help me count my wounds.
We looked at what we could see, she with horror, I with harsh, curious insistence. The pains in my body were not precise instructions for the future or reliable accounts of the past. The entire upper half hurt: neck arms glands abdomen back eyeballs throat face shoulder head.
There was one spot, on the side of what would be my new left breast, that hurt like an emergency. There was another spot, on the side of what would be my new right breast, that hurt like a minor emergency. Who would want to hear the hammer always complaining about its meeting with the nail? The slightly ill but undiagnosed are better narrators than the truly ill. Their suffering is not so overdetermined. To write about oneself may be to write of death, but to write about death is to write of everyone.
After my double mastectomy, I am evicted from the recovery ward. The nurse wakes me up from the anesthesia and attempts to fill out the exit questionnaire while I argue with her that I am not O.
I tell her that my pain is not managed, that I have not yet gone to the bathroom, that I have not yet been given instructions, that I cannot stand. Then the nurse makes me leave, and I leave. You are not supposed to be alone when you get home, either.
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But no one really asks how you manage it once you are forced out of the surgical center—who, if anyone, you have to care for you. Ten days after my surgery, I have to go back to work. I am driven there by my friends, many of whom have already had to make great sacrifices to help me. Some write checks, some help me drain the surgical tubes stitched to my body, others send mixtapes or cannabis popcorn. My students have no idea what has been done to me or how much I hurt.
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I have always wanted to write the most beautiful book against beauty. Then the surgeon calls to tell me that, as far as she can tell, the drugs have worked, the cancer is gone. The common struggle gets pushed through the sieve of what forms we have to describe it, and before you know it the wide and shared suffering of this world is narrowed and gossamer, as thin as silk and looking as special as the language it takes to tell it. But I was a single mother who had no savings and no partner to care for me, who had to work all through my treatment at a job where I was advised to never let on that I was ill.
My cancer was not just a set of sensations or lessons in interpretation or a problem for art, although it was all of these things. My cancer was a captive fear that I would die and leave my daughter in a hard world with no resources, a fear, too, that I had devoted my life to writing and sacrificed all I had and never come to its reward.
I tell my daughter that my BRCA genetic test came back negative. Despite icing my hands and feet all during chemotherapy, my fingernails and toenails begin to lift from their beds. Fingernails lifting from fingers hurts as badly as fingernails lifting from fingers should. I bandage my iridescently painted nails onto me.
I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,. The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,. The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue. I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,. And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,. And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men. We have had ducking and deprecating about enough,. Have you outstript the rest? It is a trifle, they will more than arrive there every one, and still pass on. I am he that walks with the tender and growing night,. I call to the earth and sea half-held by the night.
Night of south winds—night of the large few stars! Still nodding night—mad naked summer night. Earth of departed sunset—earth of the mountains misty-topt! Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue! Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river! Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!
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Prodigal, you have given me love—therefore I to you give love! You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean,. I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers,.
I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me,. We must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land,. Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse,. Sea breathing broad and convulsive breaths,. Howler and scooper of storms, capricious and dainty sea,. I am integral with you, I too am of one phase and of all phases.