To Fight or Not To Fight? Or, Your Life, Your Rules

So a discussion about this came up in my Twitter feed recently. Some of my fellow-travellers in Cancerland don’t like the fighting metaphor. Fair enough. There’s nothing wrong with that––we all deal with our various things differently and a disease is no exception. My mother developed breast cancer at 90. She eventually had surgery but prior to that, her doctor treated it with hormones, which worked for a while. My mother referred to her tumour as ‘Madame’, talking about it––and sometimes to it––as if it were a fussy roommate. We learned from her doctor that it isn’t unusual for patients to name a tumour, or just the disease itself, and to treat it like a companion.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Whatever gets you through the night, the day, the following night, the day after, and so on and so forth. Your life, your rules. One size does not fit all.

So I’m a little put out by Macmillan Cancer Support telling people they shouldn’t think in terms of fighting. Or maybe what I take issue with is their narrow interpretation of ‘fight.’ There are all kinds of ways to fight, and many have nothing to do with combat or battlefields.

I get up every morning and bitch-slap Cancer right in the face. But a slap in the face doesn’t have to be literal. Getting excluded from my all-day dance parties is a slap in the face to Cancer. When I was having chemo, I pole-danced with my IV tree and put a funny hat on my medication infuser. That, to me, is fighting…and winning, at least for a time.

The thing is, I’ve been fighting all my life. I had to fight people’s expectations of what a kid from the bad part of town could become. I had to fight for my education. And even when I was a kid, I had to fight to stay alive. The heart defect I had wasn’t discovered until I was five––my mother’s sister Madeline had died of the same ailment. The doctor told my mother I should have been frail, sickly, and died early of a bad cold. I wasn’t, and I didn’t.

Fighting is what I know how to do. I fight and I go on, and I see nothing shameful about defeat. It doesn’t matter how strong you are or how lucky, no hot streak can last forever; the house always wins in the end. When losing is inevitable, there’s no shame in it.

Macmillan, honey, it’s not the fighting metaphor that makes patients feel guilty about admitting fear and preventing them from planning properly for their death––it’s the fact that they have frickin’ terminal cancer––literally, not metaphorically!

Everyone feels guilty about admitting they’re afraid of anything, regardless of what it is––it’s how we are. Nobody wants to be a fraidy-cat, even if they’re afraid of being terminal, which is about as terrifying as it gets. And planning for your own death–– bitch, please. ‘Hey, here’s a fun thing to do––let’s spend the weekend looking at urn catalogs and deciding on music for my service! Then we can have a will-making party!’ said nobody ever, not even healthy people.

No metaphor of any kind is going to make terminal cancer patients feel better, or braver, or more positive about what’s going to happen to them.

What will help a terminal cancer patient––or any other cancer patient––is the support of friends and family in whatever form the person needs. Macmillan Cancer Support is brilliant at that––you can call them up for any reason, even if you just need to talk. If you have money problems, they can work with you to find some way to manage. They have wigs and scarves and hats. There are support groups you can join, in person or online, or both.

Oh, what the hell, I already said it several paragraphs ago: your life, your rules. You don’t want to fight, do it your way. If it works for you, you’re not doing it wrong.

One last pro-tip: no one is positive about having terminal cancer all the time, not even me. But then, I’m not positive about anything all the time.

Who is?


Springtime Is Also My Third Chemoversary

Sometime later this month, it will be three years since the end of chemo and, roughly, 1.25 years of borrowed time. Or maybe that’s reclaimed time.

And no, it never gets old. I thought maybe by now, I’d feel bored sometimes, or restless, or dissatisfied. But every day is still a party. It isn’t always the best party ever; sometimes we run out of the really good hors d’oeuvres. Sometimes we run out of ice for the drinks, or clean glasses, or anything other than tap water. But that’s how you know you’re alive—things get messy, cold things get warm, hot things get cold, and you run out of everything except the Marmite-flavoured potato chips.

If you’re lucky, though, you’ve got at least one friend who likes Marmite-flavoured chips and is willing to keep you company until the supply train comes in.

While I never really believed I was going to shuffle off this mortal coil by December 2016, I still can’t help marvelling that I’m well into my second year past the old deadline. Sometimes, I want to run outside, holler, beat my chest, and yell, NO, NOT TODAY, EITHER, NYAH, NYAH, NYAH!

My neighbours probably don’t know how thrilled they should be that instead, I’ve chosen simply to tweet a jeer at Mortality daily. And write the occasional blog post.

I Have Cancer But Cancer Doesn’t Have Me

The level of cancer in my body has fallen again. The hormones I’m taking are still killing off cancer cells.

Today I saw a new members of my oncologist’s team. It was all I could do not to start dancing around her office. Although who knows—she might have danced with me. She looked amazed when she checked the results of my blood test.

On our way out, Chris and I ran into a few fellow-travellers who said they liked my lucky short—i.e., the one that says, I’m Making Cancer My Bitch. I love my lucky shirt.

I’m sorry, I’m not very erudite at the moment. I’m busy rubbing moisturiser on my face and hands, drinking liquids, and celebrating the fact that when life gives you lemons, sometimes it also throws in a few green bananas.

Green bananas for everybody! (I’m not buying; sorry. But I would if I could.)

Suddenly, It’s February 2018, And I’m Not Dead Yet

No, I didn’t sleep through the holidays—-quite the opposite. In the spirit of ‘I can’t die—-I’m booked!’ I took on a project that unexpectedly doubled in size.

For a while, I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone that I was writing the novelisation for the upcoming movie Alita Battle Angel for Titan Books. But then Titan listed the books on Amazon for pre-order, so the cyborg cat is out of the cyborg bag. Originally, the movie was scheduled for release in July of this year. Fox has since pushed it back to December. So you have plenty of time to pre-order copies for Christmas presents. 😉

Since October, I’ve been living in a reimagined version of the Battle Angel Alita manga. When I got the assignment, I was thrilled because, wonder of wonders, I was already familiar with the material. My fabulous son read the manga when he was a kid, which meant I had read the manga—-I read everything he read, so I would know what my fabulous son was feeding into his fabulous brain. (When he was growing up, his father and I took him to a bookstore every weekend and we told him he could have any book he wanted. I think that worked out well.)

So I already knew Alita and I was even happier to discover that Amazon had a lot of the manga in electronic form. Yes, I know many people object to electronic versions of books and graphic novels. But these are people who, unlike me, are not cursed with the power to make things disappear. The big attraction of ebooks for me is, not only do I never lose them, I never lose my place in them, either. Plus, I can look up words by touching them and highlight significant passages without having the highlighter leak through to the next page.

Anyway, I had a great time with Alita Battle Angel and shortly after I finished the submission draft of the novelisation, my editor Ella contacted me to say the original author writing the prequel, Yvonne Navarro, had had to bow out, and would I be interested in taking it on, despite the shorter deadline? I most certainly was interested. Fortunately, Yvonne had written a detailed outline already approved by the studio. Thanks, Yvonne!

The prequel is called Iron City, and you have lots of time to pre-order copies along with Alita Battle Angel for Christmas presents.

And that’s where I’ve been—about six hundred years in the future, give or take. Pretty good, considering I’ve just begun my second year of borrowed time. In between, I’ve also made a lot of progress on the next draft of the sushi novel—-working title: See You When You Get There.)

Last day to buy green bananas was 6 February; my oncology appointment is next week. I have to get a blood test today or tomorrow. I’ve begun feeling the usual mild anxiety—-but this time, the anxiety has come much later than usual. I’ve actually been too busy to remember I have terminal cancer.

But then, I’ve always been a bit absentminded anyway…;-)

It’s Christmas Eve—You Know What That Means

It’s time for my favourite Christmas story. No, this is not your standard Christmas story. It’s not even a Christmas story at all. But I heard it for the first time years ago, and when the holiday season rolled around, it was the first thing I thought of. So I’ve been posting it every year, and I’ll be posting it every year until further notice.

One night, Confucius had a dream about chopsticks.

In the dream, he was transported to Hell, where he saw multitudes of people sitting at enormous tables set out with wonderful foods of all kinds. There was so much food that the tables groaned under the weight and the various aromas were mouth-watering, promising incredibly delectable flavours. But the people sitting at the tables had not touched any of it—they had been told they could eat as much as they liked but only if they ate with chopsticks that were five feet long. None of them could figure out how to eat with five-foot-long chopsticks so all they could do was stare hopelessly at this amazing feast and cry in hunger and misery.

Then Confucius was taken to heaven where he again saw multitudes of people sitting around enormous tables laden with glorious foods. They had also been told they were allowed to eat only if they used the five-foot-long chopsticks. But these people were not crying with hunger and frustration—they were eating their fill, talking, laughing, and enjoying themselves.

Because in heaven, they were feeding each other.

My friends, whatever holiday you celebrate, however you celebrate it, I hope it’s heavenly.

You Never Know Until You Know

I was really expecting to hear I was going back into chemo today. The last exam showed that the level of cancer in my body had neither fallen nor risen. The oncologist had told me that if there was even a slight rise, I’d go back into treatment.

But today, the oncologist told me the level of cancer had fallen. Not by a miraculous amount but enough to be significant, and to allow us to continue to be cautiously optimistic about the future.

I was okay with the idea of going back into chemo. It wasn’t exactly how I’d have chosen to spend the holidays but it could be worse. Besides, I have Ultra Hats for all occasions. Anyway, Chris and I were prepared; our upper lips were stiff, Blitz spirit, all that.

And instead, we get good news. We’re a bit stunned but hey, we’ll take it!

Now we’re back home. I’ve told Chris he can collapse for the rest of the day. Me, I’m going to get back to work-work-work-work-work-work—I’ve got a lot of work—although I think I’ll have a generous shot of Monkey Shoulder whisky to go with it.

So that’s today’s life lesson, friends and neighbours: you never know until you know and it ain’t over till it’s over. Every victory, even a small one, is a gain and if you pile up a whole lot of small victories, you just might end up with a big one. But don’t wait—celebrate each small victory as you go. You can still have a big party later.

Don’t mind me. I’m dizzy with relief. Did I mention it was good news? I did, didn’t I?

Yes, We Have No Green Bananas

It’s been such a busy year, I’ve barely had time to think about terminal cancer, so the fact that 10 October was my last day to buy green bananas before my oncologist appointment on the 24th went right by me. And now here I am in Milan, at Stranimondi, which is my last out-of-town event for 2017. I’ve already accepted two invitations for next year—a convention in Poland in April and OctoCon in Dublin in October. Anyone would get the idea I think I’m going to live forever.

But the suspense for this appointment is killing me even more than usual, seeing as how last time, the level of cancer had neither fallen nor increased. If there’s an increase, it’s back to chemo.

The prospect of chemo doesn’t worry me. It’s the waiting to find out—the suspense—that has me hopping from one foot to the other. I can still work on chemo, although there are times when I’m slower. But I told my oncologist back in the beginning that I don’t care if my cancer is terminal, I want to fight it aggressively. I’m not going to go quietly or gently into that so-called good night. I’m not going to ‘die with dignity.’ 

I’m going to live as hard and as long as I can, and when I go, I’m going to skid into my grave sideways with a piece of chocolate fudge cake in one hand and a double martini with three huge olives in the other, yelling, ‘Woohoo, what a ride!’