Cancer Is Afraid Of Thunder

Yesterday we had rain alternating with brief periods of sunshine, and later the kind of rolling thunder Washington Irving was probably listening to when he wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” I love a good thunderstorm. And apparently, I’m going to be enjoying thunderstorms for some time yet.

As usual, I wore my lucky t-shirt––the one that says “Cancer is my bitch.” I always wear my lucky t-shirt to get my blood test and to my oncologist appointments. This appointment was the best yet. The level of cancer in my body has fallen to a new low.

No, I’m not in remission––that doesn’t happen with recurrent uterine cancer. But I’m still responding to treatment. I’m living with cancer, not dying of it. I have cancer but cancer doesn’t have me. I’m standing with my Technicolor Doc Martens boot on cancer’s neck and laughing like a drain.

Green bananas all around till January!

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Another Birthday I Wasn’t Supposed To See

Sorry if that title reeks more than a little of melodrama. If someday you find yourself marvelling at your own continued existence, it won’t feel even slightly melodramatic. Trust me; I know whereof I speak.

So how do I feel?

Glad you asked, sunshine. I feel overjoyed. I’m exhausted because I’m still recovering from the cold I caught after being foolish enough to do the world science fiction convention in Dublin and EuroCon/TitanCon in Belfast on two consecutive weekends. Never again. Earlier this year, I hung in for a record three weeks as a guest instructor at the University of Kansas courtesy of Chris McKitterick. It’s the longest period of time I’ve spent away from home since I was diagnosed, and I wasn’t always up for going out to dinner in the evening but I managed to be useful for all three weeks, and I hope to do it again. And again. And—who knows?—again.

But that’s later, not now. Right now, I just have to live through the rest of today. And seeing as how it’s always today, that’s not asking too much.

Today is the one and only thing life hands us. The only thing we get for free is the gift of now: that’s why it’s called the present.

That sounds trite until you face the prospect of not getting it. Then you re-evaluate, a lot. It’s been four years since I realised I was going to outlive my prognosis by a substantial amount, and in pretty good condition, not as an invalid. But the OMG-I’m-gonna-live party is still going on in my head, as alive and intense as it ever was; I’m just better at getting things done now. But then, my ideal working environment is a rave; when no rave is occurring, I’ll settle for doing my homework in front of the TV.

It’s been four years since I started giving the horse singing lessons and there’s a chance he could become a decent tenor. You never know what today may bring.

The Day You Wake Up In Cancerland: A Message For New Arrivals

It could be any day of the year (although it’s less likely to occur on a weekend). It might come as a sudden, unwelcome piece of news dropped into the midst of a time when you’re doing everything right. Or it may be one more goddam thing on top of a mountain of difficulties you’ve been trying to dig yourself out from under—insult added to injury, or the latest injury in a series.

There is no time in anyone’s life when waking up in Cancerland is pleasant, let alone convenient.

The time you spend hanging, when all you know is that you have cancer is fucking awful. You don’t know what to expect but you’ve heard stories, either from friends or maybe from accounts in blogs like this one, and they run the gamut, from nerve-wracking to scary to scary-disgusting-horrifying.

The problem is, you don’t know what to worry about first:

• Getting a doctor who won’t tell you anything, or one that will tell you too much, in such technical terms that you can’t understand what they’re saying;

• What the drugs will or won’t do to you;

• How you’re going to keep up with your life if you’re having debilitating side effects like barfing your guts out;

• If you have achieved a certain level of standing in your career and/or workplace, are you going to lose it because now everyone thinks you’re dying?

• Will management figure you’re a lost cause instead of a valued employee?

• Who do you tell, and when? And how?

• Will your friends still call, still include you?

• What if the treatment doesn’t work?

• Should you try going to a support group meeting or will it be too weird to be so open with people you don’t even know?

• What the fuck? What the fuck? WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK?!

The good news is, I’m reasonably sure that this is as bad as it gets.

I’m not going to promise this is true because one size doesn’t fit all and no one thing is true for everyone. But of all the Cancerland residents I’ve spoken to (which of course is nowhere near all of them), they all describe this stretch of time as being the most stressful psychologically.

For some people, the trauma of being told they have cancer lasts longer than it does for other people. But for most of the people I’ve talked to, as soon as they knew what was coming in the way of treatment—chemo, surgery, radiation, whatever—they felt steadier. And once treatment began and they knew how it was going to feel, they regained a lot of their self-confidence. Part of this was discovering they could deal with chemo, even when it was really rough.

I’m pretty sure it will be that way for you, too, although right now, you may not feel that way. Maybe you’re sneaking away for a few moments to break down and cry, or spiral into an anxiety or panic attack. Then you pull yourself together and jump back into your day, which is already in progress.

That’s okay. Do what you have to do. Your feelings aren’t wrong, and you should handle them however is right for you. If you still feel like doing that while you’re having treatment, go ahead. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel—your life, your rules.

Living in Cancerland is never easy. But dangling in the liminal space between diagnosis and treatment can be the worst you’re going to feel emotionally and psychologically.

Once you get a better idea of what’s ahead of you, however, the world starts to come back into focus and the ground beneath you will feel more solid. Cancerland is not a place where we have control over everything that happens to us but we are still who we’ve always been. We can navigate this terrain on our own terms.

You can navigate this terrain on your own terms.

Uncertainty, not knowing is torture—and that’s not hyperbole. Knowing isn’t going to be easy or stress-free—on the contrary! Treatments designed to kill cancer are rough on people and there’s no guarantee the news will be good when you come out the other side.

But you can deal.

Maybe, due to circumstances beyond your control, you’ve always had to be strong but this is not only unexpected, it’s completely beyond your experience. Or maybe you’ve never really thought of yourself as being especially tough and you’re wondering how the hell you’re going to cope. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between. However you see yourself, read the words below, and believe them:

You can handle it. You’ve got this. Whatever it is, however it comes out: you’ve got this.

Too Bad For You, Cancer—

I don’t just talk it, I walk it, and I walk all over Cancer with my Technicolor Doc Martens.

Of course, I had to make up for all the time I didn’t spend getting nervous in the two weeks before the appointment. So after all the tough talk in the preceding post, I had a twenty-four hour anxiety attack before a member of my oncologist’s medical team told me I still have my boot on Cancer’s neck.

The anxiety is all part of the ritual, along with the donning of the lucky t-shirt and getting take-out from Itsu afterwards.

Green bananas for everybody, till the last two weeks in September. In the meantime, rock it while you got it.

I Was So Busy…

For the last couple of months, I’ve been working on a new novelisation project on a short deadline (sorry, can’t tell you what it is yet). It has kept me so busy that I completely forgot to put tomorrow’s appointment with my oncologist on my calendar. Which means I forgot to get nervous about it. I forgot to stop buying green bananas on 16 May. I almost forgot to get a blood test today.

This is so weird––my awareness of having incurable, terminal cancer actually got pushed so far into the background of my life, I lost track of it altogether.

I got so busy, I beat cancer.

Beating cancer isn’t limited to going into remission or being cured. You beat cancer when you’re too busy living your life to let cancer be the most important thing in it.

In the beginning, it is. When you get that diagnosis, when you start chemo, your entire reality is made of cancer. Your whole life is reset in terms of having cancer. You have to figure out how to come to terms with it. You decide how to deal: fight it, dance with it, play chess with it and out-manoeuvre it––your life, your rules.

The act of doing all these things is living. Cancer might kill you in the end––but until it does, you’re alive.

I have cancer but cancer doesn’t have me. Cancer can only kill me because it can’t beat me.

Still, I really do have to be more careful about putting appointments with my oncologist on my calendar.

Cancer: Still On The Run

This is my new good-luck t-shirt, which I wore to my appointment with my oncologist today. I saw one of Dr. McC’s team today and she got a big kick out of it. The people in the waiting room seemed to like it, too.

I’m doing the Happy Dance but I’m submerged in Deadline Hell.

I can’t die, I’m booked.

2019?! Now Even I’m Impressed With Myself

Okay, I know that must read kinda strange as it probably seems like no one could be more impressed with me than I am. A nice lady once told me that I have the confidence of a mediocre white man, a description that made me laugh like a drain. But I digress.

2019 is a year that sounds impossibly futuristic to me. Did anyone ever conceive of a non-post-apocalyptic 2019 without flying cars or vacations on the Moon or a colony on Mars or a cure for every disease/condition/affliction except the common cold?

As I have said many times before, here and elsewhere, I never felt like someone with terminal cancer, never felt as if I were dying even when I was undergoing chemo. I’m fortunate in that—so far—I have never been in pain, never felt like I couldn’t go on, never had to stop doing anything I wanted to do, especially writing. I never felt as if I were sinking or declining.

And yet, to my great surprise, I have discovered that I actually never thought past the end of 2018.

Now, that’s really odd because my original expiration date was sometime in 2016. When it became plain at the end of 2015 that I was obviously going to live longer than expected, I realised that I had torn all the rest of the pages out of the calendar, so to speak. I had mentally written off anything past the end of 2016 and I had to consciously acknowledge that I was going to be affected by things I had thought wouldn’t be my concern/problem/responsibility. Among other things, I was going to have to deal with the twin madnesses of Brexit and President Trump and, unless some bitch drops a house on me to steal my shoes, Cross-Rail will be completed in my lifetime.

(I should have known better—scroll me if you’ve heard this one: Over half a century ago, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I asked my mother as she was putting me to bed one night if she thought the US and Russia would end up bombing us all back to the Stone Age. “Fuggedaboudit, putschka,” she said. “Nothing’s ever going to happen that will get us out of having to go to work and school tomorrow.” She was right back then and she has yet to be wrong.)

But…2019. Holy guacamole.

It wasn’t that I didn’t make any plans. I’ll be at the world science fiction convention in Dublin. The weekend after that, Peadar Ó Guilín and I are co-Toastmutants at EuroCon 2019 in Belfast. With any luck, I’ll get back to KU in June. Amanda and I have been talking about visiting Iceland (the country, not the supermarket). But 2019 seemed abstract, or like wishful thinking about some time far in the future—except it isn’t. Now it’s 1 January 2019, and I feel no less alive and immortal than I ever did. No, I didn’t imagine feeling any different, but I didn’t imagine feeling, period.

I do have a few things to get through. I stop buying green bananas on 14 February, before my appointment with my oncologist at the end of the month. If that goes okay, there’ll be two more of them. I’m optimistic but I still have cancer—recurrent uterine cancer doesn’t go into remission. I can’t take anything for granted. I’m doing great but I can’t make plans too far in advance, especially if there’s a non-refundable deposit involved. I swear, that’s not a whinge. It’s just that when someone asks me if I want to join them in traveling around whatever part of the world is hosting the world sf convention beforehand, or stay to visit friends afterwards, I can’t commit before the fares go up, or the non-refundable deposit is due.

Maybe that’s what happened. I was so busy figuring things out in sixteen-week instalments, the time got away from me and before I knew it, it was 2019.

2019. Damn.

Kick out the jams! Happy New Year, everybody!