Green Bananas For Everyone Again!

I swear, they told me this was terminal. 

The oncologist called to tell me that once again, we have kicked cancer’s ass. Let me assure you, it never gets old. Later, Chris will go out and get us some green bananas so we can watch them ripen while I stand with my Technicolor Doc Martins on cancer’s neck.

It does come back to me from time to time what my oncologist told me at my first appointment with her back in December 2014: ‘Two years. Or it could be less.’ 

But immediately after that memory, I always hear a still small voice from within––you know that voice, it’s the one we all have deep inside that always speaks the truth no matter how inconvenient or painful––and it says: ‘B!tch, please––you didn’t really think you’d get off that easily, did you?’

And I have to admit, no, I sure didn’t. Nonetheless, I still believe every day above ground is a good one, It’s not necessarily the best one ever or even better than the day before but hey, nobody gets off that easily, do they?

And Once Again, We Send Cancer Packing! Green Bananas For Everyone!

I had to go out to the Macmillan Centre for the blood test––haven’t been out since the last blood test. It was painless. No, I mean really. The Macmillan phlebotomists are artistes.

But the oncology appointment took place over the phone again, like last time. And like last time, it was good news. I ain’t complaining. Next appointment will be sometime in December.

As a rule, I don’t spend much energy thinking about that time when the cancer decides to assert itself. The drugs work, I can stand the side effects, and all I have to do is get through today; tomorrow happens tomorrow. But what worries me more than cancer is Covid-19.

The pandemic puts a new wrinkle on things. If I need treatment, I can’t have Chris with me. He can’t be there if I need chemo, or if I’m hospitalised. Illness of any kind was never easy. But compared to what it’s like now…

It’s not something I want to dwell on. I’d rather look forward to a vaccine putting an end to the quarantine. I’d rather dance around and add green bananas to our grocery order. But having to self-isolate and maintain social distancing, taking a car into central London knowing that the driver wiped it down thoroughly with disinfectant before we got in and will do the same after we get out, seeing arrows on the sidewalk directing pedestrian traffic, wondering why the hell some people are walking around with masks pulled down, wishing my own damned mask didn’t keep riding up over my lower eyelids––these things and much more are neverending reminders that not only do we have problems, our problems have problems.

Funny how things are never so complicated that they can’t throw us a total curve from an unexpected angle. I’m old enough to remember: nobody saw AIDS coming, either.

But never mind. Some things in our lives are in our control, some things aren’t. The one thing that is always in our control is how we respond. Which is why it’s crucial to find whatever’s good in the present moment, and to thoroughly appreciate it.

With a mask on, of course.

But Then I Had To Go Out After All—And Kicked Cancer’s Ass, As Usual

Just to get a blood test. Chris and I used a car service going and coming; we chose them because they’ve made a point of trying to make transport as safe as possible for their passengers and drivers.

The Macmillan Cancer Centre has it all figured out, too. They let patients in one by one––and only patients. Chris had to wait outside. Fortunately, we went in early so there were few other people occupying the widely-spaced seats in the waiting room. So that was Friday.

A doctor on my oncologist’s treatment team called me today and, yes, I’m still stomping the sh!t out of cancer. So I’m feeling pretty pleased.

I’d have posted the Back-To-Buying-Green-Bananas Report earlier, except that I had my usual eleventh-hour nervous breakdown and after getting the good word, I collapsed for a while.

Undone by good news. Even in the year of the pandemic, there’s still good news.

And as an added bonus: my jeans fit!

Drinking Dry Quarantinis In Cancerland

How to make a quarantini:

Add one measure from each bottle of whatever you’ve got left, excluding beer and wine (oh, come on, you’ve got to have standards). Hope you bought the good stuff, back in the days when we were allowed out.

Today, I read we’re really screwed for the foreseeable future, as there’s going to be a whole generation of people who have been home-schooled by day-drinkers.

So how about that pandemic humour—-is it grim or what?

Being in lockdown is like the the second week after chemo—-you don’t go out and let people breathe on you. Except you don’t know when it’s going to end. I envision the gym now as the Golden Promised Land, redolent with the scent of sporty air freshener and alive with the sound of strenuous, 150bpm dance music. The gym looks like heaven when you’re not supposed to go outside…at all. The second week after chemo wasn’t that bad.

Right now, I should be in the Yes-We-Have-No-Green-Bananas phase of springtime, as my appointment with my oncologist is next week. However, I called MacMillan to talk about the current worldwide situation. The person I talked to told me to follow up with an email, and then yesterday, one of the doctors on my oncologist’s team called me back.

At my request, my check-up has been postponed to August. Yes, I know, normally I get nervous and kinda and start bouncing off the walls. And then afterwards, I’m bouncing off the walls because the news was good.

This time, I’ve decided to make an act of faith.

Rather than risk going out among people with compromised immune systems, I told my oncologist that I don’t feel any different than I did the last time I was there, all of my previous check-ups have been 5-star epic wins. In August, conditions may be better. If they aren’t, I won’t postpone the appointment again. But right now, I think it’s safer not to see the oncologist.

So it’s green bananas all around until August. I have faith.

And if you’re feeling a little shaky right now, don’t worry, you’re covered—-I’ve got enough faith for all of us.

Yeah, You Just Keep Running, Cancer

The last checkup was a personal best. Today’s checkup was even better than that. The level of cancer has fallen by a substantial amount to an unprecedented low. After five years. Which is three more than I was supposed to get. And I’m in my late 60s—-not the time of life generally associated with healing, restoration, and/or improvement.

Which just goes to show you: old doesn’t mean it’s over. Cancer doesn’t mean it’s over. And being old and having cancer doesn’t mean you’re marking time till you keel over.

It’s an extraordinary thing, to be alive. As corny as that sounds, it means something to me.

New Year’s Eve, 2019

As a general rule, I don’t write poetry. But once in a while, I do.

I’m Staying

The most I could expect was two years.
Twelve to fifteen months, they say,
Is still the average survival rate.

Sometimes I feel like I won the lottery.
Sometimes I feel like a bulletproof superhero.

Sometimes I feel like I sneaked into
Some kind of exclusive private club,
A VIP area of the universe
I didn’t even know existed
Until I walked in
While the bouncers on the door
Were looking the other way.

Now everyone here
Takes it for granted that
I’m allowed to be here, too,
To walk around,
Strike up conversations,
Eat the hors d’oeuvres and canapés,
Drink the good stuff,
Listen to the music
Lounge on the comfy couches and chairs,
Breathe the air.

I’m staying.

If Security somehow find out
That I’m a crasher and
They try to make me leave,
I’ll dig in my heels and refuse to go.
If they bring in a team to drag me out,
I’ll go kicking and screaming.
I’ll grab onto door jambs,
I’ll hug the floor,
Sink my nails into the carpeting,
Twisting and turning so
They can’t get a good grip on me.

I didn’t come here to leave.
I won’t go quietly—
‘With dignity’, as they say.
Dignity, my ass.

They can keep dignity.

If—when—I’m outside
The velvet ropes again,
It won’t be because I bowed my head,
Folded my hands,
And didn’t make a scene.

It will be because an irresistible force
Dragged me away––
Still kicking and screaming, of course.
I don’t care if kicking and screaming
Won’t make any difference.

Kicking and screaming is how I roll.

I don’t rage against the dying of the light—
I am the rage that keeps the light on.

I’m the rage that won’t do as I’m told,
That won’t surrender.
I’m the rage that burns bright
And refuses to burn out.

I’m the rage that won’t quit and
I’m staying.
I’m staying.
I’m staying.

It’s Christmas Eve and You Know What That Means…

It’s time for my favourite Christmas story!

Long-time readers will know this is not your standard Christmas story. It’s not an actual Christmas story at all. I heard this story 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 delightful aromas made the mouth water.

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 feed themselves with five-foot-long chopsticks—it was impossible. All they could do was stare helplessly at the delectable feast before them and cry in hunger, misery, and despair.

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

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!

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.