Saturday, September 4, 2010

To Read or Not To Read

Lovely Lunch
That is the question.  I know not to google.  When one googles, one loses the ability to filter out the words one never wanted to read in the first place.  One cannot unsee what has already been seen.  So when one searches for information, one may come across lots of sad (perhaps unrelated) personal stories that stick in one's mind.

But what about the related stories?  Doesn't one want to read the autobiographies of the survivors?  To be able to relate to someone else's experience of diagnosis, treatment and recovery should be helpful, right?  Well, maybe.

I am currently struggling with this book, The Middle Place, which is Kelly Corrigan's story of the time in her life when she was between childhood and adulthood - a married, parent of 2 girls, but still not quite grown up, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  One side of my brain tells me to just avoid breast cancer stories altogether (since a)I don't have it and b)they seem to be the most depressing), that I am much better off with hysterical (but clever) Jen Lancaster books that keep me awake but distracted, giggling late into the night.  The other side of my brain (the same side that rationalizes buckets of caramel corn) wants to stare at the accident by the side of the road - to see for myself how gory someone else's adventure got.

The trouble with the book is that because Corrigan articulates so sharply many of the thoughts that have run through my brain that when I'm not reading it, I'm thinking about it nonstop, trying to digest the fact that my overwhelming fears (just like hers) are real.  That wanting to take pictures and videotape real life as evidence of my own presence just in case my child needs to see us together one day in the future is not unrealistic. That I'm not sure if I'm more afraid for the people around me that could get left behind, or pissed that I might not get the life I always expected to have.  And mostly, I'm afraid that there's so much we don't know about what's to come.  Any of us - we just don't know what tomorrow or next year will bring.

There is an inner dialogue that goes something like this:
Me:  What if I am forced to leave him too soon?

Other Part of Me:  That's ridiculous.  We know the chemo is working.  The itching is gone, the swelling is much better, the scans were all in our favor.

Me:  Fine, then, what if it comes back?

Other Part of Me: Like almost everything in our life, we can't control that, so why bother giving it airtime?

Me:   Because I like to be prepared.  If I have a heads up now, if I'm always ready for it, when the time comes, I'll be ready.

Other Part of Me:  You can never be ready for cancer, no matter how much of it is living inside of you.  Stop wasting energy and moments worrying about more of it when you are living here now and have the opportunity to love and think and create and sing and do and be and move like you always have.

Me:  Okay.  Sometimes I just need to be reminded.

Do I keep reading the book?  Do I bother with the other 2 cancer books (lymphoma survivors) sitting on my nightstand?  Will they help me through this or just make matters worse?  And if these books are not for cancer patients, who is the intended audience?  Suckers who are in for a good cry - or just supportive friends and family of the author?  Would I have wanted to read this book 3 months ago?  I know most people have been touched by cancer in a close and personal way by now, since 1,500 people die every day from it (I'm pretty sure that's in the USA alone).  But does that mean everyone wants to willingly give themselves puffy eyes and a heavy heart from reading a human story?

I know there is some kind of happy ending to this book because it's a memoir.  Corrigan made it through this bump in her road and lived to tell (and publish) the tale.  Should she suffer from a recurrence, her girls will have loads of pictures, videos and books - all taken and written P.C. (post cancer) that commemorate their disease-free, normal lives together. 


I guess the answer is "to read" because I couldn't help myself and I finished the book.  Did she get everything she ever wanted?  No.  She has 2 children, but always wanted 4, and she may not be able to have more babies when her hormone treatment (which continues for 5 years post chemo/radiation) is complete.  But the good news is that her story's not really over because she's still living.

After writing all of this, I feel cleansed, but also kind of silly for letting this book get me so emotional today (ma nish-tana ha lilah ha-zeh? or what makes this night different?), but it really touched a nerve.  I even kept typing intensely when, after his bath, Judah cheerfully paraded downstairs naked to show me his tushie.  He turned around and farted.  Not quite at me, but in my general direction.  How could I not live in that moment (especially seeing the shocked look on his face)?  All that time I spent "digesting", I was doing what I vowed (mostly) not to do:  cry during the good days. 

I think I'm back on track now, having enjoyed two-thirds of a glorious September day outdoors, crepes for lunch with wonderful friends, and a cup of tangerine orange zinger with dessert.  The proud new owner of a stunning plum (p)leather pocketbook, I'm about to give myself a purple sparkly pedicure and watch some missed episodes of 30 Rock on my iPad (whose screen is now adequately protected and body cloaked in a fantastic purple cover, completing the violet takeover, since the purple iPhone skin also arrived in the mail today).  I can't explain why purple feels good, it just does.  If I've learned nothing else from all of this, it's that I can and should trust my instincts.

Tomorrow, a visit to the Atlantic Ocean with just my mom and some juicy reading material (I think I'll go with People magazine just to take a break from the heavy stuff).  Coming soon: tales of the Employee Health Services people (some very open to helping, others not), my trip to Paper Source, continuing to plan for the kitchen remodel (perhaps we really are cuckoo bananas for doing this right now), and finally, how to best cope with "having a moment" in public.



  1. Thought about so many of those
    things you speak of, how they
    might make you feel.

    The same kinds of things.
    Kitchen , practicalities
    seem so tempting. Would that,
    right now be merely be an
    Mia don't do imitate.

    You've found "voice', that's a
    real thing, for now.
    Thanks for terrestrial post
    to us,
    sweet (well traveled).
    GG and Uncle Larry

  2. Oh, I forgot to mention: are you there, vodka? Its me, Chelsea.