the perks of cancer, part I

i’ve been kinda thoughtful and morose lately, and have decided that what i need right now is a good dose of humor to cheer myself up!  (and perhaps you, too, if my sullenness has gone viral.)

so, today, i bring you the first installment in a new series that will henceforth be known as the perks of cancer. additions to this series will be trotted out when there is a need for dispelling thunderstorms and fires and locusts (i haven’t written about locusts, yet? oh, that’s right. it was bed bugs…) and any other pestilence that rears its ugly head. if you’re a fellow cancer fighter/survivor, please contribute your favorite cancer perk(s) via the comments section (or email them to me), since i’ll undoubtedly run out of perks of my own sooner rather than later. (there aren’t that many. let’s be honest.)

without further ado, let’s begin. perk numero uno. free parking.

now, i don’t know if the DMV hands out disabled placards like consolation prizes to all those lucky enough to emerge from their doctor’s office with a diagnosis of cancer, or if i’m just extra special lucky because i have brain cancer. more precisely, a tumor located in the motor cortex of my brain, which has impaired my ability to walk. either way, this might be my most utilized (and appreciated) perk to date. and if you’re a cancer fighter/survivor who doesn’t have access to this VIPerk, then i’m sorry for you. because at the end of a long day, when i’m all curled up in bed and about to cry myself to sleep, sometimes i just clutch that blue plastic placard and, well, i cry myself to sleep anyway.

but i digress. after leaving the neurologist’s office in pasadena where i was first diagnosed back in october, i marched (read: drove) straight (it was actually pretty wiggly, being that it was the 110) to…no not UCLA neuro-oncology, that was later in the day. that’s right, the D-M-effing-V. that’s because my neurologist oh-so-obligingly delivered the news that i had a brain tumor, and followed it up with my consolation prize, a letter for the DMV explaining that i’ll be disabled in perpetuity. or permanently. or something like that.

so, now, in return for my trouble, i get free or reduced-price parking everywhere and unlimited access to front-row disabled parking spots! now, this might not mean a whole lot to those of you who don’t live in LA, but let me tell you, this is, like, the perk of all perks in a city where parking is a hot (and expensive) commodity. this perk applies at such varied locales as metered street parking, the beach, the hollywood bowl and trader joes. (at the one on westwood and national, nine times out of 10, i get a spot less than 30 feet from the door. no fighting, no waiting. just calmly drive up and pull in.) oh, and that endless and frustrating search for quarters (and — don’t deny it — dimes and even nickels, if you’re desperate)? over. just hang that bad boy up on the rearview mirror, and you can forget about extracting your hand from your pocket (or wallet) with nothing to show but lint and crumbs under your fingernails.

AND…if you really feel like getting the bang for your limp, take a leisurely drive up the 405 freeway (oops. blundered into an oxymoron. correction: take a grueling drive up the 405) to the sherman oaks galleria, where they will…wait for it…VALET your car for freeeee. (is it weird that i just heard larry miller in my head saying, “sit n sleep will beat anyone’s price or your mattress is freeeee”?) nevermind the fact that there’s really no reason whatsoever to go to a mall in the valley when you live next to two perfectly good ones in west los angeles. the point is, the perk exists.

and, by golly, i’m going to squeeze every last bit of juice out of this perk if it’s the last thing i do.

steroids rule!

Aside

so, as you’ve probably gathered from my past few blog posts, chemo has not been getting any easier as time has gone on.  but, i am quite pleased to report that, thanks to a lovely new addition to my (increasingly strong) drug cocktail, i have emerged from round 9 relatively unscathed.  i resisted steroids for as long as i could, given my persistent aversion to drugs of all kinds, but am so glad i finally relented.  this time, i felt sick and nauseous and tired and all that fun stuff, but at least i felt like myself.  i didn’t go so far into a hazy, drug-induced stupor as to be unrecognizable to myself and others, and that was a huge relief.  let’s go three week break!  and then it’s back for round 10.  ding ding ding.  hooray steroids!

tending the fire

i asked tom, my therapist, what’s on the other side of the precipice.  a yawning cave?  a sheer ravine?  utter darkness from whence there is no return?  because i go to the edge of the precipice.  more often than i’d care to admit.

sometimes i approach gradually, gingerly.  on tiptoe.  (not that i can actually tiptoe.)  i sense the darkness on the other side as i slowly skirt the edge, as the tears slide one by one down my cheeks.  i feel the cold mist on my fingertips as i drag them along the invisible dividing line between order and chaos, skimming one by one a long row of imaginary fenceposts damp with dew.

and sometimes i arrive suddenly.  unexpectedly.  in a rush.  in a buggy drawn by a horse that got spooked.  hauling on the reins and skidding to a halt.  not a moment too soon.  at those times, the out-of-nowhere loss of control is accompanied by tightness in my chest.  panic that starts in my lungs, rises through my esophagus and sticks in my throat, threatening to come out as — what?  a scream?  a sob?  a plea?  make it stop.  let me out.  give me back my life.

according to tom, not many people actually find out what’s on the other side.  “you know, most people are resilient,” he said.  “they find ways of going to the edge and coming back.  or they find ways of never going there at all.  everyone’s somewhere on the continuum between acceptance and denial.”

i like resilience.  i like the way it sounds rolling off my tongue.  i like the way it feels when i type it.  i like the images it conjures.  rising from the ashes to rebuild.  as many times as it takes.

so i asked tom about my relationship with the precipice.  what should it look like?  how close should i allow myself to get?  how often should i go?  how long should i stay there?  should i take anyone else there with me?

i told him that i don’t want to wallow in the grief, the permanent grief, the grief that will never leave, will just ebb and flow and will finally crash into the shores of my death.  but i do want to be present in my grief.  i want to accept it as part of my experience, part of my life.  i don’t want to shove it back into the darkness by itself to putrefy — to transform into a fungus that will rot my soul.

so tom suggested that perhaps i tend to it.  tend.  hmm, yeah, i might be able to do that.  what are the types of things one tends to?  a fire in the hearth — adding new logs, shoveling and sweeping the ashes, prodding it to coax a flame.  ok, so that’s what tending a pretty, little indoor fire looks like.  but what about tending a forest fire?  a fire that has the potential to become a wildfire — to burn ferociously, indiscriminately, destructively.  a fire that has the potential to cause lasting and irreparable harm.

tending an outdoor fire is conducting controlled burns on a regular basis.  it’s clearing out the dead undergrowth that could catch a chance spark and blow the whole place to bits.  it’s digging trenches, setting boundaries, ensuring that helicopters with large tanks of water are at the ready, should something go wrong.

the thing about tending, and about controlled burns, is that they are hard work.  they are hot and sweaty and painful.  your eyes sting from the smoke; your hair and clothes are invaded to their very last fiber; your face burns from its proximity to the flame.

but they’re infinitely preferable to the alternative…to a rampaging wildfire feeding on the dead undergrowth that’s never been cleared out.  so, my marching orders are to acknowledge and accept the fire, to be present with the fire — and to tend to the fire so it doesn’t get out of control.  that, i think i can do.  for i, too, am resilient.