Tag Archives: cancer diagnosis

What it’s like to wait to hear whether or not you have cancer (again).

You’re trapped in a serial killer’s basement.

He’s holding you hostage, you’re tied to a chair, and the serial killer is sitting across from you, sharpening his knife. He’s got that crazy-eyed look, particularly if you’ve escaped from him once before: Now, he’s pissed. And he’s smarter.

Meanwhile the SWAT team suspects the serial killer’s got you. But they don’t know which house you’re in. You can hear them outside conferring about it. One of them says he thinks the serial killer lives down the block somewhere and another one says he lives next door and still another one says no, I think he’s in another state entirely.

Plus, the leader of the SWAT team is also busy hunting for other serial killers who are keeping other people locked in their basements, and he’s kind of distracted.

You begin to wonder if the SWAT team will ever figure out where the serial killer might be, or if they’ll manage to shoot the killer in the head before he slashes your throat. Plus, there’s always the danger that the SWAT team will accidentally shoot you in the head during the whole scuffle. You don’t know.

So while you’re trapped down there in the basement with the serial killer, waiting for something to happen, you still have to follow up on your work emails and carry on as if the killer isn’t staring at you with his crazy I-wanna-kill-you eyes.

But he hands over your laptop and lets you check your email because there’s really nobody who can help you except the SWAT team. In fact, he encourages you to Google “serial killers” and find out about how horrible they are and how many people have been slashed to death. You give that up after a while and go back to your emails.

You search through your messages, a few from friends who know you might have been kidnapped. One of them tells you her Aunt Rita was once held hostage by a serial killer and she’s fine now, so you shouldn’t worry. Then you see a message from the insurance company that says it isn’t sure it’s going to continue to fund the SWAT team, particularly since you didn’t bother to get a referral. So you ask the serial killer if you can borrow his phone. He hands it to you, laughing maniacally, and says, “The insurance company is my twin brother!! Bwaahahahaha!!”

Now you get word that the SWAT team has figured out which house you’re in, but they’re still not sure where the serial killer is, so they’re using their thermal imaging cameras to scan the house. They see somebody else in there with you. But now they’re not sure yet if it’s an actual serial killer or just some joker pretending to be one. And it would be bad to shoot a joker in the head, even if he’s a total asshole for pretending to be a killer.

Then the SWAT team starts arguing. One says yes, that is a serial killer, and another says, well, I’m not sure – it looks like a serial killer but it is not behaving like other serial killers we’ve seen. Still another says, maybe we should just watch him and see if he does something serial-killery.

So you start to wonder if you need a SWAT team at all. You go back to the Internet and read about how SWAT teams are dangerous and some people have fought their serial killers by making peace with them and sharing glasses of wheatgrass. So you ask the serial killer if he would like some wheatgrass and he laughs and says, “Nice try, scream queen!” and starts shaving his head with his hunting knife.

You give up on the wheatgrass idea and the SWAT team calls you, finally, and you’re so relieved that someone is finally going to help you. But then they say something like, “We’d like to find out if he really is a serial killer or just some joker. Can you ask him for a sample?”

If the serial killer turns out to be a joker, turn to p. 36 and decide whether to have a wheatgrass smoothie or collapse into a ball.

If the serial killer turns out to be a serial killer, turn to p. 85 and decide whether or not to burn the house down or flood it.

This has been a Public Service Announcement. For continued reading, try the Choose Your Own Adventure series and this awesome piece by Caitlin Feeley on what it’s like to go through cancer treatment.




Two years

Two years ago yesterday, the day before the Mayan calendar ended and we waited for predicted apocalypses, I learned that I had early stage breast cancer. A few days earlier I’d had my first mammogram, supposedly routine. (Note to every over-40 female: Do schedule a mammogram. Don’t do it a week before Christmas.)

An early-stage cancer diagnosis quickly became more complicated when I learned I carried the BRCA-2 gene mutation, increasing my chances of a recurrence.

I could only process the next two months through metaphor: I was stuck in a house of horrors, trapped with a serial killer and a lot of sharp objects, forced to make impossible decisions about my fate. A Jigsaw Killer victim, thrown into a twisted game of ‘would you rather.’

And suddenly my body wasn’t my own anymore but the territory of a team of professionals, one step removed from my humanity, knowing that so many others had gone through this but still feeling like I was the only one. Like being encased in a moon suit and tethered in a tenuous orbit of despair.

I needed something to look forward to.

Just before the diagnosis, a friend and I had planned a Key West vacation for the following year to A.) Go someplace warm in winter and B.) Visit the Hemingway House and dozens of hemingcats. Despite mounting medical bills, I was determined to hold onto that trip.

The Mayan calendar ends

We stare at images of my breast
faceless to each other

“Here,” the doctor says. “And here.”

He traces invisible circles
claiming territory
on the spiderwebbed surface of the moon

This is where he will take
core samples
and mine for my future

The shadow of a snake appears
on the temple of sacrifices

Somewhere a hunter stumbles
upon a lone rabbit’s foot left
clamped in metal jaws

Rocket ship

My wandering soul dawned at young age amid messy piles of National Geographics and pink-and-yellow atlas pages. I’d spin globes to see what the world turned up. I daydreamed. I was an Indiana Jones-girl, adventure girl, a space girl. I was Luke Skywalker’s sister before I knew he already had one. I rescued galaxies and vanquished enemies. I started writing my stories down.

When I got older I traveled, less than I’d planned but as much as possible, seizing opportunities whenever I could and creating others. I went as far as Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Egypt. I collected photos of myself in iconic places — under the Eiffel Tower, in a London phone booth, on a camel in front of the Great Pyramids. Regular life got in the way too much, though, and suddenly it was more than a dozen years since I’d had a new stamp in my passport.

And then I was diagnosed with cancer.

That’s when I went to the moon.