thoughts on living with cancer


Midwest, USA
May 20
At the midpoint of the journey's life I found myself lost in a dark forest with no straight path I could see anywhere. M.L. Rosenthal's translation of Dante's La Commedia Divina Diagnosed with ovarian and bladder cancers, I received an entirely new subject for writing and a challenge to intensify the second half of my life.


JANUARY 31, 2013 8:34PM

Escape, Reading

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Right now, Regency romance novels are getting me out of my own life. Any chick lit is good (and I do not mean by using that label to denigrate genre fiction), but the stories set in Regency England have the advantage of another time and place. Language differs too; tiger does not refer to an animal. Customs, mores, clothing—even the war and political intrigue is different, with Napoleon incarnate evil and Prinny waiting in the wings for the throne.


            Reading, preferably with food in hand, has always been my drug of choice. I am going through these novels at the rate of one every night or two. It’s a pleasure to spend a few hours with the virtuous but poor Emily or Constance and the supercilious, grey-eyed duke or viscount who by the book’s end knows he cannot live without her. I’m a sucker for fairy tales and happy endings, which is why I avoid most of modern culture. Real life is so messy; it’s nice to escape to a world with a predictable plot.


            I am looking for my own cancer story happy ending. I’m in remission, and certainly thankful for that. But I am still in pain from the surgery two months ago—or perhaps I have bone cancer now. In remission, I am like those who have lost their faith yet still attend religious services out of habit or ethnic identification. I do not believe in cancer that will let me alone forever. Not after four surgeries last year, not with a third (albeit another Stage I noninvasive) cancer, not even though six years have passed since I began chemo.


            This is just one aspect of having cancer that I don’t generally bring up among friends. But if any disease can crush the spirit, break the bank, or terrorize the mind, it is this one. Most days, I manage to put on a reasonably happy face and go to work, meet with friends, appreciate the natural world. I do get gloomy, as another survivor puts it, but I try not to dwell there.


Now I am considering pursuing legal redress for what I think may have been medical negligence. The mere thought of spending my mental and spiritual energies on a court case gives me pause. It took me several hours to get up the courage to open the medical reports I’d obtained. I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer, but it seems to me that not enough was done before more body parts were removed. I am afraid of being old, sick, and poor—who isn’t? I may have the means to eliminate at least one of that threesome.


The whole enterprise is tainted by my intense dislike (nice girls don’t hate others) of at least two of my previous urologists. The man I’m now seeing is a gem, but he’s number four, and the cynic in me says he just hasn’t had time to screw up yet. As a human being sitting in an office without wearing a white lab coat, however, he at least seems aware that he is dealing with another human being. The other guys, not so much, or not in a manner that I found helpful.


I want the men who hurt me—and they have hurt me, both physically and fiscally, whether or not a jury would say so—to hurt. Even though I know they pay ungodly sums for malpractice insurance, and it will not damage them personally, I want them to suffer. I pay ungodly sums, too, and I can’t afford it. My insurance rate just went up by $200 a month. I can’t much blame the insurance company, given my medical history over the last six years.


I’ve received the bill for the most recent week-long hospital stay—$73,000, of which I need to pay $141. I can’t afford not to have insurance. So I will pull money out of my retirement fund until I can draw Social Security. This country can’t move to socialized medicine fast enough for people like me—overeducated in a liberal arts field and thus underemployed, past sixty, but not yet at any of the magic ages.


I do not know what I will do, but I am sick at heart. Fortunately, I stopped at the library, and I have a Regency romance to read tonight.

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Fantasy is sometimes the best medicine, especially when human fallibility and foibles are in question. Cling to optimism and grab those tigers... Mind the claws in your own paws, though -- lest you accidentally scratch yourself...The rest of us remain mesmerized by stripes of any ilk, and wish you the best.