Frequently this site gets a new visitor who is clicking on the old essays—the ones documenting the scary beginning and slog through a never-ending aftermath. Every week another bing on my phone asks me if I wouldn’t mind making a call, holding a hand, or answering questions for a friend. So I wrote a letter. This is to all of the Kates and Leighs and Laurens… and to Abby.
I heard. Or I guessed it from the cryptic posts and cried when your status confirmed the damning pathology. Telling people–saying it out loud– makes it more certain than the slides. I hope you had some Ativan for that.
Maybe it’s super early, maybe DCIS, maybe a quick lumpectomy and just-to-be-sure radiation will be curative. Maybe you’re exhausted from all of the tight smiling as people tell you how lucky you are– so lucky to be pushed out of the plane because there is a parachute that opens almost all of the time.
But maybe it’s not the lucky kind.
Maybe it’s the pink ribbon monster hiding under the bed. White-coated well-meaners tell you with practiced concern that it’s not curable but it’s still treatable. Maybe they can tame and starve it for years, turning it into a defeated Voldemort sort of cancer. Maybe they’ll optimistically cite future graduations and weddings and vacations and plans like you’re thinking about a time-share in Orlando right now. As if it didn’t take seven books and umpteen tragedies to turn Voldemort into a fetal worm. As if any of this can have a happy ending.
Maybe it was there all along. Maybe it just came back (why does it fucking come back?). Maybe surgery was years ago and your hair is amazing now but there is still this little hidden part of you that only the other Shitty Sorority members see. Maybe you fucking knew it would come back but didn’t tell anyone because the “lucky” people would whisper that you weren’t being “positive.” Maybe you are scared shitless and praying nonstop or for the first time in your life.
Maybe God is listening and sending warm assurances—not that it’ll be okay, exactly, but that He is there. Maybe it feels like God isn’t listening, or doesn’t bother with things like unrestrained mitosis. Maybe it was just too much begging for impossible things. Maybe prayer doesn’t work like that, or for you, or with any sort of speed… or at all.
Maybe. One thing is certain: no one knows anything. Here’s another: you’re not alone.
Probably you are reading everything you can: the cancer sites, the scary statistics, and the stories of a hundred breastless women, gauging the level of your unluckiness against blogging strangers. Probably one of them is like you. Look, she’s totally like you! Probably you’d be fast friends even if you never spoke a single word to each other. Probably.
No, definitely. Definitely that.
There’s no pledge period for the Shittiest Sorority. Sisterhood is immediate. I have yet to chat up a head-scarfed stranger without finding something to laugh or cry about. Usually both. Our hidden parts–our secret cancer selves–we save each other seats in the bleachers. We’ll watch this peculiar sport of losses and triumphs together. Come sit next to me. I brought snacks.
We have cheerleaders, too. It’s different, but they are absolutely vital. Their pom pom positivity, casserole-toting enthusiasm for health and healing, all that marching in your name for cures– it’s wonderful and adorable. Their cheers are prayers, and their prayers are medicine. They fill in for us when we don’t have the Go! Fight! Win! spunkiness people love to witness in the cancer-ed. But you and me, we know cheerleading is for the healthy. And their prayers are purer than ours with all of the distracted, terror-stricken pleading. Let them pray. Maybe it works. Probably?
I see you, Abby. I’m waving you over here. (I’m still here.) Come sit with me on the bleachers. Get under my blanket. You don’t have to do the wave or cheer the fight song. We’ll just see how this plays out. Together. With snacks. And Ativan. You are not alone.
Definitely. Definitely not alone.