Prayers and Swears

On Friday, I was honored to join a particularly devout bunch of swaying, singing, lovely Jewish ladies to witness a mikveh. My friend Kathy, a newer member of the Shitty Sorority, had completed a brutal round of chemotherapy and wanted to mark the moment with this beautiful, traditional “cleansing” ceremony. There were songs (lots of dye-dye-dyes, a Hebrewish-y shoo-be-doo-be-doo), there were bagels (natch), and there was Sharing. We surrounded Kathy and offered her our wishes for health and healing and happiness. And when the prayer circle landed at me, I looked at my small friend, took a deep breath to reaffirm all of the other messages of hope and inspiration, and then just sort of dissolved into a blubbering mess of mascara.

“ENOUGH!” I wanted to shout. And not about the dye dye dyes, although those were plentiful. Kathy has been through enough. Although her neo-adjuvant course of chemotherapy has obliterated her tumor, she still has a bilateral mastectomy on the calendar, and another round of chemo after that. It’s not even close to over for my tiny, pretty friend. And looking at her in her adorable birdie scarf and lovely little shoes, I was mad at Cancer. Fuck you, Cancer. Awash with guilt for angry thoughts in a sacred space, I lamented showing up at the synagogue without even one Ativan coursing through my Christian veins. My anger/fear/PTSD was kindly interpreted as moved-to-tears, and these swaying, dye-dye-dye-ing women held me tighter. I left the mikveh thinking Kathy is going to be fine. These women invoked The Holy Spirit right there in a tangibly Fuck Cancer kind of way. It was pretty awesome. Dye dye dye dye dye dye dye!

The first Sunday in June is National Cancer Survivors Day. I didn’t know this, but suspect Hallmark and the makers of pink things will have this printed on calendars and beeping as Google alerts soon enough. We have a day. And celebrations. Very good people organize the whole scarred, damaged, wigged, but still living lot of us to assemble under tents to laugh and cry with each other, to share our stories, and to marvel at the mere fact our still-here-ness. These Celebrations of Life took place on thousands of campus lawns on Sunday. And on the Harvard Medical School quad, I joined a panel of veterans under a hot tent and spoke (out loud!) about Cancer for the first time.

You’d think after Friday’s Look At the Crying Shiksa debacle, I’d have brought an Ativan to the forum. You’d also think speaking about cancer would be easy peasy for a girl who cannot stop writing about it (and hardly shuts up in general). But it’s not. I get all boo hooey, and then blotchy, and then I’m worried about the mascara, and then I’m chastising myself for worrying about the mascara when last year I didn’t have eyelashes. I was ridiculously nervous, and when the first panelist was a no show, I was up first.

I had planned to read an excerpt from Cancerland, thinking this audience would laugh at those jokes, but at the last minute I added a preface about me, my diagnosis, and a bit of what it’s like to be Mrs. Dr. Bernie Lee. Stupid, stupid Britt. There was no chance of getting through this speech without crying. But when I said Bernie’s name, there was a scattered whoo hooing from different pockets under the tent, which made me so proud to be attached to him, that then I forgot to be nervous. I also forgot to be brief and went way over my allotted time. But this is a crowd that doesn’t care, that wants to hear your story, wants to know your odds and how you’re beating them, wants to celebrate survival, and will tolerate a few extra minutes listening to a short haired girl gush about her husband. The Holy Spirit was there under that hot tent, too… in a tangibly Fuck Cancer kind of way. And it was pretty awesome. Dye dye dye dye dye dye dye!

For those of you who think these sorts of things help (or even that they can’t hurt), please remember Kathy in your communion with The Big Guy. Although poisons are doing a bang up job killing her tumor cells, Cancer wrecks havoc on the soul. But prayer and kindness and love—from a tight circle of Jewish ladies, from hundreds of sweating strangers, from faceless blog readers—these things heal the soul in a beautiful, Fuck Cancer kind of way. If we cannot escape it, at least we can shout potty-mouthed insults at it, and kill its power with prayer and love. And the effect can be pretty awesome. Dye dye dye dye dye dye dye!

Isn't it lovely?

A lovely rendering of a mikveh…