I didn’t realize until Dear Goddess sent over a text.
“Five years today.”
The pic of yellow balloons, friends and smiles signals five years ago as the final day of radiation. Where are my cancer girls? I felt your stomachs tighten. The magical mark may arrive, but there is still a whiff of terror at every deep cough, overly tired day, or shortness of breath when climbing stairs. That one is pure lazy but still.
Those who’ve not danced with cancer don’t want to know what COVID does to the imagination at three in the morning when we converse with our demons.
“What if suddenly you can’t breathe,” says brain. It’s a cancer girls’ version of, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
A dear friend was recently diagnosed. I was told that sharing makes the trip easier. Not easy; easier. There were things shared only in the smallest of circles.
When the beloved Dr. H. pronounced cancer, I said, “I have three children who just lost their father. You need to keep me alive.” It was a Tuesday. First surgery was Friday. Six weeks later another and two weeks after that another. Six weeks to heal, then chemo and radiation.
The first surgery left a gnarly gash across my neck unlikely to ever appear normal. The emu (the Australian bird) has a magical oil in its body that diminishes scaring–mine to the point one must run a finger down its’ length to determine existence. You must be a super close friend to gain that invite. Or just ask.
A second surgery, on the tonsil mass, left a misshapen tongue and a lisp-y, slowed-down version of original speech pattern. At the time, I was speaking a lot for work so that was fun. To this day, my mouth only opens so far. The third resulted in a funky right ear that sometimes hurts for no reason and a numbness that goes to mid-chest. Pulp Fiction’s Epi pen could slam right in there.
Chemo, a beast of a bitch, took most of the hearing in the same right ear. Best to sit on my left or you may believe I’m ignoring you. Depending on who you are, I might be. I also learned to barf from deep in the gut–the kind that makes you think you’ll have to fish your tummy from the toilet.
Radiation is every day. A mask, molded to your head, keeps you still. I admit to never opening my eyes in the tube as claustrophobia might take hold, and panic is not my best look. Then there’s after.
Just get through the treatment. Still not feeling well after eighteen months, I query Dr. H. Says he, “We lit a nuclear bomb off inside you. How long would it take a body to heal from that?” Strangely comforting.
A feeding tube, Gus the Asshole, hid under my clothing for fourteen months. Shoulder blade protrusion spied in the mirror made me understand why Baby Chicken cried when she saw my bare back. Poor child was also in charge of morphine drops into the tube–a job no one wants since too many drops can kill a girl.
Cancer is measured in years of five. How many people are alive in five years? Everyone gets their very own percentage. It’s really fun like that. For all the dolls that are five and beyond–cheers. For all the dolls not yet to five–you got this. And all the dolls who never made it to five–the world is not the same without you.
Tell me now–is wearing a mask really that big an imposition?