No not c%#t. Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about cancer. You know? That thing we all have looming over us? That thing we’re sort of waiting to be diagnosed with. Unless you’ve already had it. Maybe you have it now.
The C word.
I live in cancer prevention mode for myself and my children. Always.
My kids: ”Mommy, why can’t I eat _____ (red dye #40, BHT, sodium nitrate, etc.)?”
Me: ”Because if you eat it now it’ll make you sick when you’re older.”
Cancer prevention from age 1 in my house.
But I digress.
I was blessed to have two moms. My mother had me very young. Pregnant at 18, my mother did an amazing job. But, much like how I owe my own maternal abilities to my mother and grandmother, my mama could never have done it without my grandmother.
Ruth Arleen. My namesake. Not that I ever called her that. That would be disrespectful. I would never even think of showing her disrespect. My middle name is an “old lady” name. And I’ve never been embarrassed by it. Because I’m so proud to share her name. She was the very definition of strength.
So cancer. Mother fucking cancer.
Do you know what cancer does? Maybe you’re reading this and you’re one of the few people who haven’t been affected by cancer. Yet. Cancer isn’t a secret like it use to be. It use to be a mystery. It use to be swept under the rug. And then suddenly people were in mourning.
No one talked about it.
But now we talk about it more. But you cannot understand the many levels of cancer until you’ve seen what it does to someone you love. Especially someone you’re truly connected to at your core. So let me tell you what cancer does.
The deterioration. The insanely rapid aging. Sudden frailty. Mood swings. Witnessing things you never thought were possible. The smell of shit in a colostomy bag. It smells different when it doesn’t make it all the way through the intestines. Btw. Too gross? If that’s hard for you to read then you’re not ready for someone you love to be sick. Not sick like this.
As I type these words, I think not only of my own grandmother, but loved ones who’ve lost parents and spouses to cancer. So many levels of destruction. You question everything. Forever.
Cancer is a complex web.
When someone you love…especially a parent, spouse or child…has cancer; when that happens, your entire life changes. It affects your entire being. When someone, even a stranger, asks innocently “how are you?” You’re answer is, “Well she went for another treatment yesterday and she’s holding up pretty well” or “the results came back and it looks like the radiation didn’t work because now it’s in the bone”. This isn’t what’s on your mind. This is your response. Even if the individual asking the question doesn’t know your situation these are the only words you can get out. But it’s not so crazy. Because what’s actually happening in your mind:
Any person: ”How are you?”
In my mind: ”SHE’S GOT FUCKING CANCER!!! WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN HOW AM I? WHO GIVES A SHIT HOW I AM? DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH SHE’S HURTING? DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I NEED HER? DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I HATE EVERY PERSON WHO DIDN’T MAKE HER GET TO THE DOCTOR EARLIER? WHAT AM I GOING TO DO? WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO DO?” (insert me, me, me, melodrama and the many psychological questions we beg of this selfishness here)
But I didn’t say that. I usually said the former or was awkwardly quiet. Sitting on the sidelines at parties or in restaurants and bars with friends. Everyone dancing and having a great time as I’m thinking about my grandmother and her collostemy bag. Her weakness. Her inability to move around.
Her suddenly bald head. Then hair growing back grey when it was dark before.
Her embarrassment when she can’t be the ideal strong matriarch and has no other choice but to rely on those who have always relied on her. And she doesn’t know how to do it. She has to be dependent. And you have to watch her and pretend you aren’t. You have to be strong because she can’t know that her pain is so hard on you. That will kill her quicker.
Then you get the official diagnosis. The real call. The big one. The one where the doctors and everyone else have decided that nothing else can be done. And we’re suppose to enjoy the time she has left. The very, very little time that she has left.
So you bargain.
You try to think of something that the idiot asshole doctors couldn’t think of because they can’t possibly know what they’re talking about. They can’t be right. So they must be horrible doctors. They’ve all gotta be quacks and failures because there’s no way they’re right about what you’re hearing. Somebody fucked up somewhere and you start brainstorming and reaching to grasp and figure out where something went wrong. And then you remember that they said from the beginning that the chemo and radiation was only to keep her around longer; not to save her.
Did she put herself through all of this for us? So we could have her for longer?
I cried in the shower. Everyday. For months. That’s my hot tip of the day. Cry in the shower. That way you don’t get swollen. No smeared mascara. No red nose cuz you can just wipe the snot right off your face and down the drain it goes. No one hears you because the water drowns out the wimpers and wails and gasps. And you can get the crying over with in the morning so you don’t end up crying at work and having to sneakily wipe tears from under your eyes in the middle of a meeting.
Then you make last minute deals with God, of course.
Explaining to him that he must have mixed her up with someone who deserved it. As if. Then you may yell at an orderly for doing nothing wrong. I wouldn’t let them bring my grandmother their disgusting food. I put homemade food in a blender and brought it in. All her faves. I think I thought that would save her. Desperate and clinging. She clings to her life. You cling harder. You see her pain and it kills you. As much as it’s killing her. And then you realize that every drop of pain you’ve had in your own life…every single ounce of pain that she witnessed…she felt that too. And now it comes full circle.
And you make sure she knows. You make sure she knows that you are the woman you are because of who she is. But she didn’t know. Though I explained everything that she was to me…everything she did for me… every impact. I simply didn’t have the life experience and maturity at that point in my life for her to see what she put inside of me. I don’t think she knew how much of her was in me. Is in me.
She was healthy and strong her entire life.