Musings On Cancer.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“I’m not worried about Kat’s tumor,” I told Gini.  “I should be.  But instead, I’m depressed for other reasons.”

“Are you sure your depression isn’t because of her?” Gini asked.
“No.  We’re waiting for the biopsy, and… I’m not even thinking about her.  I forget she’s in mortal danger for hours at a time.  Instead, I’m selfishly getting sad about all these other stupid things, deadlines and mean comments and writing, and crying for things that have nothing to do with Kat, and then I think oh, I should be worried about Kat, and I’m just…not.”
“I think you’re worried about her.”
“I’m not.  And I feel worse for being such a shitty friend.”
A week later, Kat got her results back.  They were clear: a benign tumor.
And within two minutes of hearing that news, the depressive funk I’d been in lifted as abruptly as a tarp being ripped off.  The sadness was gone.
I just was so unable to deal with that terror that I sublimated it into all sorts of other sadnesses.  It felt like depression, it felt like my usual chemical neural misfire, but deep down it was my brain being incapable of looking that terror in the eye.

When I look Rebecca in the eye, I don’t see anything wrong.
She’s five years old, and she loves me.  She leaps on me every time I come near.  She wants me to chase her around the house.  She gives me kisses.
And I keep staring at her, trying to understand how this adorable, mischievous moppet isn’t going to live.
She isn’t.  The Meyers tell me that, and I believe them.  They’re bolstering up for the inevitability of Rebecca’s death, shoring up all their defenses, doing their best to squeeze every minute out of her remaining time.
But I can’t see that remaining time.  I have to keep pushing myself, remembering to schedule some Meyer-time, because if we don’t this week then we might never see Rebecca again.  And we go over, and it’s playtime, and she pokes me with a broom and giggles at my jokes, and if I didn’t look at Eric and Kat’s grim faces I’d have no idea that anything was different.
And I’m depressed all the time.  I barely have the energy to get out of bed.  Writing is a slog.  In the evening, I collapse into Gini’s arms and we watch television instead of visiting friends or making dates or anything productive, and again, I don’t think of Rebecca.  Except when I see a Tweet from Eric implying the horrors on the ground. He talks about handing the Do Not Resuscitate order to his child’s teacher, and that’s like a punch in the gut – a literal physical pain, right in the scar where they cut me open for my triple-bypass.  The center of my newfound mortality.
They’re preparing for a future where she will be gone.  A future, too close.
And how can that happen?
We have a convention to go to.  That convention is tomorrow.  And still we’re holding our breath, because Rebecca had some eye pain on Monday and is that a headache or a harbinger?
Everything in our lives will get dropped to be with her, when the time comes.  If we get that chance.  We’re holding, hovering, waiting, because in the future is a big fall and we need to catch the Meyers.  We need to catch ourselves.  We need to catch whatever we can of Rebecca.
We can never unclench.  Except we do.  We’re human.  We unclench for brief periods of time, then feel horribly guilty because how could we have forgotten except memory refuses to store this, and so when we slump home we try our best to work and still, still, still.

This isn’t a chronicle.  It’s an excuse.
I know you’ll accept it, no question, but I’m flaky lately, not responding to certain emails, going dim, forgetting stuff.  And like Kat, I don’t think it’s Rebecca, it feels like my annual SAD, except there’s just a sharper edge buried in this usual sadness.
I’m not at the epicenter of this – that’s the Meyers.  But I’m caught up in because Rebecca’s my goddaughter, and the only kid in that family who really gets my humor, and when I realize I’m not going to get to tell her all of my bad Dad jokes and goof around with her, it feels personal.  It feels like an angry universe decided to smart-bomb my heart in the place I least expected it – Gini?  Fuck, yeah, I’ve been braced for that death for years.  My mother?  My father?  Inevitable.  Even Erin and Amy, my daughters, well, it would devastate me but they’ve gone to college, they’ve fallen in love, they’ve become adults.
But a little fucking girl.
Such dirty play.
What they don’t tell you about cancer is that getting through it involves rationing your strength.  You just won’t have the energy for some things any more, shutting down certain parts of your life – even parts you may enjoy, but there’s a stress in all areas of your life and you just can’t.  And me?  I’m more sapped than I’d have believed by this, and I don’t want to dump in on the Meyers – that is the cardinal sin – but there’s a level of exhaustion because somewhere in the back of my brain it understands just what’s about to happen, it’s screaming, it’s shrieking in the dead spot in my consciousness, and every other brain cell feels that horror and sags to the tune of some unknown fear.
And I keep asking, Well, what’s normal here?  And there is no normal.  There’s no stable place to stand.  There’s only the seesaw riff of happiness and terror and anticipated loss and irrational hopes and logical calculations and rigid planning and bargaining and moping and talking with friends and blogging and throwing away that blog entry and writing and throwing away that writing and realizing that there is no way to communicate because you have to know her, you have to know how precious she is.

Last night, Gini talked me out of cancelling my novel.
Because I got the news that “Hey, you’re going to be a published novelist” on the same day we found out that Rebecca’s tumor had resurged. And I remember kneeling next to the toilet at the children’s hospital when Rebecca was in surgery, trying not to throw up, telling God if you need me to never be a published novelist, I will, if only it saves her.
So there’s a part of me that feels that if only I gave up the novel, walked back on that, that somehow Rebecca would be healed.  Or at least that I should try.
Gini tells me that this is the bargaining phase.  Everyone goes through it, and I had a particularly big thing to give up.  She’s told me in no uncertain terms that the universe does not care enough about me to present me with such a choice, this is random, this isn’t some sign from above, it’s just a coincidence.  And I trust her, as I always have in my depression.
But I would.  If I knew it would help.
I would give up everything, and the Meyers would too, and we all stand ready to sacrifice everything we have to save this little girl.
The horror is that there’s nothing we can give up.  Everything we have to offer is worthless.  It’s all down to the chemical processes in Rebecca’s brain, and whatever help medicine can provide, and nothing else we can do matters.
And so we pray.  And bargain.  And rage.
And give our dwindling hope whatever flame it can.


  1. Anne Gibson
    May 1, 2014

    The hardest thing I had to keep reminding myself when someone close to me is diagnosed with cancer is that I am not living in a novel. My husband’s thyroid cancer, Josh’s brain cancer, my aunt’s breast cancer, my cousin’s skin cancer, none of them cared about the sacrifices I was willing to make, the work I was willing to do, or the changes I was willing to undergo. I am not the protagonist.
    I am not living in a fantasy novel, where something I do will directly affect whether all those around me are saved by the Great Evil of Cancer.
    I am not living in a science fiction novel where a change in my outlook will enable the invention, creation, or modification of some technology that would have saved Josh’s life.
    I am not living in a mystery where the death of my aunt is the direct result of someone else’s cruelty and plotting, and I can put that person to justice and give my family some peace.
    I am not living in a memoir where knowledge of my personal pain and determination while my husband recovered will shape the lives of others in a meaningful way.
    I’m just living. It’s all just chaos. The books are there to help us feel like the world doesn’t have to be chaos, but outside the covers, it still is. No magical powers, thinking, bargaining with a higher power, deductive reasoning, or drama on my part affected the outcomes, outside of the universal truth that Being There is the most that you can do.
    For someone who’s used books as both the escape mechanism and the guideposts for her life, acknowledging that outside the pages, Shit Just Happens To People is damned hard. Truth is, at least from my experience, this is going to hurt like hell.
    But you do have Gini, you have the Meyer family, you have your friends and family and you’ll all be going through this together.
    And for what it’s worth, you have acquaintances out here in the woods of the Internet who are with you, have walked similar roads, and are praying like hell that maybe *you* are living in a novel and some deus ex machina will enter stage right any minute now.

  2. Jax
    May 1, 2014

    I know there are no possible words, but I read this and wept. You all have all the love I have to send.

  3. Rosie
    May 2, 2014

    Thank you for writing this.
    My dad died of cancer last summer. I can’t even begin to describe what it’s like, the waiting, the never knowing, the not wanting to plan anything…but you just did. Thank you.
    Also, for what it’s worth, I’m sending virtual hugs your way. I find myself wishing there were more I could do to help, but part of the horror of the whole thing is that there’s nothing anyone can do. And random strangers who read your blog on the internet are several steps removed from being able to do anything even if there were something to be done.
    Anyway, thank you.

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