Tuesday, February 03, 2004


I know, I know...Barbara Eirenreich (sp?) wrote her thing about cancer and then what's-her-name with the white head stripe also wrote her thing. You know, form/content woman. Idol to name dropping New Yorkers. Susan Sontag.

So don't think I have anything groundbreaking to say about cancer.

Someone I know has cancer. Do you remember the first time you found out about cancer? I can't quite recall the first time I found out that things don't quite go the way you think they should. I remember a puppy being run over. It had one blue eye and one brown eye. I think I was about three.

I realized the universe was not what it might have been cracked up to be. For one thing, it wasn't safe. Even for the innocent, the beautiful, the helpless. A puppy! We lived in a world in which the life of a puppy could be brutally snuffed out. What kind of world was this?

Strangely, it took me years to get over my childhood belief that I had some kind of control--some kind of causal role--in the tragedies that befall us. Well, I guess we do sometimes. But I mean--it took me years to get over the magical thinking-thing. The idea that if you just think a certain way...maintain vigilance, etc... you can prevent all misfortune.

Actually, I'm not entirely over that and may never be. But I'm partially able to recognize that there's no perfect shield one can create in life. And maybe that I'm not responsible to protect us all. (Even when I write that I realize I don't believe it.)

We made little crosses out of popsicle sticks and had a funeral procession to the empty lot where we buried him. Sobbing and wailing all the way. Better than paid mourners. No one had to tell us about cultural breast beating traditions. We knew how to act.

Finding out about cancer was a different, but related experience. Related because I should have seen the random nature of misfortune. Different because I could romanticize it a bit more.

I believe it may have been a made for TV movie that clued me into the even more startling and outrageous reality that little kids get cancer and lose their hair and then die nobly but obviously unjustly. There were several dimensions. On the one hand dying obviously would get you a lot of attention and perhaps there would be moments where you could have virtually anything you wanted. In fact, in the right set of circumstances and with the right disease there was even the small possibility one could be famous. And what might seem to an 8 year old as great and lasting fame--one's own made for TV movie--loomed large on the plus side of illness. I even envied those children who got to be in the Jerry Lewis telethon.

Our lives were so boring! So ordinary! We were the picture of health and nothing much happened. Tragedy was both terrifying and tempting. A way to create drama and excitement as much as something to be feared.

Now someone I know--someone older, not a child thank God--has cancer. I saw the power of the concept of cancer (something Susan Sontag probably writes about although I don't know squat about her book) over us. The terror we all had. But especially the sick person. I was thinking: Is there a way to reason yourself into being prepared or something? It was like I wanted to be ready--almost like Cancer was a popular mean kid and I wanted to be sure that when he came along to make me feel weak and stupid I could be cooly nonchalant. It was watching someone content and confident become frightened and powerless. I kept thinking: Is this what has to happen or is there some other option? Can I somehow talk him out of it? Can I somehow gain mastery by looking up everything about this cancer on the internet? Can I beat back the evil? What is it I'm supposed to do to ensure our eventual triumph?

This is the way I think about my fetus sometimes--I keep thinking that somehow by sheer mental focus he keeps growing. But it isn't at all connected to my thoughts. The kid's coming whatever I think or do.

The medicine seems to be working although it is hard to tell for sure. The element of luck is so strange there--will you be the 90% who get better or will you be the 10% who don't?

You want to say: But it's me. But it's my puppy. But it's someone we love. And this should make a difference.


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