Warning: naughty language ahead!
I didn’t mean it, Universe. Really, I didn’t.
If I ‘d known we were going to end up here, I would’ve been nicer to my parents, skipped less school and stayed away from sex and boys, drugs and alcohol and the devil’s music.
OK, maybe not that last one.
But you were not in a bargaining mood that September morning when the phone rang before 9 a.m.
It was too early on a Friday to get up yet, too early to begin with something this serious. You weren’t joking around when the man’s low, serious voice filled the living room or when I pulled the pillow over my head to beg for 10 more minutes of sleep.
You weren’t having it when I got up and attended to my daily rituals on the last morning I would have in this stage, the last few precious moments of non-fear-based living.
If I’d known that from that point forward I would look at the entire world differently, have no real way back to the old me, or even a sliver of light to follow through the darkness, I might have remembered each part of the moment, cementing every thought and gesture in my mind.
I would’ve sipped an entire cup of tea in leisurely splendor or spent a few unfettered moments in meditation before returning my doctor’s call. But that particular morning my responsible side pushed forward, tapped the button on the machine and called back.
I hold for the doctor. I crave caffeine, but I’ve given it up to get rid of the daytime headaches and nighttime sleeplessness.
My doctor picks up. I can picture him in his book-lined office, reclined in a leather chair behind a large wooden desk. His voice is low—comforting even—and my body tenses.
Something’s wrong. Even my cells know it.
“We see these things every once in a while,” he says. “Maybe one out of every hundred.”
Defying the odds—I like it already. That’s my dark and sarcastic inner voice speaking.
“You have cancer,” he says.
My ears go offline like I’ve just stepped off the train in a foreign country. I’m hopelessly without language.
“You have cancer,” he says again, calm and used to this.
I have a flash of hatred for him that will haunt me for months after. It’s as if he’s chosen to fuck with me personally.
“How accurate are the tests?”
“Well, we believe they’re accurate. We use this lab all the time.”
Denial and anger, check.
“It could be wrong, though. Right? Should I do the test again? Maybe I should make an appointment.”
I’m already into bargaining, and we’re about forty-five seconds into the conversation.
I can hear him breathing, probably gauging how crazy I am.
A thousand thoughts race through my head. Maybe I can figure out a way to reach through the Matrix and restart this day. Choose the blue pill over the red one and wake up in my bed believing whatever I want to believe. Though I’ve spent roughly three decades trying to dig deeper, this one word makes me think about chucking it all in the rubbish bin.
My tongue is frozen in my mouth.
“I’m going to send you a referral to a specialist,” he says. He seems kind.
“What’s the treatment?” I manage to get this out without bawling.
“Surgery, followed by radiation or chemo. You’re lucky, though. It’s only Stage 1.”
Lucky. Sure, that’s exactly how I feel.
Cancer, I’ll discover, is an asshole.
It doesn’t care if you eat organic or get proper amounts of sleep, water and sex.
Cancer shows up to the party with nothing but the ability to replicate, spread itself around and fuck shit up. It destroys your place without a murmured apology and tries to be stronger than anything you have to throw at it.
You can do eleven million downward-facing dogs and still find yourself on your knees, crying and puking and exposing your rawest human aspects.
Cancer is the asshole that begins a tsunami of lessons and growth, and the engine that keeps them rippling out five years after the fact.
But as we all know, the best way to stand up to assholes is to expose them to the light and call them on their crap.
I’m still finding the courage to write about it because if I look really far down, past the layers of healing and goodness, the fearful version of me is still there. But I’m not worried—she’s armored, resolute and can be pretty tough when she needs to be.
Author: Alyson Mead
Apprentice Editor: Jessica Chardoulias/Editor: Nicole Cameron