I love this thing. I made a rainy day mix this time, but I’ll make a more upbeat one later. If there’s one thing I love doing, it’s making playlists. Awesome!
I love this thing. I made a rainy day mix this time, but I’ll make a more upbeat one later. If there’s one thing I love doing, it’s making playlists. Awesome!
Just starting to follow a feisty discussion around the use of the term “librarian”, helped along by Rachel Singer Gordon’s excellent post on librarianship’s attitude toward library paraprofessionals here. I must bow to Dorothea, who breaks down the idea of “profession” and how librarianship fits in in her post here. A teaser:
Profession is monopoly labor protectionism, driving up the price of the Elect. End of story. All the training, all the oaths, all the conferences, all that other stuff amounts to pissing in a circle to mark territory, hoard resources (i.e. jobs and social status), and keep the unwashed out. Where an individual doing a particular kind of work can more or less swan about naming her own price, labor perceives no need for the trappings of a profession.
What a fascinating and powerful exchange.
Ahhhh here we go again. Someone, this time someone named Damien Van Vroenhoven, has not only decided that he understands what a blog is across the board (a form is not a genre, as a general rule), but he knows what 10 questions any blogger should be asking his or herself before posting on the interblag. Though I’d say the first question any blogger should ask is whether he or she wants to take advice from an online marketing blog, but that’s not on the list of questions.
“If you want your ideas and opinions to spread across the Internet, you need to make sure that your readers can understand what youâ€™re saying as quickly as possible,” writes Damien. “Make sure you have the right content, links, images or titles in place to communicate your blog postâ€™s purpose as concisely as possible.” I never write concisely on my blog. My blog isn’t about being concise. And I’m not particularly interested in my ideas and opinions being spread across the internet, either. Sharing ideas and musings with a tiny handful of far-flung, like-minded souls is more satisfying than playing the internet attention game.
“Will it entice readers and bookmarkers?” If the only way you can be novel, unexpected, or thought-provoking is by reading the blogosphere and finding a combination of keywords that hasn’t been put together before (as suggested in the 10 Questions post), I’m afraid you’re sitting on a blog I wouldn’t be terribly interested in reading. I probably wouldn’t be to interested in inviting you over for dinner, either.
I find the “fill a need” bloggers an interesting, though not new, development. I understand the logic. If you’re filling a need, your traffic will go up; write to the audience and give them what they want and watch your popularity soar! I’ve seen this done hundreds of times, I’ve even gotten caught up in it myself to some degree in other contexts. It’s an easy trap to fall into; we seem wired to respond to positive attention. Because you can easily quantify the numbers of readers, it’s easy to feel that progress means making that number go up, even if you’re not in it for the money or the marketing. We tend to make an economy out of everything, even when it doesn’t really serve us that well. Is blogging about getting more positive attention, or is it about something else? I blog to connect with people, to mark my own thought process, and to push myself to articulate and build on ideas rather than just letting them fall by the wayside. My blog serves me far more than it serves anyone else. And that’s the way I like it.
For the kind of blogging I do, and the kind I like to read, I prefer to focus to be on the needs of the writer rather than mine as a reader. I know how to get information that’s well-cited and researched. When I’m reading blogs, I’m looking for a personal spin on a topic, a personal epiphany from which I can derive inspiration and motivation. I’d rather see someone work through a thorny issue hundreds of others have already sorted out in their own unique way, using their own unique experiences, than watch people constantly try to anticipate my needs in order to keep me interested in reading. I find that attitude distasteful, as it is both servile and self-serving at the same time, and inherently, in my opinion, dishonest. I like honesty in a blog, a sense of the genuine. That’s what a lot of online marketers have failed to understand in the past about online cultures; real people thinking out loud is more consistently sought-after in the long history of blogging than journalism and marketing has been. And as Aleks noted not too long ago, I’m not the only one who hates a fake.
“Conduct polls on your blog if you are uncertain about how to establish your personal blogging style. If you openly ask for user input, chances are good that you will receive it. Act on their responses openly and honestly.” I have actually seen personal bloggers do this, bloggers not working within the IT industry or representing a corporate face. Your personal blogging style should not be dictated by your audience anymore than your fashion sense should be dictated by your neighbours’ tastes. Real trail-blazing is never done by people trying to appease an audience; truly unique art and ideas are always shattering, painful, and shocking for human beings until the idea makes its way into our larger collective consciousness and we can make sense of it. Think of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which moved from a shattering experience that caused riots to making it into Disney’s Fantasia within a few decades. The novelty of his creation was so confusing to people that they hated it at first, and then came to love it. Now his music doesn’t seem so shocking anymore. We have a collective intelligence, and it cannibalizes the newest of the new in order to refine our sense of order. You can listen to this very thesis expounded by the bright folks at Radio Lab:
New things are hard for people to comprehend; exploring them in public might not make you popular. Popular ideas are rarely truly novel and unique (though they sometimes are!). If you keep a blog about brave new concepts in a world that doesn’t particularly enjoy new concepts, brave or otherwise, does that make you a bad blogger? Does unpopularity always indicate uninterestingness? Were Edward Said and Michel Foucault ever best-selling authors?
This advice isn’t for “every blogger”; this advice is for corporate, IT-based bloggers hoping to use blogging as a form of viral marketing. I think the questions every blogger should ask him or herself instead are these:
1. What role do I want my blog to play in my life? This question should be revisited on a regular basis.
2. What kinds of things do I want to blog about, and what kinds of things do I not want to blog about? Another question that should be revisited at regular intervals. Is it wise to blog about your husband’s annoying habits? Should you be going on at length about your son’s therapy? Are you going to hurt the ones you love with your random and permanent online etchings?
3. Am I okay with everyone I’ve ever known/met/loved/hated reading everything I write on this blog? Because it’s hanging out there in public (unless I make sure it’s not).
4. Do I need to blog under an assumed name? This is especially important for anyone under the age of 25. You never know when you’re going to change careers and have something you wrote online when you were 15 come back to haunt you. Unless you really trust that you know what you’re doing, the answer to this question is probably yes.
5. What kind of impact does blogging have on me? Do I like it? Some people find blogging boring and/or stressful, but do it because it appears to be the norm in the communities they move within. Some people blog for the sole purpose of collecting comments from readers, and are constantly disappointed when they don’t get what they feel they deserve. Personally, I think blogging is best when it pushes you to think more deeply, make more connections between ideas, and revisit issues more regularly than you would otherwise. If blogging isn’t enriching your life, why do it?
Edit: Since a couple of people have asked for clarification, I’ll repost a comment I left elsewhere regarding why many people should consider blogging under an assumed name:
That comment wasnâ€™t really directed at the library world, where named blogging is more normal. I was thinking instead of folks like Bitch PhD, who use their blogs to talk about professional, political, and personal matters, and donâ€™t feel that the blog would really enhance their professional profile.
Itâ€™s not really a matter of someone working out who you might be, though. If someone is a big fan of a pseudononymous blog, they can often work out at least roughly who and where the author is. Itâ€™s more about protecting your googleability, and controlling what your parents, friends, exes, and future (possible) employers find out about you (and when). The moment your real name is on a blog, it will come up (close to) first on Google when someone searches for your name. Thatâ€™s got to be a very deliberate decision on your part.
There are some interests and hobbies you might not want your patrons and colleagues to know about, but you might want to put on the internet anyway. A dear friend of mine, a faculty member in Vancouver specializing in literature, also happens to write bawdy fanfiction about television show characters, and is extremely popular in that subculture. She does not attach her real name to that blog, and while those of us who know her well know about it and can see her real self through that personaâ€™s blog, her students and parents and colleagues canâ€™t google her and read about her television musings. She was profiled in a national newspaper a couple of years ago, a full page spread about her hobby and issues around copyright/intellectual property. But still, no real name. She thought about what it might mean, and hedged her bets. Lots of people have been fired for the contents of their blogs, rightly or wrongly.
But as noted by the age thing, I mostly recommend pseudonyms for teenagers and undergrads. Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve heard about the issues around facebook, where young folks think that no one will ever find their drunken party pictures or their jealous break-up musings. The librarian blogosphere doesnâ€™t really contain these things, but the blogosphere in general is stuffed of those kinds of mostly-personal blogs. Stopping to think about these issues is pretty key to information literacy in 2008; not the literacy skills needed to necessary find information (though it surely relates to understanding how information is found), but the ones needed when creating information.
The Miami Herald says farewell to one of their quirkiest librarians in an honest, funny, and touching obituary that reminds me of a few other librarians I have known:
”We all did everything back then,” Nemeti said. “She was a database editor, then photo librarian. She had encyclopedic memories and knew how to ferret everything out of the files.”
She loved management conspiracy theories and gossip, and treasured her grudges.
In a bad mood — which was often — she could be mean as a snake. But she cared deeply about the colleagues she liked and turned herself inside out for them.
”She was a natural news researcher who loved the news, loved the work and loved helping reporters,” said one-time boss Elisabeth Donovan. “But it requires a calm demeanor, and Rose was never calm.”
She was, however, frequently kind, attentive and motherly, committing small acts of generosity like bringing a colleague designer jeans from a thrift shop and reminding another to keep his head up and “not let the bastards get you down.”
Former library colleague Ruthey Golden recalls that her friend ‘was always buying some homeless man or woman food. I know one cold day she came to work with no coat, crying. I said, `Rose, what’s the matter?’ She said, ‘I had to do it, Ruthey. . . . I just gave that woman laying in the street my coat. I feel bad for her.’ That’s just how Rose was.”
One of the many salty, multi-faceted, genius librarians who made our profession great. [via one of Jeremy's RSS feeds]
I thought it was finished, but it’s not. And I don’t know why. I have another scan tomorrow morning, first thing. The hospital called this afternoon. They tell me it’s not uncommon for doctors to request a second scan, but it’s clearly not routine, since we didn’t book it last week or the week before.
In spite of all the adjectives people have used in reference to my posts on this subject, which I felt were ill-suited at the best of times, I’m not feeling particularly calm, brave, strong, or positive. I’m just bewildered and scared. Once again, I’m caught in the space between panic, denial, and hope: it could be something terrible, another cancer somewhere, another surgery looming, another round of radiation. More nausea, more headaches, more fear. Or it could be nothing. Until now, they’ve told me there are no signs, no indication of any spread, lymph nodes negative, all that. My surgeon said: “you’re probably cured.” My endocrinologist cut my radiation dose in half because of my low-risk of any additional tumours. So could be nothing at all. And yet: a surprise call, another repeat test required. The doctor isn’t in until tomorrow afternoon, no one can tell me why.
I want to know why. I’m scared to know why now.
This is the point where you remind yourself that when you have your health back, when your feet are steadier under you again, you will be grateful for it every waking moment. Every damn waking moment.
So Jeremy and I got married on Thursday. (This is the Marriage is Serious Business picture.) We tried to keep it as low-key as possible, because a) we’re not big ceremony people, and b) I’m not really in the greatest of health presently, so it was in our best interest to keep it simple.
I think I overdid it a little.
It started with getting my hair done.
I went with a little back combing, because, hey, I was doing a bit of 60s inspired sort of thing. The last thing I needed was hairpins. At my sister’s wedding I had about 500 in my hair, and my over-riding memory of the experience was how much my head hurt.
Then we went into Toronto to meet Jeremy’s mother and stepfather for lunch. On the way in on the train, I noticed that my ankles and wrists were swollen. That’s a symptom of hypothyroidism, but not one I’d noticed before; but then, I hadn’t put tights on, and I hadn’t really thought much about my wrists. They were aching slightly. We went to our favourite brew pub on Front street and I had a cask pint. After that I didn’t have a care in the world. I walked about three or four blocks in my beautiful green fluevogs; I felt great!
After lunch we did a brief stopover at St. Lawrence market to pick up a few items for dinner, which was to be made by Jeremy’s stepfather, who happens to be a professional chef. He picked up: foie gras, demi-glace, and mushrooms. After a quick costume change at the hotel, we met my family at city hall.
The whole clan was there. Jason and Yuka were our witnesses; they really feel that a woman should witness for a woman, though I felt that Yuka should have witnessed for Jeremy (pandas need to stick together) and Jason for me. But tradition won out, awkwardly.
The ceremony itself was short, pretty, and sincere. I was anxious, about me, about Jeremy, about…I don’t know what. It was a kindly fellow who did the job was very supportive and made it painless and stress-free. Max acted as ring-bearer. He did a stellar job.
Little Leo had been diagnosed with pneumonia the day before, but had gotten a puffer to help him breathe and finally got a good night’s sleep at night. So was a pleasant little trooper, and I even got a smile out of him afterwards.
After the ceremony we went to Jason’s and Jeremy’s stepfather (with help from Yuka and Jason) made us a fantastic dinner. We just lounged and chatted and ate, his folks, my folks, us, Jason and Yuka. Low-key.
We were home before 9:30pm. My shoes are divinely comfortable, but I think I pushed it a little too hard too fast; my knees and hips were aching and felt horribly weak. Jeremy told me I looked like I’d been punched in the face, that my eyes looked all sunken and blackened. I said it was probably just my makeup finally smudging off; I tried to wash it off, and then he took a washcloth to my face and tried too.
“I think you’re just tired,” he said.
When we set this date, we were both pretty sure I’d be chipper and mended and full of vim and vigour by now. The wedding was never meant to be a defining moment in our lives, not, say, the day of reckoning, the princess moment, but I had hoped to be a bit more up for it than I actually was. The blessing in it, really, is that for the moment part, the wallop of the consequences mostly hit me after the fact. Rest and relaxation is in order now.
We had a genuine time.
I snapped this picture ages ago and forgot about it sitting on my phone. What a revolutionary new service, where you can text and get a text answer about anything! Only two dollars a call!
I generally call this “IM a friend whose online while I’m not”. God forbid they learn of this service and start charging me.
It would be cool if libraries started doing this, though…text questions. I bet most of them would be directional. (“Where’s the nearest Gap?”)
Radioactive isolation wasn’t exactly boring. It was sterile and stark, with absorbent squares of paper taped to the floor in places I might walk, chairs covered over with them, tables draped in them. We had a terrible storm while I was in there, which may (or may not) be the reason for the terrible headache I got that just would not go away.
I arrived Thursday evening, earlier than they expected. Technically you don’t have to be in before 9, but I was exhausted and my parents had an hour drive back home to contend with, so I arrived at about 6:30. The room was a little frightening in it’s utilitarianness. Somehow this seemed less like a spa and more like…I’m not sure. Like entering a leper house, perhaps? Something where your contagiousness dominates so completely that anything else is constantly secondary. My parents must have felt it too, because they both hugged me before they left. They only do that when they don’t expect to see me for months at a time. I got a little weepy. I felt very scared and very sad and very alone. That first night I slept very fitfully, and some man from the ward kept wandering into my room. Three times between 11pm and 2:30am. That was a bit off-putting.
Things I needed to do: bathe at least twice daily, change the sheets and my hospital gown each time I did; never ever touch the floor barefoot; flush the toilet 3 times every time I used it; wash my hands religiously; rince out all food containers and put them in a garbage container that would stay in the room with me the entire time, just so that I didn’t have rotty food smells drifting over me while I was there.
Bleary-eyed but in a more positive frame of mind, I got the dose on Friday morning, and they opted to give me only one pill rather than the anticipated two; only 105 millicuries of radiation. (I found it strangely comforting that they measure in Curies; I had a lovely book about Marie Curie as a child, and the doseage reminded me of it.) This reminded me that I am one of the lucky ones whose cancer is not expected to have spread, so that greatly reassured me. The pill itself was kept in a little radioactive-safe container, like something out of James Bond. They watched me take it, I suppose in case I changed my mind, and then left me for a few hours. I felt nothing at all, no nausea, no pain, nothing. Then a nuclear medicine technician came back with a geiger counter to see how I was doing. “Perfect,” she said, and then she left. She was the last person to enter the room before Monday morning. I was in a pretty good frame of mind by then. Everyone had been extremely friendly and helpful, and I was told that because I’m on such a low dose, those rules pasted on the wall (the YOU MUSTs and the PLEASE DOs) only really applied if I felt like it. She told me I could change the sheets “if you need something to do.” I felt bathed in grace and thankfulness that I was in the optional camp and not the “we are genuinely scared of you” camp. I guess that’s what so put me off, I felt like I was becoming some kind of biological weapon, and everyone knew it.
The first day was good. Mostly I just read a book, but I watched some tv in the evening. I felt absolutely fine and very positive about the experience. My earlier fear abated. Nurses knocked on the door and left things on a table for me, and I would open the door and pick it up. Once, a nurse actually poked her head in to see me, but mostly I didn’t see anyone. They would call a few times a day to see how I was doing and if I needed anything, and without fail they called me “sweetie” or “honey”. Given that I had no direct contact with other people, I actually quite liked this.
The second day, the storm started, and my head and eyes started to ache. I slept well but woke up feeling exhausted and uncomfortable. I ate the little breakfast they gave me and went right back to sleep until noon. I felt a little better in the afternoon and read for a while, but by evening I had put in two calls for tylenol and felt a little rough. I was awake for no more than 10 hours that day.
I had an important realization at this time. The ward where I was staying was not, as I thought, a generic “place where sick people are”. I don’t know why I even thought such a place existed. I was on the oncology ward. Well of course I was, right? Where else would I be? But somehow, this just struck me like nothing else had. No wonder everyone was calling me “honey” and “sweetie”. I came in with braids in my hair flanked by my parents. I was clearly the youngest person in the ward by about 20 or 30 years. And it put my room into perspective pretty damn fast: this wasn’t just a room for people undergoing radioiodine treatment. You can get radioiodine treatment for a few different things, including hyperthyroidism. This was a room for people 4 weeks out of a total thyroidectomy aurgery whose pathology had come back “carcinoma”. Everyone in this room spends 4 nights and 3 days, pacing in the same way, flushing the toilet the requisite three times a zillion times a day, drinking tons of water to keep the radiation moving quickly out of their kidneys and bladders. How similar we all are, how rigidly similar our experiences would be. I felt like a piece on an assembly line; I felt kinship. It made the process both easier (I’m one of the lucky ones, remember) and harder (my membership in the league all the more defined and definite).
The third day started much as the second one did, with a desire to go right back to sleep, which I did. But this time, when lunch rolled around, I felt a wave of nausea. Nausea is a common symptom of radiation, but it’s usually after you take the pill. I didn’t actually throw up, but when lunch arrived (pasta) the smell of it threatened to push me into the absorbent-sheet coated bathroom for fear of bringing up all over my sterile room. I wished I hadn’t brought it in; now that it was in the room, I had to deal with it myself. I left it sealed up in its microwaveable glory and pushed it into the farthest corner of the room. My legs ached, my head was pounding, my eyes were sore, and my stomach was…touchy. I made an early call for more tylenol and tried to take it easy. The nausea passed, but I still never entirely trusted my stomach. I ate the dinner they gave me (shepard’s pie with green beans), but I didn’t entirely feel confident in my belly again.
I bathed fairly regularly through out this. I would split up bathing chores; once, just wash self; another time, wash hair. I brought in a salt scrub and took my time scrubbing my elbows, my feet, my legs, my knees. My hands were getting dry with all the constant washing, so I spent some time scrubbing them too. It was soothing, and made me feel somewhat less plague-ridden.
And I woke up on the fourth day, ready to push back the stone in front of the tomb and walk away with the story of my time in this unique and quiet little hell. I didn’t get bored, no, not as such. It was neither as easy nor as difficult as I expected.
Contrary to (seemingly) popular belief, I haven’t actually had any radiation yet, and at no time was my radiation postponed or rescheduled. I cannot have radiation until 4 weeks after surgery, which is officially today. Radiation requires me to be in a state of rather severe hypothyroidism, which I’m most definitely in right now. The last few days have been, I must admit, particularly challenging. I’m officially checked in to the hospital now, and out on a day pass. I spent most of the afternoon finding a parking spot and failing, trying to work out where to register at the hospital, registering, waiting for the nurse, getting debriefed, and finally making some decisions about what is and is not coming in with me. I will be incommunicado after dinner tonight when I go back into the hospital and stay there until it’s all over. Which is probably for the best, because I’m pretty irritable and headachy, not to mention utterly exhausted.
I have no idea why there are these rumours floating around about my treatment, and it’s a bit disconcerting to hear about them. I know I posted about radiation and my plan for the experience; I suppose I can just take it as a compliment that my post considering my options was so vivid that people imagine I’ve had the experience. I’ll post a (too) long treatise on it once I’ve passed through it and am on the other side, never you fear.
I’m definitely trying to stay positive, but I’m not out of the woods on this one yet. There’s a fair bit of treatment and recovery left to go.
After I got home from the hospital, my mother said, “There! That wasn’t so bad after all, was it! You were all scared over nothing!”
It hadn’t really hurt. I had had no complications, and I had been released early. I had been in a terrible panic leading up to the surgery, and a terrible panic as they put me under the general anesthetic, but in spite of the lack of pain, I can’t say I was scared over nothing. Knowing what I know now, I can’t even project myself backward as any less scared than I was.
I was scared from the first biopsy last June, though I clung to the mild confusion of the attending doctor who couldn’t work out why we were even doing the biopsy. A long-standing goitre, probably the result of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis; why were we making this fuss? I was reassured by his unconcern. But when they asked for a second biopsy, I felt a quiver in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t entirely believe it, I thought I would be vindicated, but I had this sinking suspicision, this strange clawing that reminded me that I had reason to be worried.
My family doctor told me the results by accident; I went to see him for completely other reasons. “They’ll probably want to remove the nodule,” he said. “You won’t even need to take pills.”
Surgery. That was in October. I knew even then that it was coming, and I wasn’t scared of the surgery per se, but it was something more. Something radical was changing. Someone was going to change my self-perception, me. Someone, something, some diagnosis. There was a constantly shifting diagnosis, lots of caginess, lots of reassurances.
When I finally saw my endocrinologist a month later, she had very little to say. “Two questionable test results,” she said. “That will have to come out. Are you ready to have surgery?” She booked me an appointment with a well-trusted surgeon, and I got into a cab and went straight to the bar.
I’m not sure I can describe what’s so scary about it. Your own body turning on you, hiding secrets from you. I’ve never felt the mind/body divide so much as in those moments, as if my body is a stranger to me. She never said the word, she never said I think this is cancer, but she barely needed to. I felt the words as if she had.
And I felt angry. I’ve had this weird thyroid for 17 years. Has it been sitting there festering, slowly preparing to turn its claws on me, all that time? What if they open me up and discover that I’m a lost cause, incurable, a sad morality tale about not following up properly on medical issues?
That might have gotten to the root of my fear, and the greatest lesson I’ve gotten from this. You cannot trust that someone else is going to look after your best interests. I knew I had a strange thyroid. I clung to the story I wanted to hear, that it was just weird, funny-looking, but otherwise okay. I told every doctor I’d ever had the whole story of how it was found, the tests each doctor performed and its results. “It’s not cancer,” I’d say. “It just looks like cancer.” My certainty seemed to convince a legion of doctors, all the way along. If you want them to leave you alone in your delusions, they will do so. I was angry that that legion of doctors, who should have known better than to trust a 20-something or 30-something when she says that something in her body looks like but is not cancer, allowed me this hall pass into happy, quiet denial. But I was even more angry that I requested it. This was primarily my fault.
When I met with the surgeon in December, he talked to me as if I already knew, as if the words were already on the table. “This is cancer,” he said. So simple. He gave voice to my worst possible fear; not so much that it would be cancer (though that was certainly part of it) but that someone in his position would believe that it was with so much certainty. In his certainty I had no refuge in denial. I wasn’t ready to face it. It was a dark shadow of a possibility that I had been dodging for most of my life.
I was (and still am) scared of cancer. It’s that weird insider who goes wrong, the member of the family who stabs you in the back, the part of your own brain that throws obstacles in your way or distracts you with terrifying ideas. It’s your dark twin, hiding always a few steps behind you, your anti-self, reaching out to trip you up. It’s you; the part you don’t like to acknowledge. Your demon self. The part that runs of to worship the devil and dance with the witches in your absent twilight memory. It’s a nebulous enemy that you have to embrace, because you can’t distinguish it from your friends. But I’m not sure if it’s that that scared me so much, or, not just that.
As my fear drifts away (for the most part), it’s hard to fully capture the motives and logic behind it. I closed up my office on my last day at work and trembled; it was one of the hardest things to do. I would not come back there until it was all over, and that was not reassuring. I would come back with some kind of dark, sad knowledge, I would be inalterably changed. It’s not the scar. It might be the knowledge of my own mortality, as if, on the operating table, I would see the date and cause of my own death written above me on the ceiling. It might be that on my return I would be, without any more reassuring doubts, a person with cancer. I am honoured to be among the many others that bear the title, but was terrified to join their ranks. Talking about how curable it is (which it is!) was less reassuring and more coldly definitive; no matter the outcome, I have now passed by that particular guillotine. It’s shallow and nonsensical, but I think it was at least partly at the base of that fear.
When my friend Jason came to pick up my cat, who would be his houseguest until I returned to health, I collapsed in fear. With him gone, I have more undeniable proof that I would really endure this, it was real. Real, and soon. Denial is a beautiful mask, so easy to put on and hide behind. Each little thing that pushed the mask askew caused me to fall to pieces.
People have often told me that I am awfully calm and controlled about all this. I have no idea where that impression comes from. This has certainly been one of the most uncontrolled and least calm period of my life. My hindbrain has been constantly making me leap and twitch, prompting me to fight or flight and uncontrollable tears and hyperventilation. But fight against whom? Flight from what? The answer is me in both cases.
When I walked into the operating room, I can’t tell you why I broke down, except to say that I was inexplicably terrified. Inexplicable because I trusted the people in the room. I trusted the surgeon, I had no doubt that the surgery would go without a hitch and they would take the best possible care of me. I wasn’t even that worried about pain, because I knew there would be morphine, I knew they would give my any pain killers I needed to make it through. I knew I would be monitored. I can try to rationalize it and say that it had to do with mortality, and facing this evil version of myself that could, in time, kill me. I could say that that moment took me from normal, 33 year old woman on the verge of getting married, with a fantastic job working with fantastic people, to 33 year old woman with cancer. But I’m not even sure that’s at the heart of it. That hindbrain response is powerful. A sort of psychological fight or flight took over, and I just reacted to the fear outside of all logic. There is a point where you just can’t endure another bit of stress, where you just can’t bite it back. There on the operating table I was struck once again by the mind/body split; my body was reacting on its own to the stress, the idea of the tools of the surgical trade which would shortly slice me open. You can only talk yourself out of so much.
A week later when my surgeon told me the truth about what was inside me, it was, on some level, my worst fear. There wasn’t time for me to respond; we had other things to talk about. It was, for the most part, over. It was there, and now it’s gone, and there’s no evidence that there’s anything remaining. I’m not a morality play, I’m evidence of good diagnostics and the value of early detection. But walking out of that office and telling my mother, my father, that their youngest daughter had…I couldn’t even say it at first. I got teary. “It’s over,” I could say. “It’s okay, but…it was. It was.” I’ve already had the panic and fear. That reaction was a quiet little shadow of what fear was there before. I can’t deny it anymore; the reality of this situation is carved into the base of my neck. I suppose I’ve forced my demon self out into the light now. Painful, but less difficult, perhaps, than constantly searching for her.
It may be easier to face truth than possibilities. But I’m still not so sure. The truth is very stark. But maybe the constant dip into denial calls out the demon in us.