Cancer is everywhere. At the grocery store this morning, the bagger was telling the customer in front of me and the checkout person about her granddaughter who had recently passed away from brain cancer; ten years old. I don't know what started her on the subject, but she just couldn't seem to stop talking, poor thing. And we're all standing there, trying not to cry, because it's just so horrible.
Last year, a friend of mine died from cancer, and a colleague as well. I know several other people dealing with it right now, including some folks who were private enough about it that I didn't know they had cancer until they e-mailed to tell me after learning my diagnosis.
I feel like it's in the media too -- on three separate shows I'm watching, cancer is a major aspect at the moment. And it's not surprising, when you think about it; it makes for terrific drama. Will Luke's sister donate part of her liver so he has a better shot? Will Christine Braverman risk recurrence of her cancer if she runs for mayor? Inherent drama, and lots of it. You really couldn't expect tv shows to stay away from the topic, but still, it occasionally hits me, like a punch in the gut.
And it's in the news too, lots of little articles and essays and memoirs. This morning, I read Oliver Sacks' graceful and moving piece as he faces the end of his life after a cancer recurred (thankfully, at the very respectable age of eighty-one). A New York Times article I posted a week or so before my diagnosis talked about how it seemed like cancer was everywhere -- their argument was that this was actually a good thing, because it meant that we were slowly conquering all the other things we used to die of. Cancer and heart disease are the main ones left, the ones that will get most of us in the end. Hopefully later, rather than sooner.
Sometimes it's overwhelming -- it feels like I can't go a day without some other reminder of cancer. It feels like I can't go an hour, which is particularly frustrating on days when I don't have any doctor appointments and all I want to do is just focus on my normal life -- teaching and raising my kids and spending time with my friends and writing. Even doing the laundry and the dishes is better than thinking about cancer, and it seems unfair that it's so omnipresent.
But I think it's like when you want kids and your partner doesn't, or when you're trying to get pregnant and it's not working, and either way, you're not sure if you're ever going to get to have the children you want. You see babies EVERYWHERE. The world seems saturated with baby stuff, with breastfeeding moms, with kids at the playground and ads for diaper bags, and mostly it's okay, but sometimes, it feels cruel, it feels like the world is trying to break you, that it has sent this adorable little kid across your path with her red balloon, just so you can fall apart in the middle of the subway station.
And of course, it's not actually that children are so omnipresent (although they're pretty present), or that cancer is. Both of them are there, part of life, inescapable. Both will cross your path, likely often, but it's because of your current condition, because you're seeing through child or cancer-colored glasses that their existence impinges on yours so strongly. Sometimes it won't bother you; sometimes, it'll hit you, like a punch in the gut.
You take a breath. You turn your attention elsewhere, when you can. There is laundry to be done, and dishes. There are books to read and books to write. There are friends and family to appreciate. Right now, Mary Robinette is sauteeing apples in butter and sugar, and the scent is filling my house, and soon there will be creamy apple tart.
I choose to think about that. Mmm....apples.