Cancer log 210: Intensely busy week

Cancer log 210: This is an intensely busy week without a lot of downtime and too many meetings. I had a library board meeting last night, and had somehow cross-scheduled it with my annual check-up, so I had to choose which I was going to — I cancelled the check-up (have to reschedule it today) and went to the board meeting instead.

That was the right choice. We were finally reviewing the results of a survey that I’d pushed to have us do, the result of months of work, results which will shape what staff will do at the library for the next several years, so I particularly wanted to be there for that conversation. It was an excellent one, and I think better for having me there, so that’s all good. No regrets.

(And while I’m here, kudos to David J. Seleb and the library staff for being willing to do this kind of community survey — it’s new for our library, and it takes a little bit of courage to go out and ask the citizens: “What do you think we’re doing right? What do you think we’re doing wrong? How can we better serve you?” It’s like asking for an extra report card, or a work evaluation, that no one is actually making you do. It’s such a privilege, working with this staff and board. They are exemplars of civic service done with integrity, thoughtfulness, and passion, for the public good.)

But oh, I was tired. When I came home at 10 p.m., Kevin asked how I was, and I said, somewhat pathetically, that I’d been working since 7 a.m. straight through and I wasn’t done yet. I got myself some decaf tea and a slice of bread with beef curry, and went to go work on e-mails some more while he emptied the dishwasher and finished cleaning the kitchen for the night.

I’d had a long lunch yesterday with Lori, which was a friend lunch, but we’d also basically talked shop all the way through, for close to three hours, so we were both also intensely working. Writing craft issues, professional development questions, arts admin struggles. We’re in somewhat similar positions, career-wise, so it’s always valuable, those conversations. It was super-useful to me, and I love seeing her regardless, but it’s not exactly downtime, not in the way that chilling out alone with a fluffy book might have been. I need to be careful to schedule more actual downtime.

I finally went to bed at 11:30 p.m., trying to get vaguely close to 8 hours of sleep, still stressed about how much there was to do. But before I closed the computer, I e-mailed and cancelled two of the meetings I had today. A relief.

I’ll still work through that time, but I realized just the thought of needing to be directing people through meetings was more than I could cope with. So that was a good decision, I think. It’s okay to cancel things. It’s okay to move a little slower. Maybe if I keep repeating that over and over to myself, it’ll sink in.

Tonight, I’m be participating in a podcast (which I’m looking forward to immensely, _Our Opinions Are Correct_, with the fabulous Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders). That also eats some time, so today will be a long day.

Normally, Thursday would be my quiet day, but I’m getting a MRI tomorrow, so that’s undoubtedly a) contributing to stress generally, and b) going to eat an indeterminate amount of time. Maybe I’ll be done by noon and the rest of the day will be fine, maybe not, hard to tell.

The MRI is probably nothing — there was some oddness on breast exam last fall, and my oncologist thinks it’s almost certainly just remodeling as the structures heal and reshape themselves post-surgery / radiation. But they keep a very close eye on me these days, so I’m going to go in and let them poke and prod at me. I still have a little stress about needles, leftover from the year of chemo, so I should check and make sure I still have a Xanax left that I can take before I go in tomorrow morning. That usually smoothes out the whole procedure process.

February 12, 2015, was my first cancer log. I don’t remember exactly when I got the diagnosis, but somewhere right around then, so I count it from there. Which means that I’m almost five years out from diagnosis, which feels like a milestone to celebrate. Yet I’m finding myself weirdly reluctant to say so, to count it, esp. with this MRI tomorrow. As if I’ll summon bad juju by saying ‘cancer-free’ out loud.

I don’t believe in that kind of superstition, but you know, when I do tell people I had cancer and then quickly add, “I’m fine now,” to reassure them, I also do, somewhat compulsively, tend to knock on wood. Just in case. No need to take a chance on irritating the universe, right? Let’s not be presumptuous here…

It’s probably nothing. But if I can remove a little stress from this week by cancelling a few meetings, that’s probably a good plan. And I’ll remind myself that the reason I feel such intense urgency to work ALL THE TIME is a legacy of cancer, this sense of increased mortality, the need to get as much done as possible.

Margaret Treanor Frey and I have been working on a comic together. (She’s my college roommate, and sometimes it’s a little surreal how many parallels there are in our lives since then.) The comic is set in a village of retired adventurers, sort of like a tourist trap. They live on the crossroads between various dangerous realms, and adventurers are always coming through, seeking their fortune, and the villagers are happy to feed them, put them up for the night, sell them gear and maps that are guaranteed to lead them to the very best treasure, or your money back (assuming you survive).

We’ve been trying to come up with a title, and we finally settled on one in our phone meeting yesterday: “Assuming You Survive” (and big thanks to the FB folks who brainstormed titles with us, and Nikhil Trivedi who came up that!).

It’s funny, it’s sardonic, it matches the tone of the comic over all, which is light, but with an edge to it. We love it; I’ve just registered the domain. As we were finishing up our call yesterday, Margaret, who is also a cancer survivor, commented that she liked the title because it resonated with her personally.

We’re both in that space, she and I, the space of caveat, where every big plan we make, every idea we begin to implement, has a shadow behind it. We’re totally going to write this comic together, and it’s going to be great. (Assuming we survive).

Like that.

This is one of the main things I’m talking to a therapist about right now, how five years out from diagnosis, there are still long-lasting effects to having had cancer. I don’t want to let cancer (and this lingering shadow it casts) make my decisions for me. I don’t want to let it drive me so hard that I run myself into the ground.

If that happens, the cancer wins. We can’t have that.



The first needle is long, but no worse than the dentists,
a small prick in an unaccustomed place. Rat-tat!
Rat-tat! The biopsy sounds like the beat of a distant
drum, or, more sharply, a staple-gun, extracting
rather than inserting. Two days later, the breast
still aches and the results are in. Surprising. She
was so young. Is. Is, of course. At forty-three,
on the young side for this, but not outside the bounds.

The last lump we were sure was cancer:
benign uterine fibroids, only fertility-threatening.
Spurring a spiral of panic, months of weeping
about children not yet had. Perhaps responsible
for our finally having children at all. The pointed
impetus, the reminder that we dont actually have
all the time in the world. The odds are with us,
this time. Only one out of twenty won’t make it.
We have been lucky so far. Rat-tat. Rat-tat.



Image credits:

1) self-portrait with mammogram, one of my sketches for my cancer / garden / romance book, _Perennial_
2) Ulen, our book dragon from “Assuming You Survive”
3) cancer cells multiplying, _Perennial_
4) Margaret’s piece, “Aloft.” “The very last drawing in my cancer exhibit series was a new me rising out of the body of cancer me.”
5) self-portrait with chemo port, _Perennial_


(Daddy, try not to fret. It’ll be fine.)

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