And so it has come to pass that I have somewhat of a cancer, but it is at its nascent stage. Just enough to indulge my flair for the dramatic, but not enough for me to drop everything and start writing the quintessential novel of my generation. Hah! As if having less time would actually enhance my abilities. If anything, it might just justify my propensity for wasting time – checking FaceBook and Instagram feeds, online shopping, losing something important (like keys and Billy Joel concert tickets) and then turning drawers and cabinets inside out to look for it, and, of course, binge-watching. Truly. Because life is too fucking short to waste not knowing if fair-haired Daenerys is coming back with her dragons to rescue the Meereneese in Slaver’s Bay. I literally have a journal entry that read, “Well, now that I have cancer, it wouldn’t hurt to see the last three episodes of ‘Penny Dreadful’ back to back; never mind if I still have some grading to do.” That was the start and the end of that entry. Since I’ve gotten my somewhat malignant result, I’ve finished eight episodes of “Stranger Things,” two seasons of “Penny Dreadful,” the new season of “Wentworth,” the first season of “Humans,” and have started bingeing on “Vera.” Way to go, Lani.
It was raining, and I was driving home from work, the day I got a call about my suspicious mammogram. It was my third mammo in less than two years, and when my doctor called, I knew something was not right. There was more calcification and they needed to do a biopsy. It felt strange and surreal, like watching someone else’s telenovela unfold through a rain-splattered screen. Tears welled up and I let go, the way I do when I sing to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” in my car at full belt mode. “Thunder only happens when it’s raining/ Players only love you when they’re playing…” I knew then if I did have cancer that I’d be too lazy to post status updates about it, unlike a friend of mine who gave an update every step of the way, taking us on her journey from diagnosis to treatment, everybody sending love and healing vibes with multiple heart emoticons.
It was quite a stirring experience reading her posts, cheering her on, even messaging her on the side to make sure she knows I am there for her, even though we weren’t close, not even good friends, more like acquaintances. But when her status update showed up on my feed, I felt genuinely concerned, and I knew I had to reach out. Then, as soon as she was cancer-free, the likes on her status updates diminished, and since her posts haven’t been showing up on my feed, I can’t even remember the last time I read anything from her. I kept thinking then how Facebook must somehow be making a lot of money when someone is sick, keeping track of the most liked posts and who are making them, but then also, how social media has made us all unwitting witnesses.
My friend Melanya’s visit from Toronto took my mind away from the morbid scenarios in my head. In fact, her visit was just cause for celebration. Everyday. With her doing most of the cooking. “Melanya, you’re on vacation. Stop cooking and cleaning!” I demanded each day of her week-long visit. Of course, deep within, I was just extremely grateful for the break. Same thing happened when my friend Ge visited last year. We just moved then, and it was such a crazy time, with boxes and garbage bags of clothes everywhere. One day, I came home and there she was, on the floor, assembling the massive wooden shelf that I ordered from World Market, wiping the sweat off of her brow, and bracing her back with her blistered hands. “Ge! You didn’t have to,” I kept saying as I helped her put the shelf-that-is-never-going-to-get-moved-again upright in its place.
I told my children one morning during breakfast that if friends were money, then I consider myself the wealthiest woman on earth. Alexa noted how friends and family have been bringing food since finding out that I’m sick or after the surgery, calling or texting to check on me, sending cards and flowers. The first few days after the lumpectomy, my friend Anna just stayed and watched shitty TV in bed with me. “This is what true friendship looks like,” I said.
“It is the sweet smell of their breath and laughter and voices calling my name that gives me volition, helps me remember I want to turn away from looking down…” Writer/Activist Audre Lorde’s words ring true almost 40 years since she wrote her book, Cancer Journals, after surviving breast cancer in the late ’70s. She died from liver cancer in 1991. In the book, the black lesbian feminist writer eloquently noted how powerful women’s love and support could be in the process of healing. I’ve been postponing reading the book, which was a foreboding gift from a friend 20 years ago, not by conscious choice but just because I had been too preoccupied. This, despite the fact that Lorde has been one of my favorite poets. In fact, when I opened it for the first time, I was surprised to see prose, not poems. Beautiful, honest, and empowering prose.
At the time, I was debating telling friends and family about my condition. What for? I thought. I’m going to be cancer-free in no time — well, apparently in less than a year if the treatments go as planned. I didn’t want to inconvenience them with my feelings of dread and self-pity. But after reading Lorde’s book, I realized that no, I can’t mope and sulk alone like a depressing martyr or a self-destructive rockstar. It’s true, cancer is no longer the death sentence it used to be. At least not when you’re middle class, have a good health insurance, and are pretty healthy for 50. But it does urge contemplation, a re-direction of energy, and it does beg for attention, if only to remind others to be proactive about their own health. Cancer is an equal-opportunity ball-buster. But with early detection, you could beat its ass down forever! And that’s when I started letting friends and family know beyond my little circle. The outpouring of support has been cathartic to say the least. “(t)here was a tremendous amount of love and support flowing into me from the women around me, and it felt like being bathed in a continuous tide of positive energies…” (Lorde 13).
I would add that my gay boyfriends also came through for me. Louie P, visiting from Ohio, hung out with me as I did errands: grocery shopping, chauffeuring my daughter to cheerleading practice. All he requested was to have roast duck at Sun Wah, lychee bubble tea, and a mind-blowing discussion about semiotics theory. Right. Cesar had cocktails with me three days before my surgery, and Greg and Kiko sent flowers and FaceTimed me after.
I decided to spare my sweet mother the bad news. Although there were moments when I wanted to cry out for mommy, I remember how needlessly she worries about the traffic, her blood sugar level, the leak in the roof, and every small affliction her children and grandchildren could possibly go through. She’s 82 and has hypertension. I’ll tell her when it’s over. My eldest sister knowing is enough. She, who has always been a source of strength and inspiration.
I really am good. I have a husband who would take a day off to accompany me to MRI, sit through another mammogram, and sleep in the waiting room through my surgery and recovery; kids who would postpone yelling at each other to keep my stress level down; and a cat named Mila who stays by my side, buries her head in my hand, and lets me comb my fingers through her silky soft fur, when all I need is quiet.
Please don’t tell my mom about this blog.