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Friday, May 7, 2010

Something Else

For those of you tuning in to find out the genetic testing results and hence what surgical and treatment plan I'll be enacting come Tuesday, June 1 (the week following our wedding and celebration of our union), I just got word from the genetics team that test results won't be coming until Monday at the earliest. So please come back sometime Tuesday or Wednesday next week if you'd like to know more. My mother has said that the best mother's day gift I can give her is a negative result--funny how the word "negative" takes on such a hopeful and positive shine when one is dealing with cancer. You want the biopsy to be negative, for example.

I don't want to worry anyone, but I am at a very low point. I figured this would happen to me--I think we'd all worry about me if I didn't hit a very low point. If I didn't feel the weight of the upcoming chemo treatment and the realization of just how hard my life is going to be in the next year. And the uncertainty of what it will mean for me to live with a cancer diagnosis. Because it marks you. As much as I'm giving the bird to the symbol of the pink ribbon--refusing to wear one because I refuse to be openly marked by cancer--the truth is, I AM marked by cancer. I will always be marked by cancer. My life will always be shaped around cancer.

But I don't want to be solely defined by it--I refuse to be defined only as one with cancer. Yes I'm sad. Yes I've been crying. Yes I'm in grief and mourning over the end of so many things--things too deep and intimate to discuss quite yet in the rawness of what I'm feeling. And I am blue. Melancholy. Low level depression. I don't feel like returning email messages. I checked my cell phone voice mail remotely and received many lovely and affectionate and caring messages, and I am grateful for them but I am also relieved that I don't have cell phone access out here because I cannot talk to anyone right now.

And I want to be alone right now. Matthew will be joining me on Sunday--but I need this time to be by myself. To be selfish and to do things just for me--like the much needed massage I'll be getting at 3pm. Of course I've got Bruno to keep me company and to think about. You can't be too self-absorbed when you have a dog to care for who gives you unconditional love.

I've also got books or rather stories. Although I have spent the last few days putting together my tenure file materials

[Aside: That's right ladies and gentlemen--if there is anyone reading this who resides in Greenlaw Hall, then rest assured, my plan is to still file for tenure this August. I just finished writing my teaching and research statements yesterday and will be polishing up the four chapters of my current manuscript this weekend, so that when I finally head back to Carrboro/Chapel Hill I can make the five copies I'll need for my file. The other stuff is already in my office (5 copies of my book and the articles I've published). The uber-organizer in me started planning ahead for this back in the fall and I guess it really pays off now.]

Stories are what I'm living off of right now, as much as the sea air and the food in the fridge (no matter how sad I am, I can always eat and I can still cook).

I just finished reading Minrose Gwin's exceptional novel, The Queen of Palmyra. Minrose is both friend and colleague--in that order--and her book grabs you and pulls you back in time to Mississippi of 1963. I don't want to say much more--you need to read and experience it for yourself--it is a MUST READ and Minrose is an extraordinary writer. There is an interview with Minrose at the end of the book where she is asked about the importance of stories within her own narrative, and this is what she writes:
"We tell ourselves stories that make our lives bearable. These stories shape us and show us how to make sharp turns and put one foot in front of the other--they can trip us up or take us by the hand and lead us home."
I am reminded of how important stories are to me right now, because Minroses's novel allowed me to escape from my present world and to live vicariously through her protagonist, Flo, and especially because there is a quote towards the end of the novel (and don't worry, this won't give anything away) in which Flo muses:
"It was not love that brought me over the dark water. It was something else. Something that didn't give way. Something that held."
In my situation, I think love will be necessary for my support network and my sense of community in order to survive the chemo and the surgery and the cancer. But I also think that there is something else that I have--something else that I hope will sustain and nourish me as I walk forward into a year that I know will be uncertain and full of pain and doubt and fear and frustration.

It's going to be a hard year. I'm not looking forward to it. But I will live through it. A little balder. A little thinner. But still alive. And really, at the end of the day, that's the goal.


  1. Jen, the fact that you can produce such beauty and thought in this time is testament. Not only the will to survive, but to live and to GIVE. Which is tremendous.

    Thank you for sharing and for being. It is a journey all of us need.

    much love, purvi

  2. Hang in there Jen. We're all pulling for you every day. Reach out when you need us, and meanwhile we'll keep knocking to remind you that we're here until you're ready to open the door.
    Love, Elysa