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Friday, July 6, 2012

It's been over 2 years since my first round of chemo...

It has been a LONG time since I've blogged on NFPR.

There have been times, off and on, when I've thought about logging in and sharing a story or insight or observation. There have been moments when I've wanted to write to process what I was going through.  Or to record an amusing anecdote.  Or to mark an anniversary:  The 2nd year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis (which is also, unfortunately, the day after my husband's birthday--it will remain unforgettable for us on many levels).  The 2nd year anniversary of my port being put in.  The 2nd year anniversary of when I started chemo.

But, of course, I didn't.

Didn't write about these milestones.  Didn't commemorate them.  Didn't even note them, in some cases, until after the fact.

So why am I back now?

Not sure.

Maybe because in doing research for a chapter I'm writing on transracial/transnational adoptee blogs, I came across an essay by a theorist who works on narrative and new media, and she was writing about the gendered nature of cancer blogs.  And in describing the various "story-genres" and purposes for which women wrote about their breast cancer (and all of the blogs she analyzed were breast cancer blogs--at least the ones written by women--she also looked at male bloggers who wrote about a variety of cancers that they were experiencing), I was reminded of my own blog--how useful and helpful it had been for me to have a place to talk about my experiences with cancer.  To vent my rage and frustration and anxiety about going making treatment decisions, through chemotherapy, preparing for surgery, living without breasts, and thinking about my mortality.

Recently I learned that my ex-husband's stepmother (are you following that chain?) died a year ago from ovarian cancer.  She had been a breast cancer survivor.  Her ovarian cancer came nearly ten years after her breast cancer diagnosis and seems to have been a result of the chemotherapy and radiation treatment that she underwent.  I'm, unfortunately, no longer in touch with my ex-husband or his father/family (I learned about her passing through a mutual friend), but I felt sad and freaked out, both for her/her family and for myself.

This is what having cancer does--it makes you selfish.  It makes you think and wonder about whether it's going to happen to you.  I mean, of course I was sorry about her passing.  And it felt weird to learn about her death from someone other than my ex-husband--highlighting the estrangement from a family that I'd been married into for over a decade.  But part of my sadness over her passing was also a sadness at wondering whether her fate could be my fate.  Would this be my fate in another 8 years.  Could I be developing cancer in my ovaries, in my uterus, as a result of the chemotherapy or just because--just because when you have cancer, there is a potential for it to spread to other parts of your body.  And uterine and ovarian cancer is so difficult to detect because you can't see or feel the tumor.

A week ago I was having drinks with some friends, and someone brought up the fact that she sometimes forgot that I had had cancer.  I know what she means--at least, I know why she could forget.  I don't talk about it very often--I mean, it doesn't really come up in everyday conversation.  And there are few visual reminders.  I suppose the most prominent one is that I no longer have breasts, but since I was small to begin with and since I've learned to select clothes that don't enhance my bust (or missing bustline) it's easy to forget that there's a part of me that's missing, especially now that my hair has completely grown back in (and it has grown back thicker and darker than before, if you can believe that--I have less gray hair now than I did pre-cancer--not that I ever had a lot of white hair--I inherited my father's genes for that because he didn't go gray until he turned 50 and then "poof!" it was all overnight).

So I totally understand why my friend sometimes forgets that I have cancer, and why no one who didn't know me 2 years ago would even wonder about me and whether I'd had breast cancer because I just look like a normal, healthy woman in her early 40s (Matthew would say I look like I'm in my early 30s, but he may be looking at me with eyes of love).

But I don't ever forget.  And I don't mean because there's ocular evidence everytime I shower and look down at my scars.  I mean because I feel like being a person with cancer--having experienced chemotherapy and the various surgeries I had related to my cancer diagnosis--that's now all a part of who I am.  I think about being a person with a cancer diagnosis (notice that I still don't feel comfortable calling myself a "survivor") in the same way that I think about myself as a woman or as an Asian American.  These identities are part of who I am in such a naturalized, almost essentialized (I use that word, hesistantly, since I'm not trying to say that there is an essentialized element or quality to being a woman or being Asian, but perhaps I don't need to be so academically cautious in this space).

I've internalized having a cancer diagnosis and going through cancer treatment in the same way that I've internalized the fact that I have an Asian face.  These are parts of me that just are and that are unforgettable to me.

Anyway, I think it might be time for me to start writing in this space again.  I needed some distance from thinking about myself in relation to my cancer.  But I might be ready to start exploring some things that I've been thinking what the best thing is about not having breasts (I'll save that for a future post).  So if anyone is still reading this blog from its initial startup 2 years ago, thanks for being a loyal reader.  And for anyone new, I hope that this blog provides some interesting insights for you, and feel free to leave a comment.