Sunday, November 10, 2013

Throwing Spaghetti at the Wall

For our fifth wedding anniversary last month, I had my makeup done professionally. Chris and I were going out to dinner, and I wanted my eyebrows to look better than when I do them myself. Nearly a year post-chemo-chemo (which is how I might have to refer to it from here on out), I have to shave my legs twice a week but my eyebrows and eyelashes remain scarce.

Cancer, you're an unfair bitch, you know that?

Here's the best photo we took that night, which isn't all that great (poor lighting, taken by the babysitter using my phone after Chris and I split a bottle of wine at dinner), but I am happy with my eye makeup. And my handsome husband.
As I was being beautified for my date, I got to talking with the makeup artist about cancer. His brother is a colon cancer survivor, and he was curious about what I was going through. I explained that mine was Stage 4 from the beginning, so I'm still in treatment. 

And as he was applying my blush, he followed up with this zinger: "Didn't you feel a lump or anything?" which is kind of like asking a lung cancer patient whether they'd been a smoker. 

This question, these types of questions get to the heart of so many excruciating feelings I carry with me (but am trying to shed). Why didn't I catch it sooner? What did I do wrong? Why me?

This question, these types of questions are looking for a smoking gun. I get it. We want to be able to explain cancer, to find the thing that makes us different so we can assure ourselves cancer won't happen to us. We want to have control. 

It isn't easy to accept such a monumental lack of control. That is part of what makes cancer -- and life, if you want to extrapolate -- so frightening. So I control the things I have any say over: my attitude (sometimes), how I spend my time, who I surround myself with, what treatments I undergo, how much wine and chocolate I consume. What I cannot control is how any of those things will affect my outcome. Simply, I cannot control how long I'll live. I'm not that much of a superwoman. Yet.

When you're given a cancer diagnosis, though, you get bombarded with a million suggestions about what to eat (or not), what type of medicine to take, who to pray to, which surgeries to endure -- in order to (presumably) live a longer life. In order to pretend you've got some control. 

Maybe I wouldn't have gotten cancer if I'd eaten less pasta, but I like pasta. And I know plenty of people who eat more carbs than I do and never develop cancer. Maybe I could get rid of my cancer if I had more Vitamin C (or D, I forget) in my diet, but so far as I can tell, the science isn't there. In fact, my oncologist and my naturopath have given me the absolute opposite advice about my Vitamin C intake, so I take a multivitamin and drink the occasional glass of orange juice, but I haven't opted for intravenous infusions of it. And maybe my double mastectomy was superfluous, as one oncologist suggested months after I'd had both my breasts amputated, but you know what? The surgery made me feel safer. 

I go through periods of extreme second-guessing about what I could have done to bring this on. Then I stop beating myself up and remember the numbers. Also: why anyone? Here's the hard truth: one in eight women will get breast cancer. One in thirty-six will die from it. A harder truth? Half of all men and one in three women will get some form of cancer in their lifetime. Cells mutate for inexplicable reasons -- whether we practice yoga or never eat fast food or take our makeup off every night before bed. We can follow all the rules and still get cancer. It is that random.

We can pay attention to our bodies, we can catch cancer earlier if we're lucky, we can even prevent some types of cancer, and we can take care of ourselves so that our bodies are equipped as best as they can be to fight off disease. And then cancer may still show up unannounced, may still metastasize, may still take us from the people we love much earlier than we'd like. We simply do not know how to stop that from happening. Yet.

When you're given a cancer diagnosis, you do what you can to get through, even if you're just throwing a whole bunch of spaghetti at the wall and hoping some of it sticks. Plus, sometimes throwing things at walls is exactly what you need after a cancer diagnosis. 


  1. Even though I know there's a whole lot of randomness to cancer, I admit to feeling guilty from time to time wondering what I did or did not do... Cancer is pretty darn unpredictable and there is still much to figure out.

    And I love your throwing spaghetti at the wall visual. It's perfect.

    1. I think I've mostly -- finally -- let go of the guilt. Next I need to work on the grief. Love to you!

  2. I had a routine annual checkup by my GP, two weeks before my annual mammogram. After the diagnosis, I begged her, "didn't you feel anything? it was a 2cm lump on the outside of my breast? didn't you?" She tried to calm me down - no, not a trained professional, nor myself felt the big lump before hand. I did my best but still keep asking, if I had scheduled the appointments at 12 months post the last mammo instead of 13, would that cancer have spread to the lymph nodes? What if I'd scheduled at 11 months? 10 months? The anguish goes on. and on. And these are the questions I'm asking myself - I've had plenty of insensitive and way too personal questions from random people (actually mostly men) on discovering the lump.
    A very thoughtful posting - you look beautiful in the picture. Sending you love and hope.

    1. Thanks, sweet Donna. The anguish does go on and on--but so does the good stuff :) Even now, when I think I'm totally okay, a moment will catch me off-guard and I'll end up crying as I watch Quinn play. Then I remember I get to watch him play... Big hugs to you.

  3. I was diagnosed with stage 2b breast cancer at 32 - 3 years ago. I absolutely love this post, so much insight and truth. Thank you for sharing, this made my day.

    1. And your comment made mine! I hope you are doing incredibly well post-cancer. :)