Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day 539: No Particular Place to Go

I know I said earlier that I would dedicate my October blogs to talking about how much I hate breast cancer awareness month and why, that I would do my part to do some real education about the actual disease of breast cancer, rather than the hype. I guess I lied. I'm tired of the whole thing, tired of feeling like I have to explain that this is not the model cancer, that in fact greater strides have been made in other types of cancer, regardless of how much attention our boobs get. I'm tired of hearing about boobs. I'm tired of cute little articles encouraging women to do self exams by giving all the reasons that we all love the tatas, they bring us so much happiness, the boys love them, they always look amazing, they're a great conversation starter and all that bullshit. I'm tired of hearing other cancer survivors say it seems like we value breasts over other body parts, as evidenced by the popularity of supporting breast cancer research. My life is not a body part, and I don't now, nor did I really ever, give a shit if men like to look at my breasts. The idea that those comments, or the infamous, well, if you have to get a double mastectomy you could always get new awesome boobs!, is even a part of the conversation about breast cancer shows that we have the ability to be a collective society of idiots even when we have the best intentions.

So, enough of that for now, and if you ever want to know what I REALLY think about breast cancer awareness, we should talk offline. I know I am the queen of subtle.

Here's my issue, here's what getting me right now, this minute. I feel like I have turned into a Mexican jumping bean. I am having serious problems sitting still, concentrating on anything, being around other people. The last time I felt like this, I was a senior in high school, and I was going through a very rough time. Not a puppy-dog-love, teen-angst type of rough time. A seriously hard-core, life is a big pile of bullshit kind of rough time due to various situations. And I just couldn't sit still. I would sit in school and fidget, eyeing the clock, just dying to get the hell out of there. So, on a lot of occasions, that's exactly what I did. I ditched class all the time (sorry, mom, for the things you learn through this blog all these years later).

Sometimes I would ditch with other kids and engage in minor teenage hijinks, sharing cigarettes in the back of some boy's pickup truck or what have you. Other times, I left school for a reason, like when I would see Mr. S. was about to substitute for my class, and that disgusting little perv had already told my boyfriend and one of my ex-boyfriends that he had a thing for me, in very specific and descriptive terms. I remember getting caught for ditching by my dean, who was the hardest hard-core dean at the school, and she said, how is it that you missed 4 of X class, and only 1 of all your others? I still can't believe I had the balls, but I said, because Mr. S. was the sub, and every time I see him, I turn around and walk the other way and straight out the door. In one of the many moments that she saved my ass, my dean just looked at me and said fine. Just graduate from high school, Katy, and get out of here. That lady got me a job, watched my back in a thousand little ways. I owe her a serious debt of gratitude for my life turning out as well as it did.

Most of the time, though, I just ditched, by myself, because I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. I would just walk out the door and wander around. I wrote a poem about this once, about a time when the boy I would later date for many years found me walking by myself in the rain with no umbrella in the park during school hours. He had graduated, and was in college, and he asked me if he could interview me for his video project. I was shy, absurdly, since I wasn't really shy, and I agreed. He said he was asking everyone the same question and using the answers in a loop. The question was, what do you want to be when you grow up? And I paused a long time. I want to be happy, I said. Later he told me I was the best sound bite he ever recorded.

Could he have imagined how desperately I wanted to be happy right then? I felt that I was going nowhere, or more accurately that I was very smart and together and therefore should have been going somewhere but inevitably life was going to kick me in the ass and I would never make it. I felt this intangible sense of ennui, and it made me feel like someone else, and it was terrible. I wanted to be back in that place where you don't want to just escape from yourself, that place where you're content and life seems sweet. Of course, I did get out, and my life did change, I did walk away from whatever self I had been in high school and I did create a new one, and I can still remember how almost unbearably happy it made me when I realized my new life was really true.

I feel like that ridiculous teenager again right now. I pace around my office with the door closed. When I'm home, I wish I wasn't, and then I feel terribly guilty. I want to see people and talk to people but when I do, I am distracted by my thoughts and I can't concentrate. I would take walks or exercise all day long if I could, but I can't, and it would probably be a bad idea anyway. My breast hurts after lifting weights and it almost physically angers me, or my back hurts after spinning and I want to punch my fist through the wall. I feel like I'm always waiting, that I'd like to DO something, or go somewhere, but this is not high school anymore. I am doing what I always wanted to be doing, I've gone where I wanted to go. There's actually something to lose now, things really matter.

I would never walk away from my family, or even my job, or my house, or my friends. I know that, because I love all of those things. The life I have is a good one, one worth fighting for, so why do I just want to escape into the streets? Maybe it's because I miss the days when even the shit that mattered didn't matter that much. If I could change one thing about my youth, I would go back and ditch more often, and earlier in my high school career. I sure hope none of my young friends are reading this, and I hope my high school-teaching blog readers don't bust my chops for saying that. But I still contend that if I could get straight As in AP classes and not even show up, there was some lesson in there that I had already learned and I was actually doing ok, and the things that seemed so important just weren't.

Now I know that not just half, but maybe 80%, of life is just showing up, because that's what you need to do. Rules are important--they keep us sane, make us feel useful. And there's something to just valuing time spent doing a particular task. I mean, in college and grad school, I couldn't stand the thought of ditching. I was paying for that shit, so hell if I wasn't going to show up to class. And work is what enables you to live independently, so it's kind of important, and besides, hopefully you like what you do well enough. You can't ditch your family unless you're a moron, because they are what you always wanted. So what the fuck, I ask myself. What is my problem? And then I think, is this what they meant by coping with the new normal? Or is it something else, as Gabe suggested, is this all just a month-long preamble to next Tuesday?

Goddamn November 1, when I go in for my next mammogram and series of oncologist and surgeon appointments.

Maybe that's all it is. Maybe I will feel like Katy again come November 2. That's assuming I don't get bad news, of course. Don't say that, you're thinking to yourself. Well shit. The first time I had a mammogram, my entire life flipped upside down, so cut me some slack here. I'm not even a year and a half into this thing yet.

So I'm sure that's part of it, but I'm not sure that's all of it. I just feel like some kind of failure right now. I don't mean that literally--I know I'm not a failure in the large sense, but I feel like I'm failing at being Katy. I feel like I'm not living up to my potential as a worker, as a mother, as a friend. I don't even look like myself to myself. What's up with that crazy curly hair, who is that young boy in the picture there? Will the real Katy Jacob please stand up?

Maybe what I need is a good long project for my body. Sometimes I feel that I have two major conflicts in my life that cause me some degree of consternation. One is that I am living as an upper-middle-class parent, coming from a very different background than that, trying to figure out how to raise my kids not to be selfish and soft. The other is that I have this cerebral life, at work especially, when one of the most defining things about me is my relationship with my body. I think all day, while my body is telling me to just move all day. And just think--for all of those months I was doing cancer treatment and surgery, fighting through it. For almost a year prior to that I was nursing a baby, for the nine months prior to that I was pregnant, for a year before that I was trying to figure out why I couldn't get pregnant. That's years and years of tangible, physical goals. I can try to fill in the gaps, I can work my body to the bone to the extent that I can inside of my busy schedule, but it's not the same. Thinking to myself that I like what spinning has done for my booty or that I'm proud of my strong legs is not equal to nurturing and sustaining human life within myself or trying to cheat death. It's just not the same. It's not even in the same universe, in fact.

Oh don't worry, I'll get over it. I always do. I am not a fan of ennui, after all, not a fan of trying to find yourself, and I'm definitely not a fan of running away from anything. But my god when you think about this blink of an eye life, when you really think about it...well, you get restless. Last night we went to see Follies at the Shakespeare theater, a last minute outing since my mom was too sick to go, and we found it oddly depressing, though entertaining. Everyone was so bitter and felt that they had wasted their lives. How insane, I thought. Don't they know happiness is a choice? Most of life is not a choice, most of it is just shit that happens that you have to deal with, but happiness is, in fact, a choice. Why sing such a sad song? Gabe said later, god, I don't look forward to getting old. I looked at him in shock and said, well, I do. Consider the alternative. He tried to backtrack, but he knew what I was saying. That's what I do, more often than most 36 year olds could imagine. I consider the alternative. And then I get antsy, and maybe a little crazy. It won't last forever, I know, but right now, that's just how it is. And believe me, I am grateful to this blog for letting me get all that off my cute little perky scarred stupid pink cancer awareness chest. Now if only I could ditch work and race around the block a few times...

1 comment:

  1. I think the whole Breast Cancer Awareness Month thing jumped the shark for me the other day when I was browsing one of my usual technology news websites and there was an ad that came up, four racially diverse nude female torsos from just above the top of the buttocks to just below the nose were visible with arms intertwined amongst each other, nubile bodies pressed together bedecked in pink lipstick and words to the effect of "Breast Cancer - we're all in it together." It just kind of blew my mind - whoever approved this sexified advertisement really has no concept of what it means to have or be affected by breast cancer. There's nothing sexy about it; trying to vamp it up in that way just demonstrates the way in which people at this time of year start beating the "save the breasts" drum like a bunch of automatons; you'd think they were going extinct.

    Even at the kids' school I've seen other parents sporting pink ribbon accessories or apparel and I have to wonder, how has breast cancer affected them? If one in eight women is afflicted, it would seem that ripple affect spreads far enough to impact the other seven. And yet, I don't sense any real positive human element going on here - no real discussion of how we can improve the quality of life or ease the difficult decisions patients face; no improved protocol that reflects the needs of a young mother and her family.

    Katy, I don't wonder that you feel antsy right now. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Tuesday because I know what the outcome of that early morning means for our family's lives; and how we're going to face that every 6 months for the rest of our lives, like spinning the wheel on one of those game shows hoping for big money big money no whammies and please please don't let us lose a turn - anything but another year fraught with the risks and suffering of additional cancer treatment. But whatever may come, we're in this together babe. I don't want to do any of it without you. I'd like to tell you you're going to be fine - that's what I believe! My trust in the system was shattered when you called me that fateful day the May before last once, twice, three times, each escalating the test. I curled up in a ball on the floor when you said they were going to do a biopsy; I wished I was there with you, that somehow that would have changed the outcome. But magical thinking aside, you can't will away cancer. You can only face its specter head on, maximize your quality of life and survival odds as best you can, and hope to dodge the fateful bullet. You've done it once, I know you can do it again... I really hope you don't have to.

    In the meanwhile, take your walks, assuage your anxieties as best you can, and we'll still be here when you get back to being Katy. I'd never know you didn't feel like yourself but for you saying it here.