Thursday, April 21, 2016

Day 2,047: Nothing Compares 2 U

The world is filled with people who will not be allowed to live out the promise of their lives. The world is also filled with magical thinking, and fantastical dreams, and celebrity worship. It is somewhat disingenuous to mourn those we don't know personally. After all, we are all placed here in a world where everyone we love and hold dear will die--hopefully after we do, but life is rarely that generous. To waste tears on a person we've never met seems false, selfish, bizarre.

Except today, when Prince died, at the young age of 57. I learned this, and all I could think was: No.

I could say a lot of things about Prince, and about how his music and his personality were a constant focus and influence on my life. I was born in 1975. I didn't listen to Prince's debut album until I was a teenager, and I bought a cassette version of it that was dusty even then. Purple Rain was released when I was in 4th grade, and I listened to it over and over. I saw the movie countless times. I asked my parents what the words to Darling Nikki meant and though they didn't tell me, they never stopped me from singing along. I thought even then that Purple Rain would be an excellent song for a funeral, that The Beautiful Ones was the perfect example of a man who couldn't deal with how amazing he was by the time he got to the end of the song. I remember my brother's little league team singing Prince songs on the bench. I went to a party when I was 17 with a guy I would fall in love with months later, whom I would be with for years and years, and the only song we listed to was Kiss, on repeat, while we all danced for hours. I went to college in Minnesota in the mid-90s and Prince permeated the culture of the entire music scene there. My roommate senior year got a job as a cocktail waitress at a club and she served drinks to Prince. I rarely envy anyone for anything, but that one came damn close. My husband and I never go to concerts because we can't accept the cost, the ego, the sensationalism. We went to a Prince concert over 10 years ago, and it was one of maybe four concerts we've gone to in our 13 years together. It cost $50 per person and everyone received a free CD--even 10 years ago, that was the equivalent of buying a Porsche at a Honda Fit price. We had to wait hours for Prince to be bothered to come onstage, but when he did, he brought it. That concert must have lasted four hours. He had a bed on the stage where he would sit to calm down. He played every instrument, he just exhausted himself, the crowd was the best crowd I've ever been a part of for any type of show. I force my kids to listen to Prince on every road trip. I get angry when people are unaware of all the hit songs Prince wrote that he just gave away to other artists because he didn't need them for himself. I will live the rest of my life believing that If I Was Your Girlfriend is the most romantic song a man has ever written for a woman.

I could say all those things, and I guess I have-- and I could say more. But it's not the legacy and influence of Prince and his music that led me to turn to this blog while I am sitting inside on a beautiful, perfect Gulf Coast day on my vacation in Florida.

I really, really, wanted to watch Prince grow old.

I can appreciate that there are some aging rock stars out there who are still doing their thing. Mick Jagger is old, Keith Richards has died and come back to life or is still hanging out somewhere halfway in between, movie stars and athletes I admire get old and keep on trucking. That's a great thing to witness.

But just imagine if Prince had been able to grow old. Here's a man who was short and skinny and androgynous and made everyone assume a sexier person had never lived. Here was a teenager from a troubled background who just went out and decided there was no reason he shouldn't be a rock star, so that is what he did. Here's a man who was famous for 40 years, and never was embroiled in a sex scandal, never was in prison or accused of violence of any kind. Here's a guy who changed his name to a symbol and expected the rest of the world to recognize. And we did, and began referring to him as TAFKAP because we couldn't "say" his name anymore.

Prince never gave a damn. He wore purple before any of the old ladies had ever thought to try. Sometimes, when Prince talked, if you stopped to think about what he was saying, you might get confused. But you didn't stop to think about it, because you took him at his word. Prince wore an orange-sherbet jumpsuit just months before he died and glared at all the fools around him like they were the ones not making sense.

I wanted that man to get old, to stop giving a damn about anything, to show us all how it's done. Contrary to the selfish idea that such a dynamic artist and person is best remembered in his youth and heyday, I'd have given anything to see Prince with grey hair, or no hair, or in a wheelchair or using a cane or relying on a walker. I'd have loved to see Prince bringing us along with him into that good night, in all his eccentricity and glamour and cantankerousness. Even if I am not a concert goer, I have this image in my mind of Prince as an old man, sitting on a stage by himself, wearing an outrageous outfit, bringing his own self to tears with his song. Can you see it?

Life always ends too soon if you've done it right. But this time, it really did end too soon. The world needed a Prince who had the opportunity to grow old. I'd have admired Prince from afar for another 30 years, or whatever he could've been bothered to give us. If Prince had disappeared into the comforts of his old age and we never heard from him again, I would've appreciated that too; I could picture him there in this imaginary self-imposed isolation, shaking his head at our frustration, always in on the joke.

And when we wondered where he had gone, we would mean to be angry with him, but we would not be able to bring ourselves to do it. We would just go out into the world, older and wiser and content but just a little bit sadder, and we would think to ourselves: "It's been so lonely without you here."

But that fantasy is not to be. Thank you for what you did for us, Prince Rogers Nelson. Nothing Compares 2 U.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Day 2,035: Three Year Itch

I've figured something out. I've been restless and antsy and angry and uninterested. It could be depression, it could be the need for a change, it could be getting older, except that no, for me, getting older is not the cause of feelings of sadness or desperation. I am, in a sense, still desperate to get old. I've never been able to picture myself as an old lady, not even when I was a kid, even though I've always wanted to be one, always, even then. An old Katy Jacob...what would that be like? How would she be? It's seemed like an unlikely scenario for more than thirty years. So, no, it isn't age, at least not in the normal sense. I don't feel this way because I'm 40.

I feel this way, at least in part, because it's been almost three years--again.

Three years is a major milestone for triple negative breast cancer. Compared to other breast cancers, recurrence rates are much higher for us in that timeframe. Once we TNBC ladies make it to five years, our chance of recurrence is actually lower than for women with estrogen-positive breast cancer. But the first three years are, often, actually the killer. I had made it to three years in 2013, received a clean bill of health and even celebrated a clear mammogram report. Within weeks of that celebration, I discovered the new lump--the new cancer--myself. My second official diagnosis came two months after the three year anniversary of my first.

I went through what people in this circumstance go through. I did all the tests required to find out how extensive my cancer was, to learn a little bit more of my fate. I described that process back then, and I think I described it well. It is a harrowing and surreal brand of waiting that I hope you never experience. And yet, for me, given the circumstances, it ended well. I did not have metastatic cancer. My recurrence was a local one. My cancer was not incurable. It seemed simultaneously miraculous and grossly unfair that I had escaped that fate, which could happen to any woman with breast cancer at any time, which could happen to anyone at any time in their lives. And yet, I had been waiting so long for that three years, I had thought that I had made it that much closer to living my normal life again, and then...I was back at the beginning. The clock was starting over.

Or was it? What does that mean? Isn't time just time? The years are the years, healthy or not. People around me grow older, grow up, are born, die. Everything continues to happen. And yet, there it is, in the back of my mind: that notion of three years. I am three months shy of it right now, and keenly aware of how it looms over my consciousness. What if I only have six months until I learn I have cancer again? What have I done in these last three years, what did I do in the three years prior to that, or ever? Has it been enough, have I been worthy of it? The answers are no, of course not, no! It's never enough, and yes, I suppose, though no more worthy than any.

I remember so well, with such alacrity, how it felt to be me, in this space, in 2013, before I knew what was coming. I remember allowing myself to breathe easier and then later telling myself it was good to be breathing at all. I remember how healthy and fit I was, and how little it mattered. I remember letting my hair grow somewhat long, and then wishing I hadn't. I remember still only being able to cry for a minute at a time, but this time, not crying much beyond that at all. I remember telling Gabe that it looked like I probably had cancer again and when he could bring himself to speak and he asked me what I wanted to do I told him I wanted to get drunk. I remember knowing that was the wrong answer. I remember telling my mom, my brother, my children, myself. I remember the absurdity of telling my new boss, of just telling her that look, I was going to have to amputate a body part, recover from that, and start six months of chemotherapy, but that would only push my start date off by a month, so I'd get on the plane and fly out to my new office in September rather than August. I remember making huge decisions about my life, and folding cancer into them--rather than the other way around.

I have no idea what's going to happen at three years this time around. I have no idea if I will get another three. I am sometimes indescribably angry with myself for not doing more with my time. I don't know what I should have done exactly, but what if these years have been the final ones? It's strange to think about that at 34, at 37, at 40, or hell, at 4, or 9, or 24. It's strange what the presence of death does to the concept of life. It's strange what three years can mark when you've learned to mark time in three year increments. It's strange to want something so badly that you dread it coming to pass.

Three years in, three years out, three years on. It's coming, one way or another. I hope I'm ready.