I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s piece on “the power of positive thinking” in breast cancer land and it didn’t resonate at all. It’s been what, ten years since she wrote, and for my life the pink ribbons have been replaced by sedate turquoise and soft grays, clouded glass walls, an emphasis on luxury amenities (meaning single-cup coffee makers and a bowl of green apples) and the trappings of privacy (even though there are roughly eleventy billion nurses and assistants hovering about me each second I’m at Mt. Sinai). I wonder what changed. I wonder if what we covet now is not positivity but the sense that we are on the moneyed side of a widening wealth gap, that somehow we’ll end up the winners.
There was a moment about four days out from last week’s infusion when I thought there is nothing here worth preserving. I have a good life that I love very much and really super duper do not want to die, but there it was: there is nothing here worth preserving. The grinding fatigue and nausea, a vague and persistent agoraphobia for a week, a dead taste in my mouth, like everything was dying (which, technically, it was). People keep asking me if I’m going to stay union president while I have cancer or if I’ll just concentrate on your health as if a focus on that broken thing would be salutary. I am doubling down on the things in my life that give it meaning, and the union is one of those things. And crosswords. Those two things.
My hair is finally coming out today. I knew this was coming and yet still here it is, a thing I could not have imagined. I run my hand through my hair and come out with strands. I don’t know what I expected, that I would shed smaller pieces, but the strands are as long as my haircut. It is dead at the root, at the place where it grows.
I go back in on Wednesday, it’s apparently that or die. Trust me, I’ve done plenty of Googling to see if there is a way out that I could lean into and there isn’t one. Kate says this is the brave thing in cancer, not showing up at work or going out to dinner, it’s showing back up a second time after you know what it will do to you, sitting willingly again in the chair.