Cancer #1

I have had cancer for a week and a day.

Or, I have had cancer all my life.

Or, I don’t have cancer yet but I will.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on Friday, May 4th. Today is Saturday, May 12th. I am at a cafe in midtown across the street from the synagogue where my kid goes to Hebrew school. I wasn’t supposed to have cancer and he wasn’t supposed to have Limmud today. When my biopsy in October came back clear I thought that meant I was too. The kid’s baseball team has a game today and he is so much in love with his team that we gave him a choice for today and he chose baseball but then it rained so here we are. Here I am.

I have had cancer for a week and a day.

I always say that scholars ask one or maybe two questions over the course of their lives, it’s all just working through the same set of questions. When I work with students on research projects I encourage them to do that author search, to see how ideas develop over time. This is true for me: I am interested in the ways we order our worlds, through standards and frameworks, lists and documents, call numbers and subject headings, all of these modes of fixing time in place, creating in space something that succeeds to the extent that it can become timeless, erase its becoming and smoothly seem the way it has always been and always will be.

My real life is all about fixing time. My therapist says I am binding my anxiety this way, arming myself against the precarity that has marked my sense of myself and my life since I could breathe. My mother says when I crawled one hand was always a fist. I have guarded myself all my life. You should see my calendar. I have had cancer for a week and a day. When the office called on Thursday at 10am to tell me I needed to be an hour away uptown on the east side for an MRI at 3pm I had to cancel seven things. One day. I went uptown and had an MRI and it confirmed the cancer I had at that moment known I had for six days. On Friday, my doctor saw another spot in my other breast.

We can schedule you for a mammogram and sonogram Monday, unless you think you can get to the office today. 

I am in the office right now. 

I have had cancer for a week and a day and already I live in the office on 98th Street and 5th Avenue.

So my time is something else now. I already can’t remember before now, it’s amazing how fast the time has gone. My life now flows around a different set of time scales, the hurry up and wait of the waiting room.

Of course, I still have the rest of my life. I am not dying now and there are no signs that I am dying from this soon. The radiologist stood in a tiny room with me and Karen yesterday and described what she saw as two little olives we can just pop out. Nonplussed. Me too, at least some of the time. Everything is brighter. I am spending at least some of my time walking behind myself, like a videorecorder for future viewing. I still want to go to London. I won’t know yet if I can go, I won’t know anything until Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, no way of knowing, maybe we never know anything for sure.

I have had cancer for a week and a day, but the office is closed weekends.

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