The process of writing this book has made me realize how my life continues to evolve as a result of living with the memory of cancer.

Cancer is not unlike a blot on one’s escutcheon. It is a stain that soaks deep into the life that once was yours. It is unlike paint … Where paint lies on the surface and covers or masks what lies beneath, a stain becomes part of one’s cellular structure and permeates what it touches, but is not, in and of itself, visible.

Despite all that has happened, I am living a normal life filled with regular activities and conversations and interactions and confrontations. Were you to look at me, I am much as I was before any of this happened. Except for the part where I pee through my tummy, and wear compression stockings, not a lot has changed.  I still get impatient with other stupid drivers, and resent people that go thought the express line with more than 12 items. I still love to watch mindless TV and fast forward through the ads. I still resent anyone who wastes my time … I reserve the right to waste time in my own way. So, it has now become obvious that cancer did not turn me into a better person … with higher goals and aspirations, and newfound tolerance for stupidity. I am pretty much the same combination of crabby and considerate, reasonable and resentful. In other words, the same old same old me.

Instead, the changes that have come about are much more pervasive, and lie at the heart of how I perceive myself, and how I exist in relation to the world. There is an altered view of my physical body, of course. I no longer have complete trust it will function correctly without constant oversight. Most of the time I act as the bodily-function police checking for malfunctions and malcontents.

… O-o-o-o is that supposed to be doing that?

… Check it out, was that a kidney failing?

… Whew, that was just a hot flash, yes?

… Ouch! Normal pain, right?

I now constantly take notes and monitor any and all glitches that might be a symptom or a sign of worse things to come. I really hate having to be so hyper-aware of all things internal. It is really boring and time consuming. But then again, I am a world-class worrier and have had a lot of practice anticipating the worst. Cancer and its aftermath are, for the worrywart, a super colossally bad combination. It is not unlike the old fear-of-flying thing, where if you don’t worry about it, it will happen.

Now, as part of that fear and concern for maintaining good health, one would suppose I would be highly motivated to take better care of myself … eat well, exercise and get all the sleep I can. You would think, right? Well, that’s where the old and the new me come together and the old me is back in charge.

… Why eat broccoli when there is ice cream in the freezer?

… Who is to say that I shouldn’t stay up to watch Project Runway Reruns?

… And even if my orange juice is mixed with champagne it still is a good source for vitamin C, no?

So, I practice my worry skills, and anticipate a future filled with alarms and warnings. As I told my sister, “You better hope I don’t get Alzheimer’s and forget how to pee, because someone else will have to be in charge.”

Worry will always be with me, but now it has more heft, and carries more responsibility with it. But not to worry, I am up for the challenge. I am a master worrier.

Along with this mistrust of my body, the experience has left me with a sense of separation from the rest of the world. I don’t know if this is normal for all cancer survivors, but I have found that I have a center point within, from where I venture forth into the world.

In a certain sense, I have always been an observer … I suppose as a part of being an artist … but this has a different flavor to it. It is as if surviving cancer has bonded my inner self more strongly to this observation point. The position creates a personal space to reflect, and frame new objectives. This oasis provides a refuge that allows me to go forth with more assurance and less trepidation. It has enhanced my ability to create new works on canvas and to relate to the world through words. But more than that, it has enhanced my freedom to construct a new life. It has given me a new trust and assurance that my inner self has profound worth.

I no longer feel compelled to moderate my behavior to accommodate the agenda of others. Which is not to say I am uninterested in their goals and ambitions, but I needn’t follow others in order to move forward. I have learned, this past year and a half, to take the time to observe and weigh options and listen and cogitate … I have learned to act rather than to re-act. A truly valuable lesson.

Whereas in the past a lack of confidence might have caused me to second guess myself, I now recognize that my life has a unique value. My life is a story. Everylife is a story, and every story is a one-off. I am an individual construction, made up of all the decisions I have made, and all that I have done. To place a lesser value on my life is a colossal waste.

No one else can live my life.

No one else can tell my story.

No one else is able to paint what is in my mind’s eye.

No one else will see the world as I see it ever again … so don’t waste time … get it done.

Tick tock … tick tock.


What a bad trip it is … cancer … however I have learned that there is a lot of good company to be found among those that are careening down the road, out of control, and hanging on for dear life. What a lot of guts, grit, and determination carpet the path to being a survivor. I know because I have heard from some of them and have read about some of them and I admire all of them for their capacity to retain their humanity in the face of insuperable odds. I am proud to be in their company.

I suppose it is too much to actually thank the big C for creating a new form of the old me, but maybe not. Only time will tell, but I am glad to have had the chance to share the road with all of you.

So, in the end, I guess my good doctor was correct when she said … “Not to worry”. While my cancer proved to be more than a bit of mashed potatoes lodged in my bladder, it turns out that worry … the unavoidable mental baggage of any cancer diagnosis … had no impact beyond sapping my energy and creating pot holes in the road to recovery. That being said, you will never quite convince me that my worry didn’t prevent a more catastrophic outcome … Just sayin.


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