Did you ever see the movie Boxing Helena? Please don’t go seeking it out if you haven’t, because, man, that is one fucked up movie. The basic storyline is that it’s about a woman whose captor cuts off parts of her body one at a time. She literally becomes smaller and smaller. That movie has been on my mind recently as a metaphor for what having cancer has been like, because I keep losing pieces of myself. Let’s make a list, shall we? These are in chronological order.
1. My hair. First it went from long to short, then it went from short to gone. It’s growing back now, for now, until more IV chemo happens and it falls out again. In the meantime I am left with a pixie cut that lots of people compliment me on, but I hate. Because it wasn’t my choice. I won’t be growing my hair long ever again, because the shed with long hair was so awful, and I know the odds of me needing chemo in the future are so high. From now on, I will have short hair.
2. My menstrual cycle. The last time Aunt Flo visited was in May. This isn’t actually a bad thing, since I had no interest in kids and I hated my extremely heavy period, but it has meant hot flashes and vaginal dryness, neither of which are awesome.
3. My sex drive. It left with Aunt Flo.
4. My breast. It has gone to the big medical incinerator in the sky.
5. My nonchalance about my appearance. I never used to think or care much about how I looked. That was before I was bald and missing a breast.
6. My job. I used to be a civil rights lawyer, and I’m not anymore. Technically I am still a lawyer, since I still have a license, but I’m not a practicing one. Being a civil rights lawyer was something I was really proud of, and that’s gone now.
7. My ability to engage in everyday conversations with regular human beings without making them feel awkward. Tell me about the new hair style you are considering and I will tell you how I hate my hair style because of cancer. Tell me about the new job you are applying for and I may clam up because it hurts to talk about careers when mine was taken from me. Talking about what the kids will be when they are grown up is like stabbing me in the gut and I may start crying, which is really awkward.
Every time I lose another thing to cancer, I wonder how many more pieces of me I can lose before I cease to be me. And if I’m not me anymore, what will I be then?
But my real fear isn’t so much about what I’ll become. It’s that I will lose all these little pieces of me, and then die from cancer anyway. That I will lose so many of the things that make me who I am, for nothing. On my darkest days, that’s the thought that cripples me.
And yet, what choice do I have? Because, cancer has taken that also, my ability to choose. I have no choice but to keep up the treatments and try to stay alive as long as I can. The only alternative to losing so much is losing everything.