Filtering by Tag: CANCER

How to Get a Mammogram

You go to the place. You’ve done this before. You’re not a novice. In fact, you’re a pro. Because you’ve done this many, many times before. So, you get there early. Even so, other people get there before you. So, you have to wait. But not for long. Soon enough, someone tells you it’s time to go in the first room. There, a woman behind a computer does your paperwork. She hands you some papers and tells you where to go. You go down a hallway until you get to a locker room. There, a woman gives you a robe and a bag. You go in a smaller room and change. Then, you come back out. For a while, you wait in another room. Eventually, another woman comes out and tells you it’s time. When you walk in the final room, it’s just you and her. When you see the machine, you remember how big it is. Its plastic panels are waiting to squish your flesh between them so it can see what’s inside of you. For a moment, your mind skips. Is it this time, or the last time, or the time a long time ago when they looked inside and found something wrong with you? Just as quickly, you’re pulled back to reality. For maybe ten minutes, you and the machine are locked in an intimate embrace. One by one, it squeezes each breast as you drape your arms awkwardly around its hard frame. Finally, you’re done, and the only evidence it happened is the pink marks on your chest were it squeezed you so hard that you winced and the woman apologized. As you wait for the woman to hand you a piece of paper, you catch a glimpse of the inside of yourself on the screen. There you are: luminous, the flesh in the shape of your breast, inside of it a map of lines you cannot read. What can you do? You take the piece of paper, you walk out to the car, you wonder when they’ll call you and what they’ll tell you.

Buy my digital short story, “The Tumor” … “a masterpiece of short fiction.”

Five Years

Next July, it will be five years since I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. This past summer marked my anniversary of four years cancer-free. Five years is a big deal, the time at which you're supposed to be out of the danger zone. Everyone who's had cancer wants to get there. Eventually, over time, it becomes a symbolic date more than anything else, a fantasy point at which you go from being NOT OK to OK. I'm almost there. Today requires a regular visit to the oncologist -- no big deal, just a check-in, no worries. Since I don't go to the oncologist as often now as I did in the beginning, there's a sense that I'm almost there. Still, it triggers. I get the sweats. I don't like to go. I wake up early. I want this to be over, I think. One day, it will be.

Support the arts! Buy a digital copy of THE TUMOR, a "masterpiece of short fiction" by me, Susannah Breslin.

What Doesn't Kill You

I've had some problems with depression lately, so I thought I would write a post reminding myself of the positive things that have happened thus far this year.

I guestblogged for Like I said before, this was an awesome time. Why doesn't the New York Times ask me to guest blog for them? This is one of life's many mysteries. It would be great if a high profile blog picked me up. I'm a great blogger. My friend says when you want something, the universe's answer is either: Yes, Yes But Not Right Now, Or No I Have Something Better In Mind. Or whatever. You get the idea. Universe, I await your call.

I published THE TUMOR. Fuck, this guy is like my baby! I love him so much: his cover, his pages, his content. His tone is so marvelously morally bankrupt. I read something earlier today about someone who kept being a nasty resistant asshole until the end of his days, but I can't remember who it is anymore. Excitingly, my next to be self-published short story is underway. It involves a robot. It is already a masterpiece of the genre. Trust me on this.

I auditioned for and got in an improv group that actually performs in a real theater and everything. I heard there were going to be auditions for this improv group downtown, and I went just to challenge myself. I'd only done one three-day intensive improv class at The Second City in Chicago. Experienced, I am not. A few days later I got a call from one of the people who runs it. She left a message, asking me to call her back. I was like, damn, can't she just leave a message telling me they don't want me? Now I have to call her back and get rejected live? Instead, she said I was in. What the hell! There have been a lot of rehearsals, and god knows I need them. Sometimes, I get confused by all the rules, and I spend way too much time thinking how I have to do everything right or I'm a failure, and I forget to have fun and play and whatever. Last Friday, I had to sing for the first time, and while I am a terrible singer, for some reason, it was a great time. I also rapped. Go figure.

I ate at Next. This was a living the dream moment. Such a peculiar, special thing. I want to do more things like this. I want to eat at Alinea one day. I think this is very much a thing that is art that happens to use food. I have a kind of emotional reaction to it. Probably because eating is so primal. My defenses fall away when I stuff duck in my mouth, I guess.

I got a short story published in PANK Magazine. This was a piece of fiction that I submitted a long time ago that got accepted a while ago, but the print copy arrived in the mail last week. It had a $20 bill stuck in it. (That's why self-publishing your fiction is the way to go, IMO. In contrast, I've made almost $600 off THE TUMOR thus far. I'm pretty sure 600 is more than 20.) For the last several years, as is the case with most of us, I'm used to seeing my work online. It was cool to see my words in print. BRESLIN was printed at the top of my story pages. Ink is real.

I got accepted to THREAD at Yale. The only reason I applied to this journalism program at Yale was because I saw a listing for it on Romenesko. I wasn't sure they would accept me, but I thought there was a decent chance they would. I was thrilled when they did. No, it certainly isn't the same as going to Yale, but who fucking cares! I am super excited about going to this. Journalism, journalism, journalism. I hope to meet some cool writers, and tromp around acting like a journalist, and meet some super cool mentors at the top of their game. Yay for Yale.

Getting over that whole thing, maybe. One thing I noticed that I wasn't expecting was that writing, packaging, and publishing THE TUMOR caused something in me to shift. I think maybe it helped me release some of my anxiety surrounding having breast cancer several years ago. Mostly, I avoid reading stories about cancer because they just make me anxious, But after I published THE TUMOR, I started reading more stories about cancer. News articles, essays, what have you. Recently, I went to Aruba, and I picked up a copy of Esquire for the plane, and I read "The Friend" by Matt Teague. It's pretty much one of the most terrifying things you will ever read. In cancer stories, it's always like oooh the battle and then fast forward over the dying part and then dead the end. Teague pulls back the curtain on the dying part, and my god it is just ... I still haven't gotten over reading it. It haunts me. But it makes me want to be a better writer, too: pull back more curtains, be less afraid, show the world what others haven't seen so they can't unsee it. I noticed that when I wrote "Blood Sacrifice" a few weeks ago that it was a story more about recovery than about illness. So congratulations to myself.

Oh, and I got on Instagram. Or, more importantly, I started posting boob selfies on Instagram. Recently, I had a friend diagnosed with breast cancer, and she sent me a photo of her boobs, and I sent her a photo of my boobs. Tit pics are the new dick pics. You can see in that Instagram beach boob selfie that the one on your right is a bit smaller. That's the one that had the cancer. I had a lumpectomy. The tumor was on the inner curve of the boob. The lady surgeon cut around the areola and opened it like a door and pulled the tumor out through the opening. I hope they waterboarded my tumor after they removed it, I told my friend. I suppose that's not nice. It was just doing what malignant things do. Eating people. Go eat someone else, Mr. Tumor. I got boob selfies to take, you shitty prick.

In any case, I don't know why I'm depressed. Genetic programming, maybe. I shouldn't be.

Thanks for reading.

Buy THE TUMOR: "This is one of the weirdest, smartest, most disturbing things you will read this year."

My Bloody Sacrifice

I've got a new personal essay up, this one on The Billfold: "Blood Sacrifice."

I fantasized that if I went, on the night that I was there, by some strange coincidence, Achatz would be there. Achatz, I knew, had had cancer, too, and, in my daydream, Achatz would come by the table, and I would motion to him, and he would bend down low, and I would tell him, in a murmuring voice, that I had had cancer, and I knew that he had had cancer, too. He would smile knowingly at me, and I would smile knowingly at him, and then he would disappear into the kitchen, and he would emerge with a plate of something that looked like a tumor splattered across porcelain, and I would eat it, and whatever it was made of (rhubarb? venison? something else entirely?), it would be delicious, and I would have eaten the tumor that had tried to eat me, metaphorically, of course, and the cycle of life would close upon itself, completing itself, like Ouroboros with his tail in his mouth rolling down a street like a wheel.

Buy THE TUMOR: "This is one of the weirdest, smartest, most disturbing things you will read this year."

Bye, Baldy

I'm still guest blogging over at Kottke this week. Today's posts include: "Say Hello to Chemo and Goodbye to Bald."

I went wig shopping, but I never bought one. The American Cancer Society sent me a hideous free brunette wig that showed up one day in a brown envelope in the mail, and I stuck it in a drawer. I didn't wrap a scarf around my head like Elizabeth Taylor. Sometimes, I wore my husband's USMC baseball hat. More often than not, I walked around exposed: I was six-two, I was bald, and I was angry. I felt humiliated, but I did it anyway. I hated that I was sick, yet I was hellbent on refusing to hide the fact that I was. I startled people, and eventually it dawned on me that I wasn't me anymore, I was The Sick Person, and what everyone saw when they saw me was the looming specter of human frailty.


Buy THE TUMOR: "This is one of the weirdest, smartest, most disturbing things you will read this year."

How to Turn a Malignant Tumor into a Digital Self-Publishing Project

" The Tumor ," cover by  Peteski

"The Tumor," cover by Peteski

I've been a freelance journalist for seventeen years. I've written for magazines and websites, appeared on TV and radio shows, and self-published a 10,000-word investigation of the Great Recession's impact on the adult movie industry, "They Shoot Porn Stars, Don't They?" I've published short stories, and Future Tense Books published a collection of those short stories, You're a Bad Man, Aren't You? I've blogged for Forbes and for Time Warner. At one point, I became a digital copywriter and wrote Facebook updates for a bottle of stomach medicine. But today marks the first time I'm selling one of my original digital short stories on my personal website. It is "The Tumor."

On November 23, 2011, I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Over the following year and a half, I underwent five biopsies, two surgeries, three months of chemo, thirty radiation treatments, and a year of IV drug injections that targeted my particularly aggressive type of cancer. Along the way, I went bald, my fingernails and toenails turned brown and peeled off, and I developed what's known as "chemo fog," a chemically-induced state of mind that makes you feel like your brain has been replaced by a bowl of tepid oatmeal. Throughout the process, I wrote. I wrote journalism, I blogged, I drafted a novel. In a way, writing was my therapy.

Eventually, I was declared cancer-free and sent on my way. I went back to life and writing, and I kept trying to write something that captured what it's like when a malignancy shows up in your life, and you're not sure whether you or the tumor is going to win the war into which you have been thrust. I could never quite assemble the words properly. I kept trying and kept failing. The story of the tumor eluded me.

Then, last month, it was time for my annual mammogram. Most mammograms are an unremarkable experience. In theory, one's annual mammogram is no big deal. Still, once you've had one mammogram go sideways, you worry you may pull the short straw again, and it was while I was riding a growing ball of anxiety about this upcoming scan that I wrote "The Tumor."

Of course, if you know my writing, you know this isn't just any story. It's a story about a husband and a wife, and when the wife announces that she has a tumor, the husband's first idea is that he shoot her in the chest in an attempt to eradicate this unannounced saboteur. Things get stranger from there.

I had a terrific time putting this project together, and it wouldn't have happened without the help of others. Clayton Cubitt is an inspiration to all creatives who want to do it themselves and advised me throughout. Peteski made the beautiful cover you see here. Domini Dragoone did a fantastic job creating some of the coolest page design I've ever seen. Susan Clements proved to be a keen and perfect-for-me copyeditor. Lydia Netzer championed my creative efforts, as ever.

As for that mammogram I had last month, the results raised a question mark, a biopsy was done, and it came back benign. I remain cancer-free. For all I know, the tumor has taken up residence on some far off planet. As for "The Tumor," you can buy it online here.