Five years cancer-free today. Feels pretty awesome. Looking forward to living my life. Thanks for following!
Filtering by Tag: CANCER
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.
Today I'm celebrating four years cancer-free! Yes, four years ago today, my oncologist said, "You're cancer-free," and then he kicked me out of his office. It was a great day.
Join me in celebrating by buying a copy of my cancer-inspired short story, "The Tumor."
THE TUMOR is a slipstream short story starring an anthropomorphic tumor, a killer husband, and an invisible woman. Based on the author's true life experience with cancer (she's fine now!), this terrifying tale will grab you by the balls and make you scream.
I went to a breast cancer support group last night. I've been cancer free for four years, but I felt like going back to a group. Sometimes I think the business of that still lingers, and I'm interested in getting rid of it. It was interesting. It makes you remember how it's so common, and everyone is different, and everyone is the same. It was raining outside. There were only six of us inside. In a way, it was a bit like a war veterans meeting: everyone with their missing pieces, and their invisible wounds, and their unloading of the past.
A snippet from my cancer-novel-in-progress:
"In a way, she has shit the pants of her life."
Here are the stats to date:
I've sold 125 copies.
My gross revenue was $712.
A great experience! I highly recommend it.
You can buy a copy here.
(I'm also rewriting the novel that I wrote while I was undergoing chemotherapy four years ago.)
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 Kottke.org. 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."
Title: "Blood Sacrifice"
Publication: The Billfold
Date: May 4, 2015
Word count: 1,246
Notes: I haven't done a "How Much I Got Paid" in a while. I was surprised to see that I'd done eight of them, and that the last one I did was in August of 2014. In any case, I've got some catching up to do. Today's installment in this series -- in which I consider a piece of freelance work I did and how much I got paid to do it -- we're taking a look at a personal essay I wrote that ran this week on The Billfold, "Blood Sacrifice." In April, I had the amazing opportunity to eat at Next. Suffice to say, dinner there runs you $350. As with my previous Grant Achatz-borne experience (see: "The Best Drink I Ever Had") at Aviary, I found the entire event to be transformative, moving, and awesome. So, when I got home, I decided I'd write about it. I pitched the story idea I had to a dozen places, including The New York Times, Aeon, Matter, The Atlantic, Chicago Magazine, Esquire, The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, The Hairpin, Vogue, The Awl, and The Billfold. Because most editors are worthless fucking shitbags who are too busy jacking off or reapplying lipstick to do their jobs, most didn't even respond to pass, and the lone interested party was The Billfold. Luckily, I like The Billfold. And not only do I like The Billfold, I read it. (As a sidenote, I have this weird affection for the fact that the link to their next pages reads "There's more to read, if you want!" Endearing.) In any case, I heard back from Mike Dang, who edits the site. He's a nice guy. "Definitely interested in this and would love to work with you," Dang replied. Great! "We’d be able to pay $30 for the essay." Ooh, that smarts. That is some horrendous pay. Of course, I wasn't expecting much, but that was just painful. Anyway! Whatever. They wanted the piece, and I wanted to write it. I think it took about two or three hours to do it. I like the way it came out. The part about Ouroboros is my favorite part.
Conclusion: You are what you eat. (You are not what you are paid.)
Buy THE TUMOR: "This is one of the weirdest, smartest, most disturbing things you will read this year."
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."
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.
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.
I wrote a piece for Men's Health about being married and having cancer and not having cancer. After I published this post, they asked me to write a longer version.
"Thankfully, my husband had been through worse: two deployments to Iraq with the United States Marine Corps. Cancer would be a cakewalk, the malignancy a microscopic terrorist cell that had set up shop in his spouse. It was just a matter of bombing the deadly sect into oblivion."
Meghan Daum has an interesting piece in the New York Times: "I Nearly Died. So What?" Several years ago, she ended up in the hospital and, as the title states, nearly died. The piece focuses on what comes after she nearly died, particularly the expectation of what comes after. Generally, the narrative that a survivor is supposed to tell is fraught with lies and bullshit. I became a better person. I live in the present moment. I never take anything for granted. Of course, none of that is true; at best, you let yourself believe that it is. In theory, the sickness makes the bad thing that happened worth it, as if happiness and self-betterment are the only acceptable profits one may earn from struggling with the body's strong tendency to almost off itself. Daum's piece echoed my experiences post-breast cancer. In a few days, it will be three years since I was diagnosed. After a year and a half of treatment, I was cancer-free and not particularly a better person. And, oh, what a failure this is considered to be! I do not live in the present moment. I take things for granted daily. I am no more or less kind, patient, or generous. Something terrible happened, and then -- not because of my will or some miracle but due to science -- I got better. No one even really understands why, and no one can say for sure if the no-cancer status will stick. In the end, something will get me; there is no happy ending in life, only death. Still, online, women who have survived breast cancer prattle on endlessly about how improved they are, about how wonderful their lives are now, about how today is the only thing that matters. As if cancer is some thoughtful neighbor who brought by homemade cookies. It reminds me of the profiles I used to see before I got married when I perused online dating sites. Most of the men claimed to be "living life to the fullest." In their photos, they held up dead fish they'd caught. In their profiles, they referenced failed marriages and boring jobs. No one, it seemed, was living life to the fullest. How could they? It would probably kill them.
In the future, your little black dress will have a sexy cutout that reveals your portacath, or, after treatment, the scar it leaves behind. In the future, your IV bag filled with liquid chemotherapy will bear the logo befitting your economic class (Walmart, J.Crew, Louis Vuitton). In the future, the GM breast implants for your reconstruction will not be optional but required. In the future, your surgical oncologist will appear on QVC hawking his or her branded line of scalpels. In the future, your cancer stage will be trademarked. In the future, you will travel to Las Vegas for treatment, and there will be an entire hotel and casino filled with bald women playing high-stakes games of risk, and you will feel at home amidst the malignancies.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about what it's like having cancer -- or, rather, what it's like not having cancer after you've had cancer. After that, I received an email from Todd Wineburner, about his cancer experience. I'm sharing his email here, with his permission, because he does a far better job of describing what cancer leaves behind.
"Several years ago, I patched your official head shot onto a bunch of famous nude artworks and sent them to you and you published them on the Reverse Cowgirl's blog. I've always appreciated that. I've appreciated your writing, too, and your recent entry about your bout with cancer really resonated with me. At about the same time I sent those pictures, I went through a bout with cancer of my own, and I think I know the exact feeling you're talking about. It's like there's a remnant of something still circulating through your body and your life, even though you know you're in remission (there's no cure, they tell me)--even though you know that you've lived to the point where the chance of a recurrence is barely measurable. I don't know that that feeling goes away, sadly. Your friend has a luxury in being able to laugh at your concerns and I think you'd be within your rights in defining that as insensitivity. I understand that she probably intended to ease your fears, but she needs to appreciate that for us and other survivors, a concern about cancer is not some vague, undefined apprehension about something we saw on the news. It's about taking a shower every day and encountering the places where a doctor changed us. It's about the memories of the absolutely surreal and disconnected feeling that comes from the anemia you get when the chemotherapy kills a significant percentage of your red blood cells. In my treatment, I had a massive exploratory surgery to check my lymph nodes. Like comedian Tom Green, my intestines were lifted out of my body and put back after the nodes between my kidneys had been checked. This is standard procedure for testicular cancer and they explain it all to you before they operate, but what they don't prepare you for is the day when your bowels start working again and the sensations are different--the pressures are in different places, the growls aren't the same at all. You've been rearranged at the most fundamental level. I still feel that way--rearranged. Not that it's debilitating, or even something that I think about often; things are just different than they were before the cancer and I guess they always will be. I guess they have to be. I've never really talked to anyone about this before, but I've never really seen anyone write about that strange sense that doesn't even really have a word to describe it. It's not disappointment, of course. With serious illness, there can always be more than one outcome and I think we both got the preferable choice. It's not really longing, either, or if it is, I'm not quite sure what it is I'm supposed to be longing for. It's just that strange sense that everything in my life changed when I had that cancer, except for the fact that everything pretty much stayed the same.
Thanks so much for your writing. It's great to occasionally find shared thoughts that let you know you're not nuts for feeling the way you do (or at least you're not alone). If you find a way to define this bizarre feeling, I hope you write about it. I wish you well. I'll keep enjoying your work and if I make any breakthroughs, I'll let you know."
Several years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, and everything seemed fine. I was early-stage, doctors offered solutions like butterscotch squares in candy dishes, and since I had just gotten married, anything unhappy was simply impossible. Eventually, a surgeon with a name that reflected her practice opened up my front in an operating theater, wiped the boundaries of my malignancy clean, and sent my excavated tissue off for further testing. Those tests, it turned out, indicated a slightly later stage, a weirdly aggressive type of cancer, and people in white coats knitted their brows while studying my data set. It was not the type of expression you wanted to see when confronted with what felt like a near-death experience. Everything will be fine became an afterthought, not a promise. Still, everyone plowed ahead -- the cheery dogs, the determined husband, the idiot patient -- and off we went through the field of the medical industrial complex. A head of hair was shed in cascades that clogged drains, a portacath was inserted into my chest, and over the course of a year I was radiated, chemotherapied, and targeted therapied. Nearly a year and a half after the whole thing started, I was finished. Left to my own devices, I was told to live my life. From the San Francisco fog that shrouded by cerebellum, I nodded grimly and waited for the next part of my life to begin. Eventually, of course, it did. My hair grew back, the black hole that had developed where the port once resided closed itself, and I told myself that things would get better. Time ticked across clock faces. One day, I got on a horse and galloped through a sandy arena to leap over a fence, which I had not done since I was younger. Still, something was gnawing, and in order to address those tiny teeth, I got on a plane and flew to Los Angeles last week. What are you doing here? my friends asked politely. I was working on a story, I told them. I was looking for something, I told myself. I explained to one friend that I was worried the cancer would return, the notion of which she laughed at hysterically. Now that I'm home, I'm prone to look back on what drove me to return to what I'd thought I'd done already. I think the answer is this: I wanted my balls back, or, failing that, I wanted to grow another pair.
Publication: Women's Health Online
Date: October 1, 2013
Word count: 517
Notes: I was approached by an editor at Women's Health Online to write this essay. They were doing a series of stories on breast cancer for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this would be the inaugural essay. She asked me what I charge. I responded, "These days, I mostly work in the $3/word vein." This is called bluffing. She offered me $1,000. I agreed. I spent about an hour working on a first draft of the essay. That version was gut-wrenching, complex, and probably not a fit for the venue. I spent an hour or two writing what would be the final draft of the story. That version is straightforward, simple, and uplifting. The essay includes before-and-after photos of what I looked like during chemo (bald) and what I looked like after (not bald).
Conclusion: How much I got paid < cost of cancer treatment.
Earlier this week, the New York Times had a nip slip on its front page, above the fold. The photo, by Rina Castelnuovo, of a woman's breast, her areola partly exposed, offended some, likely titillated others. The image served as a companion piece to a story on Israel's high breast cancer rate and the complicated question as to what to do about it.
For me, the image may as well have been a selfie. From November 2011 to April 2013, I underwent treatment for early-stage breast cancer. Today, I'm cancer-free and not expected to recur. (Knock on wood.)
During my treatment, I took my camera with me often. Anyone undergoing protracted medical treatment knows intimately the copious amounts of time one spends in between places: waiting rooms carpeted in odd patterns, examining rooms hung with limp blood pressure cuffs, mechanical beds preparing to feed you into doughnut-shaped devices that scan you from stem to stern.
I used my camera to preoccupy, distract, relax myself. The medical industrial complex is a system in which things are done to you. I suppose raising the camera was my way of feeling like I was in control. Which, of course, I wasn't.
There is nothing less erotic than the announcement of a personal malignancy. Suddenly, it occurs to you that the two flesh pads affixed to your front are not what you thought they were. They are trying to kill you.
Your breasts are debated by two people in white coats standing in front of you as you watch in silence. Your breasts are punctured by needles and the tissue cored like apple flesh as you lay face-down on a cold metal table. Your breasts are sliced open on an operating table so a surgeon can peer inside and extract what's gone wrong with you. Your breasts are sutured, bandaged, and sent home, where they inflame, ooze fluids, and take on shapes not found in nature. Your breasts reveal to you a great irony: what makes you female could be what exterminates you.
Today, I've formed a tentative alliance with my breasts. In bed, late at night, I wonder, Can I trust you? Mammograms provide an answer. So far, Yes.
Discussing the Times photo, I asked my husband if my breast cancer had changed his relationship to my breasts.
"It's just some cells," he said. "It's not all of you."
I wrote a piece for Women's Health on "What No One Tells You About Breast Cancer."
My own breasts had tried to kill me. My tits had turned traitorous. I could no longer pretend I was immortal; I was fallible, imperfect, vulnerable. During chemo, I wanted to pick up the beeping IV machine pumping toxic fluid into me and throw it against a wall. I couldn’t. As much as I hate to admit it, cancer cowed me. It changed my cells, and it altered my sense of self, turning my bravery into anxiety, my recklessness into OCD, my braggadocio into silence.