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cancer, Guest Posts

This Is What Cancer Does.

March 6, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Nancy Conyers.

This is what cancer does: it makes your body unknown to you, an alient presence dragging 50lb weights on each ankle and around your neck. You are exhausted, so exhausted physically and mentally your brain can’t send proper signals to get your unresponsive limbs moving. One time, for three days, you couldn’t even wash your face because it was too much effort to lift your arms. When you couldn’t stand your own smell anymore you tried to take a shower. It wasn’t your own body odor you were smelling, it was the drugs you’d been infused with: TCHP, Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin, Perjeta. They were seeping through your skin, through every orifice and the metallic medicinal smell was making you as nauseous as the drugs were. You turned on the shower but the weight of the water pushed you against the shower wall and you struggled to turn the water off. You sat soaking wet on the side of the bathtub until your spouse came to check on you.

“Honey, are you ok?” you heard her ask from the bedroom. When you didn’t answer she rushed in to the bathroom, saw the puddles of water at your feet, grabbed a towel and started drying you off. “You scared me when you didn’t answer,” she told you as she was drying your back. You knew she meant she thought you were dead.

You now spend hours on the internet trying to get more information about cancer, how you could have gotten it, what your chances are, but once you start reading you close your laptop because you don’t really want to know that the survival rate is only 70% five years later for your late Stage 3A aggressive breast cancer. What about 10 years or 20 years you ask, but nobody has those statistics. You don’t want to think in terms of surviving only five years. You don’t want to think that there is a 30% chance you could be dead before the five years are up. You look around your house in Santa Fe, the one you and your spouse bought for retirement that you don’t live in full time yet and you know that in five years she may not be ready to stop working. You want time here together when she retires, time to build a roof deck so you can sit and watch the sun set on the Sangre de Christos every night.

You’ve read all the other statistics about who gets breast cancer, the two most likely being you’re a woman and you’re aging. 77% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer are over age 50. Since when did age 50 mean you were aging, you wonder. Women who’ve never had children, who start their menses before age 12, who took oral contraceptives and who do hormone replacement therapy are at risk. Women who are overweight, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, who are physically inactive and exposed to environmental pollutants are at risk. You fit some of the categories but you never took hormone replacement therapy, you don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol and even though you are overweight you are physically active. Back when you thought you were straight, you took birth control pills for five years. You’ve never smoked. Ever. In your mind only people who smoke get cancer, people who won’t or can’t stop smoking and take drags on their cigarettes from a hole in their neck while they’re hooked up to oxygen.

Cancer. This cannot be your life. This is not your life. This will not be your life. You do not want to understand what these medical terms mean, do not want to become comfortable with spouting out breast cancer vocabulary and treatment options, do not want to know that once your treatments are over the cancer could come back. Once this is all over even if you’re told you are cancer free, it’s only for the moment, that place in time, that snapshot, not forever. You want forever. Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts, healing

A Doorway To Love.

December 26, 2014

By Lavinia Magliocco.

This is not a piece about victory over cancer.

This is not to talk about fighting. This is the way I found through a thorny path. With gratitude, I dedicate it to my teacher, Shambhavi Saraswati.

There’s always a test. A scan, biopsy, and of course, the waiting period, during which time you try to pretend you’re not waiting. You try not to think about it. Cancer’s scary for many reasons, one being that both disease and cure decimate the body. sometimes, it’s not certain which is more fatal.

It’s not that I haven’t thought of dying. Truth is, I can’t stop thinking about dying.Years ago, my innards were ravaged with inflammation while skin peeled off my legs like strips of old wallpaper – I could barely walk up a flight of stairs. I had to give up the one thing I loved. When the future held nothing but more illness, I thought: maybe I’ll just slit my wrists, lie down in a hot bath, and die. Even so, thinking and strategizing how I might go didn’t prepare me for this: death may come not by my choice. Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts, healing

Falling Hair.

September 25, 2014


By Sue Lick.

Reddish-blond fur swirled in the air as we groomed the shedding dog. In a single stroke, the comb was filled with yellow fluff. I released the fur to the wind, watching it drift across the deck and the lawn.

Fred ran a nubby rubber glove across Sadie’s back, emptied the fur from the glove, and rubbed her again until the dog squirmed away. Tufts of the pale stuff stuck out around her hips and butt as she walked to the edge of the deck, stepped off and continued across the lawn. She raised her right back leg and peed, then trotted to the hole she had dug under the garden shed, pawing her way in until all that showed was her waving tail. Fur lay in soft puffs on the deck and the lawn. Strands clung to our clothes.

“That’s how Mom looked,” Fred said.

Our eyes met. Oh God. Unconsciously, I stroked my own thick dark hair, which I had just paid $25 to have professionally trimmed and thinned.

When I left for California three weeks earlier, curly white hair covered Helen Lick’s head like a cottony crown. While I was gone, she started chemotherapy. After just one treatment, her hair had started falling out in clumps. We had no idea it would happen so soon.

As we brushed the dog fur off our clothes, Fred told me what I had missed.

Yesterday, when he took his mother to Corvallis for more chemo, they stopped at a wig shop and purchased a head of synthetic hair. It looked like something you’d see on a model in the Sears catalog, gray and white, kind of windblown, he said. The $190 they spent included a wire wig rack, a bottle of wig shampoo and three turbans. The shop, Healing Hands, specialized in cancer patients. The proprietor, Jeanie something, oozed kindness.

Continue Reading…

cancer, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, healing

As I Disappear: My Battle With Anorexia During Cancer Treatment.

May 15, 2014


By Kathleen Emmets.

“She’s so thin,” I say to myself as the familiar sense of envy creeps in. I notice her jeans billowing around her legs and am filled with self loathing. “How did I allow myself to gain the weight back?” In the past year, I have gained 25lbs and hate the sight of myself in a mirror. These thoughts would be somewhat normal for any woman to think, I guess. Most women I know have issues with their body. Except I know it is beyond fucked up for me. See, I’m sitting in Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital for my two month check up, and that woman I’m staring at, well, she’s undergoing chemotherapy; just like I’ve been for the past three years.

Somewhere in my mind I know these thoughts are wrong. That’s a lie, actually. These thoughts are completely normal to me. I just know they would be perceived as wrong by others, so I say nothing. When I was first diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in 2011 and the doctors were running a battery of tests on me, I saw on my chart that I fell within the normal weight range for my height. I always have. But charts be damned. In my mind, I’ve always been fat. “Well”, I said to my sister as I was about to begin chemo, “I’ll finally lose those stubborn ten pounds I’ve been struggling with for years.” “That’s looking at the bright side,” she replied. Clearly we not only share genes but also a morose sense of humor.

As the months passed, my weight slowly began to drop. It wasn’t too drastic initially though. I would hear other patients complain how they couldn’t keep weight on and, like in the movie ‘When Harry Met Sally’ I half jokingly think, “I’ll have what she’s having” But, there is nothing funny about this, I know. I was fighting for my life and yet…and yet…I secretly loved to feel my bones protruding. In bed alone, I would run my hands across my jutting hip bones with a sense of relief. I stood in the mirror looking at myself naked and thought, “I’m finally skinny.”

When I was prepping for a surgery where a pump the size of a hockey puck would be placed under my skin to delivery chemotherapy directly to my liver, I asked the doctor if it would be very noticeable. He said because I was so thin it would definitely show but wouldn’t be too bad. After he left the room I turned to my husband and said, “Did you hear that? He said I was thin.” My husband just stared at me as I gave him a half smile.

I began to shop often. It was a thrill to get a size XXS, to see my clavicle deep and hollow. I embraced this thinness. Even as I was losing my hair. Even as I was throwing up and paralyzed by the chemo induced neuropathy. I found my hands sliding over those jagged hip bones again, following the curve on my concave stomach. It was the one bonus I found in cancer treatment.

Two years in, my medication was switched up. This new pill regime didn’t make me sick, didn’t cause me to lose my appetite. Slowly, my weight crept back up. My breasts became full again, my stomach a little more rounded. “Fuck”, I thought, “I can’t get fat again.” My size 2 jeans became a size 6. The weight came back at a steady pace. Once again, I could pinch my hips and feel skin. I began my food deprivation technique again. An egg for breakfast, lettuce for lunch, fruit for dinner. 2lbs gone…5lbs gone…8lbs gone. Yes. It’s working. I’m back in control. Except, I’m not in control at all. And this time, people are taking notice. At dinner my husband asked me why I wasn’t having bread, or meat, or much of anything really. “You’re spiraling again,” he said. I went home and dropped to my knees on my bathroom floor in a fit of tears. How can I continue to hate this body? The body that successfully fought off cancer. The body that brought my wonderful son into this world. The body that has been caressed and made love to. How is it that I am still here in this place of self loathing?

I have dug deeply over the past three years. I’ve gone on spiritual journeys, meditated with shaman, prayed to saints. I’ve done the work to deal with the cancer, but not with the real issue, which is why do I continue to hate myself? How is it that someone who fought so hard to live, still just exists in a body that she despises? What was this all for if the internal struggle continues to be unbearable? I am living while so many of my friends have died from this disease. I am cancer free while so many still fight. And yet…and yet…my mind still whispers toxic thoughts. “Be small,” it says. Small is safe. Small means I’m in control. And after three years of having limited control over my body, it’s nice to be in the driver’s seat; even if I don’t know where I’m headed.


Kathleen Emmets is an avid music lover and yoga enthusiast. She believes in seeking out the good in all things and being her most authentic self. Her articles have appeared in MindBodyGreen, Do You Yoga, and Elephant Journal. She writes about her experience with cancer in her blog, Kathleen lives in East Norwich, NY with her husband and son.

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