A Funny Story About Cancer

How can I put my cancer experience into 500 (now 491) words? I could start with a reflective statement about how the emotional weight of terminal cancer doesn’t compare to rereading Nicholas Spark’s books in an already sob-inducing hospital room. Perhaps, a Tumblr quote or poem describing the uplifting triumph of overcoming a tumultuous tumor, would bring a tear to your eye that would be mistaken for allergies.  I prefer: “cancer lies.” What I knew before were fairytales, and scary bedtime stories, dramas played on TV or dramatic monologues played out in my head. Myths never reveals your role in the truth.

A myth about cancer is that you learn a lot from it; actually, what you learn from cancer equates to Jeopardy questions or random facts on trivia cards. You don’t learn about the bigger picture, but all the pixels that make it up. You learn that that you shouldn’t take more than 100 milligrams of Ativan. That you should never eat the hospital food, and that it is much safer to sneak out to a burrito food truck in inner city Richmond with your IV pole trailing behind you. That the best prom dates are 8-year-old boys with sarcoma and hot male radiologists. That you can wear a children’s knit sweater and infinity scarf as a prom dress. That putting “cancer (sign) with terminal cancer” in your Tinder bio will get you a lot of pity sex and free Greek food snuck into your room during chemo. That real friends bring Krispy Kreme donuts and Panera mac and cheese and hold your wig, like a mannequin, when you throw it up outside their car. That real friends aren’t the ones that go to France and complain about how much they hate their group project when you would give anything to write a rhetorical analysis and sit through an 8 a.m., wishing you were anywhere but here. There.

Dying is almost euphoric, an acid trip you never come out of. Sometimes, it’s okay to desire life in the smoggy mindset. You stand in reverse as time moves forward. I watched my life like a movie, an elevator to Purgatory, and realized– everything I learned, about cancer, living, dying, was warped. I waited 17 years for my birth, and I didn’t want it. The second myth about cancer is that treatment is the hardest–it’s the life after you struggle to cope with. You miss the mindlessness, the euphoria, the stability in knowing that death is real, the second life you made for yourself, vanished like the first.  

People say you can smell death, but in fact you taste it, like a small cut you get in your gums. It reminds you that it’s there, lingers, and fades until you taste something that mocks the flavor. Our lives are like cells, rapidly reproducing new existences within one. One drop of lost blood won’t kill you, just like a lost life won’t be the end, either.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY RACHEL KISER

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