The other day, if you’d passed the intersection near my street, you would have found me standing in the road, middle fingers raised at a car trying to run the red light and run me over.

No one would ever say I’m a delicate flower.

Someone did see this, and, as he crossed the footbridge, he comforted me with, “They’ll get theirs someday.”

I wish I could be that calm. My mom, too, has recently comforted me with assurances that everything works out. I used to believe that, but I’m struggling.

I have a hard time dealing with injustice and, despite my occasional street rantings, I’m really very sensitive. In this unfair, harsh world, you can imagine how things work out for me. I took that Briggs-Myers psychology test, and I’m an INFP (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceptive). I’m sure there are successful people out there with this personality designation, but they’re mostly tortured artist types. I have no artistic talent—no sonnets to write, no brilliant novel within, no symphony to compose, no masterpiece to create. I don’t have the creative genius to excuse being bad at important aspects of life.

I don’t want to focus on the negative. I did realize during my treatment and with subsequent friend visits that I have a lot of amazing people who care about me, so I must be doing something right. But day-to-day existence has always been hard for me. Balancing finances and dealing with bureaucracy can easily lead me into the depths of despair.

I recently read something about how cancer patients often experience anxiety over their changing physical appearance. The baldness didn’t bother me that much. Partially, I think this is because I used to try to stand out, so looking like a freak is old hat. But I also realized, now that my hair has grown in—not to mention my eyelashes and eyebrows—that in a perverse way, I didn’t mind looking the part of a cancer patient, because I had hoped people would be nicer to me.

In the same way that looking weird and dressing in all black told people to stay away, in hopes they wouldn’t bully or be mean to me, I felt the same comfort with my bald head for all to see. It was like wearing a sign that pleaded, Please be nice to me. I have cancer.

And for the most part, people had been. But lately, I’ve had several disappointing experiences where it felt like people were being only temporarily nice to me, because I had cancer—and then they made a mental note to mistreat me at a later date. It’s been like I’ve been on the receiving end of rain checks for unkindness. It’s been made clear to me that in some cases, no matter what people say, it’s all about the bottom line.

I knew this day would come, when people would stop feeling obligated to be nice to me. I don’t expect special treatment. I worked through cancer and never wanted to use it as an excuse to be lazy or to be a jerk. I just want people to be decent.

As a kid, I was bullied. I was chubby and had no friends for several years. I was the weird, overweight, pimply girl with glasses who wore funny dresses. There are lots of movie and book characters based on this girl, so you can imagine how it went for me. Some people say I’m pessimistic, but I just prepare myself for the bad in people.

I wonder why it is that we always focus on the bad things we hear about ourselves. I’ve probably forgotten beautiful moments throughout my life but will always remember the group of girls a year younger than me who tormented me on the playground almost every day. Billy Ocean’s “Get Into My Car” was popular at the time, and one day the girls came up and sang, “Get into my car—if you can fit!” I’ll always remember that.

In eighth grade, I was at the mirror putting on makeup and some other girls wanted to use the mirror. “Why is she using the mirror?” one girl hissed to another. “She’s a loser.” They wanted me to hear. So now I remember. I still remember their names. Not long after that, I realized there wasn’t any point in wearing makeup, so I stopped for more than a decade. I wore black. I didn’t weigh much. I wanted to disappear, so people just wouldn’t be mean to me.

I guess I should have developed a thick skin, but I feel as if it’s still paper-thin. I’m back to wanting to evaporate. I feel like that bullied kid again, but instead, these discouraging words are from an unlikely source—myself.

During my beautiful, perfect vacation, the bartender at a Long Island brewery criticized our tip of $4.80 (on $24, on a credit card). “Who does that?” she said to her friend next to us. “Why didn’t they just leave me $4?” Her offhand comment ruined a good portion of my day, even though she didn’t mean to. I wrestled with melodramatic thoughts. Why did I bother to get through everything only to let this stuff hurt me so much? In some ways, it felt worse that she didn’t know I was the “bad” tipper. I wondered what every person ever has said behind my back until it was so much that it exploded within and dissipated, and I couldn’t even be sad anymore.

I hate it about myself that I’ll forget some aspects of my perfect friend-and-family-filled week but I’ll remember that.

I’ve been wrestling with a lot of self-loathing, especially with recent events. Am I really incompetent or cheap? I think I may have survivor’s guilt to some extent. When something small happens, I think, Why me? Why did I survive cancer and not somebody who has a job? Why doesn’t somebody with kids survive? Sometimes I feel like it’s unfair that I’m in remission. I feel like I don’t deserve it, and as I said before, I hate unfairness. When I’m exposed to life’s tiniest bumps, I now feel terribly hurt, then ungrateful, and then I just shovel all that into the self-loathing machine chugs along next to me almost all the time these days, waiting for me to feed it.

I know that, today of all days, my problems are trivial. I have to re-learn how to live in a cruel, unfair world. (Boo-hoo, I say to myself. Get it together.) For my part, I’m going to try to be kinder to people, because I know how much the alternative can hurt. (Unless they run red lights near my street.)

Recently, I have been explaining to people that I waited so long for the light at the end of the tunnel and now I feel like I’m standing at the end, blinking, unsure of how to live on the outside. Sometimes, on days like today, I want to crawl back in. But I know I have to move forward, even if the real world’s sun is so bright that it burns my thin skin.

Photo note: This is a photo of a fish from my vacation.

Something strange has happened since my hospital stay and stem cell transplant. My ire is gone.

I just wanted the cancer gone, but the radiation or the four days of chemo seems to have removed some residual anger. I’ve wondered before if the stubborn spots lighting up on my PET scans were angry words that I swallowed and lodged in my trachea or the molten glow of my temper in my gut.

I joke that Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza is my spirit animal, because when I try to calm down, it’s basically as effective as angrily shouting, “Serenity now!”

Part of my lessened anger, I realize, is because I haven’t been around people. I’ve been pretty isolated at home and at the hospital, where everyone was unfailingly nice to me. I know a few train rides will raise my blood pressure. But I feel as if I’m experiencing something more long-lasting than the peace of isolation. (As isolated as one can be in such close proximity to 10 million other people.)

I have a legendary hold on my grudges. My mental nemesis list is long and spans my lifetime. It includes Prince and the supposed friend who told my second-grade crush that I liked him. In the latter case, it’s not fair, because her last name rhymed with the word “beaver” and, unfortunately, she was bucktoothed, but I never made fun of her like the other second-graders. Why would she betray my confidence and scar me so I wouldn’t reveal my crushes to anyone again until I was 14 and started dating? I can picture her triumphant, toothy grin after her big reveal.

I still feel a flush of humiliation thinking about that day. (I think the guy in question transferred schools the next year—not because of me—and I saw him as a freshman at Ohio University during my brief time there before I transferred—not because of him. But I still felt embarrassed when I saw him a decade later.)

As you can probably tell, I take things pretty hard. I joke about it, but often I can think about an instance where I felt wrong or hurt and feel just as angry or upset as when it actually happened. It’s something I don’t like about myself. Also, it was no fun to feel those things the first time, let alone again. And again. And again.

That’s not to say I don’t get over things or that I don’t forgive people. True, it’s pretty easy to get on my nemesis list, and it’s pretty hard to be removed. It might involve a jar full of the offender’s remorseful tears. Or, more often, a simple, “Sorry.”

But how do you forgive someone who never asks for forgiveness? Or—even harder—how do you forgive someone who truly believes the way he or she treated you was justified? That’s so hard. For me, bearer of grudges, it’s almost impossible. I’m still working on it.

I may never be able to look my second-grade crush in the eye should I ever see him again, but I forgave that girl a long time ago. Yet that day in second grade was probably the first time I was blindsided by someone who I thought was a friend suddenly and inexplicably turning on me. It happened again when I was 20. And 22. And 24. And 31. And 32. Probably some times in between all those too. I guess I don’t learn.

If you think I haven’t worried that I’m the problem, don’t worry—I’ve given it plenty of thought and therapy sessions. At one point in my 20s, someone who I would say was truly malicious drove a wedge between me and some other friends. She was so skilled at it, and I felt so raw and hurt and vulnerable. I let other people make me feel as if I were a bad person and if I were crazy. Looking back, I can say that’s crazy.

Luckily, I had other friends who reassured me that I wasn’t insane or a terrible person. But I was pretty broken. I even went to therapy for a while to put the pieces of myself back together—and reassemble myself as a more confident person. In a way, that girl did me a favor.

I realized a lot of those people who hurt me were insecure about themselves and tore me down in an attempt to feel better. I have my own insecurities—less after this cancer battle—but I certainly have had plenty over the years. When I recognized insecurity in others, I saw a kinship with the hope we could boost each other up. Everyone’s insecure about something. But when it’s someone looking to belittle someone else—well, I might as well have a big target on my back.

Yet it’s so hard when someone you trust tells you something she believes to be true about you to not take it personally—even when you realize, on some level, the situation is really about her (or him).

I’m pretty gullible at times. It’s dangerous when someone I trust tells me something terrible about me that isn’t true.

I obviously tend to dwell. The other day, though, I found myself reflecting—not dwelling—on some past relationships with family and friends. It felt different to reflect. I thought about things without the anger.

I was really thinking about wasted time. Since the things I can do post-transplant are still very limited and I’ve been limited to varying degrees for almost a year-and-a-half, I reminisced about being well—but I also remembered feeling terrible at times. Mostly, this was because I was dwelling on a past hurt or wrong, making it last much longer than it had to. In some cases, instead of letting myself heal from someone’s words, I picked at it, like a scab, until it became a giant wound.

I regretted the time I’d lost to feeling bad about myself. Wasted time wasn’t any time spent with friends. Or moments spent rubbing the belly of a cat when I had other things to do. It was time I’d stolen from myself. Now that cancer—something that both is and isn’t me—has stolen time, I’m more protective of it.

Poet, author and activist Maya Angelou died today, and the Internet was peppered with her words of wisdom. I read a long quote about forgiveness, and Angelou certainly had a lot to forgive (and a lot to say on the subject). One of her well-known quotes: “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”

I’m not going to forgive people for them. I’m going to do it for me.

It’s still really hard, even with less ire.

Could this be a good side effect of the chemo? With so much poison coursing through your veins, there’s no room for additional poisonous thoughts and feelings? Could I have been hanging on to anger in the marrow of my bones? Bones seem like as good a place as any to harbor resentment, being hollow and all. I would think organs or even muscles are too soft for hard feelings. The stem cell transplant was supposed to be a re-birth of sorts.

I have to confess that there’s also something else about forgiveness that appeals to me. If you tell someone who hasn’t asked for forgiveness that you forgive him or her when that individual doesn’t admit to any wrongdoing, there’s a good chance it will really annoy that person.

OK, so maybe the old me isn’t completely gone. For now, I hope that the cancer has left, along with my ire. If not, I have to remember that I can control at least my recurring anger, my emotional cancer of sorts.

Photo note: When I’m in doubt of what type of photo to put up, I use a cat photo. I forgive this particular cat on a daily basis for something, almost immediately, because—well, look at that face!

After going to high school during the “alternative” craze of the ’90s, I was goth during my late teens and early 20s. I wanted to be a freak. Ministry’s “Every Day Is Halloween” was my anthem. I wore all black. I had vinyl pants. But I never was one of those people who would dress head-to-toe goth all the time, because I’m lazy when it comes to fashion. (Hence the goth thing—all black—versus a counterculture that would require more color coordination.)

My rebellion was only part-time. But I reveled in throwing my differences in the face of the world, even as I copied the looks of others. I started dressing weird in high school to scare people away so they wouldn’t bother me. It worked, for the most part.

I’ve always wanted to stand out and blend in at the same time.

I’m still not quite sure what I was rebelling against. Other people? I still wear a lot of black. Everyone in New York City does, so I feel as if I’ve really arrived home.

But I think my freak past is why losing my hair and looking kind of weird hasn’t bothered me as much as it does some cancer patients. I’ve gotten double-takes on the streets before. I’ve stood out in a crowd. (Unless it was a crowd of other goth people, and then I just blended in to the sea of black, achieving my delicate balance of standing out among the masses and blending in with my counterculture brethren.) Even after I stopped wearing so much black, I’d still wear some crazy outfits.

Now I look like a freak again. I’d forgotten what it was like. In New York, it’s pretty hard to get people to do double-takes. People are pretty conditioned not to look at you too hard unless you’re really going out of your way for attention. It’s not a bad place to look a little different. But I do notice people looking at me and then looking away, not wanting to stare at my bald head or my lack of eyebrows and eyelashes. I should make more of an effort with a wig, but eh. And I’m not going to draw on my eyebrows unless I really want to look like a freak.

Every now and then, I get the “Oops, I shouldn’t stare” look.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling nasty and I’m full of self-pity, I have that old feeling of rebellion, and I want people to stare. I want to remind people that, out of nowhere, something crappy can happen and turn your world upside down. It’s such a mean thought, and it’s erroneous to think that everyone walking around with hair has a charmed life. As I noted, I’ve been trying, at least, to remember that Ian MacLaren quote: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” That person who looks physically fine (who I might be unfairly resenting) might feel worse than I do or might feel terrible inside and I’d have no way of knowing. People who look well aren’t my enemy; my toxic thoughts are the problem.

Before I had cancer, I would sometimes sense—maybe wrongly—resentment every now and then from people who thought I had a charmed life. Not often, but every now and then, I’d get a whiff of resentment—a snarky comment, an undertone of bitterness. I wouldn’t even blame them—I often wondered if I had it too easy, or if I needed to be tested by something. I know now that I didn’t. I’ve had my internal battles.

Irrationally, sometimes I hope that I paid for good things to happen with this past year and that I can resume a life where things seem to fall into place for me.

Because things sometimes do seem to fall into place for me. I’d consider myself lucky, but I wouldn’t leave everything to fate. I’ve worked hard. It’s not like I’m undeserving of happiness.

I do have a gift, though—or gifts, I should say. Sometimes I wish for something and I magically get it. It’s always something random and very specific. For instance, I soaked my Converse once at SXSW and really had no shoes to wear, and at the next event I attended, they were giving out free tennis shoes. One morning, I wished for a hair blow dryer, and that night I got invited to an event where they gave out gift bags with free hair dryers. I’ve sat at my desk and wished for ice cream and had a co-worker pop her head into my cubicle, offering me a sundae she bought and didn’t want. I forgot deodorant on a trip back to Ohio, and before I could buy some on my way back from yoga class, I discovered a basket of free deodorants right by the door of the yoga studio. I have a lot of stories like these. It’s like, every now and then, life gives me a free gift.

I can’t wish for a million dollars. It has to be something small in order for my wish to be granted, and I can’t summon it to happen. I have to be not expecting to magically get what I want.

I already know I can’t wish the cancer away. I just have to hope—like everybody else—that this last treatment was successful.

I also know that I really don’t want to be some sort of sad reminder of mortality to people who see me in all my bald glory. (And I know I’m too lazy to always wear a wig.) I hope people just see me as a fellow person fighting a great battle along with everyone else. I’m finally standing out, like I always wanted, but I’ll be happy to blend in again.

Photo note: This photo is from my goth days. In the full photo, I’m looking up and smiling at a friend who has spiked his hair completely up before a Bauhaus show in Chicago.

This week, after sharing my blogs about having had panic disorder and my recent feelings on everything that’s happened and things I’ve lost (and gained) to cancer, I thought of that quote:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”—Ian MacLaren

So many people reached out and told me about their experiences with anxiety disorders, cancers, chronic illnesses and hospital stays that I had no idea about. They were offering sympathy and support, and, while I wasn’t surprised I know so many strong, wise people, I was kind of surprised that I didn’t know what friends had been through.

Most of these people aren’t casual acquaintances, either—we’re talking about people I’ve known most of my life or people I’d see every day at work. Since I’m so open about my dealings with panic disorder, I thought I’d known about other people’s struggles, but whenever I mention anxiety, so many others come forward and talk about their experiences. That’s why I think it’s so important to talk about panic and anxiety disorders—everyone feels alone, but it’s really shockingly common and not something that people should feel ashamed to talk about.

It’s strange that now that I’m finally recovering, it’s the time I finally look like a cancer patient—thin and balder than ever. For most of the time I’ve been going through this cancer journey, I’ve looked like my old self, or a lady with extremely short hair. Now I look like I’ve fought a hard battle—and hopefully, I’m going to start looking like I won.

Sometimes, when I looked OK and felt terrible and scared, I just wanted to lash out or beg strangers to be nice to me. If I had no idea that friends have been through their own battles, silently, then it goes to show you often have no idea what people are dealing with on their own.

After this, I’m going to try to remember that everyone is fighting a hard battle and to be kind. (Not too kind, though—I do live in New York and I don’t want people to think I’m getting soft.)

I’ve started this post at least half a dozen times since I started my blog. It seems odd to be writing my love letter to working out when the most strenuous thing I’m up for is walking. My left arm is still a little immobile from phlebitis. I have a leukapheresis catheter in my chest that I have to be careful with, and I have a blood clot in my lung that leaves me winded after a flight of stairs. My hemoglobin is low, so I’m often and easily tired. I haven’t been able to work out for nearly a month, since before I went in for the last round of high-dose chemo.

Yet I still feel strong. Throughout the treatment—and now, more than ever—I’ve been drawing on what I’ve learned from my workouts and my yoga practice.

Physically, I did get some compliments on my blood pressure, at the beginning of treatment. Years of trying to perfect the savasana “dead body pose” in yoga helped when I had to stay perfectly still for scans and my radiation mold measurements. I will have to stay in good cardiovascular shape, especially as all this chemo and radiation takes a toll on the heart and the lungs.

But I think I can say that without yoga and fitness classes, it would have been a lot harder to get through all of this mentally. While I thought I was building muscle and flexibility, I was actually becoming stronger in ways I didn’t realize.

In December 2013, when I noticed a small bump that turned out to be two dislocated ribs, I was irritated that I’d have to modify my fitness routine for a month or two. That, of course, has turned out to be more than a year, since those ribs were dislocated by Hodgkin’s lymphoma tumors. I’ve had to take time off from working out, adjust my routines and generally change everything.

In between treatments, when I receive the OK to work out, I do what I can. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, but when I think about how working out has helped me overall, I know that it is. The muscle tone will come and—in the next few months especially—go. But the benefits go way beyond that.

Change is often difficult, but it’s possible. This was probably the first thing I ever learned. I’ve said this before, but I’m not naturally a physically active person. I was a chubby kid and always the last person picked in gym class. Very last—after the kids with asthma and injuries.

It wasn’t just that I wasn’t fit—I’m also extremely indifferent to any kind of sporting competition. That won’t change. I will spend 10 minutes agonizing over a Scrabble word, but I lose interest in winning any kind of sport immediately. You want the ball? Have it. The promise of being left alone is enough for me to surrender. The opening scene to the old MTV cartoon Daria, where she refuses to hit the volleyball and her teammates eventually collide to cover for her—that is pretty much the animated version of me in gym class.

Yet I started working out on my own in high school, first with Cher’s A New Attitude step-aerobics video. (Her outfits are pretty fantastic.) I discovered I kind of liked working out, and eventually found other things I enjoyed—yoga and fitness classes. I’ve tried to make working out part of my everyday routine. Even though I skip a few days, intending to work out every day helped me to at least do it about five days a week.

I’ve also never been a morning person, but managed to become someone who regularly woke up at 5:15 or 6 am to go to yoga or boot camp class. I found I enjoyed this thing called morning, which I’d avoided for years. Also, it was helpful to roll getting out of bed and working out—two things I tend to put off—into one fell swoop of determination. So the night owl and the last person picked in gym eventually learned to be the early bird at class.

The hardest part is what makes you stronger. Those last few seconds in standing bow or being in a plank sometimes seem impossible. That’s when the instructor usually says something encouraging like, “These last few seconds are where the change happens!” Or: “This is the hard part, but here’s where you’re building strength.”

I’ve thought about these words a lot as I near the hardest part of my treatment. A few months of dislocated ribs turned into six months of chemo, which turned into more than a year of chemo and another three to six months of recovery. The most difficult part still lies ahead. Heading to yet another appointment or sticking on an AquaGuard over my chest catheter before showering, I’ve cried and declared, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” and sometimes, “I can’t do this anymore.” I’ve been sliced open and poked and poisoned for a year now, and I’m tired.

But I don’t have a choice. I’ve learned that just when you think you can’t do something anymore, that’s when you need to power through. It’s time to cue “Eye of the Tiger” and do this. The hospital bedside yoga and laps around the floor, dragging my chemo pole with me, will be my one-armed Rocky pushups. Right after the stem cell transplant, I’ll be physically weak and in a bit of a mental fog, but overall, tougher.

Patience. At this point, after a year of treatment, I’m impatient to get this over with already. A month in the hospital seems like an eternity. But I know that things always seem longer at the outset. Sometimes it’s just 45 minutes of boot camp or an hour-and-a-half of Bikram yoga, when I’m not feeling particularly ready to push myself. Every now and then, in the first few minutes, I despair. How am I going to make it through 80 more minutes?

But I do. I had the same feeling when I signed up for a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge. When I marked off those first few days, the month stretching out before me seemed so long.

I have to be patient. I have to draw on the patience that comes from working on the same 26 poses in Bikram yoga. Or the patience from a Kundalini breathing exercise. I can do this.

Encouragement and support go a long way. Almost every day that I’ve worked out or attended a yoga class, I’ve been told that I could do things that I often didn’t think I could. (Sometimes, I felt absolutely sure I couldn’t, but did it anyway.) Eventually, I started to believe it. That’s been helpful for when I’ve had to endure being poked for multiple IVs that give me the heebie-jeebies or sit still for another round of tests.

People in classes have always been supportive—and that also extends beyond the fitness center and yoga room. I’ve met some great friends through working out, and I’ve received such nice messages from my boot camp pals, people I’ve met through yoga and the barre3 community.

Once I finish my hospital stay, I know it’s going to be a long time to regain my physical strength. I’ll be easily tired, and it will be months before I even get back to “normal,” before I can even think about working out. But thanks to fitness and yoga classes, I have the strength, patience and support that I need until I am back to 100 percent.

 

Today I was editing a business story, and within the article, there was a mention of the someone’s death. As I Googled for more information about the business, another article revealed that the death was caused by cancer. There was an ache, a discovery of a tumor and spreading cancer, followed by chemo and radiation, which failed in this case.

It was sad and unfolded in a few paragraphs. It seemed abrupt and unfair, as cancer often is.

I thought about why cancer is so feared and reviled. It sneaks up on you. Symptoms sometimes build up for months, but they seem like nothing. It seems as if all of the sudden you’re no longer someone with a weird bump or a twinge of pain, you’re someone with cancer.

Then your life is stolen. Often, this is piece-by-piece, with time at doctors’ appointments and in machines and hooked up to bags of chemotherapy drugs. There are the days spent not feeling well or time sleeping. Also stolen are the things you can’t do, whether you don’t feel up to certain things or aren’t supposed to do them. Time not spent in the sun. Time spent not traveling. Events missed, because you’re not sure what’s going to happen. I’d love to, but I have cancer.

After it steals your energy, it often goes for your hair. Some people lose even more to surgeries, parts and pieces that won’t grow back.

Your “normal” life is stolen and it’s replaced with an often-unsatisfactory facsimile, a watered-down version. Chunks of time go missing to hospital stays. Sleep is sometimes constant because of drugs and fatigue and then elusive because of worry and stress.

But some people don’t get their lives back at all. This story was a sad reminder for me. It put things in perspective.

I just spent a few hours cleaning. Mostly this was filing papers and dusting. With my bum phlebitis-inflamed arm and my chest catheter, I can’t do things like dust under the bed, or move things around so I can vacuum and mop.

I’ve had several last-cleaning-before-the-hospital-stay situations—before both rounds of augmented ICE, for instance. But this feels particularly final, since I’ll be away for my stem cell transplant and radiation for a month and I won’t be allowed to clean for three months. Specifically, I won’t be allowed to vacuum or clean the bathroom.

There’s a chance my hospital stay will be delayed a week or two. (The worst case scenario would be longer, if the PET scan still shows cancerous activity.) So I may be able to clean next weekend. Yippee.

People have asked why I don’t hire a cleaning person. I’ve suggested getting a cleaning person during my convalescence, but my boyfriend shot down that idea. Truthfully, I’m relieved.

I’m not comfortable hiring someone to clean for me. That’s not to say I’m against having things done for me. My boyfriend does most of the cooking, because I don’t have time. And he would do the driving when we had a car. I liked pretending that I was a fancy NYC person with a driver.

I love having my laundry done. I might live here forever specifically for that reason. When I heard that you could just take your laundry to the laundromat and it would be returned to you neatly folded and clean, I nearly wept for joy. It’s like being in college and going home for the weekend and having your mom do your laundry, without the guilt.

The thought of doing my own laundry again leaves me deeply depressed. It’s not just the laundromat, which is an inconvenience. When I had my own washer and dryer in Ohio, I still wasn’t big on doing laundry. Or doing laundry correctly, I’m told. I just put all my clothes in together, without sorting. My laundry all has something in common—it’s dirty. So in it goes, and out it comes, clean, if maybe grayer or smaller.

I was taught to read labels when buying things to avoid buying dry-clean-only items and things with complicated instructions. Sometimes I forget. With dry-clean-only items, I often leave them in a pile and then wear them again a few times, my own version of dry-cleaning, before actually taking them in to be cleaned professionally.

If I have my way, I will never do my own laundry again. But I’d probably hire an assassin before I hired a cleaning person.

Growing up, somewhere along the way, it was instilled in me that having a cleaning person is for lazy people. Frivolous people. People who can’t clean up after themselves.

I know this isn’t true. Friends who are highly respectable, responsible people have cleaning people or cleaning services. So I don’t judge others, but I would judge myself harshly on this point.

I’m not sure where I got this idea. I don’t think it was ever overtly stated. But it was implied.

My grandmother did all her own cleaning. I’m not sure how she would feel about my laundry situation, but I know she hated ironing, so I feel as if she’d approve of my current choices. (Ironing depressed her. I think it made her dwell on disappointments. I feel the same way about cleaning the bathtub. I can’t clean the tub without feeling angry and depressed, so I get it. We all have a household chore that gives us too much time to think and inevitably and inexplicably stirs up all of life’s disappointments.)

I think when the subject of someone with a cleaning person was brought up, there wasn’t quite an eye-roll. But it was said with a hint of disapproval and a slight pursing of the lips.

So, with my last bit of strength, I will be dusting or mopping, reluctantly and with an air of martyrdom and grim determination. Though now that I physically can’t do some chores, I will channel my energy into bugging my boyfriend. He might change his mind about hiring a cleaning person after all.

 

I realized when the nurse practitioner told me I needed to do the ICE high-dose chemotherapy before moving on to the stem cell transplant that it was what I’d been expecting. My PET scan looked better, but it’s not 100 percent clear. The stubborn lymphoma spots in my chest and belly have decreased in size, and they don’t show up as brightly on the scan. So that’s good. But I still have to do the ICE. Close, but no cigar, Brentuximab.

Part of the reason that the doctors were doing this trial was to find a less toxic alternative to ICE. And ICE doesn’t sound pleasant. I allowed myself one blog read of someone who has gone through it, just to prepare myself without scaring myself.

On Monday, I pack up for three days and go to the hospital for round one of augmented ICE. Then I’m home for 21 days, while going in for blood tests and such, before going back for three more days of ICE. Then it’s on to the stem cell collection, then 10 days of radiation and the 21-day stay in the hospital for the transplant.

Everything’s going to change as of Monday, even if most of it is temporary. (After the stem cell transplant, I should be back to normal in about six months with a few long-term side effects.)

I feel as if I shouldn’t be writing this. Lately, no matter what I’m doing, I feel as if I should be doing something else. I have a limited time to do everything, a looming deadline that I can’t push back. I have work I need to finish, so I feel as if I need to get as much done as possible before I go into the hospital.

I won’t be able to work out for months. I’ve finally started doing yoga at home and a 20-minute Jillian Michaels workout. (I’m up to level two on the 30-Day Shred!) After six months of working out sporadically and about two months of barely working out at all, I’m finally getting stronger. I’ve even returned to a few kickboxing and TRX classes here and there.

But, of course, I’m going to have to take a long break again. So I also feel as if I should be working out more. Sometimes, I’ll sneak in some yoga, but I’ve usually been doing just the 20 minutes—and even that’s been hard to work in. Where does my time go?

I also feel as if I should be out having fun, though all this snow and cold makes me want to stay in and hibernate. And when I am out, what constitutes enough fun when the next few months are going to be no fun at all? There isn’t enough fun to be had. Am I failing at fun?

I picture this elusive fun as something like Mötley Crüe’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” video (though I’m not particularly comfortable with strippers or motorcycles) and Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” (filmed not far from where I live, in much warmer weather, years ago). I should be carelessly frolicking or maybe doing something debauched right now. Instead I am inside, blogging, after working all day and doing my 20-minute workout.

There’s a perverse part of me that wants to see what I can get away with before my hospital stays. Sometimes, it’s all-or-nothing with me. When the radiology oncologist told me that I’d have to eat heart-healthy for the rest of my life, I wondered, “Should I just eat a bunch of double bacon cheeseburgers until then?”

I should be dining like a medieval king, eating giant turkey legs, swilling mead and making jesters entertain me. Tonight, I have veggie chili, tea and the cats—oh, and Homeland, which I’m catching up on. I should be living like Marie Antoinette in that Sofia Coppola movie, before the beheading. Mile End deli is having a poutine week, so I might indulge in that at some point.

I feel all this pressure to work, workout and have fun before the unknown fatigue and nausea of the next few months. Aside from that, another main factor, according to the doctors and nurses, is boredom. Apparently, I’m better than I thought at hiding my lazy streak. Everyone seems to be underestimating how good I can be at doing nothing.

I’m glad that all the hard work I’ve put into appearing hard-working is working. People assume that doing nothing will bother me. I know that, since I say I’m stressed out about having fun, it doesn’t seem like I’m capable of relaxing, but that really is my natural state.

I achieve a delicate balance of hard work and utter laziness. A few weeks ago, I worked from 9 am to midnight, with the exception of a radiology appointment. (Even at the appointment, before seeing the doctor, I had my laptop out, working on a last-minute assignment.) And I did my quick 20-minute DVD, which is essentially working out really hard so you don’t have to work out as long. Later that evening, my idea of good planning was wearing a navy T-shirt because we were having pasta, and I thought there was a good chance I’d drop some on myself. So on one hand, I got a lot done, but on the other, I’m too lazy to properly feed myself.

Last week I achieved my main sloth goal, which was to not leave the apartment during the deep freeze. I also managed to see some friends who I haven’t seen during my hibernation. One of them lives just a few blocks from me and when I finally emerged from near hermitage to go to chemo on Friday, she lured me over with cookies.

That’s about as crazy as it gets around here, before my months of being somewhat of a shut-in begins. I’ll be enjoying time with my boyfriend, friends and cats (sadly banned from hospital visits) before my time of rest and recovery. However, two friends gave me a cat totem to take with me in lieu of my cats, and my boyfriend’s mom made me a blanket with a cat pattern, so I can be properly identified as a cat lady in the hospital.

This week, however, you will probably not see me cruise by on a motorcycle or dancing on rooftops or throwing bananas at cops—at least not if this snow prediction is accurate.  I’ll have to save that for after the transplant.

I’m extremely late to the party on this. Most days, I’ve been working from about 9 am to 9 pm, and by the time I’m done, I can’t look at a computer screen anymore.

But I still think about the weeks-old controversy surrounding the Emma Keller column in The Guardian, in which she asks: “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?” It’s a opinion piece about Lisa Boncheck Adams’ Twitter account, in which she tweets about dealing with stage 4 breast cancer.

I didn’t get a chance to read the post before it was taken down, but according to snippets I’ve seen on the Internet, it wasn’t the questions about the morbid curiosity that got people upset — it was Keller’s diagnosing of Adams with a case of TMI. In response to the backlash, Emma Keller’s husband, Bill Keller, also responded with his own column in The New York Times.

The whole thing seems to be fraught with misunderstandings and misinterpretations of other people’s words and intentions. It played out in major convention and social media outlets, but I’m sure people with opinions like the Kellers whisper similar criticisms to friends about cancer patients’ choices on how much they divulge. Since I didn’t read Emma Keller’s piece, I can’t respond much to that, but this got me thinking about cancer blogging.

What I took away from this recent controversy is something that everyone already knows: Everybody deals with cancer differently. And most people have opinions on the way you should deal with it or they way her or she would deal with it. I’m not sure there’s a wrong way to cope. Well, I guess Walter White probably could have handled things better in Breaking Bad. I hope we can all learn from his mistakes and have disassembled our meth labs.

Also, you shouldn’t piss a bunch of people with cancer off. And it’s fine to offer advice, but leave self-righteousness at the door.

At some point, you get tired of absolutely everything to do with cancer, including being told what to do. I almost had a meltdown this weekend after a museum employee told me that my bag was too big to carry through. She did it nicely, but I’d spent the whole time there trying not to get reprimanded, because it seemed like everyone was getting in trouble for something. I almost burst into tears, and when my boyfriend asked me what was wrong, I said, “I’m so tired of people telling me what to do.” (Yeah, I had a rough couple days there.)

Today, I think TMI depends on what you want to know. Twitter is, by nature, full of TMI. Lunch photos. Tweets from companies trying to get you to buy their products. Selfies of so many duck faces. Politicians’ private parts.

My own Twitter is mainly promotions of sites I’ve been working on (check out the article I wrote about fitness/bands/healthy eating/insurance/travel, etc.), followed by cat photos (Facebook is my cats’ main social medium). There are also tweets of inside jokes to two of my former cubicle neighbors, one of whom isn’t on Facebook. And the last category is angry tweets. (The fancy dress I bought on sale is poorly made! This venue is overbooked! Fandango ruined Christmas!)

It doesn’t reflect this blog or even retweet anything from my Pain in the Neck Twitter account. My mom discovered my Twitter feed, linked to a story that I wrote, and she asked me if I was writing about having cancer. So, like a teenager whose diary had been discovered, I just denied everything. She might be reading this right now for all I know.

She doesn’t think I should tell anyone about having cancer. She’s in the cancer-should-be-kept-to-yourself camp. My family wasn’t big on talking about stuff like this. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing; it’s just how we are. In fact, I don’t really talk about cancer much in person. That’s why it’s nice to have a blog.

I’m an introvert. Just borderline, if you believe the Briggs-Meyers test; it’s as if I want to be an extrovert, but I can never shake my introvert ways. I stay in one place at a party and wait for people to come to me, often in a nice cocoon of people I already know. Most often, this position is by the snack table or in a comfy chair, but that’s because I love snacking and sitting.

And lately, at parties, sometimes I’ll talk about cancer, but really only if someone asks. Mostly, it’s just a rundown of what’s going to happen. A lot of people think I’m done with treatment, so I feel bad telling them that the worst part is yet to come. I finish up the Brentuximab trial, followed by a hospital stay for at least 26 days, including inpatient and outpatient radiation and a stem cell transplant. Plus there’s possibly an additional month of treatment with augmented ICE.  The blog has been a nice outlet for me to deal with things and keep people updated.

When people find out that I still have several more months of treatment, they seem apologetic. A lot of them say, “Oh, I didn’t know!” That’s because I haven’t really talked about it much. I mostly keep it to the blog. As someone who personally falls somewhere on the spectrum between the Kellers and Adams as far as information-sharing, I keep my cancer news mostly here, in this public forum that feels strangely private.

I find other people’s cancer blogs informative and helpful. I don’t delve too much into them, mostly because I just don’t want to freak myself out. But I know other people’s stories are there, and if I want to read about their experiences, I can. As one blogger wrote in Gawker in a much more timely response to all this, blogging is therapeutic and cancer is nothing to be ashamed about.

If Emma Keller calls into question people’s morbid curiosity, including her own, we’re all guilty. Who hasn’t found themselves reading someone’s blog for that very reason? Every now and then, I click on something friends with children share on Facebook and find myself reading a parenting blog, fascinated at something I know nothing about that sounds truly terrifying. I’ll read about all the ways you might physically or mentally damage offspring by not strapping them in properly or by not watching them every single second of the day and night or teaching them the wrong thing. Just a little bit of scary reading to sate my curiosity.

But I think Adams’ tweets serve to inspire more people than it might upset. I’m glad to see she’s gotten so much support.

It doesn’t seem like the Kellers are saying you shouldn’t be able to blog or tweet, unless I totally misread Bill Keller’s column. And they have a choice as to whether they read it or not. I would like to not have cancer. You can’t always get what you want.

Last night, I had a dream in which two women were making fun of my haircut and I said, “Hey, I have cancer!” Predictably, only one looked shamed, and the other seemed nonplussed. You’d think my own subconscious would be nicer to me.

But then, in my dream, I headed to a Mexican restaurant for margaritas and appetizers, so perhaps it was a form of apology from my REM sleep cycle. Sorry this lady conjured up was so inconsiderate; have some fried food that doesn’t count because you’re not actually eating it.

Sometimes, though, I do want to go around saying, “Hey, I have cancer! Be nice to me!” Yes, I would like to pull the cancer card to bully and shame people into being nice to me.

But then again, isn’t everybody going through something? Who am I to demand special consideration? Should I be allowed to lash out because things aren’t going the way I planned?

A few months ago, someone shared an article on Facebook titled “Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.” The post was written by a woman whose husband suffered a traumatic brain injury that took six years to recover from, and during that time, she wanted to walk around with a sign telling people to be gentle with her because of what she was going through. She posited that we would treat one another differently if we all wore signs about what we were going through. (Hopefully.)

I do hate pulling the cancer card, so I try not to. Unless it’s because I want a seat on public transit. It’s often because I want to have a temper tantrum. Don’t we all have those days when we want to vent about life’s unfairness to then hypocritically demand special treatment? Maybe it’s just me.

On days like today, I do sink to lows, and something today made me want to throw a fit and let everything out in a flood of tears and angry words. (The type of angry words, by the way, that I think are stuck below my trachea and causing the abnormal PET scans.) So that’s why I’m writing it down here.

Today, someone told me that I wouldn’t be able to get the questions I needed answered for a story because the person was too busy. I was upset because it’s a day after my deadline and I sent the questions more than a week ago. Mostly, however, I was upset because I had cancelled by first post-chemo date with an oyster happy hour to finish this story tonight. Woe to the person who is responsible for coming between me and an icy platter of delicious $1 bivalves after months of separation.

This stuff happens all the time, so my personal reaction to this isn’t warranted. It’s unreasonable to think that this person thinks my time is less valuable. Yet I wanted to announce, “I rushed home after hearing that I might still have cancer and might have to spend three weeks in the hospital to interview the director of this program when I wanted to go home and cry.” I suppose that might have been a good thing, in retrospect, to have something constructive to do instead of wallow in self-pity and fear.  I also wanted to say, “I spent hours working on this, already, and I just need five minutes from you.” But what I really wanted to say was, “I haven’t eaten oysters in months, and tonight was the only chance I had to eat them for $1 each this week, and I might need to have more chemo so my time to enjoy them is limited, and I am holding you personally responsible for this, though it is not your fault.”

But honestly, I don’t know what the person who can’t answer my questions is going through. I do know she’s extremely busy. And, after all, I’m the one with the cancer and the chemo restrictions and the hankering for oysters and the bad mood. While I haven’t actively thought about the disappointing PET scan results and the need for another biopsy, I’m extremely sensitive to the smallest disappointments.

I tried to cling to the positive after the news on Friday. It might not be cancer; it could just be inflammation. Also, I met with the doctor yesterday, and I found out the surgery isn’t very invasive at all and I don’t have to spend the night at the hospital. And it’s after Halloween, so my plans to be Heisenberg will not be foiled.

The surgery takes only an hour, so the chances of a full zombie outbreak while I’m out are very slim. My boyfriend told his dad about my fears, and his dad pragmatically responded, “That probably won’t happen.” For his recent birthday, my boyfriend’s dad got some sort of chainsaw on a stick, though, so that’s easy for him to say, since he has the perfect zombie-killing tool.

Also, I can get back to working out again, and hopefully I can lose the 10 or so pounds I’ve gained while being somewhat sedentary. But the surgery and the possibility of remaining cancer—not to mention some pretty intense-sounding treatments—have me a little down. The thought of heading out for $1 oysters like things were almost normal again made me smile, and so that’s why I was so disappointed today. It’s what they symbolized. I want to slip into a pool of self-pity and think, “Well, it’s not like I have good scan results to celebrate anyway, so I may as well spend the evening writing this.”

Although what’s more normal than having to cancel plans because someone didn’t meet a deadline? I guess that’s not the kind of normalcy I was seeking, but there it is.

I suppose if I had a sign right now, it could be summed up, “I’m sad and feeling sorry for myself and prone to irrational feelings. Please send oysters.”