Yesterday, I went to a cat party to benefit a cat shelter and entered the cat-themed costume contest. At first, I didn’t expect to even be a contender, because in New York, there’s always at least one to two people who go over the top. (New York is a good place to feel like you’re failing somehow and there’s something more you can be doing, from your career to a costume contest.) As a cat lady, I have a lot of cat-themed items, so I wore my cat print dress that my mom made me, cat earrings, a cat necklace, a paw bracelet, lion shoes and a cat scarf, and I topped off my look with a cat purse and cat ears. Sure enough, three women were dressed in Victorian outfits, carrying lacy parasols and pushing a vintage baby carriage with two cats, who were also dressed up and wearing hats. But there were only five people in the contest and three prizes, so I got my hopes up a little bit to take third place. (An adorable little girl with a cat mask, a cat dress and cat paws was a shoo-in for second.)
When the faux Jackson Galaxy announced the winner for third, I was Michael Keaton putting my acceptance speech back in my pocket at the Oscars when they named the girl in the bouncy cat dress. I can’t control my face, so I hope I didn’t look too disappointed, but I know myself and I hope I never see any footage. Was the mention of my cat underwear too much? Did I not get enough applause? Did I seem catty while sizing up the competition? I’ll never know, especially since I don’t like being onstage or being in the spotlight, so I don’t remember things very well when I have to do something like speak in public. My mind actually blocks things out, so I don’t fully remember interviews or presentations or even sometimes instances when I have to speak to a group of strangers; once these events over, there are blank memory spots and everything’s in soft focus.
After my loss, I thought of my scan tomorrow to see if any neuroendocrine tumors have come back and I did what I often do when I deal with my scanxiety: draw a line between two unrelated things that have no bearing on each other. Since I lost this, does that mean that I’ll also be disappointed in the scan results? Or does this loss mean that I’ll have a good scan?
It doesn’t mean anything, other than I need to invest in a bouncy cat dress or train my cats to sit in a carriage and wear hats if I want to get anywhere in the cutthroat world of catlady competitions. I actually worry that I haven’t been worried enough about the scan, and so I’ll be devastated if the cancer is back. It’s my mind trying to convince me that I have some control when I actually don’t.
Tomorrow I sit in the MRI machine, and then I meet with the doctor a few hours later. Don’t have cancer, I tell my body. Stop it.
In the meantime, I’ve been trying to have fun and ignore my peripheral neuropathy as much as possible. I also decided to extend my time off from freelancing a little bit, so I can have less money but more fun. Freelance work doesn’t actually take up that much time, but it’s always at the back of my mind, like that Peanuts episode where Charlie Brown has to read War and Peace over winter break. (I reference this episode a lot because I feel like this pretty often, but I often get a blank stare, so I feel like I might be the only person who so vividly remembers this Peanuts situation.) Last weekend, after a Nine Inch Nails cycling class, instead of rushing home to do work, I got an ice cream cone wrapped in cotton candy and met with a friend in Central Park. After an early morning workout, instead of trying to get some stuff done on the computer, I had time to take a stroll with a friend to Union Square.
Friends have even commented that it seems like I’m doing a lot of fun things. I am. I’m having fun. I’m going to concerts, taking the ferry to and from work when I can, exploring the city, riding my bike, spending time in the community garden, and even taking some road trips. However, I still feel as if I owe people I’ve seen an apology: Sometimes I’m not always completely present and am preoccupied with the neuropathy. The pain and numbness always seem as if they are in sharp focus, and everything else is a bit blurred.
The neuropathy colors my experiences in strange ways. For instance, sometimes when it’s bad at night, I wear a different T-shirt to bed, because a plain T-shirt seems more appropriate if I have to go to the hospital than some of my goofy old tees (like my big thrift-store Playboy bunny logo shirt, my idea of sexy nightwear).
Every time I make plans, there’s an asterisk or a footnote “*if I feel well enough.” A few weeks ago, we went up the Hudson River valley to Kingston and Hudson, and I felt terrible. A sinus infection had been slowly building, and I was dizzy and my sinsuses felt inflamed and twitchy. I finally went to the doctor for antibiotics the day before we left. The infection seemed to make my neuropathy worse, and I felt so awful, when we met the innkeepers, I felt bad because they seemed nice and I was worried my ghost would haunt their property and I would miss my boyfriend if I were a ghost so far away.
At that point, my head felt so bad, I thought I would need to lay down when we were walking around. My leg felt like it was bent at a weird angle one morning and it took a little while to become unstuck. It feels sometimes like I have Barbie limbs and they will get stuck if I bend or strain them. Once the sinus infection started clearing up, I felt much better. Far from 100 percent, but not terrible. I’m down from five to six gabapentins a day to three to four.
I even worked out eight days in a row, which is huge. Not being able to work out has really bummed me out. I still have to take it pretty easy, but it’s something. I’ve been packing my social calendar while I’m feeling better. I’m always worried my health will be taken away from me. I’ve seen a few neurologists, and they are of the opinion that this will all clear up on its own. I am getting a spinal tap to rule out chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. If it is, then there may be ways they can reverse the damage. If it’s not CIDP, then hopefully it goes away on its own or it’s just something that flares up every now and then and I’ll deal with it. There are treatments in the meantime I can opt for, including Cymbalta.
I hope my MRI is good tomorrow. I hope I learn from all of this. Maybe I am. I just got a call that I won something at the cat party raffle and wondered for only a second if this turn of luck would change my scan results. It doesn’t mean anything, except that I’ll have a great pizza cat shirt by the end of the week.