no more books about cancer… please…

A few months ago, a group of we ISE’s decided to start a book club. We like to read. We like to talk. Seemed like a good match.

If we read another book that makes me cry, I’ll jump off my roof. Ok, I won’t. But I swear I’ll quit and go back to reading travel guides and emails exclusively.

Tonight not even bothering to fight back choking sobs and a flood of tears, I finished “My Sister’s Keeper.” It’s a book about a 13 year old girl who files a lawsuit against her parents for medical emancipation: her older sister has a rare form of leukemia and she’s only been conceived in order to donate needed things to her… and now she’s filed a suit for it to stop before they cut her open to take a kidney.

I saw the ending of the book coming a mile away. Didn’t make me cry any less.

It isn’t just about the death that surrounds the book that made me cry so hard. It’s about being a mother. A daughter. A helpless witness. It’s about watching someone die of cancer. It’s about the moment I sat in the belly of Duke Medical Center waiting for my mom to have a cat scan (the memory of the sound of the automated voice on the machine saying “breathe in… hold it… release… “ still gives me chills) and seeing a child whose head was all bandaged up, wandering the halls holding her mommy’s hand on her way to the next appointment or treatment or bad news or good. Although I felt like there really wasn’t any good news to be doled out within the walls of that hospital. It’s about that feeling when I saw that child that I had to say “better to be here with my mom than with my baby” even though that’s a choice no one should ever have to make. And it’s a thought I’ve never stopped feeling guilty about. It wasn’t that I wanted my mom to die. It was that it was the hardest thing I’d ever gone through and the idea of going through it with Kaitlyn was crushing… I was sure it would be a test I wouldn’t survive. It’s about that feeling while you’re watching a person you love more than you can express dying of cancer… and feeling like you’re the only person in the world who’s ever been there. Even though you’re sitting in a waiting room overflowing with people all in the same position. Because in some weird way, each of us who loses someone that way is the only person who’s ever gone through it. Because no one else in the world has experienced your relationship… your laughter… your tears…. your denial… not exactly. And yet there’s still this unspoken bond when you find out someone you know also lost someone… also went to countless appointments… watched pain that cannot be measured on some stupid scale…. listened as people struggled to figure out what to say… and got mad when they said “oh, I’m so sorry,” like it death was the certain end to the story even though you hadn’t gotten to it yet. Even though it was. Even though when they said it you had to know deep inside that was where it was all heading but you were yet to admit that to anyone, let alone yourself.

The book was about the choices we make or want to make. About the uncertainty that surrounds us… always. No matter what we do. How hard we try.

I was telling a friend on the phone today that the hardest part of this ISE assignment is the uncertainty. The idea that we don’t know exactly how long we’re here. Or where we’ll go next. Or, shit, what will happen in between. And after. But that’s the thing. We never know. Sometimes we get to pretend we know. But we never really do.

One Response to “no more books about cancer… please…”

  1. D.A.D. says:

    This is a simply say I read your thoughts and absorbed. As we face our everyday situations and frustrations, those which you describe take such an overwhelming leap beyond that we can only thank God for not facing it again, we hope.

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