On Diagnosis

The hardest part about being a writer is figuring out what "it's" gonna be "about."

When you write for a publication they pretty much tell you what "it" is because they know what "it" is their readers want to see. But when you're working on your own piece it's different. Even if you're David Sedaris, you can't write about two young kids falling in love because it's been done before and you can't throw in a curveball like a terminal disease because everyone's read that book on the shelf that already does that. They've seen the movie too.

At this point, then, what does it even mean to be a writer who writes what she knows? Does she have to turn the up the heat to make "it" worth reading? Add in aliens? Add in aliens with terminal diseases?

What's so wrong with reading the same type of book twice anyway?

Better question: what's sooo wrong with writing something that means something to you but isn't "about" anything? Why does there need to be a twist or a lesson or a call to action or a fucking alien with a disease? Why can't it just come from your heart or wherever else it's been brewing when you stare out the window on long public transit rides?

As a writer I've been tasked with this impossible duty to write about my mom's cancer. I've toyed with so many different ways of telling this story, of explaining what it is she's going through, what I'm going through, what my dad is going through. But none of those ways are really "about" anything. None of those ways tell you to go to your nearest mother figure and tell her you love her because time is fleeting and life is full of roadblocks. None of those ways are poetic or beautiful or melodically metaphoric like all my favorite writers make the most morbid things seem. None of those ways are this. But I settled on this.

My mother is what they call a fighter. I've always wondered what that means for people whose parents are Ronda Rousey or the Rock; do they have to carry ID to prove their parents are literally heavyweight champs? Do they get tired of the cliché "he was such a fighter" statements people throw around at their children's second grade softball tournaments? (Maybe they don't, but I sure do.)

Manny Pacquiao willing, I'll just say that my mother is a fighter. She doesn't belong to the UFC or even the WWA, but she comes close. I, on the other hand, inherited close to none of this fight that professionals would sell their first borns for. I cry at even the thought of a body piercing, and my last google search was "are you sure you can't be sedated while getting tattooed?" Present in this type of pain, of course, is the choice to undergo such struggle, for the promise of some aesthetic improvement. Don't let that fool you into assuming that if the pain is medically related I wouldn't be just as much of a wuss. I assure you, I would.

My mother, however, doesn't even entertain such thoughts. She's endured childbirth, a couple eye surgeries, (my entire bratty existence), and soon, she'll tackle chemotherapy and radiation. I have no doubt she'll make it out of this diagnosis with breast cancer with a stronger resolve, a happier mind, and a healthier body. I, on the other hand, am a crumbly mess.

I often think about how people are designated health versus disease. If there really is a God, I guess he knows my mom can handle anything, and that's why he gave this to her. I wish it wasn't true sometimes, though, I wish she was a little weaker so that whatever karmic being decided she could handle it would be forced to reconsider. I constantly flit between being confident in my mother's strength and terrified at the reality of what the c-word means, and what it now means to my family.

I think about the first time I accidentally sliced my finger and the loud yell that startled out of me, the tears and the outpour of blood. I think about how unprepared I was for that moment because my mother was always so calm when her body was put through worse. I think about how my children will one day witness the expression on my mom's face--pain over some accidental injury--and not realize the magnitude of her strength until they experience that same pain themselves. I think about how I hope I'll never have to physically feel the pain she will, but how I'll never truly understand what she's capable of until I do. And then I think about how guilty that makes me feel. Recently, I've been thinking a lot of things.

I do not truly have the words or understanding to convey what any of this means. I don't have a message for you. I'm not trying to teach you any kind of lesson. There is no call to action here. I'm just being honest. This isn't really supposed to relate to you or help you gain insight into my soul, or whatever. It's just the truth. Not every piece of writing serves the same purpose, I'm realizing. Not every piece of writing even has a purpose. But I'm glad to have written this one.

It'd be disingenuous for me to spout all that for the last six paragraphs and leave you with some pithy, perfectly placed one liner, but I'll try anyway.

Love your family (chosen or not), please. Give them the appreciation you might feel too jaded or broken or apathetic or cool to give them. It's worth it to care when nothing's wrong. It's worth it to be available to the people who love you. It's always worth it.