Day 42- Cancer and Inspirational Pessimism

Today I want to talk to you about cancer.

Yeah. I know, you can’t think of anything more uplifting that you’d like to read about.

However, the dirty “c” word takes up a great amount of thought for me, and also a lot of time. Occasionally on this blog I have mentioned days where I “have my grandma” which means of course, that I am her lackey for about 12 hours once or twice a week since my family takes turns taking care of her while my grandfather runs his music shop.


Now my Mema, who is rainbow of warmth, sunshine, cookie making and my-full-name-using-when-I’m-in-trouble, lady of goldenness; has been enduring Central Nervous System Lymphoma for the past year. Mema, who is now rounding up her 70’s, is probably the best person I know and also a surrogate mother figure to me. This has made the whole cancer thing feel like really shitty luck.


At the first part of her sickness it was rather shocking to see how quickly cancer degenerates the body and mind. It wasn’t until she agreed to change her diet and implement both alternative and chemotherapy treatments that we began to see improvement.


And yes, for now things look better. Much of her lymphoma has resolved and her chemo treatments are more spaced out than they have been.

I’m still living in this shadow terror though.


In December of 2010 my other grandma, full of sass and less inclination towards baking cookies than myself, was a person of  colorful language and  plenty of advice of how things should be. She was the unconventional grandma in all the most irritating and wonderful ways, but if you wanted to have a conversation about the true nature of things, then she was certainly the person to do it with. When I write about her, I really feel like I am doing her a disservice. There are so many things I will never get to know about her because in February of 2011, she died from cancer she had only been diagnosed with in January of that same year.

When I think back on it, I am resolutely horrified about how quickly cancer took her. Obviously, she probably had it much longer than we knew, but it was never detected. I was also in Germany when my family found out. I flew home with emergency, leaving my exams behind- only to make it for the last few hours of her life. 6 or so hours after I was reunited with her, she died. She was not conscious for it, and the feeling of her skin on her hand as I said hello and goodbye, was so morbid to me I still flinch from the sensory memory of it.


When my living grandma, Mema was then diagnosed with CNS lymphoma in 2012, it pretty much felt like the end of the world to me. It’s not so much death itself, but the degeneration that is the most terrifying and angering part of cancer. All my life, my grandma has served her friends and family with all the love, compassion, or tender to boot to the hiney that they have required. My mom, who is also unconventional like her mother, never particularly liked “mom” stuff. (It also didn’t help that we are the two of the most head strong people and we could never compromise when together during my formative years.) So when my parents divorced, my grandmother took over a big chunk of “mom” duties. (I’d like to clarify that just because a gender is typically ascribed these “mom” duties, does not mean that they are required to fulfill them!)

Anyway, Mema drove me to school and doctor’s appointments; made me down buckets of chicken noodle soup and airborne during sickness; took me to my various sports, theatre and music activities; helped me with projects; bought me school supplies and school clothes; packed me lunches and for a year during a high school I lived with her and my grandfather. She taught me how to file and pay bills; took me to get my passport; and bought me my first set of luggage on my 18th birthday. Every day after school I would walk to my grandfather’s music store and we would sit upstairs eating bean burritos from the Mexican restaurant next door, talking about my life and all the big plans I had for it.


Why is there a universe that allows me to watch all the things that she is, physically deteriorate?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The rain falls on the wicked and righteous alike.

But when I talk about the shadow of terror, I am thinking about all her, her person of grace and wisdom and joy being mutilated til all that is left is a bloated hand that sags at the touch and doesn’t resume its shape from my hold.


I try not to think about it, especially since she’s doing better. It’s just that being involved with her various doctors appointments and her personal care has made me even more aware of the things I missed about my other grandma’s sickness. For her, I only saw how it ended; and I get very bitter when I think about losing both grandma’s to the same pointless disease.


Sometimes like today, I think about how I am so tired, and I’d rather not be responsible for any one besides myself. I get frustrated with how slow Mema moves or that she doesn’t want to do anything. I get frustrated because she is not the full self that she used to be. That’s not really fair though. That’s how stupid cancer and cancer treatment works. It’s not her fault that she’s weak and can’t walk faster; or that she opens an envelope slower than I personally find is a reasonable amount of time for envelope opening. I recognize that serious illness does change people, but she’s still the person who puts her life on hold to listen to my problems.


The other day I told her about how I nearly stopped writing forever because of that one girl I studied abroad with. “That’s stupid,” she said, “to let your whole future be dictated by something someone said to you.”


Even when it’s her turn to be looked after, she is still watchful over the lives of her loved ones. I know I should live off of all the past love and joy she has given me when I feel tired and stressed out and don’t want to make the commute out to be a helper, but when she does feel up to responding to my endless prattling, it makes it a whole lot easier to keep coming back, week after week.


And so, to wrap this up, I want to talk to you about inspirational pessimism.

I know everybody thinks that the optimist is better, and healthier and altogether more wholesome a person to be around, but I’m naturally inclined to think life is a shit pie. I don’t feel like I should have to fight my natural inclinations just to make other people feel more comfortable with me.

My mother once told me I came out of the womb scowling, and that even then, I sensed there was something not right with the world.

But hey, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If you expect shit pie, and get shit pie, you’re like “well I expected shit pie, so I know how to handle this.” It’s not about accepting shit pie, but being ready to deal with it when it eventually comes wafting your way through the karma current. Shit pie is an eventuality for everybody.

So a lot of times when I replay the sensation of my grandmother’s hand and understand the end of life by cancer, I am trying to prepare myself for the worst possible outcome. This might sound like self torture, but I promise you, I really don’t enjoy tormenting myself. Scientifically speaking, if you watch a force giving pain to you, it increases your pain tolerance. (This has to be true, I read it on Similarly, pessimists do the same emotionally.


I never want to be surprised by cancer again, so I’ve built up a wall of images and memories to replay in my mind, just to make sure I never get comfortable. It’s not going to make it hurt any less, but I will know how to dig myself out of it, if cancer wins another round.


In closing I’d just like to say, that if you have ever told me, “positive thoughts make positive things happen,” is pretty much a guarantee that I have at one point, rolled my eyes in exasperation at you.

Whoever coined that phrase can go stuff a bloated zebra up their left nostril. Although, thanks, because now whenever somebody says that to me I know when to immediately stop talking to them.

Has anybody else thought about how annoying someone is who is always on the sunny side? Even my Mema, who is the epitome of golden, prepares for shit pie.

Also, pessimism is just funnier than optimism. If you look at the world like it’s a maze of entrapments and empty calories, I guarantee that you’re going to be filled with morbid mirth about all the scurrying done to prevent eventualities. Plus, complaining takes on a whole new level of commitment. To be a pessimist, means you really feel validation in your bitching, and you can play out your first world problems like only Hamlet could. Sarcasm takes on bright new colors and you seek out new ways to put in scathing, hilarious remarks. Really, anybody can hope things will work out, but a true pessimist will have already been to the dark side and back. And why?

Because it always gets blacker before the dawn- and you might need a motherfucking flashlight for life’s scary stories.


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