Tag Archives: cancer

Better Luck Next Year is officially for sale!

1 Aug

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The writer Joanna C Valente said that “A trauma is a funeral for one; there is no one to mourn you but yourself. The coffin is empty, since you are still alive, but you must fill it with something, and that becomes your former self.”

Or it becomes a book of poems.

BLNY

Better Luck Next Year is officially out and about and available to buy.

And the City Paper wrote a nice review about it saying:

Malinenko’s witty, conversational tone keeps Better Luck from veering into weepy sentimentality. When her speaker describes the sonogram of her tumor, it’s “[l]ike the red spot on Jupiter / a hurricane the size of a planet / here now / inside me” — a brilliant use of simile. When she writes of this news sinking in, “I whisper. Fuck. / The smallest hurricane of a word I know,” it’s powerfully restrained.

The reading last weekend went well. I think. I was pretty nervous and anyone who was there can attest to my incessant shaking. I’ve read poetry plenty of times but never anything as personal or as hard as this. I think I underestimated how hard it was actually going to be. I nearly lost it reading the last poem – the title track Better Luck Next Year – specifically on these lines:

 

and I took the ribbon pin off my bag

because I am not a warrior

or a survivor

but just a young women trying to live with a disease

Specifically the word warrior. The language that we use to talk about a situation – any situation – reshapes it. It frames people’s experiences. The warrior myth – and it is a myth – turns individuals into an amorphous mass stripping them of their unique experience. If you have “winners” then you, in turn have “losers.” As many obituaries read, people “lose their brave battle.” As if I could will myself into better health. As if it were just up to me. That is without a doubt the most dangerous form of magical thinking I can imagine. And it is an aspect of this experience that I feel most strongly about which is why that little word carried so much power.

In the end, I’m sorry I had to write it – that I ever had a reason to write it – but I’m so glad it exists.

So thanks to Kris and Nathan for all their hard work in turning this into a real live book. And if you do get it and read it and have a second to post your thoughts on Amazon or Goodreads, I would be eternally grateful.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

 

 

 

Better Luck Next Year: or How I Learned To Talk About My Boobs

20 Jul

BLNY

So in just three days Better Luck Next Year will be out in the world.

As I’ve said before I’m really excited for you guys to meet this book. We’re having a little reading party with Jason Irwin, author of A Blister of Stars and John Grochalski whose new book Wine Clerk is now out. It’s this Saturday in Pittsburgh at the East End Book Exchange at 7pm. If you can make it, very cool.

We’ll talk about my BOOBS. It’ll be fun.

I want to thank Rege at Tribune Review for taking the time to talk to me about the book. You can read that interview here and if you like what you hear check out Littsburgh.

They asked me “What do you hope readers take away from Better Luck Next Year?”

And I said:

“I think the reason anyone writes anything, or reads anything for that matter, is to connect with another person. To put something into the universe that a stranger picks up and says, ‘Yes, I know that! That’s me!’ To cultivate empathy – something we could all use a little more of. Cancer is an incredibly universal disease. You can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who has been affected. But it is also exceedingly isolating. There is a clear demarcation between the life you used to have and the life after diagnosis and it bleeds into nearly every aspect of your existence. So what I tried to do is speak to that as honestly as I could. It was an attempt to dismantle the ‘warrior myth’ and fetizishing of breast cancer. When you scrape away all the ribbons and charity walks you’re left with some very harsh realities. So if there’s anything I hope that people get out of it it would be the ability to speak more honestly about our shared fears and hopes. To speak as honestly as we can about mortality – our own and that of those we love.”

There’s also a few samples of the poems that you’ll find in the book!

And they did a nice spotlight on Jason’s A Blister of Stars and on Low Ghost in general which is an incredible press that I’m so proud to be on.

Or you can listen to what Karina Bush said (a poet that I don’t know, I swear):

“I am impressed by Ally Malinenko, her poems about her experience with cancer are excellent. I think she has a book coming out soon.”

I do! In three days!

(Also that was sent to me by the guy who published her book and did some broadsides for me so I wasn’t like…googling myself, I swear).

This has been a long week. I had back to back appointments, one of which was treatment. While I was there something…happened.

I was bullshitting with my oncologist as he checked my lymph nodes, he got a phone call about another patient. Her numbers were bad. There was discussion about changing her meds. He told the nurse that he needs to see her and to make sure she gets an appointment by tomorrow and that she can’t start the other medication until she comes in. After he got off the phone there was a beat and I could see how distracted he was by this news. Then he just started chatting with me again.

Me, one of his “healthy” ones.

And I realized that in this ugly twisted fabric of terrible luck, there are pockets of good luck and I am in one of those pockets. And I am so thankful.

And then today, my mammo came back clear. And I’m good for six more months.

So I bought myself some starbursts

starburst

I love you guys.

Peace, love and Starbursts,

Ally

 

 

 

Books are Coming! Books are Here! Books Books Books!

14 Jul

Howdy from the hot garbage smell that is Brooklyn in the summertime!

Yummy!

So real quick, couple of thank yous before we get to the nitty gritty on the books, books, books.

First off thanks to Anti-Heroin Chic for taking these three poems and to Your One Phone Call for this one. Speaking of poetry, I was incredibly sad to find out that Dead Snakes is no longer. It was a great site for writers and readers and Stephen was a tireless champion of all of our work. I can’t thank him enough for all the poems that he’s given a home to and for all the writers he’s introduced me to. I hope the archive stays up.

So books!

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Next Saturday the 23rd is the official book birthday for Better Luck Next Year. I am super excited for this book to be out in the world, not only because of the subject matter (stupid cancer) but because I think that the folks at Low Ghost helped to put together a really solid book out of the hot mess manuscript I sent them. In the meantime you can add it to your Goodreads To Be Read Pile (should be so inclined).

And if you’re on the fence, here’s what the (amazing) James Duncan of Hobo Camp had to say about it:

Malinenko is so simply eloquent and true that she makes the most personal of her trials too universal to resist, makes those midnight terrors so real you can feel your throat clenching as you pass from one stanza to stanza. I wept as I read her suffering the endless runaround as she searched for medical help, as she picked apart her life for the mistakes she might have made that brought this cancer to her body, as she searched her familial history for tell-tale signs too late to help, as she discussed buying a pizza with her husband on the way home from the hospital because that’s what a human being with or without cancer does when they have to keep on living, right? It is cliché maybe, but I’ll say it: I cried when I read her poetry, because it’s good and real and true and it hit home.

You can read the whole things here!

 

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If you’re in Pittsburgh please do come by the East End Book Exchange at 7:00 pm on Saturday July 23rd for some beers and some poetry and some stories about my boobs, and some possible rants about the “warrior myth.” It’ll be fun. Come.

Also! It’s the release of Jason Irwin’s A Blister of Stars which is a beautiful poetry book – and I’m so glad we’re paired together as it also deals with illness and physicality – and John Grochalski’s Wine Clerk. If you read his first book, The Librarian, then you know what an amazing character Rand Wyndam is and how funny John’s books are. Also, come on, this cover is sweet!

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Some things people have said:

John Grochalski’s is a line that extends back to Steinbeck and Sinclair and up through Fante and Bukowski. Wine Clerk is another brilliant evocation of how miserable the world can be and how surviving with a drink in a dive bar is our only shot at victory.

-Dave Newman, author of Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children

You can preorder now!

 

Next up Epic Rite is including my chapbookI’ll Be So Still You Won’t Even Notice Me – in the Punk Chapbook Season Two. Basically for a paltry $40 you get 12 books of poetry. This is a good deal folks. You can pre-order that one too from the link above!

And finally I got this:

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It was made by the crazy talented Janne Karlsson from Sweden. Now I know how comic book writers feel. Drawings making words better. I’m completely overwhelmed with how cool this is. He also illustrated a poem of mine which will be out later this year.

So that’s about it. Again, if you’re in Pittsburgh please swing by for the book launch.

Peace love and starbursts,

Ally

 

 

Better Luck Next Year

10 Jun

Cancer is a rare and still scandalous subject for poetry;
and it seems unimaginable to aestheticize the disease.
-Susan Sontag from Illness as Metaphor

 

BLNY

Cancer poems, meet the whole world. Whole world, meet the cancer poems.

Low Ghost Press. Out July 23rd.

It’s a limited edition 100 copy run.

I’m eternally grateful to Kris Collins at Low Ghost Press for turning the hot mess manuscript I gave him into an actual book and to Nathan, for copy editing this thing like a champ.

And to all the presses that published these poems beforehand – 48th Street Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, Beechwood Review, The Blue Hour, Carcinogenic Poetry, Clockwise Cat, The Commonline Journal, Dead Snakes, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Drunk Monkeys, Exercise Bowler, Eye on Life Magazine, Hobo Camp Review, Homestead Review, Horror Sleaze and Trash, Kind of a Hurricane Press, Mad Swirl, Mas Tequila Review, Misfit Magazine, Pine Hills Review, Pyrokinection, Red Fez, Revolution John, Verse Virtual, Yellow Chair Review, and Your One Phone Call – thank you.

Thank you for giving me a space to scream and cry and laugh. I’m eternally grateful.

You all helped keep me alive through this.

And while I’m saying thanks, thanks to In Between Hangovers for taking The Bridge That Doesn’t Go To Manhattan and Cancer Math and also thanks to Drunk in Midnight Choir for taking these three poems. Also thanks to CommonLine Journal for Radiation Day 17 and Red Fez for My First Visit to the Apple Store: April 2016

BETTER LUCK NEXT YEAR is, thus far, the most honest and personal writing I have ever undertaken. I’m glad it is going to exist in the world. It is literally the lemonade from the lemons.

If you’re in Pittsburgh on July 23rd we’re doing a reading at the East End Book Exchange. Come on out. I promise not to be depressing. I mean honestly how bad could it be. I’m gonna spend some time talking about my tits!!

Oh and I’ll have a bunch of broadsides from Chris at 48th Street Press to give away.

Like this:

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Give the title track a spin. (originally published in Red Fez)

Better Luck Next Year

I’m not even sure why I kept it so long

this pewter pink ribbon pin

that was given to me during radiation treatment,

 

that first day when the nurse walked up and said

I have something for your collection

nodding at all the pins on my bag

and placed in my hand a little pink ribbon

a symbol

 

a mark

 

and I took it with quivering fingertips

there in my hospital gown

waiting to be burned

 

because I didn’t know what else to do.

I put it on my bag with the others

and there it stayed

through all of treatment

 

through the tears

and the panic

the sick dizzy feeling

in the middle of the night when I got up to pee

the one that told me

 

You’re going to die. Sooner. Painfully.

It stayed there through the injections

and the long hours spent in the waiting room.

 

It stayed there through telling my parents

and my friends and the depression

and the anger that crashed against me like a tidal wave.

 

It stayed there until

yesterday

when I looked down at it

and realized

I don’t want a symbol

and I don’t want to be a warrior.

 

I thought of all the young women that came before me

the ones that died

and the ones that lived

and all the others out

there right now blossoming

this burden in their holy bodies.

 

I thought of all of things people told me

when I told them about this hurricane of a tumor in me

 

and it was yours that came back to me:

 

Better luck next year, I guess.

 

You said it not insincerely

but with the exacting honesty

of the unchangeable

unfairness of this life

 

and I took the ribbon pin off my bag

because I am not a warrior

or a survivor

but just a young women trying to live with a disease

and I hurled it over the

wrought iron of the cemetery fence

and I kept walking

not caring to see which grave it landed at

 

knowing that at least

it wasn’t mine.

And finally, today, June 10th, is Cancerversary Year 2.

This girl’s still alive.

Suck it, cancer.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

Where the Fuck Did May Go?*

24 May

*Yes it’s a David Bowie reference. Yes, I’m still upset. Leave me alone.

We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavoring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination. – Tchaikovsky

 

So wow….I seemed to have lost a month. During the beginning of which I turned 39 (!!) and by the end of which, today, my husband reached over and plucked a white hair out of the top of my head.

I’m not even kidding. It was WHITE. I’m officially old.

So in between now and then I have a few people to thank, list-style

In other writing news, I’ve been working with Six Gallery Press and Low Ghost Press on edits to Better Luck Next Year which should be out end of July. In case you don’t know it’s the poetry book that’s all about the cancer escapade. I won’t say journey cause I hate that term. Anyway, I gave Kris at Low Ghost a giant hot emotional mess and out of that he has helped to carve a really honest and raw look at what 2014-2015 was like from the days before diagnosis to the end of treatment.

Caveat: So I’m just going to put this here because a number of people have asked me about treatment lately, specifically Am I done? and if not When will I be? That’s a hard question to answer, even as I come barreling towards Cancerversary #2.  I’m not going to be “done” for a few more years. I’ll be on tamoxifen for at least three more years unless it causes potentially dangerous side effects. I’m still going to be getting injections of ovarian suppressants (Zoladex) for another year and a half. But what I do each month is not at all like what people typically think of when they say “treatment” which is chemo. So I guess the answer is yes-ish but also no-ish.

/end caveat

I’m really excited for Better Luck Next Year. I think it contains some of my best writing – and if not then it’s definitely got the rawest and most honest stuff I have done. I promise it’s not to terribly “woe is me” or too terribly depressing.

In other writing news, I’ve been doing a lot of hand wringing lately over Palimpsest (the massive nightmare that is the sci-fi book.) I’ve been querying agents and I’ve had some very promising leads and bites and interest but nothing that has panned out into an offer. Which is fine, these things take time. That said, at the beginning of the month I had a really interesting conversation with an agent who made some suggestions that would require a big revision.

Big.

And I have been heming and hawing about it for a month now, whinning to friends and beta readers if I should go through with it and “one person’s opinion” and “am I willing to do the work” and whine whine whine.

Ultimately the problem is the end. Endings are HARD. And then a friend shared this list of suggestions from Billy Wilder to Cameron Crowe:

  1. The audience is fickle. Grab ’em by the throat and don’t let ‘em go.
  2. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  3. Know where you’re going.
  4. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  5. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.*
  6. Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you for it.
  7. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees; add to what they are seeing.
  8. The event that occurs at the second-act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  9. The third act must build, build, build in tempo until the last event, and then …
  10. … that’s it. Don’t hang around.

 

* emphasis mine

My friend wrote a whole post about it here which is great and you should read it. It was number five from this list that hit home for me.

And I think I found the problem in the first act. So the only question is should I cut my loses, scrap this to “one person’s opinion” and move on?

Or am I able to do the heavy lifting – the WORK – that will be turning this book around? Am I willing to put my other stuff on hold to go back into the trenches with Palimpsest again?

Oh who am I kidding?

My alarm is already set for 5 am. There is no spoon.

Wish me luck.

 

 

 

 

 

The Stars Look Very Different Today

12 Jan

 

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
 - Mary Oliver

 

I needed something else to think about.

It was as complicated and as simple as that.

I had always been a fan. In fact there was a period of time when Hours was on constant play in my home. But in June of 2014, after I was diagnosed at 37 with cancer I needed something else to think about.

That something became David Bowie.

I listened to him and only him constantly. I analyzed his lyrics. I filled in the gaps of my record collection. For a period of time the only thing that stopped me from worrying about a premature death was David Bowie.

I had three surgeries that summer. I wore my David Bowie t-shirt to all of them. It sounds stupid but I needed him. I needed a little bit of stardust and magic.

He was the only one, even now, that has truly and completely transcended the chasm that my diagnosis ripped through my life. Every other musician feels….tainted. I can’t listen to their music because it belongs to that other life. In the same way that when I look at photos of myself right before diagnosis, I think “that girl, right there, has cancer and doesn’t know it yet.”

Bruce. Bob. Ryan. Everything felt like it was tethered to a life I was, in a very real way, no longer living. Except Bowie. Bowie, like the starman he was, found a way to bridge the gap, to pull me over, to help to slowly stitch up that rip.

(Coincidentally my husband experienced the same thing with music and also found someone to carry into this new strange life. His was Neil Young.)

I am in no way exaggerating when I say that David Bowie’s music saved my life.

And now here we are. And David Bowie has died.

It seemed impossible, even as my husband, as gently as he could broke the news to me.

I spent close to an hour in a state of absolute shock and then, when that finally wore off, crying.

I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art because I thought that maybe I could fill this star-sized hole inside of me.

David Bowie died.

How was that even possible?

He lived for 18 months with terminal liver cancer. He kept it a secret.

He would have been diagnosed around the same time as me. Spring/Summer 2014.

For awhile I kept my cancer a secret too.

In the last year of his life, he worked, just like he did in all the other years. Because the work mattered. Because he crafted a giant net in which all us freaks could be together. Could find each other. Could love.

There was a piece in the New York Times last weekend about how you should live every year like it’s your last. This is unabashedly how I try to live. Even before the diagnosis. I recognized how incredibly unlikely it is that we should even exist. Every single one of us is a product of everything going exactly right. Miraculously right. The fact that the right sperm and egg got together. The fact that your parents even met. That their parents before them met. Every perfect necessary  moment stretching back through all of time.The slim chance that we all somehow managed to survive.

To be here. Now.

To have been lucky enough to have lived in the world at the same time as an artist like David Bowie. To be inspired. Delighted. Moved and,  yes, saved.

Saved.

So thank you, David Bowie. From the deepest bottom of my very broken heart.

Remember friends, you only have so much time. Don’t waste it.

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Pink is a Color Not a Cure

30 Sep

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It’s that time again.

Welcome to Pinktober where every dime you spend will go towards breast cancer research. Yeah! Huzzah! Excitement!

Except maybe it doesn’t.

You guys know that I love you all. And when you email me, as some of you have, and tell me that you’re doing X Y or Z for my behalf I am honored and flattered and humbled and showered in love and feeling ALL THE FEELINGS!

So that’s why I want YOU to put your money into something that will actually help women like me. Not all charities are build the same. So let’s take a look at some of the problem ones and some of the good ones, okay? That way we can make informed decisions.

Let’s all think before we pink.

  1. Young Survivors Collation

I love YSC. The Young Survivors Collation is specifically for women under the age of 40 who were diagnosed with breast cancer. After my diagnosis I leaned on them a lot. It mattered that I had women that I could talk to – share stories with – share fear and laughter with. Supporting YSC is a great thing. No it doesn’t go towards physical health or research but it goes toward MENTAL health which is super important.

That said…..and I’m doing this in full disclosure. Revlon is sponsoring this fundraiser and according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep site, Revlon doesn’t have the best track record in terms of making products that don’t contribute to diseases. They are low for cancer but higher for immunotoxology. So this is your call.

2. Susan G. Komen

Ugh. Where do I start. Susan G. Komen has had its share of bad press – bullying other charities and for partnering with unhealthy business. Businesses like KFC (who serve hormone infused deep-fried animal protein which I promise you was not on the list of things my oncologist suggested I eat) and Baker Hughes (a leading drill bit company for fracking materials. Yes, fracking. The process that “injects possible and known carcinogens, including benzene, formaldehyde, and sulfuric acid, into the ground and surrounding environment.”)

But Ally, you say, business is business. Isn’t it more important that the money I donate to Susan G. Komen goes towards research? Yes. It is. Unfortunately 80% of the money they raise goes toward advocacy – towards spreading their message (what they call program expenses). So basically they raise money to keep talking about breast cancer. Last time I checked, with a 1 in 8 diagnosis statistics, women are pretty much well aware that breast cancer exists. What they weren’t getting was a cure – the thing Komen claimed to be working towards (though less than 5% of donations go towards research.) The thing they sued to have naming rights for.

3. Avon Walk to End Breast Cancer

Back in 2001, when my mother was diagnosed, my sisters and I did this walk. It felt good. I had hoped I was making a difference. I was wrong. Amy Lubitow and Mia Davis summed it up nicely here:

One of the most poignant instances of pinkwashing is the cosmetics giant Avon. The company launched the ‘‘Kiss Goodbye to Breast Cancer’’ campaign in 2001 with a fundraising lipstick in six shades (Courageous Spirit, Crusade Pink, Faithful Heart, Inspirational Life, Strength, and Triumph). Those lipsticks may have contained ingredients that disrupt hormone functions (which is in turn linked to breast cancer). The use of hormone disruptors is not uncommon in the cosmetics industry, and is not currently prohibited by U.S. law. Avon is one of the most recognizable corporate entities participating in the breast cancer awareness industry and according to the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC), more than 250 of Avon’s products listed in a database assessing the health risks of cosmetic products are listed in the ‘‘highest concern’’ category due to the presence of hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, and possible carcinogens. Avon and many other companies fall back on the claim that ‘‘it’s just a little bit’’ of carcinogen or hormone disruptor in a given product, despite the fact that we are all exposed to more than one product and to thousands of chemicals daily, and that low doses of these chemicals are very concerning.

Read the entire amazing paper here.

Just a little bit of carcinogen? Great. Cause I got just a little bit of cancer.

Pinkwashing is very real. It’s what Barbara Ehrenreich referred to as “bright-siding” – our culture’s obsession with positivity even during hardships. It’s the warrior attitude. And it’s pushed on cancer patients nonstop.

Story: When I was first seeing oncologists one in particular really pushed for me to get ACT (a very aggressive form of chemotherapy whose side effects include heart toxicity and leukemia). Lobular cancer, unlike ductal, doesn’t respond as well to chemotherapy. When I challenged this doctor he said  “You’re young. You can take it.” (here’s the poem I wrote about it). Basically he was saying, “You’re a warrior now Ally. Act like it”

I reject that.

I know that it is absolutely terrifying to sit next to a loved one who has been plagued with this terrible disease. I have done it with my own family. I have watched the havoc it has cause for my husband. But knee jerk donations to events that only perpetuate more events helps no one.

Pink ribbons don’t do shit. And Pinkwashing just wipes out whatever conversation we could be having about disease causation and treatment. It stops us from really learning how to end this. Buying a ribbon or a pink t-shirt or walking around Manhattan isn’t going to save the next person.

But research and science can.

I’m not saying don’t donate. I’m just saying donate towards something that IS searching for a cure though immunotheraphy (therapy that drive the body to recognize that cancer is there and problematic) and towards metastatic cancer. Only 5% of funding dollars goes towards trying to cure metastatic cancer. But it is the direct cause of 90% of all cancer deaths. You know what that means? If your cancer spreads from it’s primary location – like from the breast to the ribs – there’s nothing to be done other than management. Very few people live longer than 5 years with metastatic cancer.

There is so much work to be done – work that IS being done – and work that needs to be funded. So please instead of collecting ribbons, just give to science. Point being just don’t buy things full of cancer causing agents cause they’ve got a ribbon on it. They’re just looking for your money.

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And finally if you want to know where I’m donating, it’s here. I think they have a real chance: The Breast Cancer Deadline.

2020 is our year. I know it.

I love you all. Have a wonderful beautiful October.

Peace love and starbursts

Ally

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