Tag Archives: cancer

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:

poem002

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.

bowie

Pink is a Color Not a Cure

30 Sep

300px-Pinkwashing_comic

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.

download

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

We Contain Multitudes. With or Without the Little Dudes

31 Aug

First as always – the thanks yous:

Thanks to Your One Phone Call for giving this poem, Universe, a home and to Commonline Journal for accepting this one about waking up in the middle of surgery….cause that was all kinds of “awesome”.

************************************************************************************************************************************************************

gustav-klimt-mother-and-child-80958

Gustav Klimt’s Mother and Child painting

So I read this piece the other day by Amanda Palmer (musician, living statue, author, shit stirrer and soon to be new mother) a response to a fan who was displeased with her (Amanda’s) decision to procreate and it really struck a nerve which, considering I don’t have children, I found sort of odd.

A little background on that whole childless/free thing. My husband and I are both writers who keep full time jobs. That means that in order to get the real work done, we need to make sacrifices. The main sacrifice we have made for the last decade is sleep. We both get up at 4:30 in the morning, five days a week, in order to get some writing done. On the whole it’s been a fair trade. Prior to doing this I barely got anything done. Since then I’ve written 3 novels and 2 books of poetry almost all of which has been accepted for publication or already published. So though I’m dead in the water by 10 pm, I still do it.

That said, we have at different periods in our life both causally and seriously debated having children. I know lots of people that are and have been decidedly in one camp or the other but for me, I feel as though the uncertainty about this choice is how I knew I was taking it seriously.

Like if I was 100% YES KIDS or 100% NO FOOKING WAY then maybe I wasn’t really thinking the whole thing through. There’s good and bad to everything when you put it on the scales.

So we waffled for awhile and then, over time, as our lives changed and we traveled more, we slid down the shoot into the No Thanks Camp.

And then I got cancer.

The first oncologist I saw, rather condescendingly, told me to save my eggs because even if I *think* I don’t want kids, he’s seen loads of women regret that choice and you’re only 37 blah blah blah. Needless to say, this guy isn’t my doctor. Once treatment actually started another doctor posed the same question and when we told him no, we weren’t having kids, he mimed wiping sweat off his brow and said, “Oh good. That makes my job way easier.”

And there it was. Crystalized and sharp, like a knife cut.

The thing that I had always been empowered by, the CHOICE that I had made and subsequently re-made was magically no  longer a choice.

It went from being a thing that I did, to a thing that was done to me.

In case you don’t understand, these are very very different things.

And my feelings about it were a surprise even to me.

I wrote a poem about this exact thing in which I said this:

And right there everything comes together

Needlepoint sharp.

I see the split in the road and it is permanent.

There is a cold hard difference

between setting down something precious

and having it pulled from your hands

still wet with afterbirth.

And in that moment I learned that we contain more multitudes than we even realize.

So when Amanda responded to a fan who proposed that now that she was going to have a kid that she would be incapable of making good art, or art at all, it got me thinking….if this disease hadn’t happened to me, if my husband and I had changed our minds, how we would manage to make art with a child?

I believe in my commitment to writing. Even though it’s hard, I pull myself out of the bed, I stare at that empty screen every morning and try to cobble together some record of what it’s been like to live in this world, in this life. And I believe that if the desire was strong enough, we would have a kid and find a way to make it work. I have no idea how but I believe in us enough to know that we would. It might have been messy and it might have been hard but we would have done it.

Like Amanda says, “Jump and the net shall appear.”

To say that mothers can’t be artists or artists can’t be mothers is to, once again, limit the potential that women have. To tell them that with their one beautiful life, the only one they will ever have, they can only choose to be one thing.

I reject that.

Did anyone send Amanda’s husband a similar letter? I can see it now:

Dear Neil Gaiman,

Now that you’re a father, I guess all the award winning books and stories are going to turn into sentimental schlock because that’s what fathers do, right?

Signed,

A Disappointed Fan

No. Of course not. That sounds ludicrous. Because the American dream, i.e. I Can Be/Have/Do Anything I Want As Long As I Work Hard Enough isn’t applied across the board evenly.

Or maybe it’s because America doesn’t consider art-making “real work.”

The same way it doesn’t consider motherhood to be “real work.”

Every time we limit ourselves to one signifying descriptor, we lose the chance to find something amazing in ourselves, our lives and the people around us.

These terms are just terms. They don’t have to have power. Women have always made art. And they have always been mothers. Men have always made art and they have always been fathers.

And business men

And we have always been sons and daughters.

And leaders and liars.

And thieves and lovers

and kings and queens.

The point is we all contain multitudes with or without the little dudes.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

P.S. – here’s a great list of books that address this whole motherhood and art thing. And this movie!

Zooming Out, The Cleaving, and the Never Ending Universe

24 Jul

We start with gratitude.

Many thanks to Red Fez for publishing Better Luck Next Year and to Misfit Magazine for taking my short poem I Don’t Feel Like a Fighter Today

Without small presses I couldn’t share. Unable to share, I would be trapped.

Mute. And probably rather terrified.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

452b_artistconcept_comparisonwithearth

We found a planet yesterday and since then, it’s pretty much all I have been thinking about.

There’s a game that I play, that I’ve played since I was a kid.

I call it Zooming Out.

It’s a simple game. You picture yourself from above.

Here is Ally, sitting on the stone ledge. You zoom out.

Here is the ledge at the library. You zoom out.

Here is the library on Eastern Parkway. Zoom out.

Here is Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn

Brooklyn on the end of that long island

That long island at the end of the state

NY State in the country

The country on the planet

The planet hanging in space in the solar system

The solar system a mote of dust in the wide sweeping arm of the milky way

and then the milky way, just a cluster of stars and hearts and lives; a little speck in the universe.

Here is the never ending universe.

Zooming out.

I am so small and it is so big.

On my walk home yesterday, the setting sun casting the sky in a perfect perfect vanilla and red swirl, I thought about this new planet. About our planet hanging out there in space, filled with all our noise. Everyone who has ever lived or who will ever live, has lived on this speck of a planet (so said Carl Sagan). And out there all those other planets, alone, maybe inhabited, unable to talk or find another planet to reach.

All of us feeling alone together.

This new earth they found is too far for us to ever reach, spectacularly existing.

I have been thinking about the Cleaving lately. About the separation of mind and body that happened with my cancer diagnosis. About the blame. About how I have raced through the litany of questions. Did I eat the wrong things? Did I drink too much? Did I not exercise enough? Do I just have bad luck? Is it a gene they haven’t found? Am I being punished? Could I have worked harder? Been more careful? More honest? More better?

All the time I heave my heavy heart onto the silver cold scales for weighing and judging. Each month when I go to the doctors for treatment, I am again assessed. Have I lost enough weight? Is my estrogen low enough? Is it enough? Am I doing enough?

And these are all questions to avoid the big question:

Will my cancer come back?

This is my mind. This is not my body.

My body is a different thing. A thing that only gets center stage at times. Like when I run. Because then I am only water, blood, sinew, tissue, bone, good hard strong bone, muscle, jelly organs, cells. A pumping functioning complex machine of a thing.

And this is how it has been since last last June.

My mind OR my body.

Never both. This is the Cleaving.

Except the other day, I was outside and after writing in my journal, I laid down on the stone ledge, music in my ears, a woman’s voice, the strum of guitar and it started to rain. Not a lot. Just a little bit, the kind of rain that feels like little tiny kisses everywhere.

And it happened.

I was IN my body. My mind found my body, like a reunion of sorts. I could feel the air, the rain, I could hear the little singing woman in my ears, I was no longer two things.

I was just Ally again. The two halves lined up like they used to – like they were always meant to do.

It was brief but it happened.

It makes me think that it could happen again.

That my mind and my body – like two planets – will find a way to communicate. To bridge all that empty space in between.

10259931_10203697723985843_5187828237787614918_n

Cancerversary, or How I Became the Real Ally

10 Jun

istock_000016331327_medium

Today’s my cancerversary.

In case it isn’t apparent cancerversary is the anniversary of the day your life was radically changed by a cancer diagnosis. Mine is today. On June 10, 2014 at around 2:00 or so my doctor called. I was at work at the library. I stood in the hall near the bathrooms which was, oddly enough, the most private place I could find where I still got decent reception. And he broke the bad news.

I pretty much said, “Okay” and “thanks.”

He promised to email me my pathology report and he explained that the next step would be finding a surgeon. He suggested I check with my insurance. He gave me a few names to call.

I went downstairs and called my husband.

I don’t know if I said the word cancer or not to him. I might have just said that it came back positive. I don’t actually remember. I know by then I was crying.

An hour later I sat in a meeting at work, listening but not really listening. Talking but not really talking.

Two days later, on my tenth wedding, we met my surgeon. She was nice. She acted like this was no big deal. She used the words small, early and treatable. We liked those words and ate them up like strawberries.

That weekend I met my whole family up in Albany for my nephew’s high school graduation. I told no one. In fact, I kept my cancer a secret for awhile – longer than I had originally planned to.

I’m not a big fan of June 10th. It’s not something I want to celebrate to be honest. My life was sort of cleaved in two on that day and I’m just now, a year later, starting to stitch it back together.

So I suppose I could celebrate another cancerversary. The first surgery? Except then there were two more. The last surgery? But then there was radiation. The last day of radiation? Maybe but I still go for injections every month. It will be years before I hit a point where I only see my oncologist twice a year.

When I was diagnosed lots of people told me that I should appreciate everything now. Suck every last little bit of marrow out of life. And I nodded and agreed but all I could think inside was, but I already do that! I already loved my life. I didn’t need to be shocked into appreciation. I already did! I was a marrow-sucking fool!

But, a year later, here’s something that cancer has given me:

When I was a kid my sister and my friends and I used to play this lava game. Everyone played it so I’m sure you know what I mean. You toss all the couch pillows on the floor and you hop from pillow to pillow and if you touch the “lava” (floor) you die.

I realized recently that my whole life had sort of become one giant game of lava. When I look back on the years the things that stand out where the experiences, the events, the major changes. I hopped from the high school pillow to the college one to the marriage one to the traveling one.

When I looked ahead of me all I saw were more pillows. More things to do. More things to accomplish.

Land a major book deal. Get more poetry published. See more places. My life had been distilled down to a giant checklist. Accomplish. Accomplish. Accomplish.

Once those things happened then, and only then, would my “real life” start.

Then like the Velveteen Rabbit I would be the Real Ally.

Some time last year, I stopped thinking that way. I think it was because it was impossible to think any farther than the next day. That was the reach I had. Everything was distilled down to getting through the next 24 hours. Getting the next call from the doctor. From my father telling me about my mother’s failing health. Getting through each day without falling apart. Thinking that way can change you.

So now, there aren’t any more pillows. Sure, there are things that I would like to have happen; things that would be nice and fun and cool but they don’t define me anymore. All the days count equally. The do-nothing days count just as much as the big days. They’re all my days. Mine to have and enjoy and remember.

My sacred days. I’ve become the Real Ally.

Like David Foster Wallace said, much more eloquently, this is water.

Or in my case: lava. And I’m not going to die if I don’t make it to the next pillow. I’m going to enjoy being in the lava.

I’m not saying that days like today won’t be hard because they will, but anniversaries have a way of slowing you down, of keeping you looking backwards which, sometimes, is the wrong direction. I’ve already spent too much time mourning my sad days. Right now, my chances of getting cancer (again) are just the same as the rest of you. Granted I take drugs to get me even with you but regardless, I’m not wearing a scarlet C anymore.

So with each good MRI, like the first one I got last week (WOOT!) I’ll celebrate the days that passed and the ones yet to come.

That’s about as much a cancerversary as I’m interested in doing. I’ve changed. And I’ll keep on changing. And I’m okay with that.

****************************************************************************************************************************************************************

In other news, I started a new book this week and it feels really really good to be writing something new. It’s about some old high school friends and a tumble I took off a waterfall leading to a split skull. And eventually a broken heart.

waterfall

And in the way that the world is weird, one of my dearest friends told me that much of the art that he was doing in HS was related to Keith Haring’s glyphs so, since I wanted to include this, I grabbed Harings journals and right now Haring is going on and on about Sartre’s Saint Genet – which I bought used two weekends ago! Prior to reading the Haring, of course.

Full Circle!

And since I started a new novel, I cleaned up my writing room and in case you were wondering what a book really looks like – these are the drafts of Palimpsest. Not even all of them. So just remember that when you’re reading a book behind it are a dozen other working (or not) versions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finally I got a few poems published so many thanks to Dead Snakes for taking these and to Drunk Monkeys for this one. And finally to Exercise Bowler for taking this one.

So that’s it. Every day counts. Regardless if it’s a pillow day or a lava day.

It counts just because it exists and it’s yours. Enjoy them. You’re real, too.

Peace, love and Starbursts,

Ally

%d bloggers like this: