Molly Ivins: Cancer Survivor
AUSTIN -- In one week and two days I will be finished with nine months
treatment for cancer. First they poison you; then they mutilate you;
burn you. I've had more fun. And when it's almost over, you're so glad
that you're grateful to absolutely everyone. And I am.
We've all done our best here; whether this thing comes back is out
of all of
our hands. My wise friend Marlyn Schwartz said that those of us who
owe a debt -- to Carole Kneeland, Mary Sherrill, Jocelyn Gray and to
others who didn't make it. They would have given anything they owned,
part of their bodies, for the gift of life. We who survive have it,
and we owe it
to them to cherish it -- joyfully.
The trouble is, I'm not a better person. I was in great hopes that
my own mortality would make me deeper, more thoughtful. Many lovely
people sent books on how to find a deeper spiritual meaning in life.
response was, "Oh hell, I can't go on a spiritual journey -- I'm constipated."
Being sick actually narrows your world, I'm afraid -- makes you focus
on yourself. Maybe when it's over and you don't feel like crud all
then your spirit soars. The chief reason to keep working is because
your mind off yourself.
The main thing they tell you, over and over, is that this is different
everyone. Everyone reacts differently to chemotherapy, to surgery,
radiation. I even got mad at Marlyn, who simply sailed through chemo.
I vomited in the office, couldn't sleep forever, lost 50 pounds.
I don't recommend the diet. I was like, help, I'm flunking cancer.
Of course I laughed a lot -- who could not laugh? There's even
cancer-humor Web site called Tarry, Black Stools. I got my first
hair a few
weeks ago. It came in right next to my mouth -- that little moustache
always hated. That God -- what a sense of humor.
Before surgery, my friend Mercedes Pena decided that I needed
to get in
touch with my emotions. I'd just as soon not hear from my emotions;
suspect that they're largely unpleasant. A long-distance call
once or twice
a year is enough for me.
But Mercy insisted. Sure enough, I was not happy about having
mastectomy. I said, "Mercy, how in the world do you Latinas do
every day, all the time in touch with the emotions?"
She said seriously, "That's why we take siestas."
Cancer is good for the priorities. Traffic, for one thing, is
not worth getting
upset about. As my pal Spike Gillespie says, you look at those
honking, getting steamed, cutting in front of you, and you just
"Hey, it's not a malignant tumor, you know?"
You can't get through this without a lot of help from your friends.
I had a party
for all my helpers after I got through with chemo. It's hard
for me to talk about
things that I care deeply about without at least trying to be
funny, but I told
them how much they mean to me. The value of that friendship is
greater than any of the suffering caused by cancer that it's
remotely close. Moose McNeely said later that he thought the
important thing was not that I got all that help, but that I
let people help me.
He could be right.
Despite my request, untold numbers of people wrote wonderful
notes, letters. My friends sent funny stuff by email. I'd save
it up, and about
once a month when I couldn't sleep at 3 a.m., I'd be sitting
in front of the
computer, laughing and laughing. And I'm most grateful of all
to the women
who went out and got mammograms. It's going to take me longer
all the thank-you notes than it took to get over cancer.
And that brings us to another great benefit of the Big C. It's
greatest excuse. I've gotten out of more stuff I didn't want
to do -- even more
than the stuff I missed that I did want to do.
Special thanks to my boss, Paul Harral, who has had to put up
shoddy work. Not even W. Bush's guy Karl Rove, who would naturally
to cut my throat, has uttered a peep. (It's OK now, Karl -- it's
Judith Curtis wrote me at the beginning: "I drank through the
whole thing, I smoked
through the whole thing, I demanded totally uncritical love from
everyone around me,
and I hated the lady from the American Cancer Society."
My role model.
The docs were great; the staff was great. And Judythe Wilbur,
who went with me
for a blood draw at 2 p.m. and was still with me when I got out
of the hospital at 3 a.m.,
at least got to meet the male nurse with the ponytail who plays
prisoners. It's important to keep medical staff amused.
Right now I'm working on stories about the love life of Clyde,
the radiation machine.
On weekends, he sneaks across the hall and offers to share electricity
with the CAT
scan machine. He's even hustling the office Xerox.
Clyde's a tomcat.
Cancer is not easy, it is not pleasant, and given a choice, I
would just as soon have
skipped it. But I now know what all survivors know, and I am
grateful. So grateful.