For two weeks, until Friday, I had the deadliest form of breast cancer. I need everybody to know I was not being hysterical. Yes, I once thought I had syphilis after I cut myself shaving. And once I think I might have given myself plague after watching all of Seattle come down with it on Grey’s Anatomy.
But this time, it was absolutely for real. Even the doctors looked freaked-the-fuck-out. It was an infection OR inflammatory breast cancer, they said. And it wasn’t an infection.
This wasn’t some cute little breast cancer where they take the lump out and give you some nasty meds for a while. This was an automatic stage 3 or 4 cancer renowned for its fast and aggressive spread. Forty percent of women survive it after five years.
And so I wept. I wept for my son, when I told him that my sister would be his mother if anything happened to me. Every boy needs a mother, even if he’s grown. I cried for my mom, and the torture I was putting her through. She was making arrangements to leave her home for up to a year and a half to come to Los Angeles and nurse me through my painful death. She envisioned the nursing and the terrible illness leaving me concentration-camp weak. She saw the cancer spreading to my rib. She saw me dying in her arms, after a year of pain and vomit.
And people tried to tell me not to think about it until we were sure. When people tell you not to borrow trouble, they are so, so wrong. Because if you wallow in your trouble, and imagine yourself dying, like “AND NOW I HAVE DIED FROM CANCER,” and make love with your trouble, and marry your trouble, then when it actually comes, you’re like, “eh, been there already no big.” And if it doesn’t come, then you are better than you were.
But here is the secret I will tell you, because I can not keep a secret ever, so even if you will think less of me, you will know it, and it’s true: I wanted to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I wanted to be the star of my own epic tragedy, Carmen or Aida in LA.
I wanted the drama, the attention, the outpouring of love and grief that someone like me could be so unfairly snatched away. From the time of my first ER visit, all my favorite ex-boyfriends fought to be the man to accompany me through each endless doctors visit or mammogram or biopsy. And they were the stars in their own drama—the drama of the lover who stayed through to the end. I planned my funeral—but of course I was only refining it, because I’ve known how my funeral will be for at least the past 20 years. I was afraid that if after the fear and tsuris I’d put everyone through, if I came back and said, “oh yeah it was only an infection after all” that people would roll their eyes and hate me, knowing I was the girl who cried breast cancer.
So yeah, it was only an infection. And it turned out I didn’t mind. And it turned out nobody else minded either.