I Am Now A Cancer Person
“You’re tumor is malignant. You have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. It’s the most common and treatable for of breast cancer. We are calling the surgeon today. They will call you and schedule your pre-surgical meeting. If they don’t call today, call us back.”
As the title of the made-for-TV movie noted, first, you cry. I allowed myself probably 60 seconds of tears on the steady and capable shoulders of my boyfriend, Kevin, who is equally stunned by the news. I wipe my eyes and after a few sniffles and a tissue, I ask, “Now what?”.
How is this possible? The former Paris Hilton of Punk Rock, Punk of the Month, Courtney-Love-without-The-Damage has breast cancer. I have a Superman character named after me, dammit. I’m supposed to be bulletproof. Or have a superpower. Or something. There are people out there that are full of hate and vitriol walking around perfectly healthy to spread their misery. I’ve got nothing but love songs here. Nothing but fun. I even have it written into my will that my funeral has to be a FUN PARTY or I will put a curse upon those who make it a dull and unhappy affair. You think I’m joking?
How will I do this? The doctor's have fast tracked me from mammogram to biopsy to diagnosis was a matter of a week and I meet with the surgeon in two days. This is going to cramp my style. I don’t want to be a cancer person. I’m not a cancer person. I’m a party girl. Cancer is not fun. By all accounts, it’s a living hell.
How will I do this? Am I going to turn into Meryl Streep’s skeleton? I ponder the weight loss, looking on the bright side. I could do with losing a few pounds. Or 40. Maybe I could wear all my old club clothes again. I still have a suitcase in my garage of all my bitchen rock pants, the ones that looked awesome 50 pounds ago. There’s my old Kowalskis jump suit. Maybe I’ll look like Kitty Kowalski again. I used to be able to wear these cute short skirts. There was one point I weighed 118 pounds, like a drug addict three feet from death, and everyone complimented me on how fabulous I looked. This cancer thing is looking better and better.
How will I do this? This is not vanity speaking, but my identity. I’ve not only been the wanna-be rock star and celebutante, I walk into a bar and holler, “Dance party!”. One time, I walked into Niagara and everyone was looking forlorn, staring into their drinks. “Hey, DJ, play THIS one!”, I demanded and danced as if I was having a seizure, and people got up and danced. Erin Sullivan dubbed me “The Party Starter” from there on in. I’ve spent more money on jukeboxes than shoes. That can’t stop. I start taking a mental inventory of my wig collection.
How will I do this? I’m also the fixer. I’m the one who makes things better. I’m the one who cheers people up when they are down. Are you in trouble? My hand is there to yank you off the mosh pit floor. I donate to your fundraising efforts when I have no money. What can I do to fix this? How can I fix myself? I am bewildered and completely at a loss.
How will I do this? I’m not a cancer person. How did I become a cancer person? There’s not any family history to speak of. I eat fairly healthy. I’m a middle-aged party girl, but have not done any drugs since the mid 1990s, and never touched anything I couldn't walk away from. I’ve even had some minor surgeries and injuries for which opiate-based painkillers were prescribed, but they interfere with my sleep. I tossed them in my Zombie Apocalypse tool kit, along with my multi-tool, flintless fire starter, hand crank flashlight and Mylar sleeping bag and don't give them a second thought. I can't be the substances I consumed as a controlled substance tourist. I'm not a cancer person.
How will I do this? I’m prepared for everything. I’m the person you want in your lifeboat. I’m the one who can figure out how to get the spacecraft back to Earth with duct tape (which NASA calls compound grey), a plastic bag and bubble gum. I’m cool in a crisis. I never though of myself as a cancer person. Now I’m a cancer person. I am not prepared for cancer.
How do I do this? Well, my way, I guess. I’m not looking at Google. I’m not going to Web MD because the punchline is “You have Cancer” and I know that already. I have no idea what path lies ahead. I only know that I meet with the surgeon on two days, get more tests, and then, who knows. It’s kind of a mystery - one I have to solve for myself.
How would I do cancer? Well, first, I’m going to fix what I can. I’m a bit of a control freak, but I’m sure a certain part of this I’m going to have to give over to The Universe. Do I have cancer all over? Will I have to do chemo? My mind goes to the box of wigs in the garage. That’s with the Zombie Apocalypse kit. I knew I was saving them for something other than Vegas and The Mermaid Parade.
You know what? I’m a rocker, so why don’t I rock this? I DON’T have control over this, but I do have control over how I deal with it. Then it dawned on me – I’m going to make this FUN. No one associates cancer with FUN, and it isn’t, and I’ve seen people die horrible, miserable deaths from it. I read Timothy Leary’s “Designer Dying” in 1998 and it made an indelible impression on me. Leary knew he was going to die, so he took control of the process and threw a big party and chose every component of his death. He was able to say goodbye to all his friends in person. Most people do not have that luxury.
I am not going to die. They said I have the most common and most treatable type of breast cancer. That’s all I know right now. I do not know if it’s anywhere else, but there’s no way I am doing this by the book. I WILL rip a page from the Timothy Leary playbook and make every minute count. I already wasted too much time by waiting THREE YEARS to get a mammogram because I was my distracted, procrastinating self. NO MORE. That habit is GONE NOW.
I also hemmed and hawed about whom to contact outside my closest circle. I am in some ways a very private person. - that part of my stopped me short of “selling out” for my musical career. “You could have been Lady Gaga!”, an ex-boyfriend said. Probably not, but I appreciate the sentiment. As the public and the private person have a Cancer Cagematch, I decide to go public for a few reasons.
FIRST, to warn people not to put off their testing and let time get away from them. One of my dearest friends, Michele Hartmann, died from breast cancer. She put of her mammogram for a year. She was never sick. She was very much like me. Her tumor doubled in size between diagnosis and surgery only TWO months later. She was “Triple Negative”, which I have no idea what that means, I just knew it was bad. I’m about to find out. I need to warn people that time is precious. Don’t be like me and put it off.
SECOND, the fact I don’t know what “Triple Negative” means shows there is a lot to learn and mystery around cancer and I want to take that part out of it. I have no sacred cows and want to be an open book and maybe help someone else in the process. I’m going to educate my friends and anyone else who will listen about the process and take the secrecy out of it. I have a pretty good feeling I can get through this, but it’s only a feeling.
THIRD, I’m going to have as much fun with it as I can. I’m going to rock it and find the bright spots, silver linings and FUN where I can. I’m not going to cower and be miserable. If I am going to go out, I’m going on my feet, not on my knees. I’ve seen too many people waste away in a bed. I can’t do that. I don’t know if I’ll have a choice but I need to do this my way. My punk attitude kicked in and I’m going to give this thing a beat down.
I have to accept that I’m a cancer person now. I don’t even know what that yet, but I’m gearing up for a fight, Kitty Kowalski-style. Yo, Cancer, let's DANCE!