Thursday, December 04, 2008

One-Year Cancer Free

It was one year ago today. I'm on a plane to see Dana to celebrate the anniversary of my diagnosis. What a year! The most educational and enlightening period of my life. This is an excerpt from the memoir about the D-day. It's unedited. But I hope you enjoy.

Excerpted from Cancer is the New Black.

December 4, 2007
So this is Cancer.
I know the instant I hear the woman’s grave tone. To this day, I don’t remember her name or title. I’m sitting at Tom’s kitchen counter, in one of only four chairs in the whole apartment. South Beach, 5th Street and Euclid. A few blocks from Ocean Drive and Collins Ave. I’ll never forget this barstool, this counter, this kitchen. Rene, who I just met, is taking a turntable out of the front door. Tom is helping him. I’m wearing jeans—Rock & Republic. I can’t remember any other piece of wardrobe; odd for someone who remembers what she wore at all of life’s pivotal moments.
I do recall that I’d showered, shaved, applied some makeup. I looked decent.
One phone call, one sentence, changes your world.
“Stephanie, when can you get to the doctor’s office? He wants to see you as soon as possible.”
“Uh, I dunno,” I say through a fog of a million thoughts at once. Thumbing through one of my Filofaxes. The purple one. “I can come tomorrow?”
“Is there anyway you can get here now?” The tone has changed. Graver.
“Now honey.”
NOW. Three letters that translate immediately into six. Six with a stigma. The big C.
“Yes now, the doctor is on his way in just to see you.”
Fabulous. Even in dire straits I get the VIP treatment. I hang up, in shock, obviously. The last time I was in shock: watching the Twin Towers ablaze from a corner in the Village. Mom—still in town, packing up her things at my apartment, getting ready to hit the road in minutes. Rene is gone. Tom catches my eye, grasps my fear, sees and hears me at my rawest.
“What? Okay, calm down.” Her voice gets weak and slow, I’ve heard it before, when I called in the middle of a hurricane to tell her I was being sued.
Tom sits across the room, rooted in his chair, looking like his world just fell out too.
“Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it,” says Mom. No, “I’m sure it’s not cancer, you’ll be fine.” Jewish mothers.
“Get the Xanax. Now. While I’m on the phone. Second bathroom drawer. Got em? Now put them in your purse please. Are they in? Okay hurry and pick me up at Tom’s. Behind China Grill; I’ll be outside.”
I hang up, still shaking. Tom comes to me from across the room, panic stricken, the color completely drained from his face. He sits down across from me, takes my hand.
“What? What? What happened? Steph?”
“The doctor. Just called. On his way to the hospital just to see me. Now. Omigod I have cancer. I have cancer. Cancer.”
“You do not have cancer. Hey, don’t panic.”
He envelops me. I cry into his shirt. He strokes my hair. I step back, look in his eyes. Even Hudson, the dog who hugs you, is whimpering.
“Stop. Take a deep breath.”
I return to my kitchen perch. He sits down across from me, holds my hands.
I’m panicking. The tears streak. The shallow breathing starts, the panic attack rears its frequent head again.
“It could be a million different things.”
“No. There are not a million things to go wrong with breasts. It’s cancer.” Fucking men. All they know about breasts is that their hands and mouths like them.
“Think positive, please,” he pleads with his eyes, his brows.
“The doctor doesn’t call the day after a biopsy with good news,” I’m flippant. “He’s coming in just to see me. Aren’t I special?” The first laugh. My sense of humor—immediately I know this will be one of the strongest weapons in my cache.”
“Stay positive. Think positive. Focus on me.”
I focus on his green eyes. He looks as stricken as a mother would be, a father, a brother, a husband. I won’t forget this look, this hour, these minutes. I know that instantly.
“Whatever it is, we’ll get through it. You are strong. We’ll get through it,” the conviction in his voice—the first sense of calm and comfort.
“I have cancer. I’m 32. How can this be happening to me?” I sound robotic and detached already, I can see myself, the room, Tom, me; all of it in slow-mo.
Tom and I have known each other three weeks. He’s not my boyfriend. But right now he is everything. This room where we’ve laughed, argued, planned for our bright futures that we will craft as a “dynamic”—his favorite word—team. He is, at this moment, the one thing moving while time stands still.