Sunday, October 18, 2009

Live Strong? Duh.

With regards to me and my current Cancer situ, the most overused word being lobbed at me is strong. It's not a bad word, don't get me wrong. It's just one of those words people use in times of crises. There are pat phrases people employ—myself included—in tragic times. I mean, what are people going to say?

But the one I get almost daily is: "God, you're so strong. How can you be so strong?" It's not a choice I made. It's a character trait, in my opinion. Weak people don't last. They certainly don't succeed or educate or entertain or write stuff that seems to make their readers think they're strong. I've been thinking about this word because writers think about words. Words aren't throwaways to us. Words are our building blocks. Words are our weapons. But I want to examine this word, for my own edification really.

So, Merriam-Webster:

: having or marked by great physical power.

Not at the moment—the Xeloda is causing my bones, joints and muscles to ache intensly. I was one of the slackers in yoga this week. My Ashtanga teacher yesterday: "Are you okay? I noticed that you seem to be having trouble even doing chaturanga, and I know you're strong, what's going on?"

2 : having moral or intellectual power. I won't take issue with this one. Morality is one of the character traits each and every person I take into my life must possess. And, yes, I'm smart. I have never had any insecurity in the intelligence department. I do have some dumb friends though; they can't help it.

3 : having great resources (as of wealth or talent)
Very interesting that this falls under the "strong" word, no? I always thought of this as luck. But if it's strength, I'll take it. I suppose it takes strength to ask for help from those resources you have, and I did ask for help. Plenty of it. That's how I got my doctors, wig, care, private hospital rooms, drugs etc.

: of a specified number
Uh, okay, I have an army of 420. Actually, I have an army of Heebs and token MOTs from here to Cali to New York.

5 a : striking or superior of its kind
Strong willed? Strong character?

: effective or efficient especially in a specified direction
I'm trying to work on this one re my book. I'm trying, but if I have one area of "strong" weakness, it's this one.

Everyone—even fellow Breast Cancer-ers—asks me how I stay so strong. I can't answer them because that's like asking me how my eyes stay brown or how old I am. I am who I am. Strength isn't a choice, I was born strong. Only the strong survive right?

This doesn't mean strong people are strong all the time. I'm okay being wheeled into a PET scan or surgery, but I cry like a baby at really bad romantic comedies and when I'm alone at night, watching TV with Wally and eating take-out or thrown-together salads. I cry. I feel sorry for myself. Not really for the Cancer, but because the Cancer has made even slimmer the possibilities of leading a happy life. I wasn't optimistic about men before Cancer and now? Well, you don't get the big white wedding or Mr. Right or the Oscar dress and four carats when you're 34, single, living with Cancer, likely for life. Moreover ladies, let's face it, boys our age don't want strong women. They're scared of us. Strong women like me? We eviscerate boys our age because most of them are weak. (Can you imagine a man having his balls and dick chopped off and remaining strong and manly? I don't fucking think so.)

Here's what I think—single people have to be strong. We don't have husbands or wives or lovers to fold into. We don't have someone waiting for us at home to carry us to bed or run errands for us. We don't have help. We don't have an 'other-half' to share responsibility. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard the stories—"marriage is hard!" Whatever. Try being single. At least you have someone to help you do dishes and walk the dog. We are strong by default. Trust me, it would be nice not to have to be strong once in a while. It'd be nice to be able to cry on a lover's shoulder instead of in Wally's snuff. (Though nothing smells better than doggy snuff.)

I'm strong because I was born strong. I come from strong stock. I have strong resources. Strong family, strong friends, strong doctors, advisors, connections and therefore I am strong. I am strong thanks not only to myself but to the hordes of strong people I'm surrounded by—my parents, their friends, relatives and my best friend. Can you imagine how hard it is for a mother to watch her daughter go through this? A brother who lives thousands of miles away? A father who knows that this killer gene his daughter has was passed on from him? A best friend who for the first time in our lives is not just a car ride away? They keep me strong, but it's also okay for them to cry around me and vice-versa.

When I was rediagnosed, I wasn't strong. I collapsed emotionally and folded into myself. I weeped openly despite three Klonopins. It's okay not to be strong when you're watching your mom, her best friend and even your doctor go into shock.

But bad news, bad luck, shitty fucking circumstances—they don't make you strong or weak. They make you shore up your reserves unconsciously. I don't know how to be weak. Sometimes I try—crawl in bed and crawl with Wally. Then I get bored and go to the gym. Even though I can't even do fucking chaturanga without pain.

These are just a few of the people over the years who've made me who I am—strong and lucky.

Below is dad's mother Lilian, who I got the BRCA gene from. She died of Ovarian Ca when I was very young.