750 Words About Cancer
By Rebecca Housel
I seek the shrouded truth of Vedanta, the light of God in Christianity, the sechel, or reason, in Judaism, and the compassionate wisdom of Buddhism. All keys to the universe, just not mine. As a cancer patient, there is no single key. How can there be? The universe is a large, complex place with many white-coated gods in sterile hospitals. Mine is a polytheistic world.
I have survived three cancer diagnoses in the last fifteen years, two brain tumors and melanoma. I’m thirty-four. Is there sense in sensibility? Is there brevity in wit? And what about the soul? Lots of questions, very few answers—that’s something you get used to. You have to.
There are a great many “have-to’s” when you face cancer. You don’t want to have your skull drilled full of holes, then, listen to doctors play connect-the-dots with a surgical saw, and lift out your skull, exposing the fragile gray matter beneath. You don’t want to be awake with a valium drip for the seventeen-hour surgery. You don’t want to recognize in hour-ten that you cannot move the left side of your body in panic and fear, and have an anesthesiologist named Surriel tell you to not be upset because you are going to sleep now. You don’t want any of those things, but it doesn’t matter what you want. You have to.
You have to face weeks in a rehabilitation hospital with nurses who disguise bullying with care. You have to go on to endure nine months of intensive chemotherapy where you lose ninety-pounds, your balance, and your feelings…about everything. You have to consider the unthinkable: What will happen to my family if I die? What will happen to the $60,000 in student loans? Will my husband have to repay that, if I die? Will my son grow up to be a good man? Will my husband find a new wife? Will anyone remember I used to sit in a red room and write? Lots of questions. No answers.
I’ve made a discovery though, now being an expert on questions without answers. The question of why is always irrelevant. The only true question is why not. Why not? Why not die? Why not get sick? Why not get well? Why not travel to Australia? Why not live every moment to the very fullest? Why not? Not why.
The language is important. You predict the future with your words. Cuelho’s conspiring universe will help, too. You’re like an alchemist trying to turn lapis exillis into gold. But there is no holy grail—it’s a stone called Moldavite, found in Moldavia.
you avoid are statistics and numbers. They deal in absolutes, and the
universe is nothing more than string. Wave-like particles entangling
with stationary particles…and then, anything is possible, at least at
the sub-atomic level. But isn’t that where cancer starts?
believe my words, my language? Maybe you don’t want to believe. Belief
can be suspended to let truth peak in under your skull and into your
gray matter, the surgical saw still buzzing in your ear. Why? No, no—it’s
Rebecca Housel teaches writing and literature in upstate New York. Housel recently completed a creative non-fiction on illness narrative for the University of New South Wales.
Photo by Dinty W. Moore