It’s funny to think there was a moment when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be writing about cancer. It made me nervous. I was already thinking about it too much, trying NOT to think about it so much. I didn’t want it to occupy any more space in my brain than it already did. Which was a lot. (Pun and extended metaphor both intended and unavoidable.)
But I took a leap of faith and went for it. And as it turned out, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made since I first got the cancer on/in the brain. As it turns out, writing has not only helped me unpack my crowded brains of the too many things swirling around inside them; it’s also given me a venue through which I actually managed to cure myself.
Now don’t take that literally— I don’t mean to say that I’m permanently biologically cured of cancer. Because I’m not, and probably never will be, unless by some sweet stroke of luck I die of a stroke 50 years from now and they say “Well, it looks like he really was cured of that brain cancer after all!”
What I mean to say is that I literarily cured my cancer. I wanted to see, to hear and imagine and feel what it would be like to be told that I was cured. As in, the doctor closes a binder on his desk and says: “Go home. There’s nothing else we can do for you here, because you’re fine. You’ve got nothing at all to worry about any more. Have a great weekend, and if I ever see you again it’ll be at that taco place you told me about in Redondo. Their carnitas is fantastic.”
I wrote something like this (well, a slightly different version with less taco talk and a bit more suspense) about two weeks ago. To try it on, to see how it felt.
It felt good. So good, in fact, that the instant I pressed the “.” key, I started to weep like an old Italian lady. I completely lost my shit, that’s how good it felt. It felt so good that I was, in that instant, actually pretty much cured.
So when I went to the hospital for my MRI one early morning early this week, I felt an odd and totally new sense of anticipation swirling about me. I love going to my hospital (all they ever do is things that make me not die), so I’m always excited to be there. But this time I felt like I was going to a movie, or a show, that everyone was telling me would completely change my life. Save my life, in fact. I was excited. It was weird. Weirdly wonderful.
So while I sat in my underpants in the waiting room of the Mark Taper Imaging Center, I scribbled this in my notebook:
And it was.
And I am.
So that’s what art can do. Thank god I stupidly chose to be an English major.
Incidentally, I made sure to mention all of this to my doctor, since he’s been kindly following the progress both of my brain and what it’s working on. I told him how he totally blew a huge dramatic opportunity by not telling me that either I was cured, or was gonna die in like 3 minutes.
He laughed. So did I.
Next time I go in there with a few pages of scripted dialogue that we both have rehearsed in advance.
PS: If you’ve got the cancer, and you’re worried about it, try writing about it.
And if you don’t know where to start, try just writing the word “cancer” with an exclamation point after it as many times as it takes to make you laugh out loud at least once.
Cancer! Cancer! Cancer! (for me, it only took 3 times)
Then write whatever else comes to mind.
Because there will be something.
And it’ll probably be good for you to let it out.