Archive for the ‘I hate cancer’ Category

To linger at the bus stop

Thursday, January 30th, 2014


I can usually be counted on to announce when one of my columns appears in the Minnesota Women’s Press.  I like the gig, I want to keep it, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done for the magazine.  But the column that appeared in last October’s issue was different.  It felt too raw, too emotional, too vulnerable to link to on Twitter with the usual “HEY EVERYBODY CHECK THIS OUT!”

How could I be happy to publicize a column I wrote about a loved one who is dead?



My friend and neighbor Pam Taylor was diagnosed with an aggressive and virtually untreatable brain tumor in November 2011.  In one week Pam went from being just another mama at the school bus stop to a semi-paralyzed terminally ill hospital patient.

This was nothing at all like other times cancer has touched my life.  My friend Liz’s colon cancer treatment, though eventually futile, allowed her at least some time with mobility, hair, and most importantly, hope.  A family member with lung cancer has been trucking along for six and a half years, switching out medications in search of whatever works.  Not Pam.  Once her cancer was diagnosed it was too late for anything but goodbye.




A new mother I know told me recently that she was surprised to see the parents in her neighborhood linger at the bus stop long after the children had been whisked away to school.  It seemed odd to her that busy people, commuter mugs in hand, would yak at the corner for up to a half hour in the mornings, longer on warm afternoons.  I told her that I might have thought that was silly, too, if I hadn’t lingered at my own bus stop and gotten to know some incredibly funny, thoughtful and supportive parents who I’m happy to say became dear friends.  Including Pam.




Pam’s diagnosis was shattering for me.  In late 2011 I was already in a pretty crappy headspace, dealing with professional rejection, interpersonal drama, and a long-festering depression that required more attention than I cared to give it.  I used to write a couple blogs a week, but in 2012 and 2013, I wrote a couple blogs a month.  I say this just to be honest, not to make you think that my own pain in any way compares to the suffering endured by Pam and her family.  And what a family!  Pam loved her two daughters so fiercely that she defied the odds and lived 14 months after her diagnosis, more than a year than any fancypants oncologist expected.  She was stubborn like that.

Pam passed away on January 30, 2013, in the house just up the street from where I type one year later.  I still miss her.  As I wrote in that October 2013 column:

I could pretend, in my worst days, that Pam was merely behind schedule and was seconds away from opening the kitchen window to ask me if I’d seen the school bus cresting the top of the hill. All of that pretending failed to make her materialize; on my very worst days, I blamed myself for not trying harder. 

The bus is scheduled to drop my daughter and Pam’s youngest off in ten minutes, but will likely be delayed due to last night’s heavy snow that has yet to be fully plowed.  With the windchill factored in, it feels like three above zero, not the ideal conditions for hanging out on a street corner, gabbing.

But I’ll do it anyway, and if you have the opportunity, I hope you can too.  Who knows?  Taking the time to linger at the bus stop could change your life.

It changed mine, for the better.





One from the heart

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013


I have started and stopped this post more than a dozen times. Here’s the conversation I hear as I type, delete, type, hit save draft…

Head: “It’s time to write a blog post.”

Heart: “Yeah, probably, but I don’t wanna.”

Head: “You have stuff to say, publications to plug, yadda yadda.”

Heart: “Ugh, I would rather sit under a blanket and watch Scandal, the best show on television.”

Head: “You streamed every episode available.  There won’t be a new one until March 21. WRITE THAT POST.”

Heart: “Dammit.”


In last month’s issue of the Minnesota Women’s Press, themed “Matters of the Heart,”  I wrote a fan letter to feminist men.  It was pretty good, I think–at least good enough to warrant many hetero women to inquire where I found my awesome feminist husband (behind the counter at Cheapo, of course).  But I didn’t do the usual thing and hawk it here, for an uncomfortable reason.

My big fat feminist heart is in pieces.

On January 30, my friend Pam Taylor passed away from brain cancer.  She died with her family at her side, at home, in typically stubborn fashion–her doctors gave her just weeks to live, but she pushed that out to fourteen months.  If you knew Pam, you knew she was not about to leave her two daughters THAT quickly.  No way.

Usually, I respond to upheaval by writing.  I wrote volumes when my dear friend Liz passed away in 2007, also of cancer, also at home, also leaving behind two young daughters.  At the time I kept my blog on MySpace, a charmingly mindless place to vent about the ugliness and unfairness of life.  As a plus, you could add the music you were listening to at the time, which in 2007 was always Paul Westerberg’s “Let the Bad Times Roll“:

The good times hide/and so do I/out of my control/I dig a hole/I’m gonna let the bad times roll

It should be noted that this song was released in 2002, a decade before Scandal was available to cheer ol’ Paul up.

In the years (yes, years) that I’ve been working on The Radical Housewife, the book, I’ve utilized the services of a number of industry professionals who advised me that my blog should be a place where I “build my platform,” such as it is.  I must be vigorous about promoting myself and my work at the Women’s Press, at MPR, at the Minnesota NOW Times, at any analog and/or digital publication that would have me–nevermind that this is contrary to every introverted cell in my body.  I find that this push towards “branding” has strangled my natural impulse to write directly from my heart, whether it’s broken or whole.

And more and more often I see bloggers are clashing with each other (and with their readers, sometimes) over anything and everything.  Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg seem to have reinvigorated the Mommy Wars for 2013, and every feminist writer I know has taken a side.  Page views and well-placed editorials are the reward for the winner, dontcha know!  The Feminist Breeder was so fed up she put up a paywall on her site.  Kinda makes you wish we were all gluing up zines at Kinko’s doesn’t it?

Goddammit, whatever happened to GIRL POWER?!  Forgive us, Bratmobile and Sporty Spice!  We need you!

Ultimately, waxing nostalgic for long-lost “good old days” is as unhelpful as wishing very very VERY hard that people wouldn’t die.  You can give it a go, just don’t expect results.

The heart is a fragile thing.




Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Image: Drawn by Lian

I posted a blog in November that I called “The Awareness-Industrial Complex,” spurred in large part by my blistering rage against a world which lets us drown in cancer-support products, but not actual cancer cures.

Sure, the pink crap hawked by the Susan G. Komen Foundation at a Walk/Run/Crawl/Kvetch For the Cure™ makes people feel good, but here’s a newflash: maybe cancer shouldn’t make people feel good.  Cancer, to those whose lives are touched by it (like me), feels very, very bad.  Cancer, to those whose bodies are actually enduring it, feels more terrifying than anything imaginable.

What would a world in which cancer made people ANGRY look like?  For one thing, there would be none of this NFL players in pink shoes bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong–Tom looks cute in these shoes, but what he wears doesn’t do a damn thing for a suffering patient.  Not the way that a research program at Johns Hopkins would.

Honestly, the Komen vs. Planned Parenthood kerfuffle makes me happy.  I’m disappointed that PP is losing over half a million dollars of Komen grant money, of course, but I’m pleased that PP supporters have kicked in nearly $400,000 since Komen’s boner became public (pro-choicers are the nicest people).  Most importantly, however, the public is starting to question the motives of a foundation that has very deep ties to Republican lawmakers who oppose not only women’s health initiatives, but also the environmental regulation that could ….wait for it…. prevent cancer.  Worst of all, it has long been known that Komen’s founder, Nancy Brinker, is a great friend of pharmaceutical companies that depend upon cancer to make money.

Watching the Komen brand suffer is schadenfreude at its finest–but any amount of suffering they endure is a trip to Disneyland compared to the pain of a cancer patient, of her children, and of her family.



Behind the Pink Curtain: Komen’s Political Agenda (DailyKos)

The Marketing of Breast Cancer (AlterNet)

Think Before You Pink  (a project of Breast Cancer Action)


The awareness-industrial complex

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

I hate cancer.  I hate it so, so much.  I hate it to the depths of my soul and back again.  I have never been diagnosed with cancer, but it’s taken plenty away from me all the same–the hole in me isn’t from a surgeon’s knife or a radiation beam, but from what my dear friend Liz took with her when she died of colon cancer in 2007.

Cancer is everywhere.  Members of my family have it, friends have it, neighbors have it.  Just before Thanksgiving, I learned that YET ANOTHER person I care about is under attack from the demon cancer.  I HATE IT.

You know what else I hate?  These:


A few months ago, a feminist lawyer of my acquaintance contacted me in my role as Minnesota NOW president to let me know about a suit being brought by a local girl against officials at her middle school, who disciplined her for wearing one of these godawful things.  This was a feminist/free speech/women’s health issue, she suggested.

Bullshit, I said.

As the mother of a middle schooler, I have been familiar with this bracelets for some time. Perhaps the best way to explain my position on the matter is to dramatize what occurred when Elliott expressed interest in getting one for himself.

MOM: No way are you getting one of those.  They’re sexist.
ELLIOTT: But Mom, they’re for cancer.
MOM: Oh yeah?  Did you know that men get a very serious form of cancer themselves? It’s called testicular cancer.
MOM: Are there kids at your school wearing bracelets that say “I heart nutsacks”?
ELLIOTT: (giggling uncontrollably)
MOM: I didn’t think so.  These bracelets aren’t about cancer, they’re about making fun of women’s bodies with cancer as a cover.  Until men’s bodies get in on the joke, no bracelets for you.

I planned to write a post about this lawyer’s request back when she made it, back in the thick of the  “is it or isn’t it feminist” debate swirling around SlutWalk.  This lawyer, as it happened, hinted that SlutWalk might not have been her feminist cup of tea.  I invited her to share the issue with a future meeting of Minnesota NOW officers, state board delegates, and members, all of whom could debate the issue more intelligently than me, a person who attempts to fill the Liz-shaped hole inside of her with WHITE HOT RAGE directed at ANY AND ALL CANCER “AWARENESS” CAMPAIGNS.


Because that’s where we’ve arrived in the cancer “awareness” movement.  We are aware of cancer every day.  We run in races, we walk for three days, we wear rubber things on our wrists.  We are granted freedom to make as many boob, ta-ta, knockers, bazooms, and/or tit jokes that we want to.  We paint everything pink for “awareness,” yet the dollars are not reaching the scientists in the labs who need them.  More and more of the money is kept by the pinked-out corporations and enormous foundations who exist to make you feel good, not do good.  Think about it: ever since the Empire State Building started glowing pink during the month of October, have breast cancer rates gone down?  NO. In the most egregious example of pinkwashing yet, Susan G. Komen For the Cure actually commissioned an “awareness” perfume that contained toluene, a neurotoxicant, and galaxolide, a hormone disruptor.


That’s a feminist issue.

Gone daddy gone

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Not long ago, Matt commented on something he’d read in the newspaper: “It says here that heart disease is the leading cause of death in this country,” he said. “If that’s true, then why do we know so many people with cancer?”

Good question. I wondered if it was because of our demographics–as thirtysomethings, we tend to hang with folks whose cholesterol profiles have not yet caught up with them. We eat cheese and drink beer with abandon. “That still doesn’t explain all the cancer,” he grumped.

This weekend Matt is on the east coast visiting a good friend and cancer survivor. It is a trip I made several times myself, before my own east coast friend succumbed to the disease in late 2007. This week alone we experienced both of cancer’s schizophrenic extremes: a diagnosed family member received wonderful PET scan results, while an old friend from high school had a five hour operation to remove a tumor from her brain.

I’m at a breaking point. I AM QUITE LITERALLY SICK TO FUCKING DEATH OF ALL THIS CANCER. It doesn’t help that the national nightmare that is health care reform in this country has brought end-of-life care and medical rationing into the debate.

I keep having flashbacks to the one time I accompanied Liz on her chemo day, at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. One tiny positive through her whole ordeal was the fact that her insurance picked up the tab for all of her treatments. Avastin alone, she gasped, would cost over a hundred grand to someone who didn’t have insurance. Liz had Avastin, and a seemingly endless string of chemo drugs in addition to radiation, several surgeries, and many long hospital stays.

Liz was 33 and a half years old at the time of her diagnosis. She died two years later. How much did those two years cost her insurers? I don’t know. What would it cost not to pay for them?

Take a guess. It’s been nearly two years since she died and I can’t type this without feeling the too-familiar panicky clutch in my chest, the stinging tears welling up in my eyes. I would do anything, anything, to have her back again.

I think about her a lot. At times I smile when I think of the venom she would spew at those who believe that a single-payer system would limit access to the treatments that kept her alive–she knew that these treatments were out of most people’s reach already! Liz knew that our health care system was a moral disgrace. She had no doubt that thousands of other people with colon cancer would love to sit in her chemo chair at Dana Farber, but couldn’t. She knew those people would die more quickly, less hopefully, and certainly a hell of a lot poorer than she would.

Of course, she never planned on dying at all. I last spoke to her on October 29, 2007, when she called from her hospital bed to wish me a happy 36th birthday. She sounded frail, both physically and mentally. I was too afraid to ask about this strange thing called “end-of life care”, and she never mentioned it. All I could tell her was that I loved her, and that would have to be enough. She died two weeks later.

What DON’T we talk about when we talk about health care? Death. Money. Economic class. Equality, or the lack thereof. Fear. Mortality. Losing the illusion of control that we all hold so dear.

I can’t think about “health care reform” and not think about all the fucking cancer. I can’t hear “end of life” and think that death is going to happen to someone else. Death is coming, and death is real. Death is in the future for you, for me, for my children, for President Obama, for Rush Limbaugh, for everyone who panics at the idea of a single payer system. Death is a certainty. No one can escape it. The existence of death ought to humble us and make us more respectful of life. After all, if a dying woman can muster the strength to give a shit about the uninsured, why can’t everyone else?