A couple of years ago, a man I knew slightly and who’d heard of my bouts with cancer asked me, “What kind of cancer would you prefer to have?”
I answered, “Ovarian.”
It took a couple of seconds for him to register that I was male and did not have ovaries. He gave me a sickly grin, shrugged and walked away. It’s one of my favorite cancer stories.
I thought of it this morning because Our Short History, a new novel by Laura Grodstein, deals with a woman’s reaction to learning she has fatal ovarian cancer. I read the glowing review and remembered once writing about 200 pages of a novel tentatively titled The Cancer Club. Friends in a writers’ group who critiqued the draft said it was well-written, but they universally hated it. I was told in no uncertain terms this was a subject readers would not want to read about. Some were angry, while others thought the plot too complicated and distasteful. One person, whose family had a history of lung cancer, was deeply offended by a character in the book who insisted on smoking even after a diagnosis.
All these thoughts came about because in nine days I’ll be having yet another surgery, minor, hopefully, to check out the state of my bladder. This inelegant organ has refused to heal itself and so, over the last half-decade, I’ve undergone eleven (I think) surgical interventions to biopsy or excise tissue that has always been found to be cancerous, sometimes aggressively so. The surgeries are generally followed by rounds of chemotherapy that are equally unpleasant.
I swear each operation will be the last, but it never is. I’m almost certain that being fully anesthetized so frequently has had an effect on my cognizant capabilities. This truly terrifies me.
My late sister, Florence, who died of this disease a decade ago, showed a lot more class than I’ve managed to manifest. She never complained. I do. She apparently was never scared. I am. Though a published and recognized writer in France, she never wrote about it. I do. I hate to admit it, but I can openly say that I am frightened, saddened, and bone-weary. It helps a little to be able to do that.