Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May: cancerversaries, birthdays, and NPR shits & giggles.

May is both the anniversary of my release from the Abu-Graib of all cancer treatments, and my birthday-- the one where I turn 27 and lose the health insurance I had through my mom. It's a complicated month.

Here's the post from my last chemo, May 2009

I've been thinking a lot about after-care. It's been two years since my last cancer remission, and I'm only just beginning to see a therapist to unload all of this emotional baggage I've been carrying around. It's hard to get [free] help from resources like cancercare.org and SamFund because there's so much red-tape & many, many exclusions.

I am of the opinion that everyone should stop mindlessly running, walking, and buying for Cancer Non-profit Monoliths who have lost their way... who have minimal outreach services compared to the millions they make as a non-profit organization. They profit from our collective guilt and ambivalence. What we should be doing is investing in finding a less invasive, less brutal way to cure cancer, and providing palliative services for the millions of young adults dealing with the aftermath, as well as studying the long term effects.

As of now I don't have health insurance, and that's really scary. I should have never gone to art school. I've racked up a few medical bills so far, which of course I can't afford to pay and so they go to collections, where they will languish until I either die or become filthy rich. Thank god for HHC and Planned Parenthood!

Despite everything I had a very nice 27th birthday. We went to Coney Island for the first time, rode rollercoasters til we were dizzy, ate icecream, and saw a guy wearing a shirt that said "SIT ON MY FACE AND I'LL GUESS YOUR WEIGHT". All in all an enchanting evening.

blending in 

I was on NPR's The Takeaway this morning talking about the comic, and I was so focused on trying not to use "fucking" as an adjective, as I am wont to do, that I said "shitting" instead. I also completely forgot what I was talking about several times & totally derailed. 7:45am is a fucking ungodly hour to be articulate. I refuse to listen to it, but you can find it here. Don't judge me dudes.

I laugh everytime I think about Celeste's face as I mention how funny vomit and shit can be.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

on Ruysch and his mummies, death, and pleasure.

Some time ago a friend introduced me to the NLM's Dream Anatomy Catalogue, from which I've found many amazing anatomical engravings and illustrations for inspiration. This is where I stumbled across Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731), a Dutch anatomist and a pioneer in techniques of preserving organs and tissue (a precursor to the BodyWorlds franchise?). Ruysch made artistic arrangements of his material and had his own museum of curiosities. Among the displays were a number of dioramas assembled from body parts and starring melodramatic fetal skeletons, flora and fauna. He was one of the first anatomists to venture completely from scientific documentation to ars moriendi, making surreal collages from the dead and discarded.

In Giacomo Leopardi’s "Dialogue Between Frederik Ruysch and his Mummies", written in 1824, Leopardi imagines Ruysch being awakened in the middle of the night by his specimens, who for a brief interval, are granted the power of consciousness:

RUYSCH. …but since time is short and leaves no choice, let me know in brief what kind of sensations of body and mind you experienced at the point of death.
MUMMY. I didn’t notice the actual point of death.
THE OTHER MUMMIES. We didn’t either.
RUYSCH. How come you didn’t notice it?
MUMMY. Just as you never notice the moment you begin to sleep, no matter how much attention you pay.
RUYSCH. But to fall asleep is natural.
MUMMY. And you don’t think dying is natural? Show me a man, or an animal, or a plant that doesn’t die.
RUYSCH. I’m no longer surprised that you go on singing and talking if you didn’t notice when you died. ‘Unwitting of the blow, he went ahead/Combating still, and yet already dead,’ writes an Italian poet. I thought that on this question of death, those like you would know something more than the living. But going back to our subject, at the point of death didn’t you feel any pain?
MUMMY. What kind of pain can it be if one who feels it doesn’t notice it?
RUYSCH. At any rate, all are convinced that the sensation of death is extremely painful.
MUMMY. As if death were a sensation, and not the opposite…
RUYSCH. Then what is death if it’s not pain?
MUMMY. Pleasure rather than anything else. You should know that dying, like falling asleep, does not take place in an instant, but by degrees. True, these degrees are more or less greater or smaller according to the variety of the causes and to the kinds of death. In the last moment, death brings neither pain nor pleasure, no more than does sleep. In the preceding moments it cannot produce pain because pain is something alive, and, at that time, that is, after the beginning of death, man’s senses are moribund, which is like saying weakened in the extreme. It may well be a cause of pleasure, for pleasure is not always something alive; in fact, most human pleasures consist in some sort of langour, so that man’s senses are capable of pleasure even when they are near extinction since very often langour itself is pleasure, especially when it frees you from suffering; for, as you well know, the cessation of pain or discomfort is in itself pleasure. So, the langour of death ought to be the more welcome as it frees man from greater suffering…

Something to think about and explore...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

southern comfort

bonaventure cemetary, savannah GA

Here are just a few pictures of the spanish moss from my trip to Savannah & Charleston. A friend is looking to buy a house down south, so I went with her, hoping to deter the chance of getting harassed while waiting at 4am in the Charleston bus station. The 20 hour bus ride was miserable for my body. Looking at decrepit historical houses and experiencing the strange but hospitable southern milieu was beyond fascinating. We went to several cemeteries on our trip, and they were all gorgeous. 

"after life's fitful fever, he sleeps well."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

PSA: being a cancer survivor is fucking cool.

Couple of things:

1.) Our kickstarter has four more days left-- get your butt on over there if you'd like some hand-made cancer merch! (I tried the scarves on personally to make sure they'd fit bald heads everywhere.)

Right now, Jon & I are fleshing out the "Cancerland" chapter of our comic-- there are just so many parallels to be made between amusement parks and cancer. For instance, both require you to waste an exorbitant amount of time waiting in lines. Both involve riding scary machinery, causing you either to giggle or puke your guts out (or both simultaneously). Many jokes will be made about CT scans (hold your breath, exhaaaleee), MRI's, and radiation lasers. We'll have an old-timey side-show freak section as a nod to our Last Gasp publishers. Every backer gets a ticket!

What would be your ultimate Cancerland ride? The grossest one I've thought of so far is Splash Mountain: the colon-cancer log ride. That one's for Becca. I'll fast-pass it to the front of the line every time.

2.) i2y is having its annual Stupid Cancer Ungala on June 7th here in NYC. If you're in the area, I'd love to meet you there. I'll be handing out copies of our preview comic, commiserating, and getting sloshed. The only thing I disagree with is this whole "no black tie" business-- I'll be dressed to the nines as usual.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

chronically chillin'

It's so exciting to see the amount of support that our comic project is getting! A BIG THANKS to everyone that has become a backer so far. Every time I see a new donation in my inbox I jump for joy. Someone even donated in palindrome! mmm symmetry. 

Today I want to talk about chronic pain (again, forever, we are always together).  I don't think people talk about it enough, considering how drastically pain can effect daily life. Are young adults too embarrassed? I am. I've always been the independent perfectionist personality type, so admitting to people that I can't handle the physicality needed to do something is always heartbreaking. Often I don't admit my pain and trudge on-- a decision I sorely regret the next day.

Currently I have a friend staying with me that wants to go on all of the amazing tourist excursions one takes while visiting NY-- and I fear I just don't have the energy.

Chronic pain steals your energy and holds it hostage. You've got to ration. If my friend wants to go to the MET & Natural History Museum, (which I'd love to see, btw) I have to plan my energy/pain needs for the day. I have to rest the whole day before, and whole day after.  I can't just decide that morning that I'm going to go. It's hard to explain to "normal" people, because I used to be "normal" and I miss the freedom it implies, even though most people take it for granted.

Imagine feeling exhausted 24/7 from the drugs you take to manage your pain, which is also present 24/7. Now imagine doing everything you do in normal life-- walking to get groceries, working overtime, entertaining friends, cleaning the bathroom, cleaning yourself. Chronic pain turns all of these menial tasks into colossal events that must be planned for. And I really, really dislike planning!

Awhile back I found a superb explanation of this dilemma from a woman living with lupus. You can easily substitute lupus for cancer or chronic pain in her example. If you are struggling to understand the needs of anyone living with chronic illness, especially young adults, I highly recommend reading this "spoon" analogy, cheesy as it might be. Here is an excerpt:

"It's hard, the hardest thing I ever had to learn is to slow down, and not do everything. I fight this to this day. I hate feeling left out, having to choose to stay home, or to not get things done that I want to. I wanted her to feel that frustration. I wanted her to understand, that everything everyone else does comes so easy, but for me it is one hundred little jobs in one. I need to think about the weather, my temperature that day, and the whole day’s plans before I can attack any one given thing. When other people can simply do things, I have to attack it and make a plan like I am strategizing [sic] a war. It is in that lifestyle, the difference between being sick and healthy. It is the beautiful ability to not think and just do. I miss that freedom. I miss never having to count “spoons”."

My point is that I don't have enough spoons to go to the MET today, even though I would like to. It's impossible to understand living with chronic pain if you haven't before-- but it's important to try to understand those who do, and take it into consideration when you're with them. Not in a verbose sickly-sympathetic way, but just... keep them in mind. Us chronic pain sufferers are REALLY good at hiding it.