Apologies for the rambling here; chemo-brain is a real thing.
I waited for 18 years, an arbitrary length of time set by people who–from the outset–spoke for me, to find out my birth mother died several years after I was sent away.
I spent those years emotionally and verbally abused by both family and community, my racialized existence provoking shame into anger. I lost many family members and friends to death, either by natural circumstances or violent ends.
At 25, I lost my adoptive mother, though imperfect she was, to a three-year battle with ovarian cancer.
At age 34, I enrolled myself in an intensive outpatient program to deal with complex PTSD as a result of lifelong abuse.
At 35, I myself was diagnosed with cancer, but not without finally getting that key to sentient industrialized humanity, my medical history. In it, I found that not one of my maternal relatives lived (so far) past age 77. My birth mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage, her younger brother died of a bone marrow cancer, a surviving brother survived his own brain bleed, and another uncle survived thyroid cancer.
But I don’t feel sorry for myself. Instead, I laugh.
I laugh at life’s ruthless targeting of one person, of some people, of groups of people, to be the ones who absorbing every single blow. Yet there exist individuals like my husband, a white male stamped with middle America’s indelible trackmarks and unhindered by any tragedy greater than a few standard life discomforts.
It’s an angsty existential riddle, quite a cliche in its frustration: Why me? Why not others? What lesson haven’t I yet learned? but even GOING THERE strikes me humorous, bizarre. Because logical and reasoned women like me, women dedicated to answering WHY and WHAT with quantifiable, explainable THINGS, simply should know better than to ponder the universe’s absurd definition of reason.
But I can’t help it. As long as people like my husband and I exist, opposites in backgrounds but similar in all the ways that count, the preposterous workings of LUCK will nag me behind my theories and statistics.
I definitely don’t have room for self-pity. I fear only a few things in life now, a happy byproduct of such unfortunate luck: chemotherapy permanently altering my cognitive function and stamina; not finishing my PhD program; and not making it to Disney World come hell or another cancer diagnosis. Redundant tragedies inure you to anxiety, I promise.
Instead, I laugh.
I laugh hard, harder than I should because there’s something so poetically tragic about suffering and then more suffering. Forgive me if I sound self-absorbed, and I humbly nod at those who continue to suffer greater than I–you do exist.
And that’s the key right there. No matter what, it could still be worse. If cancer still isn’t the worst thing that could happen to me or my family, then yes, there’s still room for confidently facing more feckless mistakes or uncontrollable health issues. Above all else, therefore, I want to have the space to handle whatever’s worse, because no matter what, there’s always room for hope.