It took hundreds of people to save my life. Doctors, nurses, scientists, coworkers, close family, distant family, close friends, acquaintances, strangers, authors, lovers. Of those hundreds of people, about a dozen put their lives on hold to be at my side whenever I needed them. They missed work to sit with me during chemo; they spent time away from their families to hold my hand; they offered financial support; they cooked meals and listened to my cancer horror stories. This outpouring of overwhelming kindness is what the majority of my book, Pretty on the Inside, is about—the ninety percent of people who dug deeper than I thought anyone could dig—to care for just one person.
Now, my last post touched on the painful ten percent of truths that I could no longer ignore once I started undergoing cancer treatment. But that’s the ten percent and that only makes up a small percentage of how most people reacted to my illness. The majority of people in my life sacrificed a year of their own life to make sure I would survive. That level of love is mind blowing, really. In fact when I think about it, I have to ask, “is it selfish to expect more love when so much has already been given to you?” Yeah, it probably is.
Each chapter of Pretty on the Inside is named after one of the dozen cancer rock stars who stayed with me for the majority of my treatment. The chapter outline goes: Mom, Taryn (sis), ex-partner, Dad, Tyson (bro), Lera (best friend), Loren and Ryder (kiddos).
With Pretty on the Inside I want to:
- Recognize and normalize how a major illness significantly changes relationships. This change triggers overwhelming gratitude for an infinitude of love, sheer disbelief and everything in between
- Honestly talk to the emotional component of not just treatment, but also survival. In some ways, surviving is harder than the treatment. This isn’t talked about and it needs to be
- Give each of us permission to spend a few minutes appreciating not only how good others are, but how good we can be when we allow ourselves to love unconditionally. Because even with that ten percent thrown in, people are fucking good. They really are. They do their best. They fuck up. They try again
Even though I still have bursts of rage and am still reeling from some events that occurred during my treatment, I don’t dislike a single soul who was involved in my cancer journey. I painfully respect that everyone I surrounded myself during treatment did their absolute best for me at that point in their own lives. I do not think my ex-partner is a demon. Do I think he loved me? Hmmmm. I think he was infatuated with me until I became a real person, until I had kids, then postpartum depression, then cancer. That’s a lot to throw at someone who has never settled down. I get that and I also get that he tried as hard as he could with the tools that he had. However, the way my brain works and the actions and expectations I have of those who are closely involved in my life do not align with his. And that’s okay. I don’t want to destroy him. I simply want to tell my story. Do I wish that piece of the story was more positive, that it had ended differently? Of course, but that’s fantasy and Pretty on the Inside isn’t science fiction. It’s memoir.
Above all, I want Pretty on the Inside to be a story of kindness, love, loss, pain, redemption, confidence, growth and compassion. So why did I write about the shit first? A couple of reasons. One, I don’t remember much these days. Part of it’s chemo, part of it’s the brain’s ability to hide truths from us until we’re really ready to handle them. Within the last month or so, my brain has started leaking cancer memories related to my former relationship. Imagine, if you can, how difficult it is to not only have people doing everything for you, but to also surrender any vanity or ego. Add to that looking like a ninety-year-old man, smelling weird, leaking fluids, grappling with a complete and utter loss of control and feeling that the person you hoped to raise your kids with wants no part of you. It hurts. Really fucking bad. There’s a big rejection there. Unfortunately for me, that rejection followed the death by suicide of my husband. That series of events feels like being run over by a bus after being hit by one. It’s from this place that I wrote, “50% of Marriages End After Cancer, Here’s Why My Sham Relationship Did.”
The other reason I started with the shit is that writing about kindness in short form is hard. It’s insufficient. Partially it’s because I didn’t do the caring. Partially because it can be freakishly scary to understand how much others love you.
If you put a little faith in me and stick with me on this wild ride, you will be overwhelmed by our collective capacity for kindness. That promise, however, doesn’t mean that I won’t keep talking about the shit. One of the hardest things about coming out of the cancer pit, for me, was this overwhelming feeling of inferiority. This feeling that I’m not good at anything, that the internal and external ID are totally gone. These feelings were (and sometimes still are) so pervasive that I went through a good week completely convinced I should give my kids to my ex. I even put the legal wheels in motion to do this. That’s some shit. And I’m going to write about it. I’m also going to write about what it’s like to lose your vanity. To think, “I used to be pretty,” is humiliating not only because of the tense, but also because of the realization that so much of your self worth was based on looks only. That’s some shit. So is cancer sex. So is deciding whether to replace body parts with medical devices. So is screaming in frustration at people who are only trying to help. And I’m going to talk about it all.
I will continue writing about my feelings, how this story unfolded and the incredible people who helped me survive. And even though I feel angry sometimes, please know that I don’t—in my heart—want to ridicule anyone. We’re all fucked up. We all do our best with what we have.
We’re all beautiful.
And we all have the right to be attracted to different kinds of beauty.
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