Wild Around the Edges

Fifteen years after my first cancer diagnosis and seven years after my second, these two death threats hover, advancing and retreating, rousing me.

I write to locate my story. But what words belong to it? None of the standard cancer tropes have resonated with me. When speaking with friends, family, doctors, I squirmed with discomfort as they employed the usual metaphors.

“Fighting back”? Of course I hated what was happening to me. And yet the disease was in my body, and I didn’t wish to embitter myself further by making my own flesh the enemy. So, not a battle. 

“Finding the silver lining”? Of course my priorities were instantly clarified: life paramount, love animating; time limited. Everything else negotiable or beneath consideration. Isn’t that always how it is? Isn’t the diagnosis but a loud reminder? And yet to couple cancer with gratitude seemed a demonic pairing at worst, a treacly sympathy card at best. So no, not a wake-up call. 

“Following the journey”? Of course both yearlong treatments took me to unexplored places the way travel does, but mine felt more like a forced march. I had neither compass nor map to guide me; no thirst for wonders along the way; and, like a seasick sailor, my only desired outcome was for the trip to be over. So I rejected the journey language, too.

Instead, by the time I was ready to make art from my experience I needed to tear language apart; to shred words into bits; to reassemble them into never-before-seen images. I was a pointillist constructing a collage, the kind where no individual color represents an eye or a nose until it discovers its place in the face it is creating. 

If a new countenance arose from these scraps, I wanted to meet her. Cancer could go now. I would become a new story, alive at the core and wild around the edges.

Published In:

VoiceCatcher, Spring 2022 and We Become A New Story (OHSU Anthology), Winter 2023