Okay, I've edited this since I posted this and reposted it for those of you who noticed I took it down.
I wrote the post that follows to you guys after my visit to MD Anderson in August. But it was so revealing and frankly, some of it is probably TMI for a lot of you, so I didn't post it. I just made it a chapter in my book. Or a version of it. But now, I decided to post it. Because it's about how it's good for women to get angry. And to share our anger with others. It might make some of you uncomfortable to read, so don't feel as though you have to!
Now, I have removed some stuff from my original post because I got a little nervous about it.
Here's what I wrote back in August about my high Vesuvian rage.
Friday, August 11
Okay, first things first. Thursday morning I sat on the deck I love with my Park City coffee cup that says "Mountains, Sunshine, Love, Happiness, Park City," that epitomizes my life. I just got back from MD Anderson Wednesday night. It was mostly good news with a little uncertainty, but I've known from the beginning that that's going to be the story all along.
What's great is, the nodules that got radiated have shrunk. Massively. Like from 13 millimeters or whatever to 8. But one of the tiny ones, which they didn't radiate, grew, my endocrinologist told me. It's teeny tiny, and it grew infinetisemally. But she wants me to get another CT scan in September. She is usually pretty upbeat, she usually doubts the radiologists when it's a close call. Radiologists remind me of Shirley Biffert, a second grade classmate of mine and the daughter of an evangelical pastor who came right out of central casting, right down to his unnaturally black, slicked down hair. I don't think life was good to Shirley, even in second grade. Our teacher, Mrs. Molstad, who was a fabulous woman (wore four-inch spikes every day! Gotta love a second grade teacher like that. I bet if thongs were around in 1963, she'd have worn a thong, too) would have us check each other's spelling. And Shirley would mark a word wrong if the dot on the I was too light. So I ferociously colored the next one in, deep and dark. She marked that one wrong too. Picky, picky, picky. Sometimes, the radiologists who read my CT scans make me think of Shirley.
But this time, my endocrinologist went with the radiologist. "I'm scheduling another CT scan for your next visit," she said. Usually I get the CT scans every other visit. I was a little grumpy because I'm doing research on radiation for my book and it turns out that the radioactive stuff they shoot me up with makes the outer edges of any cancer cells light up. They're not sharp lines, they're fuzzy. So I can see room for error.
Overall, my endocrinologist was upbeat. "The general trend is down, the shrinkage is much greater than the growth." Still, I was cranky about the situation.
Then I had an appointment with the radiation doctor who treats me--he's the face-to-face guy, not some unseen radiologist. Now, you don't usually see the doc right away, you run a gauntlet of nurses who check all your vitals, ask you questions, etc., etc. First Susan came in. She and I have had long talks. I know her entire career. I know her husband's career (he's a cop). I know her retirement plans. I really like her. She is totally down to earth and I bet when she is not within the walls of MD Anderon where everyone says "Have a blessed day " she swears as much as I do.
"You know," I said, "the endocrinologist said that the cancer actually hides inside these nodules and that's why it's so hard for my immune system to see it." Radiation, however, starts to break up the surface of those nodules so your white blood cells can see it and destroy it.
"Yup," said Susan, "that's how it works."
I had had a Tarot card reader do a cord pulling on me a year ago--she was pulling the cord that I felt still connected Gary and me. She yanked it out of me. "Hmm," the Tarot card reader had said to me. "He's just sitting there. He's outside your auric sphere. Kind of down the hill, where it's hard to see him. He's very covert. Sneaky, even." She's always talking about how we are all just trying to become our higher selves and very tolerant of others, so I was surprised to hear her say that. But I felt validated.
You can call me a nut for doing that; you can say "well, if it works for you, do it" but not believe it yourself. And that's fine. But I hadn't told her a thing about him. I just said, I need to get this guy out of me. I thought about that when Susan and I talked about this cancer.
'You know," I said. "This is going to sound wacko, but this cancer is a lot like my ex-husband."
She stopped and turned away from her computer to look at me, She's been a nurse for 30 or 40 years. She knows a lot.
"Oh yeah," she said, firmly. "That's how it works."
The next nurse, Roxanne, bustled in. "Your CT scan looked fine to me," she said very matter of factly, looking at me. She clearly saw what was going on between the doctors. "I'll doublecheck with Dr. Ning, but he'll be in, too and you can hear what he thinks. "
Dr. Ning came in. I really like him because the first time I saw him he told me Iwas young and healthy! "Young? I'm on Medicare! " I'd said. He looked at me. "Physcially, you're young." I was like, Can you be my doctor for everything?
He was equally positive about the scans. "It looks like there could be a little uptake on one of the smaller ones. But It could just be the activity that 's happening around it." Which was what I had thought, too. He explained to me that they only zoom in so far on the nodules. There's a lot of reasons for that and one is to protect the patient. So much of cancer treatment is tough on your entire body so they rein it in when the can. And when stuff is this small, who knows what it really is?
Since that was a nodule that had not been radiated, he said we can always radiate it. "Now we know radiation works," Ning said. He'd been confident before that it would work and he was right. He actually had not wanted to do a scan until October because it can take six months for radiation to do its work and I had my radiation treatment in May and June.
"If you do need additional radiation," he said, "it wouldn't be for a few years."
I really, really liked that sentence. I tucked that into my, remember this memory bank. Because who knows what they'll have done to cure cancer in a few years. I can't believe how much they've done in the past two!
I got back to Park City Wednesday night.
Thursday night I was doing my usual Thursday night DJ thing at KPCW and I got text saying a test result had popped up in MyChart. I had two songs scheduled to play back to back, so I took a look. It was the radiologist's report. Usually I don't read these. I interrogate my doctors and nurses because they explain things to me in English rather than medical jargon, which I have misinterpreted in the past and worried unnecessarily.
But Thursday night I read it. And that radiologist, you know, the one who is most persnickety, the man or woman who is down in the sub-basement reading scans, THAT radiologist said that "uptake" could just be scan-to-scan variation and recommended a follow up CT scan in three to six months. Not fucking six weeks.
Anyway, I am pissed. I'm fucking cranky. Not at the doctors. At being a cancer patient. I'm just SICK of it. I'm like, Body, let's be done with this. Let's fucking blow it out of me. I've gone back to hour plus meditations. I'm going back to acupuncture. I'm going to see the Reiki healer. I'm going back to the Tarot card reader and have her do another cord pulling. Because I am blowing this out of me for fucking good.
To do that I have to exorcise the person and the marriage that gave it to me, that planted malignancies in me.
All of this is from the malevolence of the guy I was married to. He didn't start out malevolent but his depression got worse and worse, he wouldn't do anything about it, it made him angry and he took that anger out on me. Just a little at first, but he gradually increased it. And the stuff he said! Like, "you're having cognitive problems." Baloney. But you hear stuff like that enough and it's like water dripping for years on a stone. It wears you down. And when you spend years of your life trying to anticipate what is going to piss off someone who uses his temper---he didn't lose it, he used it--that person and his criticisms are in your head all the time because you're always on high alert and trying to think of what you can do to avoid triggering that temper. When the outbursts have nothing to do with you! But you still keep trying.
And that means you're constantly bathed in cortisol. For years. And that weakens your immune system. So I kept my mouth mostly shut about my increasingly horrible marriage. I know, I told some of you plenty. But I didn't do what I should have done. Which was fucking leave. I had the power to do it but I just didn't see it. I didn't realize I was giving him a lot of my power! Arggh.
Because the problem wasn't me. And hard proof of that is that he treats his girlfriend exactly the same way he treated me. Now I know you all saw that the problem was him, not me. I thought so, deep down, but I had little niggling doubts. Not anymore, baby. Not anymore.
Plus, I was raised to only show happiness. I mean, we all want to be happy but it's how we're raised in the midwest. You never talk about anything bad, even when terrible things happen. I think that's why I had a raging case of eczema from the time I was three until I left for college. Eczema covered my fingers, it would ooze and then scab and I couldn't always bend my fingers. My arms oozed and bled constantly because the itching was just impossible to resist. Scratching felt so good! Sometimes the eczema would creep up my neck and around my ears. My mother took me to the skin doctor, of course, all the time. I got all sorts of crazy treatments. Ultra violet rays, pills to make me MORE susceptible to sun because vitamin D was good for it, steroid shots, some kind of anti anxiety medication, cod liver oil (my skin doctor was Norwegian), etc., etc.
But it never went away until I left home and started to let it all hang out. Beer was a very helpful catalyst. Not the most healthy way to deal with things, but, hey, it was the 70s. Who knew any better? My roommates and I dealt with anxiety, stress and fear with party therapy! And fortunately, I became addicted to exercise, not alcohol, although I did always used to have glass or two of white wine while rushing to make dinner back when I was married. Which, of course, I always made, even though I had a job, too. Because that's just how it works.
So I usually look happy. And actually, I AM really happy. But I also am angry. Finally. The other day I was walking down Park Avenue here in Park City and this guy ahead of me goes "I always act out 20 years later." I loved that and interjected myself into the conversation and said, "That's great!" And he said, "Yeah, strict Irish Catholic parents." Now my dad was Irish Catholic but he did not raise us to believe everything the Church said, not at all. But still you absorb stuff just out of the ether and incense. And just the whole you-only-be-happy mindset. So now, nearly two years after my diagnosis, nearly four years after my divorce and nine years after I first tried to divorce Gary, and now I am finally fucking blowing up with anger. And expressing it.
Not about my childhood. I had a great childhood. But we all have things that upset us, a lot, no matter how idyllic our lives are. And if you don't acknowledge it, your body has to do something to express its distress. So in my childhood it was through eczema. A lot did have to do with school, I think, it almost always got better in the summer. Looking back, I am pretty sure I had ADHD. My dad said he didn't know if he should call me "Utter oblivia" or "total oblivia" because of my incredible ability to space out. In college, my nickname was the Space Queen.
But also in college, I discovered speed. I loved it. Partly for partying, of course, but mainly because I discovered it let my brain do something unfamiliar: focus. And after college, I discovered running. And cardio is great for ADHD. Also coffee. Also becoming a reporter, where you're doing lots of different things all the time. And, I think my brain matured. Gav has ADHD and so much of what she goes through is so familiar to me. And it really helps me understand my dad's frustration with me. Sometimes I can feel him kind of laughing at me. Not meanly. Just, you know, now-you-get-it chuckles.
No, what I am furious about is the injury my marriage caused me. A lot of it was me, I unwittingly acted like my mother, who gave her wholehearted support to my dad. (One of my younger brothers pointed this out to me during the divorce, I did not figure it out myself). Anyway my dad deserved that support! And in return, he gave her his wholehearted support! Even if it was something that he wasn't crazy about. Like when my youngest brother was in high school, she started teaching as an adjunct at UW LaCrosse. Which meant she was gone and meant she had to spend a lot of time working on her students' homework and couldn't play with my dad. But he still encouraged her to do it and it was so good for her! Me, I was married to a guy who told me to quit writing and try to become a CPA so I'd make more money. Or a travel agent. But still, I gave my all to him. putting energy into him, his career, our kids and our marriage instead of into me.
And it wasn't just me unconsciously mirroring my mother. It was me internalizing all of these subtle, subversive misogynistic messages that a woman has to have a man to be anything. Which is bullshit.
And some of the stuff he criticized me for, I'd heard before. What my parents and teachers had said to me about my inability to consistently concentrate ("You're so smart!" they'd say, "if you'd just pay attention!") was nothing like what he did to me, but I did have this foundation of doubt about myself and my brain and my competence. Of course, we all feel like this about ourselves. But we don't all end up marrying a guy who builds on it with uncanny skill. So I thought the problem was me.
Which it wasn't. I mean, yeah, I need work, but we all do!
And deep down, in those buried caldrons of myself, I was furious. Outraged. I knew I was basically okay, that Gary was wrong. But since I refused to acknowledge my fury, my body had to do something with it.
And so I got anaplastic thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer, my holistic healers tell me, is about unexpressed words
Why did I get such a rare and virulent cancer? This is the part I cut out, I'll save it for the novel. Now, back to the main point of this post.
I am so happy with my life now. But I am angry, too. Because I am so sick of every-six-week jaunts to MD Anderson, wonderful as it is and wonderful as all the people there are. I am sick of being so it's-a-gift-because-it-changed-my-life-for-the-better grateful. I am sick of knowing I have to meditate for an hour plus every day. Although it does actually make me feel better. I am sick of having to book Reiki sessions and acupuncture sessions and trauma therapist sessions, even though they all make me feel better.
However, I am not sick of the Tarot readings. I do like those. And I must admit, it does make my memoir a lot more salable. So thanks, Universe, for that!
One reason I am angry is that, alas, a lot of this is not something I can go public with. Like how his health stuff affected me, I can't write about that. And when it comes to how he treated me in my marriage, my publishing lawyer told me about some concept called libel per se. And that basically really protects Gary. Which reallly pissed me off. The perp goes free, the victim has to keep her mouth shut, which was what nearly killed her in the first place.
Now, even though I am giving Gary a pseudonym and not writing anything libelous about him (sigh, I can't write about the open marriage and funny stuff like how his girlfriend got pissed at him and nagged him for continuing to sleep with me and staying married to me and how miserable he was and how he wanted sympathy from me about how she nagged him, but again, that's for the novel and I am going to put a lot of woo woo stuff in it, with some very cool karma a stuff in it) he could still sue just to intimidate me. He did try to put a really draconian clause in our divorce settlement that I refused to even consider . My lawyer had said 'Well, he is in TV, maybe you should give him something," and I was like fuck no. The clause said I could talk to no one, not even my family members, about my marriage!!! Who tries to deny someone else the ability to talk to her own family and dear friends about what is upsetting her? Gary fucking Langer, that's who! That clause said that if I talked to an accountant about our finances, the accountant had to sign an NDA! Accountants are sworn to keep secrets. OMG. And then he built in automatic punishment. Sheesh. So of course, I refused to agree to that. I'm sure he knew I would refuse to sign it and it was an intimidation tactic.
Now I certainly can write about how my marriage made me feel and that is going into my book. Frankly, cutting out bitching about my ex probably makes the book better.
My publishing lawyer says fictionalizing the open marriage stuff in a novel is fine.
"I can always fictionalize all of this in a novel, right?" I asked him. I was thinking of Nora Ephron and Heartburn.
"Oh yeah!" he said.
Now, there is a chance he would sue just to scare and intimidate me. So I said to my publishing lawyer, "Now, if he should sue even if he can't claim libel or libel per se, what do you think of me being ready with another suit? Like a suit that says what he did to me caused the cancer I was diagnosed with?"
I don't know if it's a legit suit but it would have a lot of intimate detail that the salacious would devour.
"Oh," he said. "Yes. But you need a litigator for that."
Anybody got a good litigator to recommend who costs less that a grand an hour and could write a complaint in an hour or two? So I could then just sit on it to have ready to file if need be?
Another constraining factor is that he is the father of my kids. Sigh. I mean, they were his idea so I do have to thank him for that. However, having kids is not that original of an idea!
But here is the bottom, bottom line. The way to blast the malevolent cancer Gary Langer caused in me is to blast the story out of me. And I am doing a lot of that in my book, which is coming out Nov. 15 two years after my stage 4 and six-months-to-live (or four, if you go with the NIH) diagnosis. I now have sold three essays--one that ran in YourTango.com. One that the Huffingpost is going to run. And one that is going to run in Ethel, the online publication of AARP. Editors like my story. And that's a good thing.
Because I have to tell this story because repressing it is bad for me. To cure myself, I have to get this story out of me. So I'm starting with you. Because here's the deal. Being diagnosed with cancer--and those of you who have been diagnosed with cancer or have a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer know this--is terrible. It is motherfucking terrible. Being a cancer patient, even one like me who is getting cured and is at an amazingly healing place like MD Anderson, is terrible beyond words. Beyond words. I cannot tell you.
So back in August, I flew into a high Vesuvian rage. I mean storming about the house, screaming, swearing. Fortunately, a thunderstorm moved in so maybe my neighbors didn't hear a lot of it, but who cares. I LOVE thunder and lightning storming right there with me. Yeah, Mother Nature! And WOW. It was amazing. It was powerful. It was primeval. It was scary. It was as if I tapped into the fury of wronged women through the ages, of women who had loved men who then tried to destroy them because the men couldn't face their own fears about themselves and they took it out on us because they were terrified of us. I felt like an Ancient Greek Fury, with wings and talons and eyes and mouth spitting flames, And I saw all the lies, the gaslighting, the verbal abuse and the way I had fallen for it all and believed it and given away my power. I've known about it on some level for a long time, but I saw it really, really clearly. And I focused all the rage on that sick, rotten past and it went up in a huge inferno. It was a firestorm.
It was so satisfying.
And I walked away from from that wall of fire. And as all of that incinerated, I could feel things inside me crumbling. Fine. Whole. Cured. Healed. As I did my meditations in the weeks that followed, I felt new things, like a goddess waking up inside of me. One with power. I could feel shells cracking inside of me and afterwards I thought of how this cancer protects itself with shells that T-cells can't see through. And I thought, that's those shells cracking. It's hard to explain. And I knew that the next scan would show ashes.The doctors aren't going to know what it is when they see it, I thought. And it'll be really hard to explain to them.
But they kind of knew. My radiation doctor's nurse practitioner called it "schmutz." Next time I see her, I might tell her it's ashes.
As I wrote yesterday, they're gonna watch it. Just because it's such an aggressive cancer. Which is fine.
Late in August, talked to my trauma therapist about the rage. "You know," she said, thoughtfully, "this is the first time you've gotten angry at the cancer."
"Yeah!" I said, a little surprised. "You're right!"
She kept talking.
“You don’t want to live in anger. But it’s fine to have it on an island that’s close by. Make it easy to visit.”
Right. I have to talk to my daughters about the power of rage.