Sunday, April 25, 2010


Week 2
A week after chemo and I still felt nasty. I was hot all the time, dizzy, smells were too strong so bad smells were AWFUL, and I was tired randomly. Then Thursday night I went home, out of breathe and crashed onto my bed for a bit. About an hour later I got up and felt sort of normal again. I stayed up till 6am feeling normal. I woke up that day and still felt normal. Rehearsal was fun & I wasn't dizzy or hot or anything. I was skipping & jumping and doing ballet moves during rehearsal. My neck kind of hurt but why complain about that. My heart wasn't pounding too fast, my asthma was OK and food tasted right. So I cooked spaghetti that night & went to bed early and I got up & spent Saturday doing things I wanted to & going out with friends. I even got a massage & it was great, especially since it was cheap and through my doctor's office so the therapist understands the surgery & treatments I've had. He was a really cool guy too. It was nice talking to someone my age (no offense to my young friends).

I have no idea if this will become a pattern. I hope that the cracked out feeling from chemo only lasts a week, if not less. But any normal days are ones I will relish. Sunday I slept & watched movies. And I get another massage on Wed. I can get one a week. Plus I can take yoga or meditation classes. They even offer Quigong. I dread feeling bad again come Thursday, but at least I can hope that it will wear off and eventually, down the road, I will return to who I really am: ME.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


It’s like constantly shaking
Through silences;
The stillness inside of moments
Not usually something we can see or touch,
But I’m there, watching things pass,
Waiting to catch up,
My heart beating faster than usual
And my mind counting the time till
I’m mine again

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chemo #1

Chemo Update #1
So far on chemo I am a little extra ADD. It's like being on speed. Nasty taste in my mouth too. So far no real barfing but a little bit of acid reflux & lots of burping. The anti-nausea pills caused constipation badly, which then makes me nauseated. I am taking other anti-nausea pills now to avoid that. Can't afford hemorrhoids. Taking a colon detox to help. I'm a little extra hyper & twitchy, but I slept a lot last night thanks to Tylenol PM. Not sure if it's the A/C (the chemo) drugs or the steroids that make me feel so funny. The Nuelasta shot I got yesterday is meant to increase my white blood cells but can hurt my bones, like bone aches. My low back does hurt more but that could be a combo of things. I keep eating lollipops for the nasty taste in my mouth. Hope to find some ginger candies that might help w/nausea & nasty taste. Things taste different so some things like the grapes I just bought taste awful-- sadly. Still craving OJ but avoiding eating things I like a lot that I may hate later if I even sort of barf them up. I need to get some calcium with vitamin D for my bones but CVS only had ones with gelatin. I may ask my friend to get some at Whole Foods for me. Still numb in my chest but feeling is returning.

My friend said my no-boob looks just like a boob, just no nipple. I think that's why it's creeping me out a bit more to look at. But it's OK. I'll be getting the new after surgery photos done on Tuesday & I will put them on flickr with the other ones. Was trying to write my play but it might have to wait til after I'm done with my show & maybe after the A/C treatments because I'm sort of too discombobulated to think straight. Shockingly I did my scene in my class the other night & my teacher said it went really well. I felt good about it. Tried not to get distracted, but did feel pretty nauseated (from constipation) right after we finished. Don (my teacher) said we went fast at first but caught our stride. It's a fast scene anyway. Just glad I remembered all the lines in order & all my blocking & didn't bump into any furniture or slip on anything! It was nice having an audience, and my cousin Nanette came to see it! That was the night right after chemo. Don said he's using me as an example for his future classes. If anyone tells him they are sick or have an excuse to not be in class he'll tell them: well, this woman showed up & she had cancer! Hell, I never missed a single one of his classes both semesters! And my other teacher, Patrick, cried when it was my turn to talk about what I've learned in his class & from the school in general. His sister had stage 4 ovarian cancer & lived. He's a great man. Both of them are & I am so lucky to have had them as teachers this year. All my teachers have been very supportive & understanding. I barely missed any classes whereas other people missed tons & they don't have cancer! We started rehearsal for our shows last night. Our director is nice & the cast is great. I hope some of my ADD wears off after a few days so I can be very focused when on stage. And not sick to my stomach or jittery. I gotta find things to watch online or get DVDs to keep me entertained because I don't feel like going out as I want to lay down every so often to rest. If anyone knows of good ginger candies, maybe sugar free & definitely vegan, please let me know. The sugar in the lollipops is getting gross in my mouth too. I wanna brush my teeth all the time! Well, that's my chemo update for treatment #1. I'll keep you posted as I go.

Marie :)

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Some photos that go along with my cancer life are my pre-mastectomy photos and the photos of Stella my breast cancer gnome. These can be found on I'll soon have post-mastectomy photos up for those who want to see them. The guest pass link is:
Some people had trouble getting into it. As I build this blog I'll figure out how to post photos on here.

Day 3

(written January 15th, 2010)

I just got my results on Tuesday that I have breast cancer. I'm 33 years old. It's in my right breast only, a lump about the size of a piece of corn plus a bunch of tiny deposits. I have no idea what kind and what stage and I'm alone in this. I have no insurance and I have to apply to Medicaid for assistance but I'm told it can take a while. I'm so scared. My family & friends are supportive but I cry when I'm alone and I have no idea what I'm doing. I hate being online researching all of this. My life just got so great & suddenly here I am! I'm looking for support groups in Brooklyn NY. I want to meet more women my age who are or have dealt with this. I keep hearing it's more aggressive in younger women, is that true? I'm at a loss. My mother died 2 years ago from Melanoma and she didn't push the doctors enough to do the right things. What's pushing enough & what's too much?
I guess I just need help. I'm told I'm a strong person but I just don't know if that's true. And I have some negative people in my family that don't get how scary this is. I feel like I'm floating on a tiny ice berg barely big enough for me to stand on & I'm so far from land I can't see it, and the water's rough and I can't keep my balance, and it's cold, so cold, and there is no one else anywhere, just ice bergs far away and cold water with no life in it. I don't want to fall in but it's slippery and scary and melting under my feet & I'm cold. Tell me that makes sense.

I Thought I (a song)

I thought I’d wake up as a different person;
That somehow I would not be me.
But I came to, confused a bit, but fully aware
That despite the fact I’d been cut up
I was still myself.

I was still myself.

Here I am now,
Healing day by day,
And nothing has changed in the least.
I’m still laughing and smiling,
Crying and thinking,
I still watch movies, read books and listen to music.
Because no matter what they did to me
I am still myself.

I am still myself.

Things around don’t appear much different than before,
And, often I forget anything has changed.
My body may look different in many, many ways,
But inside me I feel the same.
My heart still beats, my lungs still breathe,
And my face still lights up when I smile.
There’s more to fear than we can see, and all it is
Is not so real once we wake up from the dream.
The things in life that catch us by surprise
End up surprising us in ways we could never conceive.
It’s funny to think that I feared I’d wake up as someone else,
I was more surprised to find that I am still myself.

I am still myself.

Inside (a poem)

inside (a poem by m.farrell)

it's all those things on the inside
that we have no control over;
those hiding, lurking pulses;
the clock of age and time
that slowly and privately eat away at our insides
while we walk around worrying
so much about our outsides

it's the pace at which these secret demons grow
and take hold without our ever knowing
and when we discover them
suddenly the outside matters less;
it is a mere facade;
a mask to cover the fear of what is lurking
inside that we cannot control

Cancer Update Feb

Saw the surgeon today. He confirmed what I suspected: I need a mastectomy of my right breast & Chemotherapy. I can start Chemo before the surgery to make sure the cancer stays where it is & doesn't go on a little trip anywhere else in my body (only I get to travel in this body!).

Next week I get a bone scan & other testing to be sure it hasn't already spread. At some point soon I will lose my hair--- that I FINALLY love! But I'll shave my head & get a free wig from the American Cancer Society & it'll grow back. And on the good side, as long as the cancer hasn't spread & is gone after surgery & Chemo, I can get new boobs! ...I think, since I get to choose this time, I might go up a size! ;)

Sadly the Chemo might cut my chances of ever being pregnant & all that, but I guess I can adopt a Chinese baby one day. I am really sad about that one since I've always wanted to be pregnant & give birth and all, but I guess this is just life.

I'm convinced & certain that something great will come as a result of this--- whether it be that my niece grows up to cure cancer, my new boobs help my career (sadly that's kind of a possibility with acting!), I inspire a book or a movie or play, or I write one, or simply that the suggested age of a first mammogram drop to 30-- fuck it, 20! This disease is hitting the young too much! Whatever happens I'm glad I have my friends & most of my family, and I'm glad I have positivity & happiness...and school starts Monday!!! Woo-hoo!

Keep bugging Ellen to help me & keep those fingers crossed Medicaid comes through. Hell, as long as the doctors treat me they can send me bills for the rest of my life--- which will be VERY long!!! They can't just let me die, right?...they can't, right? FINGERS CROSSED FOLKS!!!!

Thanks! & keep reading my posts for more's easier than replying to a bunch of emails individually.
xxxo <3
Marie :)

This Is Not My Mother's Cancer

Today is the 2 year anniversary of the death of my mother. She died of Melanoma, for those who didn't know. And now I sit here at 1am EST, diagnosed with cancer on my mother's birthday---what would have been her 74th-- thinking about how I am going to handle the day ahead. I am sick with a cold so I may sleep through most of it, but then I have classes tonight & must put on the mask of the diligent actor.

I wonder, will I be sad tonight or will I put it in the back of my mind and forget about it? Should I be thinking of her or of myself? I'm still alive and she is not. I spent last Wednesday (?) night screaming at her in my bathroom mirror. I can't deny I'm pissed she's gone, I'm pissed she didn't ask for more treatment or fight harder to live. I'm pissed she didn't provide me with the phone number to this "heaven" she was so thrilled to be going to. I feel like maybe she gave up. But why? Was it because she believed so strongly that "God" would take care of her? Then I thought about how I try not to cry in front of anyone but I cry a lot lately. And maybe that's how she handled this. Perhaps she cried in private & when I visited she watched tennis as usual and talked about her grand kids. Did she yell at her god or ask to live at all? Why wasn't she visible angry about her certain death?

When the doctor tells you that you have cancer you feel almost as if struck by lightening or something. It's hard to wrap your mind around. I'm still wrapping my mind around it. But when I found this lump on Dec. 7th I immediately said out loud to no one but myself "take my boob! I want to live!" As time goes on I get more scared about the surgery, but I'm educating myself and eating healthy. I'm trying to maintain focus on my school & keep up the hope that my distant family will forget that our mom died of cancer & try being positive that I will survive it.

My friends are a comfort at this time, although I wish they were at my house late at night so I could get hugs at 3am when I get sad or scared. My oldest brother is positive and supportive and my sister randomly sent me some great gifts & even told me she loves me, which my family seems to have difficulty doing. I get that this is hard on them because of our mom, but hope that for the two members of my family who have seemed to have written me off, they will stop looking at cancer as the definition of death & start looking at my cancer and that I am still alive & have no intention of leaving anytime soon!

So for my brother, Bill: I love you despite our differences & please stop thinking cancer is a death sentence. I will fight this & kick it's ass so I can stick around & argue with you about gun control & politics & everything else we disagree on for years and years and years. Hell, you are 10 years older than me & I plan to out live you! So I expect emails & phone calls & do not understand at all why I hear from your wife more than you...I haven't heard a damn thing from you at all actually. If you are thinking about me then call me! I shouldn't have to ask & if I do ask you now & you never call I may never ask again.

And for my dad, who I never got along with until after my mother's death: stop pretending like this is nothing & fucking call me! I deserved a better response than what I got from you when I told you & I have every right to be utterly pissed & annoyed with you right now. I know you have no compassion or emotion but offer me something. I mean, send me a card or a gift or something! Call me to see if I'm OK or something. It's been almost 2 weeks since I left San Diego & I haven't heard a word from either of them. Should I not be hurt by this?

So, on the anniversary of my mother's death I do not know how I will feel later on. Hopefully not congested like I do now! I will cross that bridge when I come to it. I am learning more and more to live in the moment because there is nowhere else to go when you have so few answers. So, today I choose to fight cancer, I choose to stand strong & work hard, and I choose to get out my own head & enjoy the little joys in life that most people miss because they are thinking about what's next.

I have cancer. I know that. I'm dealing with it. Like I've said to my friends, no matter how scared they are about it I am 1,000 times more terrified but I am going to fight & live. I need everyone to believe that. I can feel the negative energy emitted from east county San Diego and it needs to turn off & be replaced by positive energy. This is not my mother's cancer. She was terminal & I am not. This is curable & manageable & I am strong willed & determined. I will & have pushed for answers and for appointments and for the proper tests, and will continue to do so. I have researched & read and dug up & asked & I will keep doing that as I go on this journey. It's not the end of my life! It's a speed bump, or maybe a hurdle, or a giant hill, who knows until I get there, but I finally have a reason to live & I'm not going to give up without a fight!

I love my friends both near & far, & I appreciate all the thoughts & wishes & positivity you are all sending me. Keep it up, keep harassing Ellen, keep sending gifts & keep me in your thoughts (and prayers if you are so inclined).

And visit me in NYC if you feel like it! I might need some serious assistance soon! :)


I’m thinking about love. It’s funny how we can see a photo of a person and it’s just a photo of someone. Maybe they mean something to us, like ‘hey, there’s my brother, or there’s my friend Chuck,’ but maybe it’s just the guy in class or at work that’s just that guy and he’s cool but nothing special. Then there’s that person who, when we see his/her photo our heart literally skips a beat or melts, or both all at once & we see in his/her eyes that he/she feels the same way no matter that it can never be said out loud. It’s like the two of you develop a special telepathy that can never be shared or understood by anyone else, but it’s the best we can get because of certain circumstances that hinder the feeling being anymore than what it is.

It’s so nice---as far as I can recall--- when it’s mutual and can be explored and investigated & built on. But when it can’t… when it’s not allowed to be it has to mutate or it will malfunction. The forbidden love. And it can mutate into a great friendship or professional working relationship. If you’re 23 it likely won’t, but as we get older we discover that there are a million varieties of love, and that just because someone’s photo makes our heart melt & we get so excited to see that person, it doesn’t mean we’ll die without him/her being our lover, and it doesn’t mean we can’t have a meaningful relationship as friends or colleagues.

These are things I am learning as I get older. There will always be people in my life who make my heart melt when I see them either in person or in a photo; and I will want to only focus on that person & tune everyone else out completely. And maybe in 10 years, after losing touch with him/her, I’ll pass across the photo and my heart won’t react… or I’ll merely smile and have fond memories… or, perhaps, my heart will jump for joy and I’ll think ‘fuck, whatever happened to _____. If only we had…’ That’s me though. I don’t get addicted to drugs or liquor or gambling or food. I get addicted to people. I meet certain people and I can’t get enough of them. I want to pick them apart & gain everything I can from whatever it is about them that draws me in. Be it sex appeal, wisdom, knowledge on a certain topic, or charisma… or all of those things.

Right now, although, yes it is one person who makes my heart jump for joy the most, I am discovering that there are more and more tiny things about nearly everyone I know that trigger this experience in me. When I hear my nephew’s 2 year old voice in my head, or see my niece’s photo, or get a text from my older nephew or think of silly stuff my other niece does; when I recall jokes school friends tell, or crazy shit my teachers say; and when I see old friends or get things from friends and family & I think back to the stuff we did… all these things add up to my heart jumping for joy. Almost as much as it does when I see that one person. Every love is different. Unique. Which is better? The one you never act on or the one you get for life? Who’s to say? I mean, the one you never act on will always remain in the ‘what if’ station, but the one you get for life… well, I don’t know yet. I’ve never had that.

But I do like the feeling my heart makes when it melts a little for someone.

*(and did not even remember it's v-day this weekend until after I wrote this)

Sides (a poem)

up side, down side.
right side upside down side.
and above or below.
bruises, bruises, bruises,
covered in black and blueness
skin. flesh. body. organs. wash away the
empty the insides clean and nice and new.
creating something from nothing.
breathe in, breathe out.
breathe up, breathe down. breathe more
anxiety. society. changes:
the things inside that eat us alive.
stitches replacing nipples.
taking away the strength,
replacing it with newness;
making-betterness; something
in which to caress.
under side and over side
down side & up side
it's right side and left side.
and isn't life such a ride!

What is Beauty, Really?

What is beauty? What is truly beautiful? I look in the mirror and I still see the me I’m used to; the me that I have fallen in love with over the past year or more. I finally like my hair, and all of my freckles, I’m finally OK with my arms and my teeth. I love my eyes, and I’m loving that my mouth looks good on my face, which has been getting thinner and thinner over the past few years. My legs are good and my belly’s not so bad. My ass could use some work---what there is of an ass---but I’m not looking at it that often. Sure I’d like to fix or erase a tattoo, and sometimes zits are annoying, and unwanted hair, but I’m pretty happy with how I look. I don’t see my mom in the mirror like I did a few years ago; I see me.

I always liked my tits. I mean, I have always really, really liked them. I never needed giant boobs or loads of cleavage, I liked what I have. Now I look in the mirror…I try to avoid looking in the mirror… and I see, nothing on the right. I see this lonely, sad wonderful breast on the left and I see and feel nothing on the right. It’s so numb. My pain is mostly in my armpit; mostly from the drains or from the tissue expander underneath my chest muscle. I think about how could anyone want to see this? I don’t even want to see it. I expect no man ever will. And I’m not saying men are superficial, but, really, it’s… creepy. I wasn’t as grossed out at it as I thought I would be, but I feel like I should hide it, not just from myself but from everyone else. And I think how could this be MY body? It’s all stitched across and deformed looking. And I know, I know it’s not forever. I’ll have a scar of some kind underneath the new nipple and it will be my badge of courage. I know this. I know now, especially now having seen it and having been living with it for roughly 3 days, that I will get through this. This part is just a part of a process I have to experience. I get that, I’m aware. But it’s still… creepy.

I think of people who have known me a very long time and how they…well, he, in particular… will not want to see it because it’s taken away something he loved. I know that I’m not alone in missing my right breast because I know that he misses it too. But I feel guilty because I want him to see what it looks like now without being creeped out, but how can anyone control that? My friend saw it and I can’t help but think it was too much for her. Maybe I caught the wrong look on her face, maybe not, but I felt it was too much and that she wasn’t as OK seeing it as she thought she’d be. I could be wrong.

I know everyone knows this is hard on me. I know everyone wants to be here for me & help me to cope. I know I’ve got a lot to deal with and having friends around helps me deal with it better. I know everything I’m feeling is OK for me to feel and that I can get through all of this no matter what bullshit I get from immature people or ignorant jack asses, and no matter what bizarre shit my dad keeps making up. I know that screaming & crying when you have cancer is totally OK & anyone who says it isn't is a jerk. And most of all I know something really good will result from it all and that my life will be better, even if my right boob is a little numb forever. Because, what is beauty, really? I feel beautiful on the inside. I feel important and I feel loved. I feel like I matter to people no matter how many boobs I have, and I feel like having gone through this surgery I can do anything --well, besides raising my arm over my head or lifting anything over 5 pounds--but I’ll get there again, and for now, I’m pretty certain that I’ll still get hooted at walking down Broadway and 27th, and those guys have no idea what is or is not underneath my shirt. It may not really be flowers coming out of my chest, but to me I’m still seeing beauty. What else can I see?

I’m learning every day not only to live in the moment but how to not be afraid of a fucking thing.

..."Physical beauty is passing; a transitory possession. But beauty of the mind, richness of the spirit & tenderness of the heart... aren't taken away, but grow!" --Blanche Dubois


It's interesting how getting cancer has caused me to slack off on focusing on acting. I feel so distracted & so scatter brained. I feel so much like time is getting away from me. It's also fascinating how people who claim to be very religious and compassionate turn out to be the first ones who want to shun you and your cancer. What I'm learning from this experience is how strong I can be in the face of surgery and the upcoming chemo, but I do realize my limitations. I am so appreciative of the people in my life who have sent gifts and helped me out, and for my brother who flew from San Diego to help me after surgery. But what has shocked me beyond explanation is the way in which a few specific people have decided that my cancer is too much for them and that I should get out of their way. Especially since one of these people is Catholic. I was taught that Catholicism was about caring and giving and understanding, not controlling every situation & behaving like a spoiled brat. I mean there are certainly many things about Catholicism and all organized religions that I do not like, but I still respect that religious people are usually the first to offer assistance and generosity in times of need. I mean if my mom were alive she'd be here with me now for sure. I also thought Catholics abstained from sex before marriage but I guess that's changed too.

I was on the subway the other day & I sat down in the disabled seating. I had my arm brace on and it limits me using my right arm so much more, which is good since I was told to hardly use that arm it all while the drain is in. This woman next to me kept huffing & puffing at me but not saying anything. She was obviously annoyed that I was digging through my purse with one arm and that my purse was on the seat between her and I. After a while of struggling to get my water bottle out this woman finally says: "are you done yet?" I looked right at her and said: "if you have a problem don't sit in the disabled seating." She started yelling about my having my bag on the seat and I said "look I have one working arm here and this seating is for people with disabilities. If you don't like that go sit somewhere else." I offered to contact the metro police to have her escorted off the train. She said she'd have them give me a ticket for having my bag on the seat. I was like, where else can I put it? I can't lean forward without pain, I had a giant book and a plastic bag on my lap & stacking more will hit my chest which is still healing. I pointed out that she should read the sign and her witty come back was: "you read the sign!" So I did, out loud to her: "This is priority seating for persons with disabilities." The bitch finally got off the train a few stops later. Maybe if she'd sat up straight instead of leaning her fat ass in my direction my purse would not have been in her way. Hell, it wasn't even in her way she was just an imbecile. And for the record being an imbecile is NOT a disability!

It's simply baffling me that anyone can justify discrimination and be so utterly selfish when I'm going through this. I mean I have been tolerant of many things and I tend to try to let things go no matter how annoying they can be, but trying to make your life and all the tiny things in it add up to as much as cancer is an act of insanity. I'm not saying I'm better but come on, I had surgery two weeks ago & I deserve a little (if not a lot) of consideration! I'm doing tons of things I should not be doing but I have to because no one's helping me out. And reasoning with such a person is not even worth it anymore. It's like arguing with a wall. Until the intolerant people in my life are mature and unselfish enough to truly SEE what I am dealing with and respect that it is not about them and that I did not get cancer to piss them off or fuck up their lives, there is no way for me to get through to them. Dealing with them and with situations like these is only causing me more stress and it is not fair. If I believed in any form of a god I would say he's shaming them right now (tisk, tisk) or that they are going to go straight to hell for being so maliciously hateful. But I don't believe in that. I just think karma will have to deal with it from now on. I refuse to sink to the level of control freaks and selfish people. I am learning so much that I cannot control most of my life and what I need to do is just live it. I cannot control the people around me either so I might as well just ride the wave. It's not so easy trying to ride a wave when someone keeps poking at you with a stick though because they feel they need to control your life since it seems to be getting in the way of their happy-bubble life. Is it wrong for me to want to wish cancer on these assholes?

That Day (a monologue)

That day. The day I was meant to fly to California. That day the phone call came. That day that would have been my mother’s birthday had she survived her cancer… The phone call came. I heard it in her voice. It was 10am. The doctor identified herself and I knew. Well, just a few minutes before 10am, and I had my alarm set for 10 and the phone rang before the alarm went off, and I heard it in her voice. “This is doctor so and so…” and she didn’t need to keep going but because it hadn’t been said yet it wasn’t true yet, so I just said hi and listened, and she continued… “ So I have bad news.” And I knew. I didn’t need to hear the word “cancer” but I kept listening. I held that phone to my ear and I was breathing, and I was floating. It was like I was floating in this ocean. I floated in the ocean as she said “there were cancer cells found…” and I floated with the fishes and I floated like a boat on water, and I laid on my back in the ocean as my eyes began to water and a frog grew in my throat and I said, in the crackling of my voice, “thank you for calling,” and she wished me luck and I hung up the phone. And then the welling of air came over me and, like a tidal wave, silent and terrifying, it washed up from the sole of my foot, through my knees as they shook, past my hip, through my groin, through my belly, past my breast and over and around my heart and inside of my lungs, up my throat like a spouting volcano, and out through the top of my head and through my mouth burst: air. Air that escaped me from the depths of my soul and formed the loudest, most audible moan that has ever been produced. And I fell onto the floor of my bedroom and I screamed and I screamed and I screamed until everything in my soul was let out, and I cried and I curled up into a ball and tried with all my might to disappear. (pause) And then, at some point, I got up. I wiped the tears off my face and I got up. It certainly wasn’t the end of my screaming. It was far from the end of my crying. But I knew that I had two choices: to hide under the bed and cry until it killed me, or to get up and fight for my life. And there just wasn’t enough room under my bed for me to hide.

Suffering or Living Well is The Best Revenge

Suffering or Living Well is the Best Revenge

Suffering is something that a lot of people do, often daily. Suffering from fear or from jealousy; suffering from a cold or allergies; suffering from pain or loss. We all suffer. I spent years suffering from a bad childhood, rape, abuse, neglect, torment. Then I suffered from a bad knee, a dislocated hip, a damaged and crooked spine, chronic pain, migraines, a broken heart. The list of sufferings can go on and on for all of us.

I was recently told by someone I know that the death of her brother outweighs my cancer because I am going to live and I am getting new boobs, but her brother can’t be replaced. She went on to say that even the death of my mom is not as important as the death of her brother because a brother is a closer relationship. No one in my life, not even my family, has ever said something so hateful and cruel to me. How can one compare the deaths of anyone? Certainly it can be fair to say that Gandhi’s death was far more tragic than the death of Hitler, but I’m talking about regular people with regular lives. Obviously this girl loved her brother and they were very close, but how can she know that I did not love my mother or that she was not my very best friend? What gives her or anyone else the right to assume that their suffering trumps that of others?

My mother was my best friend. But when she died I chose, either consciously or subconsciously, not to suffer from her death but to survive it. I chose to become a better person. I’m still working on this every day because I never knew how to be a really good person before. That’s not to say that I haven’t cried a lot over the loss of my mother, but I realized that suffering my whole life only attracted all of this negative attention. It’s ok to suffer from something, but to suffer endlessly gets draining on other people. When I was younger and suffering from endless depression and physical pain, I could see that people around me were warn-out and wanted a break from me and all my suffering. But I got so much attention from it that I continued suffering until I lost all my friends. Then I couldn’t figure out why they’d left. A very close friend once told me that I always played the victim and it hit pretty hard but he made a good point. So I guess my mom’s death helped me see that even though she was dying she was still able to laugh and smile and make jokes. She wasn’t suffering; at least not endlessly. What she was doing was living. Her cancer was not survivable but she was alive until the very end. And she was a good person. I can’t say I’d have ever given her the Mother of the Year award, but she was good. She was Catholic and Republican, but I forgave her for that, and she was very accepting, well more along the lines of tolerant and respectful, of my opposing views. She taught and tutored disabled and terminally ill children. My aunt said last year that she could never understand how my mom could teach these children when she was going to funeral after funeral for them. I certainly didn’t see that when I was a kid because I was in my own world and didn’t know these children she talked about. I guess I didn’t quite get it then. I just hated sharing my mom with them and with god, and with anyone else. She was mine. As I grew up and we were adults together we would argued all the time and then we’d joke a lot about stupid things and talk about TV shows or my cat or something that happened somewhere, and she’d tell me all about my cousins and their weddings and babies and everything. When she died I remember my sister told me that she was gone. I was in the bathroom helping my niece wash her hands. I didn’t exactly react, I think I just said ok, and Theresa and I exchanged a glance that I think only daughters without their mother can share. Then I went out and looked at her body on the bed in the living room. She looked just like she had for the past week, lying on that bed, but now there was none of the “Darth Vader breathing,” as I called it; just quiet stillness. She was so calm and at peace. And I touched her. Just on the shoulder. I thought it would feel weird but I had to do it just to see if she might wake up and say “ha ha, I was just kidding! I’m not sick or dead! Let’s watch tennis on TV!” But she did nothing and after a while I went down the hall and lied on her bed where she always slept before she got too sick to sleep there, and I cried. My nephew, Brandon, came in and asked if I was ok and then he hugged me.

Just after my mom died I went to San Francisco and met up with a long time friend. She has had experience with death and I felt we were both part of this club no one really wants to be in—not unlike cancer. My friend had lost her newborn baby a few years before to a rare disease. I remember when I first heard about and I had no idea what to say. I think I just said how sorry I was and offered support. When we met up after my mom died she was so supportive and kind; she understood how I felt. I would never typically compare a death, but even my mom would be ok with my saying that losing a child does kind of outweigh losing anyone else. But my friend would never say that. She probably wouldn’t even think it. She’s not that kind of person. As a matter of fact, I’m sure she suffered a lot in losing her son, but she’s a better person now. She’s had another child since and she spends her days focusing on him and on caring for other young children. I admire that strength in her and I try to emulate it as best I can. I think that what this girl said to me about her loss and her pain mattering more than mine is reflective of her ignorance that I also matter as a person, and that we all suffer; it reflects her selfishness. But what I’m learning from it is that I am better than that and that my ability to empathize with everyone from humans to wee little bugs is a quality in myself that I can take pride in. It hurt to lose my mother. It hurts to lose anyone. But I can’t say I really suffered from it, I just remember that I was breathing differently and moving in slow motion a lot. I thought I would melt into a depression so deep I’d never recover but I didn’t. I actually started finding things in my mother’s life that made me want to be a better person. She helped a lot of kids and I love kids as much as she does, so I noticed that parallel in us. I was angry she was gone, and I still am sometimes. There are a lot of things I wish I’d said to her that I didn’t, and I feel that her life was cut far too short far too quickly, but I had two months with her to say good bye and I am trying not to regret any of it because I can’t change the past I can only create a better present which will lead to a better future. Seven months after she died I lost Louis too. He was my 13 year old cat. He was also my best friend. I spent every day with that cat and I knew him better than anyone. He was literally my soul mate. So when he died I burst into tears immediately and then felt at peace. I missed him but I knew he was no longer suffering from diabetes and that he had a great life. We really had no unfinished business like my mom and I did. But it still hurt, and I still miss him constantly. But he’s in my heart. Hell, he was my heart! And all during my mom’s death I was recovering from an abusive relationship and dealing with a very sick cat, but none of this makes my pain more important than anyone else’s pain over their lives and their struggles. It’s all in how we choose to deal with it. If we choose to deal with it at all.

What I’m learning is that loss and pain and disease are all a part of being alive. So when I see this girl suffering so much from her brother’s death I feel bad for her because death is so sad and so difficult on those of us still alive. But I would never compare her loss and mine, or her pain and mine. Actually I had felt that because we are both going through a hard time we are strangely connected despite the fact that we never really cared for each other. I feel like to compare struggles and life’s hardships would make me the biggest asshole on earth; I think about what could make a person do that and feel it is ok or justifiable, because it never is. And to say that my cancer is less important than her loss is to say that it doesn’t matter, but it does. The difference is that I just chose not to spend every day suffering from it. I’m living with it instead. I live with the losses I have had and I live with the pain and discomfort that I have. Life is too amazing to suffer all the time. Trust me I have my moments of sadness and self pity, but they don’t last long because I have other stuff to do. In the beginning I woke up with a constant reminder in my head: YOU HAVE CANCER! But as time has gone on and I have more things to distract me and keep me motivated I find that I have more and more days where the first thought I have each morning is not related to cancer at all. I actually got frustrated yesterday with the woman who called because I was in theatre-mode and she wanted to talk about cancer. I told her I’d call her back on Monday. I know I have it and I know everyone in my life is aware of it, but I don’t need them to suffer and I don’t need to suffer. It is part of my life, like anything else, and I deal with each aspect of it as it arises. I am very open about and I don’t feel that anyone, especially a selfish child like this girl, should try to make me feel ashamed of my cancer or that my cancer is getting in the way of her endless suffering. I own it because it’s mine and I have no other choice. Maybe people like her should consider that her endless suffering gets in the way of the rest of us trying to live happily and survive our own shit.

I talked to my friends and my teachers about this because of how hurtful it was and how much it made me want to punch the bitch in the jaw, and the overall consensus was that she’s so angry about her circumstances that she wants everyone else to suffer with her; that she’s too immature and not worth my time worrying about so I should just ignore her. They are right. What she said was her problem, not mine and I have no reason to let it effect my life negatively. In fact I can find all the positives in how it has impacted my life since and I already feel better. I’m better than her and I’m, by far, stronger than that. So I smile every day and I work hard on what I need to and, yes, I will survive cancer, but that certainly doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. We all have our shit, some more than others, but to compare whose pain is deeper or whose life matters more is to be petty and childish and cruel. And what does one get from that? I refuse to sink to that level; I’m too happy being above it. It is easy to suffer endlessly but it takes strength to fight the suffering and to I endure the pain in order to be a better person. I know that I am a better person.

My Surgery Story

-----------------------------------------------------------------------©Farrell, M. 2010

We arrived at the hospital by taxi at 5am. I had not really slept at all, only laid down for about half an hour, having gotten home at midnight and spending hours packing my bag and creating my surgery CD. I was on a high from the night before, with my scenes that went up and my being topless on stage. It was such a magical night doing Streetcar and Danny; I felt so filled and encompassed with love that I was almost floating everywhere I walked. I wasn’t meant to be at the hospital until 5:45 or 6, but I figured leaving at 4:30 in the morning was enough time to get there and I had no concept of early morning traffic in New York City. In the cab I remember watching the city slowly creeping out of darkness and gaining more light as we drove on. My brother, John and I said very little, if anything at all. I knew that the comfort I needed did not exist in him and I chose to find it within myself and my thoughts instead. Watching the city go by through the windows and knowing that this was it and that I had no other choice, I remember sinking into the comfort of the reality and the calmness that comes with true acceptance. And I remember feeling my mom with me somewhere, knowing she was there and she mattered. I felt Louis too, my cat. I knew he was inside my heart and I felt the loud vibrations of his purring inside me, calming me more, and engulfing me in soft cat fur and the thirteen years of cuddling we’d done. I thought of my friends in New York and of my loves in California; of James, Shannon and Christopher, and of my nieces and nephews who mean everything to me.

At the hospital I checked in and they sent me upstairs to wait. Then I left John out in the waiting room while they had me change into a gown and robe and special no-slip socks. I didn’t talk to my breast as I changed or really think about it so much. I had said good bye in the shower an hour before and I was just breathing deeply into it with all the love I could send there. I moved slowly, no rushing, and I gently placed my clothing on the hanger inside a garment bag the woman had provided for me. I was taken into an area where this very friendly nurse got my I.V. ready and my brother came in and we sat there taking photos of Stella. I normally do not condone the Irish/Desy way of talking around everything, but I let it be as it was because I wasn’t in the mood to cry anymore and I knew John wouldn’t understand how I felt if I said it. I was okay with it this way because I knew it could not be any more than what it was.

7am and after a momentary tearing up and an awkward hug from my brother, I was walked into the operating room by one of the assisting surgeons. She was very nice, and escorted me in and I said hello to my surgeon and to all the doctors and nurses in the room. The room was large and filled with metal, but also with other things and it seemed cozier than I’ve ever seen operating rooms on T.V. My surgeon was wearing a face mask but I know she was smiling at me under it.

They had me sit down on the operating table and put my legs up. They helped me get underneath this blanket. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect but I think I kind of thought that there would be some sort of introduction before anything was started. I sat on that thin operating table in my gown and the anesthesiologist was apparently already getting me set up to be knocked out. The doctor who escorted me in was getting my surgical mix CD set up in the CD player. It was all Moby & R.E.M. (of course). I remember hearing the beginning of the first song, then asking the doctor if my freckle on my breast would still be there or if I should say good bye to it now. She said it would be there. Actually, as it turns out, both of my freckles were conserved. I’m glad; I like them.

I looked around the operating room and I remember so clearly that it hit me at the exact time I said it out loud: “You’re all women.” They all looked around and laughed and smiled and my surgeon, said “yes,” and I said: “I’m glad.” I was lying down as the music started: Moby’s Life’s So Sweet and then I was out. I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up –sort of-- and saw my friend Natasha’s mouth smiling at me from the foot of my bed, then her beautiful blue eyes sparkling for me, just like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I couldn’t really make out the rest of her face, but I knew it was her and then I think I drifted off again.

Later I recall hearing my brother’s voice and hearing my friend, Jasmin talking then seeing her a bit but I could not understand exactly what she was saying. She brought me food. I kept going in and out of sleep, and it was like a fuzzy dream state I was in that would not wear off. At some point in that fuzzy dream my other friend and scene partner in Streetcar, Kire showed up holding this small vase of purple flowers and I swear my heart melted. Obviously I was spending so much time visualizing flowers coming out of where my breast was, and I do love getting flowers, that seeing him with them made me so happy. And the fact that they were purple, much like the ones I had been visualizing prior to surgery, was an added joy. I felt this overwhelming urge to jump up and hug him but I was way too delirious and not very able to move. I probably looked like a drunken moron!

At some point I’m told, and vaguely recall, that I was throwing things. I remember being so hungry that I was going nuts. I was frustrated that my brother wasn’t forcing me to stay awake long enough to eat something. I got him to feed me what Jasmin brought in but it tasted weird and all I wanted was an apple. I mean, I DESPERATLY wanted an apple! I was begging for an apple like a thirsty person lost in some desert, but I think I was getting pissed off because I couldn’t talk that well and I believe I had a migraine from not eating and because it was migraine season that day (yeah, like I needed to start my period the day after my mastectomy!). Being a woman sometimes really sucks. I guess that’s when I threw stuff. I was feeling sick to my stomach because I hadn’t eaten all day. I kept getting excuses that the apple order took a while so I believe I sent John to get me one. When I finally got my apple I took a giant bite from it, and even though it was a red one which I normally don’t like, I think that was the very best tasting apple I have ever had in my life. I remember devouring it for a while then passing back out with it still in my left hand. My brother had gotten me a banana too but bananas were of no interest to me… so odd since usually I love them. I think it was the sugar thing. My blood sugar was off or something. Fruit, like watery fruit, really helps.

I was also totally unable to pee and I was getting really frustrated because I had to pee so badly but I couldn’t. I tried so hard but then something hurt on my side and I was not able to control my bladder muscles. Finally, in desperation, I begged for a catheter, which for me is a big deal because I absolutely hate those things, and I was so worried they’d force it on me which they didn’t, but here I am begging for it. Crazy how things change when you are so desperate! It wasn’t even that horrible. It certainly wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t horrible because I was still hopped up on medication and because the pee came out and I was happy.

I remember curling up in the hospital bed with my teddy bear, Wendell Gee, and I was so happy he was with me. Yes, I’m 34 and I still have the teddy bear I got from Circus, Circus when I was 14. He has really been there for me though, throughout the years, and with him come a lot of memories. I look at Wendell and I see my cat Snowy and I see Louis, and I hear R.E.M. playing and my life is so sweet. Since I suck at relationships, or I pick the bad ones, I guess Wendell has offered me the comfort of unconditional love no one else can, and despite the fact that he’s inanimate I feel like he’s far passed the qualifications that even the Velveteen Rabbit had to meet to be “real.”

My friend, Vanessa showed up the next day to take me home. I found a note from my friend, Shanty that she came by while I was asleep and left me gifts of food and tic tacs, which I do remember eating, and Jasmin had drawn a pretty sign with my name on it. Vanessa was there when the Physical Therapist showed me the exercises to do, and when the nurse finally came in to have me see my stitches and learn how to milk the drains. I thought I’d totally flip out seeing it but I didn’t. I was visualizing the flowers, much like my bouquet of birthday flowers my gay husbands sent me days before. I think I sort of looked at Vanessa’s big, beautiful eyes seeing my stitches before I actually looked. I think seeing her looking and not looking away or anything helped. I was staring at her a lot to see if she was freaked out or anything and I kind of followed her lead. The milking was easy, although my range of motion was off a bit, and my hand and arm were very weak.

Vanessa’s mom dropped my brother and I off at home, and she helped us get everything from the car. I really felt okay at this point, like I was myself still. I guess I sort of thought I would wake up as someone else, but I didn’t. I was happy. I mean, not like when you get married or win the lottery or have a baby, but I was on loads of drugs and I was, well, happy. I think I went to bed right when I got home and I’m not really sure what day was what after that. I wanted more visitors but no one came by. I was rather bored. I slept a lot and I think I just wandered the apartment all weekend trying to occupy my awake time until I finally went out on Monday with my brother and walked around. Then I went back to school that night and everyone was so kind and welcoming and happy to see me. And I was happy to see them and to be back where I feel most at home; where I feel I have the most purpose and reason to survive this.