“Knock, Knock.” “Who’s There?” “Cancer.”
Posted on September 20, 2012, 3:48 PM
by Tig Notaro
If anyone is wondering how I’m doing, I’m just sitting around having breast cancer all day and night. It’s in my body and I want it to get the hell out now. My oncologist and my surgeons have had differing opinions on how to handle the procedures. This has lead me to getting second and third opinions, which means scheduling three, then six, then nine appointments.
It’s insane how long it takes just to get a couple of useless teats removed. Sleeping has been nearly impossible. My MRI results came back revealing more tumors, not to mention the tumor on my left side appears to have spread to my lymph nodes, so until my surgery, they won’t be able to tell me if it has spread to other parts of my body or not. Aaaaahhhhh…. Night-night, sleep tight. As I have real waves of fear of dying, I look around my house and see some mostly unused furniture, chairs I never even sat on. I wonder why I bought these stupid things in the first place. I have fantasies of taking things back.
Me: “Yes, hi. I’d like to return this.”
Employee: “The reason?”
Me: “I have cancer.”
Employee: “Do you have a receipt?”
Me: “No, but I do have cancer.”
All of my moments are not that dark. But quite a few can be. Everyone says to stay positive.
And I am an optimist. But still, I felt railroaded, when, for example, a well-meaning person called and talked to me for ten minutes straight like some locker room interview on ESPN: “you’re gonna be fine, you’re strong, just gotta keep your head up.” The conversation was such a clear need on this person’s part to avoid any real depth, almost like a call that just needed to be made. I was bulldozed with positivity. That might work for some people, but I need a real connection. I need room for: “How are you? What exactly did your doctors say?” And for me to have the option to say, “Sometimes, I’m kind of scared.”
I guess I feel it’s reasonable and human-like for me to flip back and forth between confident I’ll beat this and “holy god, I have invasive cancer and I better figure out where I want my lonesome tombstone to still be standing for an eternity with no one visiting it.” I’ve always found it interesting that people need so desperately to make their mark here on earth, the final one being their tombstone. Whenever I drive past a graveyard, I always think of how many tombs are not being visited and haven’t been for decades. Except by the lawnmower guy as he rolls by.
Seems like the typical tombstone is really only visited for 50 years, 100 years, max? Maybe? A tombstone gets a lot of visits right away, for sure. I was on tour a few years ago and took a walk around town that led me to a really cool, old creepy graveyard. I came across a plot that had about 15 balloons, party hats, kazoos, streamers, a triple layered cake with burned out candles and signs exclaiming, “Happy Birthday!” etc. all decorating the tombstone. It stopped me in my tracks. I slowly looked around in all directions just to make sure I wasn’t being filmed by a TV prank show. And then remembered I was in someplace like Indiana, so I just stood there and stared at the stillness of the party that wasn’t going on. At all.
No matter how much you dress up a tombstone, there’s still nothing happening. I wondered if anybody had any sense of humor about it as they ordered the cake and blew up the balloons, planned it or executed this idea. Or if it was just a group of sincere people with zero sense of humor sticking to their word that they’d be back to celebrate the deceased’s birthday. And I can’t help but wonder who blew the candles out on the cake.
Soon after seeing that site, I was in quite a fit of laughter. It was amazing. The longer I stared at it, the funnier and more ironic it became. And yes, this is a huge hint to my friends and family as for what I’d like for my birthday after I die. Don’t sullenly hang out around my tomb, just dress the thing up in celebration and then take the party elsewhere, please. Thanks in advance.
Actually, change of plans. I don’t want to be buried, I want to be cremated because I don’t want to take up any more space after I die. And for the record, I sure hope I don’t die anytime soon. I just happen to be right in the middle of not knowing what’s going on.
Everyone keeps remarking on how well I’m handling things. “Things” being my debilitating digestive tract condition that left me hospitalized for a week back in March, the tragic death of my mother after an accidental fall a few days after I was discharged from the hospital, my breakup in May, and now, my cancer diagnosis in July. I’m not sure how to handle all of this, other than to grab my stomach whenever I get a sudden horrible sharp pain after eating certain foods, to stop in my tracks every time I hear my mother’s voice in my head, to finally go out with someone I’ve always had a thing for and to just sit around and have cancer on my couch. I don’t even know if I’m doing well, it’s just literally how I’m handling things. Some days I can’t get out of bed due to an overwhelming feeling of defeat. Then other days I feel so inspired that I can’t stop writing. All I know is that I take one step, stop, take a huge breath and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
I’m always keenly aware that no matter how horrible things get in life, it never takes anything away from all of the remarkably great things that have happened along the way. I’ve traveled the world, I’ve been in love, I’ve seen my dreams realized beyond expectation, I’ve laughed so hard it made me physically ill. I’ve really lived a dynamic life. I’ve become accustomed to responding to all of my life’s full-circle experiences with “ah, of course,” because every time I think I’ve missed the boat, a giant ship has shown up. Sometimes even a speedboat. Like, say, the speedboat I rented on my “make-a-wish” weekend with my date, zooming across Lake Ontario with the radio blaring the best possible 80s tunes.
Anyway, if I do die, and I really hope I’ve made it clear that I don’t want to, please do me the biggest favor and make sure every article written about me says the clichéd, “she had a sense of humor right up to the end.” I always picture myself lying on my deathbed with all of my loved ones gathered around hanging on my every word as I slowly mutter: “Knock…............ knock…...........”
That being said, if I do lose my sense of humor when I die, please make note of that as well. “She lost her sense of humor right at the end. She said, “Knock…............ Never mind…............”
Tig Notaro is a stand-up comedian who has performed on Conan and This American Life. You can find her website at www.tignotaro.com, like her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/tignotarocomedy, listen to her podcast Professor Blastoff at http://www.earwolf.com/show/professor-blastoff/, and follow her podcast on Twitter (@blastoffpodcast). Since writing this piece, Tig has successfully undergone surgery.
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