When people go on about “gifts” from cancer, I roll my eyes. More like curses, I think. One such curse is some occasional insomnia for me. You know, that wake up at 3 in the morning thing. Start worrying about stuff, mostly cancer, and cannot get back to sleep. This happened to me this morning. I did the one thing you’re not supposed to do–got out my phone and started goofing around, which pretty much guarantees I won’t get back to sleep.
So I got up at 5 AM, turned on the TV to see if I could find a nice boring infomercial that would lull me back to sleep. Instead I found delight: Foo Fighters on “Austin City Limits” on PBS!!
Let me back up a little bit. I knew the Foos were going to be on ACL, and knew that it was supposed to broadcast on PBS on Feb 7. PBS always gives a date and a time for programs with the note to check local listings. I LOVE living in Maryland, except for the state’s PBS station, MPT. MPT NEVER complies with the times/days PBS advertises. Well, of course, “Downton Abbey” is on at the same time as it is on other PBS stations, but I am sooooo over that show. When the Ken Burns cancer film shows in most areas of the US, I will likely not see it until a day or so after, and I will have to really look to see when it will screen on MPT. I’d checked my local listings last night, and ACL was not listed. It did not occur to me to check 5 frickin’ AM the next day for it. It was pure luck I had a sleepless night and got up to channel surf. Who the hell watches a show of raucous music at 5 AM? Well, me. With such recent artists featured on ACL—Nine Inch Nails, Beck, freakin’ Nick Cave—5 AM is NOT the time slot I thought to research.
All griping about my local PBS aside, what a wonderful morning. Yes, I am tired today—maybe I can grab a nap later. Yeah, waking up in the middle of the night sucks, worrying about cancer in such a way it prevents sleep sucks, but what a great outcome today! Today is great! (Cue Ice Cube’s “Today Was A Good Day” in the background.) I saw an awesome show, I was reminded of the power of live performances. Also, BTW, anyone who does not love Gary Clark, Jr. (the Foos special guest) is wrong!!!
So oh no, what??!!! I have to thank CANCER for the GIFT of insomnia??!!! Weeeeellll, I’m not gonna go THAT far. But I concede that the series of events led me to getting up early, and totally enjoying it.
Anyone who has read my older posts, the music related ones, knows that I 1) am a big rock and Grohl fan and 2) do not believe in having heroes. On the latter point—it isn’t fair to dehumanize someone with hero worship, they are merely fallible humans. That said, I will admit to being extremely grateful, indebted even, to Dave Grohl and his various music affiliations. Nirvana, Foo Fighters, wacky collaborations with Jack Black, any of those combinations have been a source of comfort in my post-cancer life. Of course I could’ve faced my post-treatment depression without him. But it’s been a hell of a lot easier with the existence of Dave Grohl.
My secret to getting away from Pinktober madness is music, of course. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations come out each October and I’m usually able to use those as a nice distraction. This year, there is the added bonus of the “Foo Fighters Sonic Highways” documentary series on HBO. I thank my lucky stars for Dave Grohl.
The series (and creator) was featured on Sunday’s “60 Minutes”, a show I generally do not watch. While waiting for the Grohl-interviewed-by-Cooper segment, I endured a piece about genetically manipulating embryos, in order to have a baby that does not have any faulty, disease-causing genes.
I’m not going to go into the “playing god” aspect, I’ll leave that to internet comments: “if your mother had done that, you would not have been born” arguments that rage around this topic. Not having ever desired kids, I’m a bit dim on this subject. But the woman featured in the segment decided to take this path after getting breast cancer at age 29, and yes she has the BRCA mutation. Of course that gene is one she sought to eradicate. The interviewer asked her if her goal was, “breast cancer ends with me” and the woman said “yes”.
Look, I understand that BRCA is a big issue in breast cancer discussions. But it is possible to get breast cancer without being BRCA positive—I’m one such patient. In fact, from my rather weak grasp of breast cancer science, it is my understanding that BRCA is not present in most breast cancer patients. So how can this woman be so certain that she has eliminated the chances of her progeny ever getting breast cancer? Not sure breast cancer has ended with her for her descendants.
Perhaps I am wrong to be annoyed, to think that this is irresponsible journalism? Generally, I do not watch these types of magazine TV shows. While I gather that something like “60 Minutes” is a bit more reputable than the morning entertainment & lies shows, I still do not think they are a reliable source of medical info. Sadly, most of the public think things like “60 Minutes” are perfectly reliable. Did the show spread more misinformation (I am vaguely aware there was a false reporting or something scandal with them earlier this year)?
I am so tired of these sort of “winning the fight against breast cancer, kicked cancer’s ass” type of statements: breast cancer ends with me. Do we really have as much control as we’d like to think?
Argh—I just wanted to watch something about one of my favorite bands, about a cool project that has kept me entertained, educated, and distracted this Pink season. Can I not get one moment’s respite from breast cancer bullshit?
I thought I was over that whole JAMA announcement hoo haa. You know, the one in which DCIS is not going to be called cancer anymore.
The main irritant in that whole mess for me was the blaring headlines, which did not explain the situation to the un-cancer-y. I begrudgingly give credit to a podcast in which the Sloan Kettering doctor pointed out that yeah, maybe DCIS will wind up being nothing to worry about for most people, but it still sucks for the 1% who manage to develop cancer from it (he did not say “sucks” but his mannerism and attitude indicated it—and for that I respect him). When I learned of the JAMA report, I read about it in a NY Times pieces, and this same doctor’s protestations were not mentioned until about the 13th paragraph—and no one but the most dedicated of cancer readers will get that far into the article.
I remember wincing when I read it. It reminded me of the fuss a couple of weeks earlier. One headline got repeated on various internet stories over and over and over: “Alice Cooper Slams Mumford & Sons”. If anyone bothered to watch the linked video like yours truly, they’d see Cooper say he actually liked the band and only objected to the fact they were categorized as “rock music”—and he didn’t even accuse the band of calling themselves this! More or less, he was grumbling about the state of rock, claiming there is very little of it out there these days. The two groups he referred to as still carrying said torch for rock—Foo Fighters and Green Day—have each been around for about 20 years, hardly spring chickens, those dudes. Granted, Cooper said a few loopy things in the clip—I mean why does anyone need to eat a steak to produce great rock? Whatever dude—but he never slammed anyone, and I resent the lie the headline used to hook people into clicking to their sites.
Yeah, yeah, linking Cooper and cancer is a stretch, but is it? I’m so tired of misleading headlines, of truths being buried so deep into articles that no one notices, and no one challenges the reports, and no meaningful conversations are had. Just headlines. No one reads details, no one even trusts details anymore. I’m tired of it in every topic, cancer especially.
Even more, I’m tired of no new news.
Honestly, that DCIS-is-NOT-cancer thing was not a new topic, the JAMA report was just making it more official. I’d already read conversations in breast cancer communities supporting the idea that it is cancer-to-be or others slamming those with DCIS as not having “real” cancer. That topic I won’t touch with a ten foot pole!
So tired of the same old shit. I want something new, something I’ve never heard or seen before. What brought on this renewed fuss about that old incident?
I sit here writing this as I watch the nominees for the 2013 VMA nominees. I see pop starlet after pop starlet lip sync in their videos and I am shocked that the videos have not changed for over 10 years. The same cliché shots: young singer in water with heavy eye make-up, giving the camera the come hither look; the hand on hip with seductive hip twitch, again with the come hither look, the same line of sexy women back up dancers. It is as if these girls grew up watching videos with the sole goal of starring in videos EXACTLY like the ones they grew up with—innovation be damned. And the boy bands are exactly the same too. One video’s plot suggested a boy band change their image to the classic Village People look. I found myself wishing someone WOULD dress up like the Village People. Sure it was done before but at least only once—because what I’m seeing has been done like a million times.
Technology changes every five minutes these days—always new software I gotta learn, a new phone I want but gotta wait 2 years to have (and then I have to learn it). But I’m stuck with the same pop tartlets and the same cancer news. WTF?
Headline news, cancer news, pop culture news—PLEASE gimme something new! And someone give me Alice Cooper’s email address. I wasn’t much of a fan of his growing up; I began liking him later in life when I started listening to his radio programs. But best of all I suspect him of being a fellow curmudgeon–maybe he is King Curmudgeon Cooper. I think I need to hang out with him, we can curmudgeon together about the state of rock, of cancer, of culture.
Author’s Note- Dave Grohl’s SXSW Festival Keynote Address took place a couple of weeks ago, but due to ongoing internet connectivity issues, and just the insanity of life, I only managed to hear it recently, on NPR’s Fresh Air, then I managed to watch it on YouTube. I’ve listened to it–numerous times–since then. Even if you aren’t a fan, it is still worth a listen, but be warned, he’s pretty foul-mouthed (kind of like my blog, but much much worse). There are many references in this post to the keynote address, and I basically modeled the post on his speech. But, you don’t HAVE to listen to his address to get my point. -anotheronewiththecancer aka cancer curmudgeon
Your keynote address at the recent SXSW Music Festival was one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. One of your main themes, finding your own voice, resonated with me, as I am sure it is doing with many others.
So this is what MY voice wants to say.
One two three four. **
Several years ago I made a poor professional choice that resulted in my being surrounded by a few people I wish I never met. I lost not only my voice, but my way, maybe even myself. I spent too much time trying to please others, changing myself, trying to fit in, something I have never done very well. It impacted me in terrible ways…I failed at the effort, and I was miserable. I was preparing to remove myself from these harmful influences when I got a breast cancer diagnosis.
I stupidly bought into what I call the “cancer is magic” way of thinking. I thought I would get a spiritual, emotional, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink awakening, and things would change. I would be better at everything, life would be awesome, when it was all over. Oh how quickly I learned that cancer does not change anything…a person with cancer, everyone they know, and all life situations, are still the same. One of my many mottoes is, cancer only makes it more so. Everything I was before, I am now, but more so. My tolerance and patience-already not my strong points-all but disappeared. All the problems I had before my special news were simply magnified.
Two of the most hurtful criticisms I took repeatedly in the past 7 or so years were 1) I am immature and 2) I am a bad writer. And there were many, many more criticisms–to the point I am not sure I will ever regain the level of confidence I once had. I was in a bad place, and cancer became an extra horrible obstacle in an already intolerable situation.
Barely a month after completing active treatment, I said “fuck it”. It was messy, walking away so abruptly, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I don’t regret it, not even a single second. Cancer didn’t give me a lesson that life is short, I already knew that (because cancer is NOT magic, it is not an awakening for everyone). But I knew my life might actually be or get shorter. Translation: don’t waste a single fucking second of time being miserable.
So what did I do, finally free of the voices whispering in my ear that I was not good enough? I got, what you in your keynote called religion. I turned a side project into a business that allowed me to spend lots of time driving. While driving, I sang (screamed) along to old songs I loved when I was in my teens, twenties, even my thirties, up to present day. “Sonic reducer, ain’t no loser” (“Sonic Reducer”-Dead Boys), “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” (“Killing In the Name Of”-Rage Against the Machine), “Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to goooo I wanna be sedated” (“I Wanna Be Sedated”-The Ramones), “We jumped up on the table and shouted anarchy,” (Punk Rock Girl”-Dead Milkmen) and of course, “No, I cannot forgive you yet” (I think you know that one). I all but hung my head out the window like a dog while screaming that shit at the top of my lungs. Like your first punk rock club experience, it was heaven.
All these songs were the ones that got me through my misguided youth. I was right back to being immature, or so I thought. Turns out, all that chipping away at me those people did, telling me I was immature, made me even more immature…in the company of these jerks I felt like was 11 or 12 again, and my emotional reactions reflected that. Unfortunately, this was my state of mind during diagnosis and treatment. I had to grow up all over again, to re-grow my confidence, and the best way to do that was to embrace that immaturity…to be a brat and regain my punky snot-nosed self that entered adulthood, and I did it through music. Eventually, I got a little confidence back. I realized there was nothing wrong with who I am–people calling me immature, well that is their opinion, and I no longer give a damn–because I know I am not immature, and my opinion is the one that matters here.
Obstacle 1: cleared
On to the next thing.
During diagnosis and treatment, I longed for guidance on how to “do cancer”, because I suspected I was doing it wrong. I could not deal with the Pinkness expected of breast cancer patients. I was far from the Livestrong “hero” shit. I screamed and cried and was scared, quite often. I looked and looked…to the point I once Googled the phrase “punks with cancer” or something like that, just because I wanted an alternate way of doing cancer. What is offered is “The Idiot’s Guide to Breast Cancer”, when what I needed was “The Asshole’s Guide to Cancer”, with chapters like “You Don’t Have to Wear Heels and a Pink Feather Boa to Infusion to Show Strength” or “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (Treatment Plan)”. What is prevalent is Komen and Livestrong–promoting a single ideal of how to behave if you have cancer, with shiny, happy celebrity patients. The only good thing I found to read during my final rounds of chemo was a biography of Joey Ramone written by his brother (which includes Joey’s final days with Lymphoma). I read and cherished it. I continued looking for ways to cope after treatment, as I slowly emerged from the drug and exhaustion induced haze over my brain. Of course, I was dealing with a nasty bout of post-treatment depression, which is common, but rarely spoken of in the cancer warrior culture.
Finally, I found blogs, which you compare to the zines of our old days. I had regained a little confidence so, I decided to add MY dissenting voice to that realm.
You said, “It’s YOUR VOICE. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it’s fucking gone. Because everyone is blessed with at least that, and who knows how long it will last . . .”
That is what I’m doing. Am I doing it well? Who knows. But it is, as you say, “MY VOICE.” I’m not internet famous, or blog famous, or whatever defines a popular, well read blog. But the readers who’ve reached out to me seem to like what I say…even tho’ I’m what Kurt called a negative creep. Hell, if it were not breast cancer I was bitching about, I assure you, I’d have found some other topic–I could name a few now–but this is what I have the bad luck to know best.
There is no right or wrong way to do my blog, because it is all mine…to paraphrase you.
Obstacle 2: diverted
I have conquered much in the past year. Reconnecting with who I was to get back to where I need to be, getting my first tattoo at 41 years old–a tattoo that is a band logo no less–to cover my surgical scar, rather than reconstruction. This would be considered immature by those I used to know, I would not have told them I was going to do it–hell, I probably wouldn’t do it all. My voice, my choice.
I did not have the good luck to be left to my own devices, I had to sever ties and declare my independence from the ones who would stifle my voice. But that didn’t mean I was totally alone. I had people giving me food, taking me places. But what was better was the emotional support system of another breast cancer patient and two ovarian cancer patients, who gave me all the courage I so desperately needed to have my own little Independence Day–they don’t stifle. They coaxed the voice out of hiding. For them I have nothing but love and gratitude.
In your speech you said, “I was possessed and empowered and inspired and enraged and so in love with life and so in love with music that it had the power to incite a fucking riot, or an emotion, or to start a revolution, or just to save a young boy’s life.”
I dislike the hyperbole in cancer warrior culture–the warrior-fight-battle language is a bit over dramatic; I prefer to only use hyperbole for sarcastic or comedic effect. “Hope”, “battling” and a positive attitude (which I lack anyway) did not save my life, better living through chemistry did that. So I’m not gonna say you or your music “saved my life”. Instead, you, your music from Nirvana to now, did something better. It helped me endure and thrive, and kept me sane. Your speech helped me see that all those nights listening to weird music my friends hated while I was in high school, created the inner strength I needed all along–to face all the suckage of cancer. I know this much is true when I’m in the MRI machine and instead of hearing the awful noises it makes, I hear Ministry and Public Enemy songs in all that clicking. I know this is true in those rare moments I reflect on my funky-tattoo-over-reconstruction decision, which flies right in the face of our boobies-obsessed culture.
You talk about having heroes, wanting to be a hero, hoping your daughters become heroes too. I don’t believe in having idols/heroes; celebrities, family members or otherwise. That is one little bit of the punk rock ethic that I will never shake off–look at who society sets up for worship–those suckers are NOT better than me. And on the flip side, I cannot imagine anyone would want the pressure and scrutiny of being a hero. So it is with some reluctance I dub thee my hero. And not because I think you are perfect, on the contrary, you’ve been fairly open and honest in showing your faults. When you wrote/sang, “There goes my hero, he’s ordinary,” you meant someone else, but for me, it is you–you are my Beatles, my Rock Against Reagan Concert, my Bad Brains, my Edgar Winter. So, in my eyes, according to your address, you’ve done what you set out to do all those decades ago.
These days, I still listen to the songs representative of my so-called immaturity, so I don’t lose my voice again. And I’m not always aggro-woman. I also sing along to Bob–“Oh my Little sister,don’t she’d no tears…ev’rything’s gonna be alright, ev’rything’s gonna be alright.” And whaddya know, I don’t not cry anymore, and it is alright now.