Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Guest Writer: Laura Orem

 I am very pleased to introduce you to an amazing writer and amazing woman: Laura Orem. Here is her first guest post for "Love in the TIme of Cancer.":

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, it swallows you up in a way that other diseases do not. First, of course, there is panic – am I going to die? But after the first shock, when death seems less imminent in the face of treatment, the question morphs into something else – who am I now?

In May 2010, I was diagnosed with stage 1C ovarian cancer. I had a radical 6-hour surgery to remove my ovaries, uterus, and various other abdominal accoutrements, then another surgery to insert a catheter port in my chest, then four months of intensive chemotherapy. I was physically weakened from the surgeries and wiped out, as almost everyone is, by the chemo drugs.  My mouth turned into a burning cesspit of sores and pain. I lost my hair. I lost my stamina. I lost the subconscious safety net we are born with: the confidence that, while other people must die someday, an exception will be made in our case.

On top of everything else, the cancer surgery threw me into menopause. So, in addition to chemo, I had to deal with violent hot flashes and night sweats. It was miserable. But I came out alive on the other end, with an excellent prognosis. Perhaps, the thought has occurred to me more than once, I should stop complaining and just be thankful to be alive.

Believe me, I am grateful. I had wonderful doctors and nurses; my family and friends – well, what I feel towards them would seem trivialized by any attempt at description. But I am not the same woman I was before cancer. In some ways, this is a good thing. I’m not afraid of much anymore: spiders, other people’s BS, speaking my mind. In fact, these days I’m virtually unintimidatable. In other ways, it’s not so good: I’m physically weaker; I weigh a lot more; and I feel defeminized in a profound way. To put it bluntly, I’ve lost almost all my girl-parts. I used to luxuriate in my own body; now sometimes I drag it around with me like a beaten-up Airstream.

I feel mended, not healed. Deeply grateful for surviving, but deeply changed.

Our culture, having been fed a diet of positive-thinking propaganda from Lifetime movies and organizations like the Susan G. Komen Foundation, wants cancer survivors to be endlessly upbeat and optimistic, to come out the other side more able to stop and smell the roses, to almost be thankful for their disease experience. But I think this does many survivors a great disservice by dismissing their own narratives in favor of a fairy-tale ending.

What happens when you don’t feel positive and optimistic? What if you’re so angry you’d rather decapitate the roses with a pair of scissors than smell them? Cancer isn’t a romantic movie. It’s terrifying and it’s horrible. It grabs you by the ankles and slams you against a rock until you cry out for mercy. I’m wiser, yes, and my cancer has been cured, thank God, but I’ve also lost a lot.

So, after the treatment was over and the clean bill of health issued, when I was standing there with the pieces of the-rest-of-my-life in my hands wondering what shape they made, what did I do? I did what I always do – I wrote about it. Castrata: a Conversation is an heroic crown of sonnets that is presented as a dialogue between the speaker (me) and Carlo Faranelli, the great Italian castrato singer. We have a lot in common, Signor Faranelli and I. Why sonnets? Because for me something as messy as cancer needs a structure to render it manageable as a subject, to move it beyond a primal cry and into, hopefully, art.

Make no mistake, I’m glad to be alive. I have many, many good things in my life: my family, my friends, my animals, my work. I’m basically a happy person. I’m going to live, and I’ve got a lot to live for. But, as one of the sonnets says, “I will name my losses, too.”  To deny this would be unforgiveable dishonesty.  I owe my readers – and myself – nothing less than the truth.

Laura Orem

 Castrata: a Conversation is available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press. Price $12 plus $2.99 shipping. Shipping date Nov. 1.

Click here to reserve your copy: 

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