Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Greatest Hits from Love in the Time of Cancer: The Amy Winehouse House

In the first few weeks after John’s diagnosis we visited a local cancer support center to see what services might be available. The house was lovely and there are many activities, support groups, yoga, dance, and shared meals.

But about 30 minutes into the orientation I picked up the whiff of condescension that often accrues around cancer. Part of it is in the pastel and pretty decor but it’s also apparent in the tone of voice used by the staff. It’s kind of a cross between the voice you might use when talking to a very small child and the voice one uses talking to someone in the midst of a psychotic break.

The condescension is also revealed in the two-handed handshake: the staff member takes both of your hands in theirs. This is accompanied by a long, deep gaze, which immediately feels like someone has drilled the staff on how important it is to make eye contact and that “people with cancer need to be seen.” Well, they are going to stare you down and make sure you know you are seen. 

But the greatest tip off to the fact that once you have cancer you’ll never be treated like a competent adult again is revealed in the list of activities offered. At the “club house” the counselor told me--with that kindergarten teacher lilt in her voice, “We get together on Thursdays and make cookies.” Cookies?

I told John on the way home, “I have never made cookies as a heath care option so why would I make cookies in an institutional kitchen with a group of strangers just because you have cancer?” (OK, to be fair, I was still absorbing the reality of his diagnosis and having some flashback to my own cancer days.)

But that invitation to make cookies was the turning point for me, it shifted me from scared to angry and I was then energized. It set me to thinking about the kind of cancer support
place I’d like to create.  So here is an introduction to my new cancer support organization: The Amy Winehouse House:

The mission of The Amy Winehouse House is: Fuck Cancer, and it goes like this:

At The Amy Winehouse House we believe that cancer and its treatment is fierce and so everything around it should meet that fierceness head on and not back down into pastel prettiness. We don’t coddle and we don’t play word games. We don’t parse “living with” versus “dying from” cancer.

At The Amy Winehouse House we are not nice and not pastel. We don’t believe that having cancer makes you nice or pastel either. If you were a jackass before you got cancer now you are a jackass with cancer.

We will not ask you to share, process, make crafts or cookies or drink smoothies. We offer no bookmarks or anything that has, or requires, a crocheted cover. 

All activities at the Amy Winehouse House are optional and include:
Making martinis
Strip poker night
Learning how to hot wire a car
Our book group is currently a collection of Chuck Palahniuk

Yes, we have a smoking room --(If you have cancer and are going to die we want you to enjoy a cigarette on us.) On Saturday nights we have strippers. Yeah, for girls too.

And we certainly do have drug education.  We think of this as self-chemo. Our role model, Amy Winehouse, was an expert on self-chemo. Our self-chemo classes explain how to smoke crack and how to play the cancer card to score some medical marijuana.

Our movie nights include pornography.  (After all, cancer is pornographic so why get all puppyish and pastel about something that is violent and intrusive.) 

In future entries I’ll explain the Board of Directors and our policy for volunteers. (We don’t have tee shirts but you do have to wear eyeliner.) We’ll also talk about why we hated Lance Armstrong all along, (We call him “One Ball” around the House.) And yes, we have bracelets too, but ours say, “Fuck Cancer.”

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