Theme on a Life (or Who TF Keeps Pulling the Rug)

When I was eleven I got boobs.  By twelve, they were huge.  

There were maybe one or two other girls in my class who had boobs.  Instead of “celebrating” puberty and being excited about getting tits like you constantly see on “coming of age” TV shows, I was mortified.  

I felt like a freak.  More than that.  I felt like a monster.  

I could feel boys staring at me.  I could sense girls criticizing my clothes because…I really couldn’t wear the paper-thin Hollister T’s and Abercrombie blouses that all the cool girls were wearing, because I wasn’t flat as a surfboard like the rest of them. 

So when the boobs came, my self-esteem plummeted.  And it stayed that way for years to come.

In high school, I searched for ways to feel loved and accepted.  I found it in two ways:

  1. With boys
  2. On the stage

With boys…well.  I don’t really think I need to expand here.

On the stage…I stood out in the best possible way.  Because I was the best.  I could sing.  I could dance.  I could act.  I could play instruments.

I didn’t stand out the way I did when I got boobs.  It was a good “stand out.”  It made me feel like people actually wondered what it would be like to be me, and envied me for it.  

When I sang, you listened.  If there was a solo, it was mine. 

By my senior year, I was dating the prom king, and was 100% certain I could triple-threat my way into any college musical theater program.  I’d already been to my first professional “cattle call”, and was ready to go out for blood.  

As I stepped off the stage at the end of the Sweet Charity dance audition at my school, I remember thinking “that was the best I’ve ever danced. I am a triple threat.  I am unstoppable.  I am going to be on Broadway.”

I was finally starting to love myself and my body and what I was capable of doing.  

I was proud.

And we all know what happened a month later.  Life forced my mouth open and shoved a cancer-sized pill down my throat.  

Fast forward ten or eleven years, and you’ll find me in New York City.  I attend the occasional audition, but I’ve never quite recovered the “out for blood” confidence I had before I was sick.  The dancing certainly never came back to what it was.  I have no balance.  And when you’re a female auditioning for musicals in New York City, you’re about a dime a dozen, and (especially when you’re short) they expect you to land triple pirouettes.  Doubles at least.  

You also have to sell yourself…which I cannot do.  In my eyes, my hair is mousy and thin and not like it was before, and so therefore I am ugly.  I am also not skinny, so I’m fat.

Did I mention that in musical theater, if you’re not skinny you’re fat?  That’s very important to understand. Not skinny=fat. 

So I immediately walk into any room mentally apologizing for not being skinny and for having bad hair.  

And that kind of attitude doesn’t really get cast often.

So…I find myself in hospitality.  Which, in New York City, is essentially theater, but with food.  But I find myself enjoying it.  I maitre d’ at a fancy Upper East Side restaurant where I help people with their fur coats, and make sure the menu they’ve planned is carefully set at their private table, and I make sure lawyers from competing law firms aren’t seated close together.  I charm the rich bankers and smile politely at their wives who hate me.  

I end up working as an executive assistant at another restaurant, and eventually find myself in charge of their events.  I meet with all the local hotel concierges, who then call the restaurant asking for me by name.  I stop the hostesses from seating Dr. David So and So at a table that I know he hates.  If they can’t seat him anywhere else, I comp his appetizer.  

I apologize that the consistency of your fish-of-the-day wasn’t up to your liking, and I send you a round of (our cheapest) bubbly as an apology.  You hand me your business card on the way out, and say you like my style.  

It’s not the game I thought I’d be playing, but it’s a game I’ve gotten quite good at.  

I’m becoming impressed with myself and what I’m capable of and WHO I’m capable of holding conversations with.  I’m starting to think…I have a future in NYC hospitality and nightlife.

I am becoming who I am…

And then life forces my mouth open and shoves a pandemic-sized pill down my throat.  

And now I’m here.  Typing this.  Wondering how the recurring theme in my life seems to be that any time I get close to becoming who it appears I’m meant to become, a MOMENTOUS road block is thrown. 

And I know that’s life.  Roadblocks come, and we navigate them.  But like…come on…cancer and then a world-wide pandemic?  Both at precisely the time I’m thinking I’ve got SOMETHING figured out?  Or if not figured out, at times when I’m finally starting to be…okay with myself?  And not feel like 12 year old monster-tits?

The most consistent aspect of the last 12 years of my life has been writing and blogging, and of course, there’ve been gaps of time where I wasn’t writing but it always comes back to this.  And it always seems to come back to cancer, and I’ve been actively rallying against that.

I stopped writing my original blog because I was tired of pigeonholing myself into only writing about cancer.

And then a recent trip to the city triggered a pretty significant meltdown.  Once again ending with me cursing the day I was diagnosed with cancer…and for the first time ever, wondering WHY I survived.  Like what was I spared for?   

And I don’t mean that in a “I should be dead, I wanna kill myself, I wish the cancer had killed me” kind of way.  

I mean it in a “why did I survive only to have the f***ing rug pulled out from underneath my feet anytime I get close to figuring shit out?” kind of way.  

And then, of course, comes the post-meltdown meltdown, titled: Why Oh Why Do I Keep Coming Back to a Cancer That is 12 Years Old?

But here’s the thing.

Now that I’ve been studying end of life care…I think I know why.  I even posted about this on facebook a few months back…and I can’t believe it took until now for me to realize it applied to my cancer survivorship as well.  

I keep re-grieving.

According to therapychanges.com, re-grief is part of the grieving process but occurs as a sudden and unexpected wave of emotion that can hit at any time.  You can read their article about re-grief here:

The way I think of it in terms of End of Life and dying, is that re-grief obviously happens in the recent months and first year or two after a death…the first birthday or holiday without that person, the discovering of an item they left at your house that triggers you into re-grieving. 

But it will continue to happen even in the decades to come.  It’s why grief is truly a never-ending process. If you’ve lost a parent young, it may happen when you have your first child and you wish they could be there to see the baby.  It may happen at a very difficult time in your life ten years after their death, but you SO wish they could be with you to hold your hand during your struggles.  And the fact that they are not causes you to re-grieve.

This has to be no different with cancer survivors.  Certain events in our lives are always going to trigger our cancer grief, no matter how far away we are from treatment, and no matter how much therapy we get.

It’s going to hit us when it’s time to have children and we don’t know if our chemically-treated and radiated body will allow that for us.  It’s going to hit us when we have to start having colonoscopies and breast cancer screenings YEARS earlier than everyone else.  

It’s going to hit us when we hear of someone else who has died of cancer, and we wonder why the they should die when we got to live?  It’s going to hit us when we come across a photo of ourselves pre-cancer and realize that no matter how hard we squint our eyes and focus…we can NOT remember what it was like to be a person who never had cancer.  

It’s going to hit us during a global pandemic, when we’re knocked on our asses by the universe again.  When that feeling of TOTAL LOSS OF CONTROL hits.  When the deja vous of having the rug pulled out from under our feet throws us off balance and we’re, once again, wondering who the fuck we are now?  Wondering why we, once again, feel like the 12 year old with giant tits that everyone is looking at like…WTF.

Who am I now?  Now that I’ve had cancer and am living through a global pandemic?  

I don’t know.

But I do think it’s important that I stop apologizing in my writing for talking about cancer.  Especially in my more recent postings, you’ll notice I often say things like “not to make this about cancer again,” or “I know this happened so long ago, but…”

I know now that I cannot do that.  I am doing a disservice to myself as a cancer survivor and to my fellow cancer survivors.

The person I am today is a person who had cancer during a time of self-discovery, and it will always be part of my identity.

I re-grieve, and I re-greive often.

You can, too.  That’s okay, you know.  

You, too, can grieve the person you were before the pandemic.  You can grieve the person you were before you lost your mom.  You can grieve the loss of your grandfather ten years later.  You can grieve the person you were when you were 18…even if you’ve experienced NO trauma since then.  

You can grieve and re-grieve.  It’s okay.  

The grieving can lead to self discovery.

And that’s what I’m hoping for myself. 

And if you still feel like an awkward 12 year old with giant boobs, you CAN call a plastic surgeon.

I did. 

I can’t be Coco’d right now

Hi I’m in the middle of Starbucks wearing all black like pretending I’m a student or like a writer or something, and like every two minutes I take a sip of the coffee I don’t really like and just…wow it’s January still?

January is making me not want to leave my house, and I think it’s severely impacting my self-esteem cells so I made myself come to this Starbucks so I felt part of a community.

Before I started typing this post, I was actually journaling about how I think chemo killed my self-esteem cells since I was 17 and my id and brain were still developing and fast growing (see? Like how chemo kills all fast-growing cells?)

And like how sad is that even?

“Dear Diary, I think chemo killed my self-esteem cells.”

You know what’s sadder?

I don’t even have a diary, I started one so I could write that.

And I’m afraid to go home because if my fiance isn’t still watching soccer, I think he’s gonna make me watch Encanto, and January has just got me in a head space where I can’t do emotional Disney Pixar that’s going to wreck me.

I have been avoiding Encanto all month because I feel like I’m gonna get Coco’d, and I can’t be Coco’d in January.

I refuse to be Coco’d in January.

There’s not much else I have to share today, I just knew if I was trying not to be Coco’d in January, there are probably others, and if you’ve been Coco’d in January or you’re also still trying not to be Coco’d in January, just know that I see you, I feel you, and if we get Coco’d together, so be it, it’s gotta be February soon, right?

GET OUTTA HERE COCO!

Well…Now You Know.

Hi. I’m still alive.

And I haven’t wanted to write.

There is no one concrete reason.

By spring 2021, unemployment got me so cray in my own head that I took a full time job, a part time job, and several theater gigs to fill my time and had no time to just stop and fart for myself.

And another reason is…

The pandemic kinda got me in this head space where all I really wanted to say to people when I pulled up an empty blog post was “Well…now ya know.”

And of course…OF COURSE…that ties back to cancer. (If it didn’t, would it be a true Jesse post?)

The perpetual state of total fear that everyone was feeling toward the beginning of the pandemic…like…yeah, I was feeling that, too.

But EVEN more than that was this really snarky feeling of like, “Well…now ya know.”

Well…now ya know” what it’s like to not feel invincible.

Well…now ya know” what it’s like to constantly worry about your immune system and sanitize everything that comes into your house.

Well…now ya know” what it’s like to not want people to hug you or come close to you without your expressed permission, and have to stay home all the time.

Well…now ya know what it’s like to be FORCED to face the possibility of your own death before age 40, 30, 20…18…

And then I thought…wow, Jess, that’s pretty bitchy. You should sort that out.

And so I wasn’t writing. I just let myself work for a little while. Get used to living somewhere new: A SUBURB.

Get used to the idea that you’re not a city girl anymore, that you live in a house, and that you have a mortgage, and you are…*gulp*…getting kind of…domestic…(Christ).

And then one day, I heard the term “death doula.”

Now, I’m not going to sit here and go into detail about the different kinds of things death doulas do. I’m going to reference some lit:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/24/well/doulas-death-end-of-life.html

But I knew immediately, when I did some research on what a death doula is, that it was something I really wanted to do…and I hadn’t felt certain about “things I’d like to do” in quite a long time.

So push comes to shove, and long story short…I completed a Death Doula certification thru Going With Grace (with the AMAZING, enlightening ALUA ARTHUR), and earned NEDA proficiency…

And it was through the course of accomplishing the above that I discovered the HEALTHY, less catty version of “Well…now you know…and also had a major AHA moment about what truly bothered me about having cancer—besides, of course, the fact that I had cancer):

We are incapable of talking healthily about death.

It’s true. And throughout my whole cancer treatment I really felt that no one could or would look me square in the face and talk with me about death unless we mentioned God or religion.

We can’t do it. Our western society doesn’t want to talk about it. Our med-tech-driven healthcare system doesn’t want you to recognize its existence. It offers you treatment after treatment after treatment in place of saying, when the time comes, “hi, it’s time for your body to stop.”

We can’t talk about how humans die…how unsettling it is…can’t talk about why we die… or what might this all BE for?

Even for a healthy person, the questions exist because…a healthy person is also going to die. They are supposed to.

But if we talk about it, we are labeled “morbid.”

We are not “thinking positively.” If we don’t THINK POSITIVE, we are attracting the opposite.

And the message we give our actively dying folks in America is that DYING is LOSING, and so they’d better not “give up.”

Few actively dying people hear “it is okay to go. It is natural. Your body is done fighting and that is okay.” And so they fight tooth and nail to hang on for their loved ones even when it’s their time…and as a result, they reinforce for the next generation that death is not okay and you must cling on for…dear life.

Is it a wonder we have a complex?

But we cannot, cannot, cannot talk about death. Too icky. Too uncomfortable. Too morbid. Too sad.

-*-

Van Gogh, Skull with Cigarette

I’ve been wondering for years now whether I really want to continue writing a blog that is

A) totally cancer-focused

OR

B) Just…kind of spur of the moment, chaotic blather

Neither feels authentic anymore.

And that is another reason why you haven’t heard from me.

But now I feel a little bit more direction. I want to be part of the conversation about dying and death-positivity, BECAUSE:

Regardless of who you are and what you’ve been through…2020 and the world thereafter has shown us all that we’d best at least entertain the idea that we won’t be here one day.

And you know what?

I know…I know it sounds morbid. But I swear, since I’ve started my death-positive journey…I have been more present and aware of the moments of my life. Of how I am feeling. Of what’s working and what’s not. And of what I’m grateful for.

The death positive movement IS a thing, and one of its leaders is Caitlyn Doughty of “The Order of the Good Death.” Literally, if you google “death positive,” her website is the first to come up. She kind of kickstarted the “movement” and she’s hilarious. Not morbid. She is hilarious (highly recommend her book “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”)

But the ideas behind the movement have been around. I mean…if we’re being real, indigenous peoples have been attuned to them from the beginning.

Recently, I’ve been reading “Die Wise” by “death guru” Stephen Jenkinson…and while Jenkinson can be perceived as a somewhat controversial figure…it’s one of HIS ideas that has been sticking with me most lately (and kind of haunting me every morning).

He talks about how the problem with the western world today is that we expect to live. We wake up every day anticipating that we will live, and nothing else is okay—we are OWED the day.

I mean…you don’t need me to tell you that we are NOT owed the day. We anticipate that we’ve got all this time…and we get depressed by the monotony of our days because we just….figure it’s gonna go on and on and on.

And it quite literally is not. That’s what makes each moment significant. (Yeah, a little self-help-y…but hey…whatever helps the self.)

I could go on and and on about Stephen Jenkinson, really.

But maybe another day.

My overall point here is…THIS cancer survivor wanted to talk about death from the beginning of her cancer diagnosis…and all the well-meaning people in her life wanted to “think positively,” (which has a time and place) or give her a Bible.

And those well-meaning people…have probably not had many open conversations about death before either…so how can they be expected to know what to say about it in an instance like this?

I don’t blame anyone. But the pandemic brought a lot of those suppressed questions and curiosities about death right back to me in a very visceral way. And I think that’s why I was feeling a little…I dunno… SALTY towards people and their pandemic frenzy? (especially toward those my own age, who just couldn’t understand what I was going through way back when). Kinda like….NOW YOU GET IT. I TRIED TO EXPLAIN THIS PANICKY FEELING I WAS HAVING IN 2009.

These are “uncertain times” for everyone. Not just for me, now.

Well, now you know…” I thought.

And, I learned, through the course of the past year, that the full thought is this:

“Well, now you know…we should be talking more openly about dying and not sweeping it under the rug.”

If we talk about it, if we acknowledge it…we can not only maneuver these “uncertain times” just a little more effectively, but we can find our living moments feel just that much more ALIVE.

I intend to blog more as I explore the death-positive movement and where I fit into it.

My blog may no longer be for you, and I understand. I can promise it won’t all be posts like these. I’m sure a lady at Sephora will offend me again and I’ll launch a full-scale campaign.

But I understand if this is where I leave you.

How’s It Gonna Be: Dealing With the Prospect of Another Cancer Diagnosis

I’m a young adult cancer survivor.  It’s a label I’m proud of, but obviously a club I never would have willingly joined.

Diagnosed with cancer three months before my eighteenth birthday, it’s safe to say I was not quite a grown-a$s woman yet. So there were a lot of things I said and did…a lot of ways I responded to my diagnosis that I’d like to think I’d handle differently now that I’m almost…(gulp, inhale, exhale)…thirty years old.

Back then I was hormonal, and angsty, and ALREADY mad at the world.  Add a cancer diagnosis on top of all that adolescent aggression and you’ve got a recipe for a big-ole, bald-headed s**tshow.

I recovered…nicely…from Ewing’s Sarcoma, I suppose.  Some kidney damage here, a little infertility there.  But I learned over the years what triggers me and how to maneuver myself through the bouts of depression and anxiety that occasionally pepper my survivorship.

I do not, however, do well with the prospect of having to face another cancer diagnosis.  Through my twenties, it seemed like it would take a pretty drastic twist of the ole “magic wand” for me to get cancer again once I was clear of the usual relapse timeline.  “Lightnin’ don’t strike the same tree twice” was my creed of choice and I felt so normal with each passing year that it became easier and easier to blot cancer fear out.  

So in the spring of 2019, when my mom tested positive for one of the breast cancer genes, I was…how you say…shooketh.

Thinking I still had at LEAST a few years until my first mammogram, imagine my delight when, at my next check-up, my oncologist said that in order to be smart with the information we have, it was probably time to start mammograms and breast ultrasounds.  

OOOF.  

I don’t need to tell you that I was scared and angry and resentful.  

I also don’t need to tell you that after the scared and angry and resentful phase, I eventually got my s**t together and scheduled the tests.  No matter how many times I shouted “it’s my body, and I don’t have to do everything they say,” I knew I’d never be able to live with the idea that I might get cancer somewhere along the line that could’ve been caught much earlier if I’d been more cautious.

My mammogram was quick and easy and, thankfully, unremarkable.

Yesterday, I had my ultrasound and was anticipating a similar level of ease and simplicity.  So when the ultrasound technician pointed at the screen and said, “see this?  This is what we call a fibroadenoma,”  I thought I was going to literally poop on the table.  

She explained that fibroadenomas were common in your twenties and thirties, and that they were benign.  

“This one here is just a bit darker than the rest, so let me see how he wants to proceed…”

She had eased my worry and then slapped me in the face again with it in the same breath.

I was left on the table while she consulted the radiologist, and for the first time in eleven years, I really, truly considered what it might look like to have cancer again.  

If they say you need a biopsy, are you going to fling yourself to the floor and perform a Shakespeare tragedy in this exam room? 

If this turns out to be cancerous…

How’s it gonna be?”

In those twelve brief minutes, there were many deep breaths.  There were closed eyes.  There were speedy heartbeats.

And there were three clear conclusions:

  1. Nothing about my everyday life would change until it had to.  

In my first bout with cancer, as soon as I was diagnosed as a sick person, I IDENTIFIED as a sick person.  I EMBODIED a sick person.  I immediately got into bed or burrowed into the couch.  And I wasted no time victimizing myself.  

I lived like I was dying in a bad way.

This time, there would be no “sick-person-syndrome” until the results of all biopsies and tests were back.  And after that, there’d be no slowing down until my body truly needed to slow down.  If I had energy, I’d be putting it to good use as often as possible.

  1.  Anyone outside of immediate family and s/o who texted or called my cell phone for “updates” would be blocked.

It sounds drastic, but for me, it would be crucial.  

I truly feel like mine AND my family’s boundaries were not respected during my battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma.  I think my parents were too kind to demand it, and I was not mature enough to ask for it in the proper way.  I think we all would’ve fared better mentally and emotionally if we’d been stricter about “dropping by the house” and “calling to check in.”  

This time around, I would designate either e-mail or Facebook messenger to well-wishers/update seekers, and I would be hella strict.  I’d get back to people as I felt able to, and unless my house was on fire and they were texting to let me know, anyone who could not respect those wishes would have their numbers BLOCKED.  

  1. There would be meditation. Every. Single. Day.

I’m not a perfect meditator.  I’m not even a truly faithful meditator.  I meditate when I’m really stressed and feel like I need silence and calm.  In fact, I probably spend more time reading about meditation than I do actually meditating and it’s something I really want to work on.  But from all that reading, I’ve learned that it can truly ONLY have positive effects on your body and mind.  

It can’t hurt you.  And I’ll take any free, non-toxic, non kidney-killing, fertility-destroying medicine that I can should I ever have to battle cancer again.  

The technician came back into the exam room and told me that they just wanted to keep an eye on the fibroadenomas, and to come back for another ultrasound in six months.  

That twelve minutes of planning wouldn’t need to be practiced.  The world came back into focus.  

Do I wish I had left the building with a completely uneventful ultrasound?  Of course.

But I did leave with what felt like a solid and effective outline for battling another cancer diagnosis.  

I think even if other cancer survivors don’t agree with my list, having a little “coping” plan tucked away for a rainy day can be extremely beneficial.  There aren’t a lot of perks to having had cancer.  But knowing how you want to cope with health crises in the future is one.

For a “scan”xiety worry wart like me, it might be even more valuable than a fibroadenoma-free titty. 

-*-

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It Kinda Sounds Like I Might Be Strange

The other day I was walking somewhere when all of a sudden I realized I was thirteen blocks further away from where I thought I was because “math” and so I hailed a cab that was stopped at a light and I was like ‘can you just drop me at 40th because I’m lazy’ and he was like “sure it’s OK” (when run-on sentences are a technique of your prose it’s OK).

So there I am in this cab just riding thirteen blocks because I’m a POS, and I’m just sitting there and I thought to myself “My God, Jesse…you are so cool.  I love you.” And it was a very, very genuine moment where I really did think I was very very cool in my lil cab being all New York, just like little 12-year old Jesse would have wanted. 

And then, of course, immediately I’m like “whoa whoa whoa you are NOT allowed to think you’re cool that is SELFISH.”  And so then I pondered briefly if I should ask the cabby if HE thought I was cool but then I was like “no…not only are you carrying a giant purse AND wearing a tiny backpack…you are weilding one of those opens-inside-out fancy pants umbrellas with f****n’ Starry Night Van Gogh on it. This cabby thinks you’re a priss and NOTTTTT cool for making him drive you thirteen blocks!”

And then I thought…ya know?  What even IS cool anyway? And when did I first start questioning my coolness?  (This really happened.  I really do ponder cliches in cars quite often).  

And I thought all the way back to Matilda Who Told Such Dreadful Lies by Hilaire Belloc, which was my favorite book as a kid until I realized that other children didn’t also love this hilarious tale of a girl who told so many lies that no one listened when her house was on fire and she was calling out “FIRE FIRE FIRE HELP ME PLEASE” and so she burned alive.  My favorite part of the book went a little something like this: 

You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,

And throw the window up and call

To People passing in the Street —

(The rapidly increasing Heat

Encouraging her to obtain

Their confidence) — but all in vain!

For every time she shouted ‘Fire!’

They only answered ‘Little Liar!’

THIS.

BOOK.

WAS.

BOMB DOT COM and I couldn’t wait to bring it in to school when it was my turn to share my favorite book…but the teacher was all

 “ummm where did you get this book.”  

And I said

 “ummm my AUNT who works for the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!!!!!”

She didn’t care about my aunt who worked for the Library of Congress.  She said the book was too disturbing. And I said

 “Uhh, I think everybody already knows this story…”

And she said…

”No Jesse.  I really don’t think they do.”

As a matter of fact, everyone DID know this story…as the boy who cried wolf.  But as I soon learned in the cafeteria when I told my friends my book had been rejected, NONE of them had heard the cute story about Matilda who burns alive in her house while her family is at the theatre.

And it was at this moment that I took pause and said WAIT A MINUTE WAIT A MINUTE WAIT A MINUTE…am I strange?  Cause it kinda sounds like I might be strange.

So in case I lost you somewhere in that anecdote, the story about ‘Matilda who told such dreadful lies it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes’ did NOT mess me up.  

Learning I was the ONLY ONE who loved this story messed me up.

If it wasn’t made abundantly clear by the fact that I liked such a f***ed up book that was given to me by my aunt who worked for the Library of Congress (JEAN), I was, and am strange.

And I don’t say this in a “Zooey Deschanel quirky girl, ironic shrug” kind of way.  No offense to that. That’s it’s own thing. She’s great. It’s great.

But I am just plain old strange. And I fought it for a long time, especially in my twenties.

In fact I think I spent most of my twenties in denial about it.  I tried for years to curb the things about me that are strange:

-I tried to post on Instagram what I thought you were supposed to post on Instagram, but it all felt so forced and dumb that I ultimately deleted it for six months and want to delete it again.  

-I tried to do the things in NYC that people think are fun like brunch, and drinking til you puke and black out, but I always end up back in my room in a kimono watching Serial Killer documentaries, drinking Diet Coke and diffusing peppermint oil.

-I tried to overcome my irrational fear of brushing my teeth in the same bathroom I poop in, but some days I’m just not strong enough and I have to brush my teeth when I get to work.

-I tried to keep that toothbrush/pooping thing a secret and succeeded until now.

-I stayed two years too long in a relationship with someone I knew was not my person because it seemed easier to just follow the “engaged by 25 married by 27” route the majority of friends were on.

-I stifled and ignored my OCD so badly it burst, and I lost two friends in the process. 

-I tried to talk less about cancer because I didn’t want to make people feel sad.

-I tried to hate a friend who actually faked cancer for years–tried hard to feel the hatred that everyone else involved was feeling toward her for doing such a terrible thing…but just couldn’t muster a hatred I didn’t feel. And she remains my close friend to this day.

-I tried to talk less about cancer because I didn’t want to make people feel sad.

-I TRIED TO TALK LESS ABOUT CANCER BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL SAD.

I MADE APOLOGIES FOR MY HAVING CANCER BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT TO MAKE YOU SAD.

Tsk tsk tsk.  Jesse, Jesse, Jesse.

But all those things…I tried and failed.  I’m just strange, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the strangest things that ever happened to me.

The day I found out about my tumor I had an incredible moment of clarity that I’ve never been able to forget.  I only ever shared it once, doing EMDR therapy for PTSD. Because before now, I thought it was crazy. Way too strange to be shared.  

But that day back in ‘08, we were waiting–had been waiting for hours, to see somebody. Outside the office building in the middle of a friggin Nor’easter, my dad had taken me to get some air.  He was trying to keep me calm, telling me we didn’t know anything for sure yet. Maybe whatever they saw on the MRI would be benign, maybe it was not what we were all hoping it wasn’t.  

He pulled me into a big hug and I buried my face in his chest…and in that moment, seemingly out of nowhere, this warmth came over me and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did, indeed, have cancer.  It wasn’t just “a gut feeling” or “something I really felt in my heart.” It was like the universe was gifting me this knowledge, whether I wanted it or not.

And it made me smile.  I smiled there, in my dad’s arms in the snowstorm.  He couldn’t see me, but he’ll know now. I was smiling.  Because for that very brief moment it all made sense: This was strange.  I was strange.  Everything, everything in my life so far had lead me to this moment:  this was supposed to happen to me, and like it or not, this was part of the path. 

And I smiled.  This strange phenomenon was powerful enough to make me smile in the middle of a f*****g tragedy.  

And I say that with no sarcasm or dark humor or irony.  I guess I would say I consider it the closest I’ve ever been to feeling a psychic phenomenon.  

And just as quickly as it came…it passed.  Because we all know the story from there…I turn into an adolescent cancer monster. But I thought of that day all the time–that feeling I had.  I just could never quite harness it, and use it to help me gain perspective.  

Today I can harness it.

You hear people say all the time that you have to love yourself if you’re ever going to love somebody else.  You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of somebody else. I’ve pondered that cliche many times, in cars, as I’ve been known to do.   It never rang true for me. Up until this year, I rejected it because I was SURE I’d never love myself but I definitey didn’t plan on being alone for the rest of my life.

But this year I’ve been changing…mat-oo-ring, if you will. Because now I have a different take.  Now I have two issues with it, the main one being that you can’t view part one as a MEANS to part two.  Self love should be about loving yourself, period. NOT as a stepping stone to loving someone else…even if it DOES end up being that stepping stone.

I took a class a few weeks ago downtown at The Open Center and the teacher said something like ‘if everyone could really truly love themselves, they wouldn’t need love from others.  Any love we got from others would be a bonus.’ I’m paraphrasing. But you get the gist.

That’s what I want.  To love myself with the idea that if friends and family come and go…if I never get married…if I never have children…that I have enough love and respect for myself to still have a happy life.  

My other problem with that cliche is that as much as we throw around “self-love’ and post memes about self-confidence and being yourself and yada yada yada…we still live in a world where EXPRESSING confidence in yourself puts you at risk of being labeled “self-centered” or “selfish.”  And I know it’s a very very fine line between the two…but still…I know I should be able to think I’m cool in a cab without stopping myself and feeling guilty…RIGHT!?

Regardless, I have way more appreciation and love for my strangeness now.  And when I have my days of doubt…of which I still have many (don’t think this one little sermon means I’m traipsing around like Mary Sunshine in a crown of daisies all the time) I actually find comfort in thinking back to that one small moment on what was probably the worst day of my life…where some strange force in the universe told me I was precisely where I was supposed to be and it made me smile.  I remember that if this universe has enough humor in it’s ether to make me smile on the worst day of life, I can get through today.

I think maybe I’m not strange.  I’m just mad cool.  

And so is Matilda…may she rest in peace.