Today I’m coming out – as a writer undergoing cancer treatment. I had thought I would keep this to myself. Under my real name I have written a few blog posts about it, but as Pepper Anthony I had assumed I could just go on writing and posting and schmoozing on the social sites, and no one would be the wiser. Now I’ve decided I have something to say that’s important enough to break the silence. I apologize in advance for the length of this post.
I was diagnosed with uterine cancer last August. It came as a complete surprise. I had no health insurance, but I found out I could qualify for a policy (not cheap!) under the ObamaCare Pre-existing Conditions Insurance Plan. Thank God for that!! I had a total hysterectomy in October and made a quick recovery, back at work in ten days. No one expected the cancer to have spread; surely I was in the clear. But more surprises were in store. The very day that Macy’s Awakening hit the Amazon erotica best seller list, the pathology report came back showing cancer cells had migrated and formed tumors in my ovaries as well. Happily, the 20-some lymph node samples all were clear, and my chances of complete recovery are excellent.
But now I would need chemotherapy.
Six rounds of chemotherapy, about five months of weekly treatments. As a person who strives to eat healthy, takes lots of natural supplements and tries to treat my body well, the idea of poisoning myself every week was abhorrent. I spent the next few weeks researching, talking to cancer survivors, and focusing all my energy on creating a positive framework for my treatment. And guess what? I have been rocking kimo (my playful spelling) for nearly four months. I have only five treatments to go. (Then a few radiation treatments.)
I like to call my treatment days my Kimo Spa Days. I sit in a big comfy recliner, listen to music or read, eat snacks, use my laptop and get waited on and pampered by a bevy of wonderful, funny, compassionate nurses. My kimo drugs are custom-mixed for me each week based on my blood tests, body weight, etc, and pumped into me through a wonderful little delivery port implanted in my chest. (I call him Port Charles). It’s painless and pleasant, and I have had very few side effects. No nausea, no weakness. Yes, I'm completely bald, and have finally also lost my eyebrows and lashes. Very hard on the vanity.
And there is on other notable exception. It seems I can no longer write.
Oh, I can write about real stuff, like this post. And I’m not impaired at all when it comes to left-brained tasks such as my bookkeeping work. But the easy flow of creative ideas and my innate ability to craft engaging sentences and paragraphs of a fictional nature has simply disappeared. I’m dry. I do have a story going that I started just after my hysterectomy. It’s a story I really want to write, with characters I love and a plot that truly calls to me. Well, in almost six months I have managed just over 6,000 words. And I don’t even know if what I’ve written is any good. Every couple of days I reread it, I tweak it, I try to add something. Maybe fifty words will dribble out. Maybe they are worth something and maybe they are garbage. I can’t be sure.
Chemo Brain is what this condition is called. It’s a real medical phenomenon that affects about 40% of cancer patients with some degree of cognitive impairment. I find it also affects my ability to verbalize effectively. I misspeak often, forget what I was going to say, and don’t have access to the sophisticated vocabulary that I once enjoyed using. Folks, this is so embarrassing and sad. Some cancer patients never get their cognitive abilities back!! I don’t even know what I would do in that case. I have ALWAYS written. Always.
Last week I was visiting with another woman at the kimo center who happened to mention that she is also writing a book – or had been prior to starting kimo. Since beginning treatment she is experiencing the same dry spell. She has not been able to put even one word on paper. She is also afraid her ability will not come back.
So why am I finally coming out and telling you all this? It’s because I need to be honest about what is going on. I need to say right out, “Yes, I am a writer, but I’m not writing. Or at least I’m not writing very much and it’s probably no good.” And I need to hear from other writers who have been through this kimo thing and come out the other side with their creative abilities intact. Anyone? Anyone?
I know you’re out there. Won’t you share a bit of your story – especially the end? The part where writing was easy again, and you crafted amazing tales that were even richer for the experience you had been through? I really need to hear about that.