People Like Me

Oh, I’m tired of being home and afraid my immune system won’t fend off COVID19 or symptoms that can rob me of my metastatic terminally ill self. I decided after overthinking this post I’d relate an event that occurred about a year into my dirge towards death. A countdown -or would you call it a count up to the number of days I have left in this body that carry’s my soul from place to place, night to day, breath to death? Here’s a chapter in the last five years I call, “people like you.”

People like you…”

The nurse practitioner blew her raw red nose into a white, rough hospital-grade tissue. Clearly battling a bad flu, her mouth exposed over the face mask she’d moved beneath her chin, moved for her comfort. Defending a position sitting on a stool with both legs and arms crossed, she spoke at me while spewing her germs throughout the infusion center. The chemotherapy infusion center, where people’s ability to combat anything more than the cancers each one of us came to cure. People like us all prayed to our gods that we’d find a cure here. Some of us, people like me, could only hope to stave off death a little longer through enduring therapies that might also kill us. People like me.

Out of this contagious little Typhoid Mary of a nurse, came words I’d only heard once before, generally mumbled at people like me by men in mullet hair cuts, smelling of cigarettes and motor oil. Of course in the southern state where I’d lived the largest percentage of my life, a constant tug of war between cruel epithets and self deprecating jokes were cracked in reference to my religion – Jewish. Now, my long heritage would turn on me again, because “people like me,” in this case ashkenazic Jewish women, are genetically predisposed to breast cancer.

We have the honor of carrying the BRCA Genetic Mutation discovered in 1996 when the human genome was mapped out. There were eight original tribes who long ago set out to populate the earth with too few in the gene pool to wash us clean of this hideous mutation. Those who migrated to Eastern Europe were called Ashkenazi. Seems the diaspora spread us far and wide but not far enough .That and the environmental stressors on our bodies in the post industrial world created a perfect mix – just add hormones like estrogen and a first or second line relative with breast cancer…

Back again my mind wandering at the dull drone of our nurse practitioner – tuning her in as if a UHF channel on my little black and white TV in my bedroom at eight years old, alone in the dark up too late watching “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.” I looked at her as she said, “we don’t operate on people like you.” Blink. Blink.

People like me? People married to a guy named Craig? 51 year old women? Jewish women? People who’ve traveled the world? Who know how to bead jewelry? Whose parents both died in the past three years? Who earned honors degrees in English? Who could talk by the time they were six months old? Who grew up in New York City? Who lived on Miami Beach? Who loved singing? Who swam and were lifeguards? Who have two stepsons but none of their own children? Who love deeply and give compassionately? Who cannot believe they cannot hold a full time job ever again? Who never imagined that a palliative oncologist would become the most important person next to their spouse? To whom do you refer?

“People with metastatic breast cancer, that’s who.”

“Oh, you think so? Well, you’re wrong. And let me tell you first to please put your face mask on properly so you don’t pass us your awful germs and secondly don’t dare come to work sick ever again. Next, understand that all patients are different, with different constitutions, different kinds of cancers and some of us were even diagnosed at stage IV. And not because we are negligent in getting our mammogram, but because we have such dense breast tissue. And if you’re not a doctor how dare you tell me what you believe my therapy should or should not contain in its proscriptive recipe. You have no right to be here sick or nor the credentials to know what will make me better. I know there’s no cure for me, but I dare say people like you keep people like me from getting the benefit of life and a larger slice of the cancer research pie. So get out of here and you will never speak with me again, because people like me do not need the pessimism of people like you.”

I looked into her now tearful eyes and found no pity in my heart. I found only my fierceness and my tenacity – the qualities of spirit that keep me going even through the bleakest times of my life – and as she silently stood to leave I apologized for upsetting her. But people like me don’t have the time we used to waste on ignorance and behavior that required our patience. My words, blunt, yet sharp like a surgeons scalpel, had filleted out a piece of that thoughtless, careless person who knew nothing about me or anyone even like me.

So people like me, with hormone receptor positive, metastatic breast cancer and some bone lesions to prove it, can get lumpectomies to improve their mortality. We can do things that defy the odds. And we will do everything we can to cling to this light we call life for as long as it will have us. Our beautiful, full and rich lives in which we seek only to live and find compassion in those around us as we rage at those who speak from a platform of ignorant generalizations.

I am the only me that has or ever will be.

Don’t forget me.

14 thoughts on “People Like Me

    1. Thank you so very much for reading and it feels good to know that a writer I admire appreciated my philosophical ramblings.

      1. Thank you so very much for your kind words. I am really emotional now and I wish I could give you a big hug. ❤🌷

    1. Thank you for the support – it’s up to us to lead the charge and insist on our wishes being carried out not being lumped into some unsupported category.

  1. Dear Ilene,
    Thank you for sharing your gift … writings of your personal journey with navigating metastatic breast cancer. I echo … keep being You! You matter.

    Take care,
    -Liesl

    1. Thank you and I’m so glad to hear from you. I think of you always and hope you’re remaining sane in these crazy times!
      Much love
      Ilene

    1. One thing I’ve always had enough of and possibly too much is tenaciousness but that is the key to what our bodies and minds tell us is right. Sometimes we must push back and demand what we need. There were several reasons for wanting the lumpectomy not least of which was a fresh pathology and cells to send to the longevity study being done at many of the major centers of breast cancer research – MIT, Dana Farber, Harvard, etc. a little of my right tit is helping labs understand what extends some of our mortality longer than the average 2.5 years from diagnosis. And aside from the fucking cancer I was healthy then. I’m still hanging in there…thank you for the cheerleading- I need all I can get at times. And these are strange times indeed. Much love- Ilene

    1. Kristie thank you for your encouragement- it means a lot – we must demand what we need and not just sit back and be dictated to by people who have a small pool of patients and do not listen to them either. I now have quite the opposite situation but it took work on my part to achieve it.
      Much love and stay well
      Ilene

  2. This is a brilliant post IIene, but more than that, it is fiercely moving. I share with you the “people like you” thing, but not because I have metastatic breast cancer. That title is for different reasons. But I understand completely the need to state EXACTLY what you are and have been in life. I constantly tell people that I walked up mountains, cycled miles, swam 30 lengths a day, etc etc. Yes,have a Masters, did a Ph.D. lectured, AND the rest. But this damned cancer took it all away. And now, yes, with this pandemic and lockdown, people like me must stay in for God knows how long. But I don’t mind, because like you, I want to live. For me, the cancer I had will not kill me, but the effects of the chemotherapy maybwell do. So this post resonates with me. Interestingly I am technically Newish too. By that, I mean that my great grandmother was Jewish, but assimilated such that not many people knew. Mi found out by doing research and because my grandmother’s brother told us all. But I was never raised in the Newish faith.

    Yes, we keep going IIene. Both in our different states. Keep up the wonderful fierce positivity that you have. I could do with some of that too. 😊

    1. I adore your poetry and look forward to your humor and your serious posts too, and I admire your tenacity given your situation – I don’t know how I’d handle it. But you my dear do it with an amazingly beautiful and you stake your claim to with your words and your strengths every day. I admire you greatly and only hope I would handle your situation with even a tenth of your grace. That’s a trait I admire most. And you’re graciousness shines like the northern lights.
      ❤️

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