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I have cancer. Don’t tell me you’re sorry 

A woman facing cancer shares her story.

I hate it when people say that they are sorry about my cancer.


Have they met me? I am not someone that you feel sorry for. I am the original mean girl.

I now have stage-four upgrade privileges. I can go right to the front. But it’s always been like this.

I am a line-cutter.

Which is to say, I was precocious. I was early for history.

I was on Prozac when it was still called fluoxetine. I wrote a twentynothing memoir when there was no such thing. I got addicted to snorting Ritalin before there was Adderall. I was a riot girl, I was a do-me feminist, and I posed topless giving the world the finger on the cover of my second book.

I have always been the most impossible person ever.

I am the woman who made you scream that it’s a good thing New York City has gun control. I’m the one who made you yell that there oughtta be a law – a law to stop me from being my wretched self.

I am that person.

And now I have advanced breast cancer. Cue the sorries.


Sorry for what?

I’m not sorry about anything. I was never sorry when I said I was. Apologies are a courtesy.

I love to argue. I am in it for the headache.

I don’t need you to be on my side – I’m on my side.

Everyone is entitled to my opinion.

I love being controversial, because that’s the closest you get to everyone agreeing with you – the other choice is no one is paying attention.

I hate anodyne. I hate that word.

I am worse than cancer. And now I have cancer. All anyone can do is forgive me. Which is exactly what they have been doing all along.

I am baroque. I am rococo. I am an onomatopoeia of explaining away.

There was the way I described how I ended up in Copenhagen by way of Oslo when I was meant to be signing books and doing interviews in Stockholm – all because of a three-car accident that blocked off four lanes of traffic on the way to Newark airport, which waylaid me to a fish-and-chips joint in Hoboken. I traveled to Scandinavia with bags of cocaine inserted in my diaphragm. That might have had something to do with taking a route not mapped out by Waze.

People forgave me for the reasons they forgive anybody who should just be defenestrated. They loved the stories, even if they did not believe them.

The stories we tell are, of course, all just excuses for being alive. We justify our existence by being entertaining.

I know, I know. It’s no fair. I already had it made, and now cancer is the big break I did not need.

Cancer is the excuse for everything. Now it’s as if cancer is the problem, and not me. It is the long game.

Yes, I know: most people are not happy about cancer. Shame on most people. You have a choice about how you see everything that happens to you.

You cannot choose how you feel, but you can choose your attitude.

Consider that Salman Rushdie married two beautiful women while living under a fatwa, which is a constant death threat. It was only after the Ayatollah came out against him that Salman went from literary writer to author of international bestsellers. And my friend Cyrus Habib lost his eyesight at age 10, but he still became a photographer – and a Rhodes scholar. And lieutenant governor of Washington. And maybe our first blind president?

We are human. Unlike other creatures, we live in narrative. We are conscious. If you make up the right story, it will be so.

I feel that if something is happening to me, it must be a good thing, so cancer must be a blessing.

I am like that. I am excited to be alive.

Advanced breast cancer is not a death sentence. In 2015, a drug called Ibrance was approved by the FDA on the fast track as a treatment. If you have watched network TV at all recently, you have seen it advertised, with a woman jogging with her dog and making salad with her kids and sitting in a gas-guzzling car with her husband. The commercials have shown up during Law & Order reruns and new episodes of 60 Minutes – and everywhere. It is a capsule I take most days with another pill.

My jaywalking habit is worse for me than my disease. If I did not know that I have cancer, I would not know I have cancer. I have been taking pills every day for my mood disorders for a long time, so this is nothing new.

There was a moment after I got the diagnosis that I confronted my fear of death. It was a hot afternoon in early summer and I was alone on my bed. It must have been a Tuesday, because it was not distinct. I considered that modern medicine might fail me. It might. It could be that my stay here is brief. As I gave myself over to dread, all of me shook. My apartment faces north and is always dark, but my vision was whited out. I curled up.

I was scared exactly the way you would think.

It was so unsurprising.

Fear is so boring.

I’d seen this scene in a movie.

I let myself feel death by cancer for I don’t know how long. Not long. I did not like it.

And that was all. I was done.

I have to live with not knowing what will happen. Which makes me just like everybody else.

I have breast cancer as a result of the BRCA gene, so it was preventable. All Ashkenazi Jewish women should get tested for the BRCA mutation, we now know, because half the time there is no way to know that you have the gene, and one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carries it. At one time it bothered me that I have a disease I could have avoided through prophylactic mastectomy.

Read full article: I have cancer. Don’t tell me you’re sorry | Elizabeth Wurtzel | Opinion | The Guardian

Read Full Article: I have cancer. Don’t tell me you’re sorry | Elizabeth Wurtzel | Opinion | The Guardian 

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