The Reality of Being Sick and Alone

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Diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, Anne Boyer writes a searingly honest piece in The Guardian about the brutal nature of chemotherapy — a potential cure that is so poisonous it can destroy eyesight, speech, and memory. A treatment that also bears huge financial costs and a hidden environmental impact.

Someone once said that choosing chemotherapy is like choosing to jump off a building when someone is holding a gun to your head. You jump out of fear of death, or at least a fear of the painful and ugly version of death that is cancer, or you jump from a desire to live, even if that life will be for the rest of its duration a painful one.

My problem is that I wanted to live millions of dollars’ worth but could never then or now answer why I deserved the extravagance of this existence, why I consented to allow the marketplace to use as its bounty all of my profitable troubles. How many books, to pay back the world for my still existing, would I have to write?

Unceremoniously tipped out of the hospital and left to face the consequences of treatment, Boyer also confronts what cancer means if you don’t have a traditional family unit to offer you care.

It should be no surprise that single women with breast cancer, even adjusting for age, race and income, die of it at up to twice the rate of the married. The death rate gets higher if you are single and poor.

If you are loved outside the enclosure of family, the law doesn’t care how deeply – even with all the unofficialised love in the world enfolding you, if you need to be cared for by others, it must be in stolen slivers of time. As Cara and I sat in the skylit beige of the conference room waiting for the surgeon to arrive, Cara gave me the switchblade she carried in her purse so that I could hold on to it under the table. After all of those theatrical prerequisites, what the surgeon said was what we already knew: I had at least one cancerous tumour, 3.8cm, in my left breast. I handed Cara back her knife damp with sweat. She then went back to work.

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