Thursday, February 03, 2005


You ever notice how people who have cancer are all 'brave'? It's like your cells metastasize and suddenly, you acquire dignity. Newspaper headlines refer to 'Brave 11 Year Old with Cancer'. What did he do that was so brave? I mean, I didn't do anything brave to end up with this. And what would he have to do, our metaphorical 11 year old, to be declared Not Brave?

One of my students from a few years ago, a guy named G, contacted me a couple of days ago. When he heard about the Hodgkins, he suggested that I contact the Make a Wish Foundation and get something good out of this deal. He recommended a pony.

That's when I realized, I don't want to be brave. Forget the pony, I want a Porsche.

First, from now on, I'm going to whine. Cancer Sucks. It's boring, too. And since I have it, everybody has to sit around nodding supportively while I whine and cry. In fact, I expect people to tiptoe around my feelings, careful not to say or do something that will 'upset' me. Although I'm going to get upset anyway, so you're all screwed.

Second, I expect to be catered to. From now on, we watch only TV shows I want to watch. Eat at only my favorite restaurants. See only movies I want to see. And I get to buy stuff. Lots of stuff.

Third, I expect to contribute nothing. Not only am I not going to gamely struggle to make everything as normal as possible, I'm going to be an utter black hole of resources. Im going to be costly, financially and emotionally.

I refuse to bend to the stereotype of the Brave Cancer Patient. I vow that when this is all over, everybody will be forced to acknowledge, I wasn't like all those cliche people. I was myself.

Of course, in May, when my PET Scan is clean, there could be hell to pay for all of this.


Blogger David Moles said...

Go for it! (Easy for me to say, I know, I'm hundreds of miles away.)

But yeah, having just seen A Very Long Engagement last week, I’m really wondering what, in a cancer patient, would constitute gross cowardice in the face of the enemy. And what would happen if they put Marshal Pétain in charge of the American Cancer Society.

February 03, 2005 5:03 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Amen, sister! I'm with you all the way. Oh wait! I just want to clarify, I'm not with you in any supportive sense. Just that I agree. But only because it pleases me.

February 03, 2005 5:43 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Oh, and since you kicked the bravery before I did, can I have Lorraine call Bob if she has any questions?

February 03, 2005 5:43 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Hey, Maureen, I knew you before cancer. You were brave then, too. So it won't wash.

On the other hand, if you can get a Porsche out of the deal, by all means, go for it!

February 03, 2005 6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think not being brave is permitted. After 9/11 I tried to add a codicil to my will stipulating that if I should die by reason of a terrorist attack, people (the press in particular) would only be allowed to mention my name and the fact that I was a stupid shmuck who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time -- no "he was a true American hero" or anything like that. My attorney told me that this violates a federal statute or something. Maybe it's unconstitutional -- like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater; only except this is yelling "I'm cranky and I'm a weenie!" inside the Pantheon of Heroes. It upsets people, scares the horses, and so forth.

I'd advise against this reckless course of action.


February 03, 2005 6:15 PM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

You should check out "Loved Ones Recall Local Man's Cowardly Battle with Cancer."

Except, apparently, it appeared long enough ago that The Onion now charges for it. Oh, well -- the title says it all!

February 03, 2005 6:40 PM  
Blogger SquidgePa said...

I think you should get a motorcycle, and ride it through your local shopping mall, shoplifting. This would break lots of cliches, and you could get some new stuff (like a rap sheet) that you've never had before.

Start telling the world what they owe you, and then just take it. Use the cancer as an excuse to free yourself from life's little rules.

February 03, 2005 7:02 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

I got the idea for this from talking with Greg F. who told me about The Onion piece. That's when I knew I wasn't going to be brave.

Sarah, please feel free to have Lorraine call Bob any time. I suspect they would have much more in common than we know, just from reading your blog.

February 03, 2005 7:15 PM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

"Sci-Fi Writer Bites Lip Bravely Before Dying"

February 03, 2005 7:33 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

Found this online:

Loved Ones Recall Local Man's Cowardly Battle With Cancer

On Jan. 26, just four days after visiting the doctor for what he thought was severe indigestion or maybe an ulcer, Russ Kunkel got the dreaded news: A malignant, fist-sized tumor had metastasized between his stomach and liver. It was cancer.

Right then and there, faced with the prospect of a life-threatening disease, the 34-year-old Florissant, MO, husband and father of three drew a deep breath and made a firm resolution to himself: I am not going to fight this. I am a dead man.

On Feb. 20, less than a month after he was first diagnosed, Kunkel died following a brief, cowardly battle with stomach cancer.

"Most people, when they find out they've got something terrible like this, dig deep down inside and tap into some tremendous well of courage and strength they never knew they had," said Judith Kunkel, Russ' wife of 11 years. "Not Russ. The moment he found out he had cancer, he curled up into a fetal ball and sobbed uncontrollably for three straight weeks."

Said Judith: "I can still remember Russ' last words: 'Oh, God--I'm going to die! Why, God, why? Why me? Why not someone else?'"

According to Russ' personal physician, Dr. James Wohlpert, the type of cancer Russ had generally takes at least four months to advance to the terminal stage. But because of what he described as a "remarkable lack of fighting spirit," the disease consumed him in less than one.

"It's rare that you see someone give up that quickly and completely," Wohlpert said. "Cancer is a powerful disease, but most people can at the very least delay the spread of it by maintaining a positive outlook and mental attitude. This, however, was not the case with Russ."

Russ' friends and acquaintances saw that same lack of fighting spirit.

"Russ did not go quietly, that's for sure," said longtime friend Bobby Dwyer. "He did a tremendous amount of screaming."

"During the three days he spent at work before the pain got too bad, I saw a very different Russ," said Arnold Tolliver, a co-worker at the Florissant electronics store where Russ had been employed for the past six years. "He was always telling the customers how tragic it was that he wouldn't outlive his kids, reminding me that every day is a gift cruelly torn from his fingers, and grabbing somebody, anybody, by the shirt and screaming into their face that he didn't want to die."

In those final days, like so many who realize their day of reckoning is near, Russ Kunkel turned to a higher power. "Russ came to me in his time of need," said Pastor Charles Bourne of Holy Christ Almighty Lutheran Church. "But when I tried to comfort him by saying he would be with God soon, he only stopped bawling long enough to say, 'Fuck God. There is no God.' I had to get a couple acolytes to help me pry him out from underneath the pews."

When the end finally came, Russ Kunkel died red-eyed, trembling and hysterical in the attic of his home, where, in the depths of his fear, he was convinced the Reaper would look last. On that day, his 5-year-old daughter Bailey awoke to an unnerving quiet, the usual terror-choked sobs and shrieks of her father strangely absent from the morning air. Alarmed, she ran to her mother's side.

"Bailey was yelling, 'Daddy stopped crying! Daddy stopped crying!'" Judith said. "Somehow, though she's still very young, she understood."

February 04, 2005 3:32 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

I consider that positively inspirational.

February 04, 2005 11:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

OMG, that was hilarious!

February 04, 2005 11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After My Cancer Story, everyone told me how brave I was. This contrasted with my memories of whining the whole way through. I had no intention of being brave. What was the point? In those days I attended a 12 step group and had a ready-made platform. And I used it every week for the full-allotted five minutes to proclaim the general horribleness of my fate.

I decided that being brave meant
(1) You still functioned, which I did up to when the pre-surgery eurythromyacin-induced nausea overwhelmed me.
(2) You didn't make anyone else uncomfortable enough to have to do anything. Whining's fine. People are used to ignoring that. But when reacting to the drug, did I scream, roll on the floor, and spew during the Brahms Quartet in F concert? Of course not. I whispered to my partner, "I need to leave," and said, "Excuse me" to the people I had to step over.

So I was brave.

Now that I've got it all figured out, I'm really hacked that I missed my chance. Don't make the same mistake, Maureen. Get that Porsche.

Madeleine, not anonymous, just not registered

February 05, 2005 4:39 PM  
Blogger Heather Mackin said...

You are so awesome! Both you and Sarah really touch me in ways that no one else can understand. You make me laugh and cry at the same time. Shit, I want a porchse too!

February 06, 2005 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maureen,
I'd buy you a Porsche in a NY minute if I had the money!

Ellen Datlow (who doesn't want to join officially)

February 06, 2005 9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was all prepped to quote from the Onion article when that jerk Greg Feeley beat me to the punch. We hates him, my precious. Everything Gene Wolfe said was right.

February 11, 2005 11:39 PM  
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October 01, 2005 1:27 PM  
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God luck with it : )

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