A writing teacher once told me that when she was going through a bunch of submissions (for a magazine or book or something) she happened to get two that were cancer-themed and she had to choose between the two, because “You can’t have two of the same type of stories together.”
And while I see the need for variety, can you imagine being the person who survived cancer whose story was rejected? It’s like crap icing on a crap cake. It’s like being punished for HAVING cancer.
“Besides the life threatening illness and all that extreme PAIN stuff, is there anything else you could write about? You’ve come so far, but could you send us something not so… I don’t know… CANCER related? How about something nice about a cat. You like cats?”
(Yeah, they LOVED cats, but unfortunately they were deathly ill so they had to give their cat away.)
For me (as one that has not yet had cancer), I feel like if I were to get extremely sick, that no matter how terrible something I’d written was, it would deserve to be published.
If, for example, I simply wrote: “I got cancer. It was flipping awful,” and that was my article, then I would expect the editor (or whatever a-hole was in charge) to read it and say, “This is really bad, but hey, I have to print it. They survived cancer.” (And I don’t in anyway presume those with cancer do this. I just know as a big baby that I would.)
But that’s not how it works in the real writing world. In the real world you have to be a good writer (or rich, or have connections, or be really attractive)
So I wrote the story above and sent it to my buddy to see if she wanted to draw a picture to go along with the story. It lead to this dialogue between us:
Alex: “The thing you are referring to is called the c-card. It’s when you can get what you want because you have cancer. But you’re right, you should get something. I almost decided to decline this article because I have had cancer and it certainly does suck, but if you will let me do a picture of a person about to shit on a cake that says, “sorry ’bout the cancer” (no poop actually shown) then I will accept.”
Me: “Oops. Now I sound like an a-hole. First off by no means feel like you can’t decline. Second. I wasn’t by any means trying to infer that people play the c card although I know some do. Do you think I should rewrite it? Third, I think the drawing you suggested sounds great, I don’t know what Blue Skirt will think of it. Fourth, what if we somehow co-wrote it together, your input (agreeable or disagreeable) could give it some validity but more importantly experience… do you think?
Alex: “There is something about your article that nails an aspect of having cancer on the head: it’s gotten so mundane that nobody much cares. If I tell someone I had cancer, it’s not unusual for them to tell to me a sister or an uncle had it, or worse, someone close to them died of it. What people do not always realize is, you’re never done with cancer. It’s not like a near fatal car accident, because ten years down the line that car is not going to seek you out and run you over again by surprise. Cancer might. Telling me you knew someone who had it or died from it makes me feel like we are losing the war against a disease that I will carry with me the rest of my life.
“Also, you tend to lose more than a cat and your hair. You also lose things you never get back. You lose organs. Some women lose their breasts. People are condemned to infertility, osteoporosis, autoimmune disorders, or colostomy bags. I myself must take hormones that if I did not have access to, I would die. So when the zombie apocalypse comes, I’ll be looting CVS just to stay alive while other people will just need to find some pudding cups. Like I said, you are never done with cancer.
“I’m with you that we should hear every story, because every cancer “adventure” is different. I tell people that I didn’t have chemotherapy and they’re like, “Oh, awesome.” Not awesome. It means my cancer was resistant to chemo. It means I could have died. What could make a better, more spine tingling story than that? But it’s depressing and even I only have so much room for another depressing cancer story.”
-Alexandria M. Powell has been a friend of mine for over a decade and a half. She is a great collaborator, not to mention a fine artist and writer. She chose not to do the drawing for this week but scroll through Blue Skirt’s website to see some of her spectacular work.