Mary Anne Mohanraj


July 30 -- 6:30 AM

For Cecil, the Lion

After having children, I found myself
on my habitual drive to work, listening
to NPR, suddenly weeping. A story
that before would have rolled past
now salt-stung skin that felt laid bare,
raw and open to the world's horrors
and tragedies. Not just news of
suffering children (though that was
the worst -- Sandy Hook incapacitated
for close to a week). Endless stories
of a factory collapse, an earthquake,
disasters man-made and those
beyond our control would set me
weeping on the drive, wiping the tears
away, as I tried to cling to normalcy.

Raising children helped. Steeling
myself to extract a splinter from a wailing
child, cultivating calm when hunting
for a child who might have been kidnapped
but was almost certainly simply hiding
or distracted, pushing down the panic
because what they needed was a mommy
who was calm and capable, not spinning
in shattered circles. Slowly, you build
a solid core, you become the still center
of their world, the rock they can cling to.

When they are small, everything is a
tragedy, a disaster. The smallest injury
elicits distress, and it is part of your job
to help them calibrate, to understand
they do not need to fear the world's
ending at a splinter, a skinned knee,
a cruel word from a supposed friend.
They need a little callus to protect them.

But this world -- this desperately unfair
society we have built, starts layering on
its calluses too. It is skilled at that work,
and most of us emerge to adulthood
armored in heavy layers of indifference,
self-interest. We are too busy worrying
about ourselves to care about our neighbour
(next door, across the country or the planet),
far too busy to fret about the suffering land,
the mute creatures who walk it, fewer every day.

A variant spelling for callus, is callous.

This is the work we must do, every day,
letting the callus be stripped away, laying
ourselves bare to the world's horrors.
Sometimes, a particular tragedy punches
through, and the story of a dentist and
a beloved lion, one of a disappearing few,
lured from his safe haven to forty hours
of suffering, then death, is what gets us.

It's an opening. A puncture in the armor,
and through that weakened spot, perhaps
a little more compassion will flow, widening
it further over time. Once you start to care
about a lion on the other side of the world,
maybe you will pay a little more attention
when your vegan friend pontificates on
the evils of factory farming. Maybe you will
buy the cage-free eggs for a change, or
simply have lentils for dinner that night.

Once animal lives matter, maybe black lives
will matter more too. Maybe not. There
are no direct lines here, and we all live
enmeshed in an inconsistent web of desire
and habit, compassion and compromise.

But this is my hope. That we will slowly
wear away the callus, lay ourselves open
and raw to the suffering of the world. And
at the same time, that we will have built
that strong, still center, so that when the
world's pain comes sleeting at us, we
may stand upright, are not overwhelmed.

It may be too much to ask, that we take on
such arduous, painful labor for ourselves.
Perhaps we will do it for our children. Or,
perhaps our children will look back at the lives
we lived, horrified at our callousness. And that
will be a victory too. Slowly, slowly, we progress.


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July 29 -- 4:04 PM

Cancer log 106: Funny cancer note. A few days ago, I noticed that the palms of my hands looked dirty. I had been doing a fair bit of gardening, but I wear gloves, and I was trying to figure out how dirt had gotten inside the gloves. Then I tried to wash it off, but even with soap, it didn't seem to be getting much cleaner. Confusing.

Then today, my doctor asked me to stick out my tongue, and said, "Yes, I noticed the hyperpigmentation on your hands, and there's some on your tongue too. It'll go away in a few weeks."


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July 29 -- 2:43 PM

Cancer log 105: On the plus side, I got several compliments at the cancer hospital today. I went bare-headed, just 'cause it was easier, and various medical personnel told me I looked great. More significantly, four or five different patients, all of whom were wearing wigs or head coverings, complimented me, and one in particular enthused about how brave I was. She was a woman in her 60s or so, and I'm guessing it would be much harder (emotionally) for her to go around bald than it is for me. Her wig was very fetching, but she said it was itchy and hot.

The things we do to ourselves.

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July 29 -- 2:19 PM

Cancer log 104: Doctor's office update. White blood cells good, so no heightened infection risk; red blood cells good, platelets down a bit, not to worrying levels -- she says that's why I'm feeling short of breath on exertion. Breast exam very good, which I'm assuming means that as with last time, she's not feeling any lump.

We talked a little more about the schedule, and I was really disheartened to learn that there's a full year of herceptin infusions starting in October (overlapping with the six weeks of radiation). I was thinking that I'd basically be done with all of this by November, but instead, I have to go back every three weeks for another six-hour day here, until October 2016. The side effects should be the same as the early rounds, so relatively mild nausea that the meds should mostly take care of, and some days of tiredness.

It shouldn't be a big deal, but even though I knew there was going to be some follow-up hormone stuff, I thought it was basically pills I could take at home, so I've been thinking of it as a year of treatment, and now it's a lot longer. I felt kind of sick when she told me, and though I held it together until I got over to the clinic, when the nurse asked me how I was doing, I started crying. They brought me water and tissues, and pulled a curtain so I could cry in peace if I needed to. Hooray for kind nurses.

The oncologist said I did have the option of opting out of the year of follow-up herceptin, but none of her patients ever had -- she'd have to check, but she thought the studies showed doing that extra year of treatment correlated with a 50% reduction in recurrence. That's too big a number to dismiss. I'll cope, but a hard day. Wish I'd known about this from the beginning.

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July 29 -- 6:58 AM

Cancer log 103: Chemo today, the start of the slow decline. The worst of the effects will likely hit this Sat - Mon. After the previous treatment, two weeks ago, I'd say I only had two days (Mon / Tues this week) of feeling really normal. And chemo is cumulative, so I'm bracing for just basically feeling sick through the next four weeks. Some days better, some days worse.

I'm trying to focus on the positives. I got to the grocery store yesterday, so the freezer is well stocked up for a few weeks, at least; Kevin should be able to feed us without too much trouble, and if he's exhausted and we need to do takeout a time or two, we can afford it. I'm thoroughly stocked with books to read, video games to play, tv to watch; I have enough distraction for an army. Kev's working from home for the entire month, so if I end up basically in bed, he can cope with the kids and their needs. I've almost entirely cleared my schedule (just have about two hours of semi-urgent work to do), and my syllabi are prepped, so if I literally do nothing for the next month, it's okay. The house is very clean at the moment, so there's a chance it won't degrade too badly over the next month. Well, it will, as keeping it spotless is not Kevin's or the kids' priority, but it should be recoverable without too much effort.

I've basically prepared as well as I can think of for a month of sickness. Now, it's just a matter of living through it. Today's chemo is scheduled later than usual -- I don't go in until until 11:00, and will likely be home by 5 or so. So I have time to get a few things done before I go. Plan for the morning -- go out now and weed for an hour, come back and get the kids dressed and fed and to school / camp, send the Jaggery checks, tend to some gardening chores, order my course packs for fall semester, send back contracts for the Asimov's and Lightspeed sales. If I finish all that, then I really will be done and ready to just collapse for a month.

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