facing cancer together

This guest post is from my old friend and now roommate LeeAnn. I think it speaks for itself.

There’s a scene in 50/50–it’s after the climax of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s emotional breakdown in his best friend’s car, and just after JGL schleps said best friend, a very drunk Seth Rogen, back to Rogen’s home. With Rogen passed out on the couch, JGL gives himself, and his imminent surgery, a long, hard, tired stare in the bathroom mirror. Then, as he turns away, he catches a glimpse of a book on the sill next to the toilet: Facing Cancer Together: How to Help Your Friend or Loved One. Thumbing through it, he finds underlines and annotations, traces of the quiet, thoughtful journey that was belied–or maybe was just best expressed–by all of the profanity, inanity, and insistence on getting laid that were Rogen’s focus when they were together. As he flips through, we’re able to catch “Be There” as one of the underlined paragraph titles.

When your roommate has cancer, it is useless to not take a movie like 50/50 personally. It was tempting to try to identify who in the movie I might be–I ruled out “overbearing mother,” “awkward, tactless boss,” “cheating, failed artist girlfriend,” and “inexperienced, eager, therapist love-interest” pretty quickly. So if I had to compare, it would have to be with Seth Rogen’s profane, horny, and constantly inebriated childhood “close friend/colleague/driver” character. You’ll find out shortly which adjectives I fit.

I’ve known Lindsey since I was a sophomore and she was a senior in high school. She may be the only person in this world who has heard the moronic details of my love life semi-consistently for the last decade (it is stupidly satisfying to be able to make these grand temporal statements now that we are “mid-to-late 20-somethings”). We effectively share a birthday (1 day and 2 years apart). I succeeded her as Copy Editor of the high school paper and we shared a blog several years before the birth of this one. And now, we share (what I like to satisfyingly call) a home.

If you asked me on my birthday two years ago if Lindsey and I would ever live together, I would have said, unlikely at best. Partly because I was living in Pasadena with my boyfriend, and partly because she was busy on campus and staunchly car-less. If you had asked me then if I thought Lindsey would be diagnosed with cancer a week and a half later, I would have said, probably never, she is the non-smokingest, reasonably non-drinkingest, swimmingest, bikingest, sometimes vegetarian-ist, generally healthy-and-young-iest person I know. According to my mind’s statistics committee, these were not really concurrent events that I’d ever have to deal with. But two weeks later, on a call that we made in lieu of driving cross-town to see each other, she broke the news. And here we are.

The thing that I have always liked best about Lindsey is that she never puts up a front. She is never bombastic, never belligerent, but is always honest and unafraid of expressing herself, no matter the issue. To me, she has always been firm about herself, her strengths, and her goals, or at least she has always been articulate in her evaluation of whatever doubts she has. And since her diagnosis, I can’t but marvel at how level-headed and forward-looking she is. How much joy and time she takes in what she does. How good she is at making tamales. It’s not to say it’s all sunshine and rainbows–cancer and grad school and your mid-to-late 20s are no picnic no matter how good a blogger you are–but if Lindsey is pointing out the clouds, she does it without complaining about the rain. (This is a metaphor; she recently complained about Chicago rain). And she’s way less long-winded than I am. I told her the other day that she’s much more grown up than I am. It’s true. I want to support her, but more often than not, I merely find myself in awe.

Last month, after a particularly annoying day at the doctor’s, I offered to accompany Lindsey to her next doctor’s appointment a few weeks later, to make the long wait less terrible. When the day actually approached, I was unable to take the time off of work, and had to tell her that regretfully couldn’t make it. It felt terrible. There was my opportunity to “be there,” and I had to be at work instead.

I don’t have a copy of Facing Cancer Together. I don’t always know what to say when her appointments don’t go well. I have never commented on (though I do read) this blog. I know I am not her mother (covered), not her boyfriend (covered), not her sister (double-covered). But I know that missing that appointment was something I regret and it isn’t characteristic of the role that I play. In a way, I have underlined and taken note of my admiration of Lindsey’s blogs, articles, and poetry since we were teenagers. And I don’t for a second take for granted my role as a co-blogger, co-editor, tandem bike-riding partner, and roommate–no matter how profane, inane, or long winded, (and sure, maybe at times, inebriated) I may be.

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One Response to facing cancer together

  1. Lesley Taylor-Zwanziger says:

    As the wife of a cancer sufferer, all I can say is, being there is all we can do. I know it feels like we should do more, but I treat him as if our life is normal and that includes, sometimes missing things I feel terrible about and telling him about my quite inconsequential aches and pains, because what’s the alternative? Sitting in tears all day hoping this isn’t the last together? No, just keep life going as normal and flawed as everyone else not having to face this monster of a challenge, day in and day out. Thank you for this post, I support you both.

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