August 22, 2013


As I got closer to the end of my treatments, I started to wonder what life would be like afterwards. I was already in pretty iffy mental health before this newest slap upside the head so I wasn’t sure what shape I would find myself in as treatment ended and my “new normal” began. I quickly realized that, once you’ve had cancer, even if you’re in remission--or maybe because you’re in remission--you will always have a monkey on your back. This is not helped by a saying they have in the cancer biz: You never know if you’ve beaten cancer until you die of something else.

The monkey was troublesome. If I didn’t get a handle on it, it would gnaw quietly at me every hour of every day, maybe eroding an already wobbly psyche. When would the cancer come back? How would I know it was there? What if I didn’t know it was there? What form would it take? Would I have to go through the horrible treatment all over again? I have a stomach ache/headache/cold/what-have-you--is it the cancer coming back? It then occurred to me that, while there was nothing I could do about the monkey—it just comes with the territory, the lovely parting gift given to all cancer patients—it was imaginary so what was to stop me from using my imagination to decide what kind of monkey it would be? I could let it keep the form it had when it arrived, a nightmare of a baboon, heavy, threatening, fearsome...


Meet Omar, my cancer monkey. He's a tamarin.


I had shared the concept of reimagining the monkey into a an adorable tamarin with my friend Linda, forgetting that she is a world-class rememberer. When she, I and two other friends had a small post-chemo party at the local donut shop last Sunday, she presented me with this little guy. (The tiara was an afterthought, borrowed from one of the women at the table, but I think it looks dashing.)

I now, literally, embrace my cancer monkey. A little imagination—and the love of a friend—can go a long way.

Posted by Ryan at August 22, 2013 07:12 PM

You have probably had all sorts of advice and recommendations about stuff, but I loved this book, When My World Was Very Small by Ruth Rakoff.

It was a tad weepy now and then, but it is a book about cancer so it can't all be sweetness and light, I suppose. She made a gajillion breasts from Fimo, which isn't at all like having a monkey, but it's all part of the same survival business. I think.

Posted by: Mary deB on August 22, 2013 07:25 PM

The monkey is fabulous! (That's my new favorite word of approval. Isn't it fabulous?)

Posted by: kmkat on August 22, 2013 09:54 PM

Way to take on that monkey!

Posted by: Kristen on August 22, 2013 10:28 PM

Looooove Omar, and you reminded me of something from a little humor book I just read, "Zen Judaism (For You, a Little Enlightenment"):

"Be aware of your body. Be aware of your perceptions. Keep in mind that not every physical sensation is a symptom of terminal illness."

Posted by: Cuzzin Tom on August 23, 2013 02:59 AM

Might as well dance with the monkey that brung ya'. Hmm, that didn't work as well as it did in my head.

Might as well be friendly with the monkey you have. We all have one in some form or another.

Posted by: Laurie on August 23, 2013 12:40 PM

lol @ Laurie's comment.
Your monkey is super cute. Though since it represents cancer in some form I rather hope Benny eviscerates it.

Posted by: pacalaga on August 25, 2013 08:16 PM

It is great to have you back in the blogosphere! I have kept watch for your return.
Way to beat the big 'C'

Posted by: Trish on August 28, 2013 01:19 PM
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