Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cancer Monkey

I slowly come awake, feel the sun on my face, hear the scampering of little feet downstairs, and all feels normal in my world, until it hits me:  I have cancer.

I'm getting used to the idea of cancer, to the diagnosis and all the new fears and questions it brings.  I roll the words around in my head experimentally:  I have cancer. I am a person who has cancer. I am fighting cancer.

After living my entire life - quite literally - in fear of a cancer diagnosis, I'm a little surprised at my reaction.

The earliest memory I have of being scared of cancer is when I was twelve years old, and convinced myself that the stomach pains I had been having meant I had stomach or pancreatic cancer.  I spent two weeks living in utter fear, my arm clasped across my mid-section, convinced the end was near.

Those who know me the best have heard me confess my private fear of cancer over the years. It became something of a joke, really.  "Stay away from Dr. Google," my friends would warn if I complained of a headache or other ailment.  "You don't need any encouragement to worry too much."

Now it's here - a cancer diagnosis - and I'm strangely peaceful.  There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful, which helps. I will know more in the coming days, after consults with oncologists and more tests, but early signs indicate that my prognosis is good.  

I go about my day, help with homework, read to the kids, make jewelry, take naps.  Every now and then the knowledge that I have cancer will jump into my head, like a dirty little unwanted monkey dropping out of the sky into my arms.  The monkey will hang on me for a while, drape itself across my back or cling to my arms, making me feel sluggish and slow.  Finn will ask me to play a game with him, and I can feel myself mentally shifting my monkey from arm to arm, trying to summon the energy to act as if nothing is wrong, that there is no monkey there, that Momma is fine

The monkey gets in the way of loving my kids, of being fully present for them.  The times I am the most frightened are when I tumble into their eyes and think:  no, no.  I need to be here.  For a long time.  I feel myself pull back from them:  don't love me too much, kids. I have cancer.

But I know that's just the monkey, whispering in my ear, trying to get me to succumb to fear.

I will not.

I put the monkey down, because I need those arms to wrap around my children, to play games, read books, to laugh and love in the moments that are right in front of me.

The cancer diagnosis has honed my world to a fine point, but to my surprise it's not all about fear.  Not even close.  The useless, petty concerns of life drop away in an instant, and a deep appreciation for what really matters becomes crystal clear.

As we were drifting off to sleep last night, my husband mumbled in my ear: "It's Thanksgiving week. What are you thankful for?"

I thought a moment, and then whispered, "Everything."   And I am, really and truly, thankful for all I have, for all the amazing people in my life, for my incredible little family. 

I never, ever thought I could get a cancer diagnosis and feel so damn grateful.  And lucky. 

I have my moments when the monkey takes over, when I lose myself to sadness and fear. I crumple to the floor in tears, thinking about how unfair it feels.  I have thoughts of 'why me?' and 'why now?'   I let them come, pour out of me in cleansing sobs.

The reality is:  Why not me?  Why not now?  It's my turn, and I'm ready.


This post is part of Heather of the Extraordinary Ordinary's link-up, Just Write.  To join in, click here:


  1. Hugs & love to you Ellie. You're in my thoughts and prayers always.

  2. I love how I can see the HOPE leaping off the screen in this post. Continuing to pray for you!

  3. You are so inspiring, Ellie. Much love and thoughts for you.

  4. Lovely,
    You're on my mind and in my heart.

  5. what an example of grace you provide.

  6. Your posts and the way you write your realities always give me goosebumps. I believe God's got big plans for you and your family. I can just feel it...

  7. Beautiful and inspiring. Thinking of you.

  8. I can relate so much to this as a person who had cancer and lived her life in fear of just this thing. I always said it was so ironic that God would give cancer to that person! It felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy, my Mom and I used to joke that my tombstone some day would say "I told you so." You describe my exact thoughts. I felt so lucky, so grateful. That it wasn't my kids, that it wasn't worse, that I had a good prognosis, that I had so much love around me, that we lived near great doctors. I remember saying to a friend that I felt great because I was facing one of the things I was most afraid of and I was still here, and I was ok! I know that anxiety you speak of, the death grip of every little symptom, the blood running cold when you felt the lump. Thank you for writing. Sending peace and comfort to you...

  9. You. are. amazing.
    I love so many of your posts and your writing has resonated with me for years now. But This--This may be my favorite piece ever. The monkey analogy and description are so spot on. And putting the monkey down because "I need those arms to hold my children" -- that line slayed me. So, so glad you shared this.
    Thinking of you.

  10. It's interesting what a relief it is when what we fear the most finally arrives, like we've been waiting for it to. We can finally stop waiting and deal with it. And we finally see that it's no where near a frightening or world stopping as we thought it would be. Knowing how powerful our minds are at creating out realities, I'm working very hard to fear the arrival of true love and opening my heart to someone, in the hopes that I will manifest that as surely as I did the horrible things I feared.

  11. my thoughts and prayers are with you!

  12. As Le Mr & I travel this arduously long road of legal challenges here in France, one now ensured to last a minimum of another 2yrs, one that seems to have tested every aspect of our humanity, one that has taken away our most basic need for a 'home', somewhere to come and be comfortable and safe in the toughest of times--gone because it, the lawsuit & someone else's errors, is the cause of these tough times!...people ask me, how can you guys be so happy, how can you keep bouncing back? And my answer is: because it's not the worst thing that could happen to us--we are fat & happy. We have a marriage that gets stronger every time we're challenged & we love each other more. I have two close friends who have had cancer diagnoses in the last year, and I think of the challenge they're facing and mine seems inconsequential, when your family or your life are threatened THAT is when you have to reach deeply to bounce back and I'm saving my bounce for if I ever need it. Your bounce astounds me Ellie, and I'm glad that your life's challenges up to now seem to have prepared you for this moment--go forth, be strong, live in the moment and know that your strength feeds others who need it! Bisous.

  13. You are amazing, Ellie! I too have always been a bit of a hypochondriac, and had myself so worked up earlier this summer thinking that I might have ovarian or uterine cancer (nope, just fibroids.) At one point, when I was panicking, I thought "I wonder if an actual diagnosis could feel worse than this?" I can totally see how the knowledge of what you're dealing with could lead to a sort of peace and clarity. Thinking of you always.

  14. Ellie, you are just awesome. This is beautiful writing. Many prayers!

  15. wow. just wow. I remember when I had brain surgery looming feeling that same way - suddenly my priorities were clear - and everything made sense. Hold on to it, because once you're all better (and you will be ALL BETTER, very soon) it's hard to hold on to that clarity - you think you'll have it forever, but it slips away, buried under the daily tasks of life.
    Love, love, love to you and your family.

  16. Your are so amazing and strong and talented. Thinking about you and sending my love and positive strong thoughts your way my friend. xoxo

  17. Ellie, I am so glad that you are back making jewlery, I haven't heard you talk about that for a long time, and it seems to me to have been something missing from your life.

    I love the fact that you can recognize that life has it ups and downs and sometimes we need to sit on the floor and cry, to acknowledge our feelings. But yes, we can put he monkey down and go on living a life that is happy joyous and free. You are doing it gal, may all the joys of life be yours.


    Mike L

  18. Ellie -

    You are an incredibly brave person. I would be paralyzed on the floor. But we don't know how we would react unless nwe are actually confronted with the worst news. I hope that my reaction would be like yours.

    So many of us will be in your shoes at some point. You give me inspiration that if and when that time comes that I will be able to handle it with the same grace as you.

    Please let us know how your mother is. This is probably very stressful after having lost your ather so recently.


  19. It shouldn't be your turn. It shouldn't be anyone's turn. It's not fair.

  20. Hey Little Bastard Monkey,

    Leave Ellie alone!



  21. i'm hoping for your peace and strength to remain with you while you undergo treatment. i'm really sorry to hear that you're going through another big challenge this year. i know you don't know me from adam, but i read the redbook article at a time that helped precipitate the sobriety that i've been able to maintain for the past six weeks (the longest in 10 years). i just wanted to let you know that the expression of your bravery has helped me so i am hoping for your bravery as you endure the next months of your life. a bit of unsolicited advice: in addition/ conjunction with surgery/radiation/chemo make sure to check out the healing dietary options (my mom's therapist SWEARS that bloodph.com helped her survive breast cancer) and also maybe check out biofeedback for relaxation. take care! ~Jenna/ Concord, CA

  22. Your courage and acceptance are GIFTS to all of us who read here, Ellie, and, not doubt, to those who see these qualities in you IRL.
    I'll be thinking of you during these next several days ... especially when I recognize my own monkeys and send them running! Thanks for the image!

  23. Thanks for this beautiful post. I am so fear based at times over EVERYTHING and it clouds my daily joy. Your hard won sobriety has given you so many tools to confront this head on.

  24. You show that Monkey who's boss! Tell him where to stick it!

    Thankful for you!!

  25. Ellie: If the doctors say that the early signs are good...then they must be very good as I have never know a doctor to give anything but the worst doom and gloom. Enjoy the holidays with your family and know that we are all saying a prayer for your recovery

  26. Beautiful post, Ellie! You are so inspiring. Thanks for keeping us posted. We're all here for you!


  27. I said the same thing when I was diagnosed with cancer...why NOT me? I wish you much love and luck in your battle!