I Don’t Actually Have Cancer

jenny holzer

written 10/22/2015

I’m doing okay now. Well, I suppose I’m never really doing ‘okay’ but I’m fully recovered from that last episode. The past couple weeks have been traumatizing. I am moving through the days, finally. I am getting to work and to class. Okay, no I’m not. I’m late to class and I skipped two classes this week and I couldn’t get up for my shift on Tuesday. Also I missed the carpool to go to the library I volunteer at.


But I feel a little more optimistic about things moving forward. There are many good signs–the weather that calls me to be outside rather than stay in, interesting material in my classes, and the reassurance that I actually am a good employee and won’t be fired under the “6 points” cutoff. Which just means that you receive points when you don’t show/call off and don’t have someone to cover. I probably have over 10 points. Yet I’ve gotten no email or contact from anyone. Today, I did talk to one of the managers, not the main managers, but a student manager (there is a very odd management hierarchy). Bri (this manager, who I think is the most competent of the s. managers) really assured me that I was going to be fine and I feel at least 50% better. There’s still half of the cup that’s not full and I am walking a very thin line.

I can get much more help for this if I wanted, I could. I could talk to my main manager who I respect and knows I have “something” about why this happens, provide proof from the doc, and I would receive more flexibility and forgiveness. I would not be under this current fear of losing this job at any moment.

And there’s other things that are problematic that I could easily get help and fix. I blew off a quiz in the middle of the week when I went home. I can have student advocacy reach out and even though the test was online, I know the professor will almost definitely give me some kind of makeup.

Why don’t I do these things? I know some of it has to do with the stigma on depression; to get “anything” in the the realm of these illnesses you must prove that this is serious. I guess in reality they don’t have a right to know what I have medically but rather to accept any wording given to them by my doc or advocate as legitimate. But I have to reach out to my doctor and my advocate to do these things, and I would have to start by talking to Ka, my therapist, and there are too many favors to ask and there is paperwork and then concerns and to them it’s ‘no trouble’ in the end but to me it all is trouble and bothersome on a whole different level. I guess I have still not overcome the idea that I don’t deserve help and my level of depression just doesn’t warrant all the effort. I don’t need their help. I can do this attitude, and if I fail that’s just fine, let me fail.

I’m going to be honest, sometimes I have this temptation to just say to people “I have cancer.” Cancer is such a powerful word. “I have cancer”—three words that stops us in our tracks. It gets everyone to shut up and accept what needs to happen next without question. It gets them to think about you and sympathize. This is because it [cancer] is such a serious, incomprehensible and deadly disease. We also constantly see the children with bald heads and wires and scars on their bodies and pale skin, and this assures us that it’s hard and terrifying even if not all cancer looks like that. But it is hard and terrifying. And I shouldn’t say I have cancer, because even though this can feel like a sort of cancer sometimes, I don’t actually have cancer. And so I never will actually say that (I hope), but I feel slightly bad for the urge to possibly say such a thing, while at the same time understanding where me is coming from. Me wants to be understood. Me just wants to be cut some slack when appropriate and me doesn’t want anymore questions.

We attempt to learn systems of management that allow us to live our lives in some broad state of normalcy (by us, I mean anyone, anyone who has diabetes, anyone who is a cancer survivor, anyone who receives bipolar mood swings). It is hard, it really is. There are so many “steps” to go through as time goes on and we process what we have experienced and we get lost on where we are. But then again, doesn’t everyone get lost trying to navigate life? Sometimes I think the majority of the time, everybody is lost, and even when you’re 55, you can still have no idea what you’re doing.

Tonight, this moment, I am in the library, and I came here to get some work done, but I have done very little and don’t know what to do actually. I kept on thinking throughout the day “I have a lot to accomplish this weekend!” yet I can’t think of anything I have to do at all. I move on to my safe space on the internet.


Picture Credit: Jenny Holzer is the artist for this piece, which is part of a project called “PROJECTIONS”. This image came from San Diego in 2007. I found this project while reading about artists who use light as a medium. To be, PROJECTIONS felt somewhat haunting, maybe because of the incorporation of the text and the lighting of the scenes. Reminding me again of that fact that I am living on this earth of which I understand so little, of which I have to move through carefully.


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