Cancer and the Maple Dresser


I know I'm going to die, but will I die of cancer?

One of the nice things about living in Ohio is that we live near the Amish, who make wonderful cheese, delicious pies and sturdy furniture that lasts a lifetime and beyond. When my parents married in 1956, they bought Amish furniture to fill their new house. Of course, they needed a bedroom set. They choose a maple, three-piece grouping which included a bed and two dressers. My mother still uses her dresser. She’s now 85. I’m not sure who’s got the bed, but my husband Steve has my father’s dresser. My dad died of suicide in 1982. His dove-tailed maple dresser outlived him. It will also outlive my husband. The dresser will probably go to my son Tommy, and it will outlive him. That Amish furniture will outlast us all.

A few nights ago, after a recent hysterectomy, I was lying in our bed (not nearly as well made as my parents’ bed), staring at and contemplating the dove-tailed maple dresser. A two-time cancer survivor, I knew the dresser was here to stay, and I wasn’t. I would die. Who knows when, but I would die. Would I die of cancer?

At that moment, I would have said no. I felt quite surely that cancer would not get me.

What did I base this belief on?

My boss, a writer, tells me whenever I get a cancer (or think I have cancer) that I will beat it. He has told me this three times. And he’s been right. His assuredness that I will not die of cancer rubs off on me.

Where does his certainty come from?

Writers are strange fellows. We believe at times that we are superhuman.

During the AIDS epidemic, in the 1980s, a gay author friend of mine told us in a writing class that he knew he was not going to perish from AIDS because he needed to stick around to record the atrocities of the disease. Guess what? This author is still alive. He outlived dozens, hundreds of friends and acquaintances. Maybe he was right. I think he was.

I believe my boss looks at me a little like this; my employee, he thinks, a writer, will survive because she has a job to do. She needs to stay around to write about cancer.

Sound a bit lofty? It is.

But so is Amish furniture that the bomb won’t even break apart.

We humans are tenacious things.

We need to hold on. There are many forces that want to destroy us.

As I said above, while lying in bed that night, peering at the dove-tail maple dresser, I didn’t think cancer would ever get me.

Now, I’m not so sure.

What is a better way to be when looking cancer in the face? Brazen or cautious? Daring or submissive?

My editor tells me, “Don’t say ‘I will not die of cancer.’”

But he is extremely superstitious. He believes I will call down the Evil Eye.

I guess I need to be a bit ballsy.

I’ll say it. I will not die of cancer.

At least not today.

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