Diagnosis: Critical Mass

HealSpring 2008
Volume 2
Issue 1

Learning to let go of some fashionable old friends.

“This is really painful, isn’t it?” she said. I nodded in agreement.

“Do you mind if we begin?” She was trying to be sensitive, but I resented one more intrusion into my life. Art is my nirvana/meditation/sanity/soul, and I needed to be at the easel. Finally, I faced her squarely. “Did you bring anesthesia?”

It was more of a challenge than a question, but my fabulous caregiver husband had prepared her. She pulled from her briefcase the required remedy — fresh, gooey fudge, generously embedded with pecans and drizzled all over with caramel. Survival comes in many forms.

“Let her start the examination,” I relented. My husband took her down the hall to the bedroom and opened the closet. I heard the audible gasp and knew the dreaded diagnosis: Critical Closet Mass.

I wasn’t even into my second chunk of fudge before she was in front of me, wild-eyed and demonic.

“Well?” I looked up at her, mumbling through the delicious gunk in my mouth. “How bad is it? What’s the recommended procedure?”

“Radical de-bulking. Immediately,” she replied.

Whoa. I wasn’t prepared for this! I needed more time to plan and adjust — maybe hide some things. She obviously didn’t understand the complex clothing requirements of a chronic cancer lifestyle. I led her back to the closet and explained my system, which had evolved over several years of chemotherapy and surgical events in the double digits:


After-surgery garments, large and loose


Between-chemo clothing, for when I can wear normal people clothes


Chemo-infusion outfits, warm and cozy — with access to my medical port


Drug-reaction clothes to accommodate a full-body rash and peeling blisters


Easel clothes already spattered with paint


Fat clothes for when my Graves’ disease, which requires steroids, is acting up.

While my method was alphabetical order, my closet looked like alphabet soup. The closet doc was clearly overwhelmed, so I didn’t even try to explain what every experienced chemo-club member knows: Never throw anything away, because shopping is impossibly difficult. So we stood there, our eyes locked in silent negotiation.

My husband had promised to find an experienced specialist. This one’s toughest assignment so far had clearly been too many pairs of red shoes — I calmed her with an offer of fudge.

It was just in time; her gaze was moving up toward the top shelf, stacked with the most essential clothing item for a perpetual chemo patient — hats. She stared in disbelief at my prized collection, which started 23 years ago with my first cancer diagnosis. You know the drill — if it fits and you look good in it, buy one in every color.

“Fran, you just have to let go,” she whispered. Was she kidding? I’ve spent years clutching at life with my fingernails (beautifully manicured, thank you) and now somebody says, “Let go.” I don’t think so.

“Do it for your husband,” she pleaded. “You wrote in your book, ‘Dare to dream’; your husband dreams of using the closet.”

I sighed in acceptance. It’s not just the quantity. During dinner the night before, my husband had tactfully remarked on how much styles had changed over the years while I was “out to chemo.”

Maybe it’s time to throw it all out and start over. You can bet your boots that this is going to require a lot of fudge.

Artist Fran Di Giacomon, author of I'd Rather Do Chemo Than Clean Out the Garage: Choosing Laughter Over Tears, was first diagnosed with breast cancer, and has lived with metastatic ovarian cancer for eight years. She considers herself a "PhD," Perpetually hairless Dame.

The doorbell rang but i sat motionless while my husband greeted our visitor. He made the appointment with this new specialist against my wished and was now directing her to the living room, where i sat staring at my cleched hands. As a career cancer patient, i was fed up with specialists. Sensing my reluctance, she put her briefcase on the table and studied me patiently.

Whoa. I wasn’t prepared for this! I needed more time to plan and adjust — maybe hide some things. She obviously didn’t understand the complex clothing requirements of a chronic cancer lifestyle.