I had to.
(Fun Fact: I did a lot of sprinting while g-chatting with the lovely Alex Brown. And there were a lot of Les Mis sing-alongs that happened then.)
So, YAYYYY!!! ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG comes out tomorrow! I am both super duper excited and completely and utterly freaking out, as is to be expected before a book release. This week is going to be super fun here on my blog, and I will actually be updating it frequently! But more info on that tomorrow.
For now, because why not? I've decided to post the first chapter of OTGDY in it's entirety. So, tell your kids, tell your wife and tell your husband, and make sure to come back tomorrow for ALL THE FUN THINGS. (wheeeee!)
I swear to God, if I see one more stupid motivational poster, I’m going to rip my face off and throw it at someone.
I flop back in my chair and scowl at the stupid therapist sitting across from me, with the same dumb expression that every other therapist I’ve sat across from has. That mix of pity and morbid curiosity.
She’s a mess, honestly. God knows how anyone let her leave her house—she looks like she had someone colorblind dress her this morning. A suit that never, ever, ever is going to fit her, and frankly, should be burned. Her hair is a disaster, and I doubt she’s wearing any makeup.
And good Lord, there are orthopedic shoes on her feet.
She may be making me more nauseous than chemo did.
Hello, weird therapy lady? The nursing home from the eighties called—they want their clothing back.
“So, Milcah. How are you feeling today?”
I roll my eyes. Why do I have to go through with this shit?
She asks annoying questions, she’ll get one-word answers.
So glad you think so, weird therapy lady. Can I just leave?
“How’s your stay at the clinic been so far?”
I tilt my head to look at her again.
Did she seriously just ask that? Like the stupid clinic is some sort of five-star hotel? Like I actually live here, or something? Seriously?
I crane to look at the diplomas she has hanging on the wall behind her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she just made one on Photoshop and printed it herself.
Don’t they teach you not to ask dumb questions like that to people? How the hell did she even get a job here in the first place?
“Oh, it’s just fabulous,” I tell her, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “I’m so glad I was upgraded to a better suite of rooms, and the Jacuzzi in the bathroom is such a lovely treat. And the doorman was so nice to carry my things up for me.”
She titters, like I’m the funniest person ever.
Ha, stupid therapy lady. I’m sure you find this hilarious.
Scribbling something onto her pad of paper, she looks back up at me. “And how are the other people in your room?”
You mean in the curtained area where I get pumped full of drugs every week? That room?
“The imaginary ones?”
She laughs again, this time, at a higher pitch. Apparently, I’m either funnier now, or she’s getting scared of me.
I’d prefer the second option.
“The imaginary ones?” she asks.
“I don’t share a room with anyone.” Which you would know if you actually read the stupid file through before asking me ridiculous questions. Or knew anything about the clinic where you work. “So there’s nobody to ask about.” I glare at her and wish I could go back to my room.
Why they think having me drag myself through the stupid clinic to see this quack is a good plan I have no idea at all. It’s not.
She starts asking me another question, but I tune out. I don’t want to talk about my feelings. I don’t want her to ask me all the stupid-ass questions that everyone has already asked me, over and over and over again.
I don’t want to talk about it.
And if some small, insane part of me does want to talk about it, then like hell is it going to be with her.
I ignore her, because I am done with this fucking appointment. If I have to sit in her office until the designated time is up, I will, but I don’t have to cooperate anymore.
I don’t care how immature and infantile that makes me.
I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to be doing.
“So, I heard you were a real bitch to Dr. G before,” Holly says as she bustles in.
I shrug. “Not any more than I normally am.”
She takes my blood pressure and puts her hands on her hips. “Seriously, Milcah, she’s new. You have to be nice to her.”
“She shouldn’t be asking me dumb-ass questions,” I reply.
“Dumb-ass meaning regular therapy questions?”
“She asked me how I was enjoying my stay here. Like it was a hotel. Like I actually stay here.” I roll my eyes. “Seriously? Did they teach her nothing in therapy school, or wherever the hell she went?”
Holly bursts out laughing. “What did you answer her?”
“What do you think?”
“Something appropriately smart-ass, I’m sure.” She pinches my cheek lightly, like I’m decades younger than her. Which I’m not. “How you feeling today?”
“Same shit you were feeling last week?” she asks, scribbling something at the chart at the end of my bed.
“Same shit as last week,” I confirm.
And that’s why I like Holly.
Because she treats me like a person, and not like an illness. Because she calls me out when I’m being a bitch, and because she does her job well.
If everyone in the clinic did their job as well as Holly does hers, I probably wouldn’t hate it here so much.
But on the other hand, I am here dying, so there’s that.
“How was last night?” I ask her, eager to change the subject so we don’t have to talk about my failing body for that much longer.
She shrugs. “It was okay, I guess.”
“Did you see what’s-his-name?”
“No, I didn’t see Nick. He was at work late.”
“You guys both work too hard,” I tell her. “You need a vacation.”
She laughs. “You know, if I took a vacation, I wouldn’t be here to piss you off.”
“See? Another reason!”
“You know you love me,” she teases. “You would be so lonely without me.”
But I can’t tell her that.
“You have an appointment with Dr. Bertraam soon,” she says, checking my chart again. “Try not to bite his head off this time, okay?”
“Depends on what he’s going to tell me this time,” I tell her.
“Do you have something to keep yourself busy with until then?” she asks.
“Yes, Mom, I do,” I answer. My laptop, my crocheting—shut up—and my Kindle are enough of a distraction for now.
She leans over and kisses me on the forehead. “I’ll see you later, sunshine,” she says as she leaves the room.
Total breach of nursing rules, but neither Holly or I give much of a shit about nursing rules.
I flop back in the chair and pick up my bag of crocheting. It looks like a nice day outside, but I’m trapped in a big bubble of vacuum-packed air.
My laptop is lying on the little table next to the chair, charging. I only need to wait another hour or so before my next probably unpleasant meeting. The one where I find out if I get to keep my boobs or not.
Pulling out my crocheting, I pick up the yarns and begin where I left off last time.
At the rate I’m going, I’m going to have enough crocheted to cover my entire apartment.
“So, Milcah.” Dr. Bertraam looks down at me over his glasses.
I stare back at him and hope that I’m brave enough to hear whatever he’s going to tell me this time.
“The first round of chemo has worked, but not as well as we’d like it to. I’ve spent a lot of time with the results from your CT and PET scans and labs, and we’re going to have to go through with the mastectomy.”
“Go through with the mastectomy?” I repeat, trying to process what the hell he just told me. I knew it was coming—I mean, I must have, right? I did discuss treatment plans back when I was first diagnosed, but having the discussion back when everything was still a blur of panic and unknown and now actually having it being discussed in a way that has finally hit me that it’s actually going to happen?
I don’t think I can do this.
He nods, like this is totally normal.
The man’s an oncologist, so I guess it is for him.
“If all you had was one tumor, it may not have been necessary. But since the cancer’s spread to other lymph nodes and the chemo didn’t get rid of all of it, we need to try a different method of removal.”
At least he’s pretty honest.
“Just a review, okay?” I glare at him, getting angrier. “So first, I went through the hell that was chemo. Over and over and over again. And now you’re telling me that it’s not enough that all my hair is in the process of falling out, and for my esophagus to basically be permanently damaged from all the puking I’ve done, but now you want to cut off my tits. You going to take out my uterus next, just to make sure I’ll never feel like a girl again?”
“I wouldn’t have mentioned it if there was another option,” he says, looking a little sorry. Well, it’s not his tits that are going to be cut off.
“So the only option right now is cut off my tits,” I repeat, just trying to be clear.
He nods. “The chances of the cancer spreading further will be lessened with the complete removal of your breasts.”
“Say tits, Dr. B. Stop being such a prude.”
His eyebrows take their usual route up through to his hairline, which he surprisingly still has.
“That wouldn’t be the medical terminology, Milcah.”
I roll my eyes. “Dr. B, you’ve got to get the stick out of your ass. It’s not attractive.”
His eyebrows go up further. I don’t think there’s anything I can say to him that will shock him.
“You aren’t the first one to tell me that,” he says, which makes my eyebrows shoot up. “But thanks for the advice, non-medical as it may be.”
Dr. B apparently has more of a sense of humor than I thought. “So.” I take a deep breath. “When do I say goodbye to my tits?”
“Surgery will be scheduled for next Tuesday.”
It’s Thursday today.
I have twelve more days of tits.
“That it for now?” I ask, getting up wearily.
He nods. “We can discuss options for post-surgery next week.”
“I’d rather not,” I say, trying to keep it together. “How ‘bout we cut them off first and worry about what happens next after you cut them off.”
Maybe if I keep saying it, it will make it easier to deal with.
“Okay.” He nods.
I look out his window. The sun is shining, and it’s another gorgeous spring day.
And I’m stuck in this stupid hospital complex thing for God only knows how long.
“I’m never gonna get out of here, am I?” I ask, leaning against the door for support.
“Of course you will,” Dr. B says.
“Then why aren’t you looking at me when you say that?”
He looks up at me, and I can see the pity in his eyes, which hurts me more than then the surgery news did. I don’t need anyone’s fucking pity. “Hopefully you’ll be out of here. It’s just going to take a while.”
Damn fucking stage three breast cancer.
“This was so not how I wanted to be spending the year I’m eighteen,” I say. “It sucks, okay?”
“I know,” he says. “It does indeed suck.”
I burst out laughing, because Dr. B, the Ivy League hooty-snooty oncologist just said something sucked. “I’m a terrible influence on you, aren’t I?”
“Just a bit.” If I tilt my head a bit, it looks like he’s smiling. “I’ll see you later, Milcah.”
The attending nurse is here to take me back to the clinic. Like I can’t walk by myself or something. “Dr. B?”
“Still pissed at you for deciding to cut my boobs off.” I glare at him. His mouth twitches a little, and then it’s back to his regular doctor poker face.
I hear the attending nurse stifle a laugh.
“Shut up.” I slump in the wheelchair. “This would be so much better if there were four of you and you carried me on a chariot thing.”
“Next time,” the nurse says as he pushes me to the elevator to escort me back.
The clinic is filled with the usual sounds of hospital and dying people and families coming for “moral support.” They’ve tried to make it look cheerful and happy, but it’s basically a lost cause. Hanging up cheerful pictures will not disguise the fact that this place is basically the step before the morgue.
“Thanks for the ride,” I say as the nurse helps me back to the waiting room where I get to sit and wait for all the information I don’t want to hear. “Your car is super hot.”
He laughs. “Thanks.”
I wait until he closes the door behind him before I sneak into the bathroom, lock the door, collapse on the floor, and promptly burst into tears.
The apartment building is basically abandoned, as usual, and I make my way into my nearly empty apartment. I try not to think about the rest of the afternoon, where I had to sit in the waiting room with a tear-stained face and pretend that everything was okay. It wasn’t like I was the only one in the clinic who had been crying, but I had promised myself before I started treatment that I was never going to let them see me cry.
Seeing me with a tear-stained face, no matter how much I tried to fix up my makeup and pretend it didn’t happen, was breaking that promise to myself. And that’s one of the reasons I hate cancer with every drop of my being. It makes me break my promises, and it’s turned me into someone I’m not.
Stripping down to panties, I crawl into bed, hoping I’ll fall asleep soon. But when a doctor gives your chest an expiration date, it’s kind of hard to fall asleep. It’s late, but I’ve passed the stage of tired where I can actually sleep and now am firmly in the so tired I’m wide awake stage of things. Ugh.
I look down at my chest and try to memorize the way it looks right now. One breast is already a little smaller than the other one, with a small scar on the side from when they removed the tumor.
“Well, boobies, you’re living on borrowed time now,” I say, patting them softly. “Sucks to be you now.”
My face twists as I remember the many admirers of the girls. Sam loved them so much, sometimes I wondered if he was dating my boobs and not me.
I push the memory away and stare up at the ceiling.
Slowly and surely, cancer was stealing any part of me that I had.
It had stolen my life.
It had stolen my friends.
It had stolen what was left of my family.
It was going to steal my hair, and now it was stealing my boobs.
I reach for my stuffed rabbit. Clutching Riley to me, I stroke his fuzzy ears and try to calm down.
But even Riley, the worn old rabbit that had gotten me through so much of this miserable hell, wasn’t enough to comfort me tonight.
I roll over and wish I could get drunk enough to forget where I was. What I was. What was going to happen to me.
Grabbing my Kindle, I turn it on and tried to distract myself with a book. I wasn’t going to be sleeping tonight—I may as well do something besides mope.
I’m back at the clinic a few days later, here for yet another round of check-ups. As if I haven’t spent enough time in this clinic at all- sometimes, I think that it would make more sense for me to just move in here. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about shit like paying rent and having to interact with other people.
Okay, the interacting with other people thing is a problem in the clinic, too.
“Milcah, there’s going to be an activity in the rec room in twenty minutes. Do you want to go?” A nurse pokes her head in, way too blonde and perky.
“You sure? It’s going to be so much fun!”
I scowl at her. She definitely had been a stupid cheerleader in high school. They never grow out of that over-perkiness. “This isn’t summer camp. I don’t want to do any activities.”
“Well, if you change your mind, let me know!” she chirps, like I’m some stubborn five-year old.
I’m maybe six years younger than her. Not twenty years younger.
“Sure,” I say, just so she’ll leave.
She does, and there I am again—alone in the stupid little room, probably where I’ll die.
There’s another knock on the door and I groan. Why can’t they just freakin’ leave me alone?
If you can’t even pronounce my name normally, why would I want to talk to you?
The door opens and a lady walks in. She kind of looks like a middle-aged Barbie gone wrong. Frumpy, bad makeup job and wearing all pink. If she hadn’t just barged into my room for no fucking reason, it would be funny. So far, I’m just pissed.
“Mile-sah! I’m here to visit!”
Who the hell is this lady, and why is she here? It’s not like there are really any visiting hours here, considering it’s an outpatient clinic for the most part. Which means that there aren’t visitors or random strangers just showing up, except for apparently this lady, who’s decided she doesn’t count and doesn’t need to follow any clinic rules.
“Who are you?” I cross my arms over my chest and try to ignore the little voice in my head.
The one that says, “enjoy the sensation of having a chest while you can, it’ll be gone in four days.”
“I’m here with The Runbard Animal Therapy Group,” she says, like I won the lottery.
“We’ve recently teamed up with the hospital, and are going to start animal therapy sessions!” she says, clapping like an overexcited seal.
“And we wanted to know if you’d like someone to stop by with an animal buddy one day this week!”
An animal buddy?
No, thank you.
I have nothing against animals. I happen to like them a lot. The thought of Snotface, my cat, literally makes my heart hurt. I miss her. It nearly killed me to leave her behind. But like hell am I having some weirdo like this one come to my room with an “animal buddy.”
“You sure?” she asks.
“Positive. Please leave.”
I turn completely in my chair to face the wall and ignore her.
“Well, let someone know if you change your mind!” she sings.
I pretend not to hear her, and wish she’d just leave already.
She finally does, and I turn back and glare at the ceiling. You know what would make this clinic suck less? If I didn’t have to get harassed for random strangers while I waited to get poked and prodded.
Reaching over, I grab my big-ass headphones, jam them on, and hope that nobody else decides to come visit me today.
(And now, because Les Mis, here's the finale from the 10th anniversary of Les Mis, sung by seventeen different Valjeans. You're welcome.)