Not to Complain, Another Chicago Magazine 12.5.2018

Another Chicago Magazine, Women and Pain: Not to Complain, G.P. Gottlieb

Not to complain, but are you seriously going to tell me about the tiny cut at the edge of your nail that you think might be a chilblain? That’s not what a chilblain is. You’re plagued with sinus problems and your migraines have been acting up. That’s certainly no picnic, and I know you work hard to avoid triggers.  You’ve mentioned several times that your knees are bothering you and you’ve told me that your doctor suggested doing one replacement at a time. The redness on your face, isn’t there some topical cream for that? And thinning hair, shoot, I can empathize.

I’m not trying to minimize your woes, but I’ll see your bad knees and rosacea and raise you no boobs, scar tissue, and fragile post-chemo hair.  Not even counting my asthma, I think we can all agree that if it were a competition, my complaints would (if you’ll pardon the expression) trump yours.

But you’re just getting started. Your husband is a narcissist who doesn’t care about your deepening sense of depression and your ongoing anxiety issues.  You’ve gained fifteen pounds and nothing fits. You feel like you might have developed an allergy to cats and dogs.  You’re thinking of taking sugar out of your diet because you read that it’s evil.

Suddenly you start lecturing me about how I should give up sugar. Sugar feeds cancer, you say. But I’ve checked with my oncologist, because don’t think you’re the first person to give me unwanted advice, and he says that cancer feeds on everything.  He says that actual scientists have been doing studies for decades and haven’t found any statistical proof about sugar being any worse for someone battling cancer than it is for the rest of us.

You tell me in a nonchalant way that you have more friends than you can count who survived cancer and have been fine for ten years, twenty years, etc. You tell me that since in another six months I’ll celebrate three years since my final ‘targeted therapy,’ I really have nothing to complain about.

I make a lame attempt to mention the awful side-effects of the aromatase inhibitor I must take for a full five years to prevent a relapse.  Aside from the headaches, hot flashes, nausea, joint pain, tingling and stiffness, I am constantly exhausted and bone-dry inside and out.  It effects every moment of my day, my sleep, and intimacy with my husband.  Cancer survivors who stop taking the drug find themselves back in chemo and fighting for their lives.

I remind you that I survived a very aggressive kind of cancer. Most women diagnosed with HER2 Positive before 2013 (when the FDA approved the amazing chemo cocktail that was a breakthrough in cancer treatment) are either fighting metastasis or dead.  I tell you that I still worry before each check-up that the oncologist will find the one renegade cancer cell that has been hiding like a terrorist waiting to continue its mission.

Then you lower your voice and tell me about your sister’s painful endometriosis and about your cousin whose cancer wasn’t found until stage four. You bring up a niece with a brain tumor.

Well played. Now if I don’t come up with close relations who are battling even more horrific diseases, you will have won the competition.