As I mentioned in my last post, I let my home office turn into black-hole during my cancer treatment, and it stayed that way until I cleaned it a couple of weeks ago. I found that is was a bit of an archeological site. Everything my former cat, Ollie, had knocked off of the desk onto the floor and then batted way underneath, were still there. Ollie died shortly after I began cancer treatment, coincidentally from metastatic cancer. I thought of the fact that he’d touched the pen caps, binder clips, Post-it notes, and push pins. I thought fondly of him, but I didn’t have trouble getting rid of the pieces that were garbage and putting the rest of it away.

At the bottom of a pile on my desk, I found the folder in which I kept my cancer paperwork, labelled, “Cancer 2012”.



I opened the cover and saw a set of post-surgical instructions. I also saw Explanation of Benefits forms from my insurance. A year ago I many have put it back on the top of my desk thinking I might “need” it some day. That day, however, I threw it into the recycle bin and made a plan to write about it, as I am doing right now.

Another thing I found was the tote bag I was given by the Swedish Cancer Institute with their name and logo on the side. For the first several months of treatment, I carried a binder, also provided by Swedish, containing all of my pathology and blood work reports separated with tab folders, “Initial diagnosis”, “Lumpectomy #1”, “Lumpectomy #2”, “Mastectomy”, “Oncology reports”, etc. I called it, “my big bag of cancer.”  Eventually, I stopped using the bag but continued to use the binder, which was extremely helpful in keeping my treatment organized and making some kind of sense. It was actually a very handy reference guide to take with me to my appointments.

I looked at the bag and considered getting rid of it. I have a ridiculous number of tote bags due my past as an academic researcher. I did a lot of conference travel and typically, the conference catalog and registration materials are put in a tote bag. Some of them are very nice, very sturdy, and have, as a result, never worn out. Clearly, I did not need my cancer bag in order to lug stuff around. Honestly, I don’t need most of them. They just sit around, “just in case” I need them in the future.

However, one of the first thoughts to come to mind when I saw it was a visual memory of my wonderful breast surgeon, Dr. Beatty, carrying a tote bag just like mine, holding the things he needed for that day. He was the first of my many physicians with whom I developed a doctor-patient relationship. He and his staff were wonderful. I felt so taken care of when I went to his office.

The image of being held, not as an embrace, but as being supported and cared for came to mind. I decided that “my big bag of cancer” is a holder of good things. For now, I am keeping it. Next year, who knows?

I am amazed at the significance that objects have taken on through their association with my cancer treatment. Some of the associations are comforting. Some of them are painful. All of them are part of the truth of my experience, an experience that continues to evolve over time. Experience changes; at times, it changes a lot. But the past, the future, and the present all hold their truths and are all part of me. In my mind, this is the string that holds my life together and gives me great comfort.