Cancer and Fishnet Stockings

As I continue working on my own memoir-in-essays, I find myself reading more memoirs. Partly because I’m curious about other people’s lives. But also because I’m curious to see how other writers did it. How did they structure their memoirs? What does their table of contents look like? Does their book include photos?

I discovered Cancer and Fishnet Stockings: How Humor Helped Me Survive a Life-Threatening Disease, the Loss of My Favorite Nail Polish… and Other Calamities by Maryann Grau when our family spent a few days in Cambria (one of our most favorite places, along California’s Central Coast). The book was for sale in one of the shops in town, and when the cashier told me it was written by a local author, I knew I had to buy it.

While reading the book, it’s impossible to miss Ms. Grau’s positive outlook and spunk. 

Here are a few gems:

A few of the patients aimed weak smiles in my direction. My heart ached for them and their predicament, as though I wasn’t facing initiation into the same club. The question Why me? flashed through my mind followed immediately with the obvious answer …Why not me?” 

Thinking back on the past hour of excruciating pain, I was reminded of an Ayn Rand quote I had read many years ago in her novel Atlas Shrugged. In discussing emotions, Rand begins with the premise that ‘joy is not the absence of pain.’ I understood and accepted the concept immediately, but never was it more self-evident to me until now. To not feel pain, physical or emotional, is a good thing, but it is a neutral feeling at best. Joy comes when you awake to find yourself wrapped in the arms of someone you love.”

Just a little more than a year after the operation, and I sometimes think, my cancer may be back. The thought hits me hard. Not the cancer itself – the revelation that I used the word my. The acceptance of it, the familiarity with it, the ownership of that dreaded disease by referring to it as ‘my cancer.’
Don’t we hold things that belong to us as good, desirable, worthy, or even cherished? Does the word ‘my’ presuppose that the things that belong to us are good for us; things like my home, my career, my garden, my child, my love? Shouldn’t cancer belong in the category used to describe words that distance themselves from us, like ‘that thief, that scoundrel, that crummy movie, that poison, that killer disease’?

And from her last chapter, where she offers “words of wisdom”:

“Every one of us will face death…eventually. But why help it along by standing still? Instead, learn something new to keep your mind active, to grow intellectually.

Keep moving! Especially outdoors. That’s where most of life happens.”

“Let others help you. If you’re stubbornly independent like I am, get over it!

“Indulge in your favorite things.”

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