After the Cure, the Cry… by Steve Safran

I broke down crying in Target today. Just started blubbering. People must have thought I was really upset they were out of the $9.99 sale sweatshirts.

This will be heavy. This is not the usual, lighthearted stuff I want to write. But this blog has always been weirdly honest, even when Britt and I have been at our jokiest. I like to think we’ve put stuff out there that’s tough to discuss, and more uncomfortable to admit. And right now, things are difficult for me.

I didn’t cry much during treatment for testicular cancer. Not when I was diagnosed. Not when I was in pain. Not when I spent endless hours in the hospital, frustrated at the lack of attention, information, or prompt pain management. Hardly a tear. Now that I’m in remission and feeling well enough to shop for sweatshirts at Target?

I can’t stop crying.

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, as Londoners were faced with being obliterated by the Luftwaffe, the incidence of mental illness dropped. Fewer people visited psychiatrists. Even as the Germans tried to kill them, Britons actually experienced less stress and need for psychiatric care. You can chalk that up to the famous British stiff upper lip, but it’s likely something more universal: when you’re under attack, you don’t have time to worry.

This is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Soldiers don’t get depressed in the field. But for years after– even for the rest of their lives— they can be haunted by the trauma they saw and endured. It’s only after the battle is done that your mind takes a beat: “Hey. Wait. What just happened?”

Thus, me, cancer… and the crying.

Right up to the moment they were rolling me into the operating room, I felt absolutely fearless. I was even indignant that the surgeon was running late. I was pretty drugged up, but I know, I absolutely know, I didn’t feel scared at that moment. I said, “Let’s do this” with all the bravado of a warrior. Let’s go in and smoke out the enemy. The camo was on, the war paint was smeared, and I had readied myself for battle, albeit wearing a backless nightie in a sterile room with polite nurses and soft rock.

Of course, I had an initial cry of relief. The release. It felt good. Someone with CT scan results and authority said, “remission,” that no more treatment was needed, and boy was that cry-worthy. But within just a couple of days, I switched into a very different gear. And things got dark. And I started to think…

My body tried to kill me. Twice.

First it betrayed me with cancer, and then a week later it attacked me with a pulmonary embolism. I’m having a hard time forgiving my body for that. To be struck by an enemy soldier is one thing; to be attacked from within? My body tried to kill me and when it wasn’t successful the first time, it tried again.


Now my body has scars. They embarrass me and they will never go away. I have had far more difficult emotional days since being cured than I did while undergoing chemo. I have hospital flashbacks, picturing needles and bags full of chemicals and it’s all horrible like some sort of far-off, war-torn jungle. Also, now I get a lot of eye boogers. Apparently chemo messes with your tear ducts. Not enough to stop the crying, apparently, but another daily reminder that I needed tear duct-poisoning medicines to ensure my survival.

I’m getting help. I talk with a psychiatrist who says he’s a “big fan of crying.” I see what he means. It metabolizes the pain. Crying is the most human response to all of the loss: losing parts of my body and, at least for now, any sort of confidence that it won’t betray me again.

There is appreciative crying, too. These tears spring from a different place. I think back on all the people who helped me–  all of the people who volunteered their time or simply gave a thumbs up to a posting. Cancer can remind you that you’re actually very loved, and the overwhelming gratitude in the aftermath makes it occasionally hard to speak without choking up.

It has been about four weeks since I learned the chemo worked. And I’ve gone from crying all the time to maybe once a day. So maybe there’s something to this business after all. It’s not manly, at least not in the traditional “suck it up and be a man” sense. But I think I get a little leeway on the “manly” front after getting the kind of cancer that requires the removal of an intimate chunk of physical manliness. The chunk, by the way, that was trying to kill me.

How do I forgive my body for attempted suicide? How do I come to terms with forever being branded a “cancer survivor,” or letting go a carefree notion that serious illness is something that happens to old people that aren’t me? How the hell do I get over this?

I don’t know. For now, I cry.

Happy, grateful crying when Stevie got the good news.

Happy, grateful crying when Stevie got the good news. Also, another example of how nurses are awesome.

WTF, by Steve Safran

An oft-viewed post on this little site is What to Say to Someone with Cancer. That gets a lot of hits as October nears and everything from eggbeaters to sock garters is dipped dyed pink as otherwise good people Sympathize for Awareness. The best reaction to my crap news was similar to Steve’s. Matt phoned just to say, “FUCK. Should we go get drunk?” Stevie outlines the reasons why these expletives are the best.

Of all the reactions I received telling people I had cancer, the most empathetic came from my cousin, Gregg. He called right after he heard the news.

“WHAT THE FUCK?” said Gregg, getting right to the point.

It was absolutely the right thing to say. That’s not to discount the many sympathetic calls I got in those early days. People expressed their love, concern, prayers, and hope for my speedy recovery. And that was nice. It’s just, well, “What the fuck?” was on a closed, repeating loop in my head and it was a relief to hear it aired aloud. Gregg nailed it.

Hence, the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Sympathy says, “I’m sorry to hear it. But you’ll get better.”

Empathy says, “I’m coming over.”

Sympathy says, “Don’t cry. You’ll be fine.”

Empathy says, “Cry. This is something to cry about. I’m getting more Kleenex.”

Sympathy says, “I know you’ll be fine. I had a friend who had this, and he got better.”

Empathy says, “Scootch over. Let’s watch Netflix.”

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with sympathy. Sympathy comes from a good place. And oddly, a cancer diagnosis quickly reveals that there are people who actually struggle with sympathy. These are the ones who say stuff like “At least you don’t have double cancer” or other it-could-be-worse scenarios. They say, “You should stay positive” or “Get over it” when you’re sad. When was the last time you “got over” anything—much less cancer— on demand? “Let it go” is another doozy. Oh, I was going to hang on and stay scared and angry, but since you said “Let it go,” I’m just gonna let it go. Thanks. Who wants to go for sushi?

Empathy doesn’t require solutions. It doesn’t even want them. “What the fuck?” says a whole lot. It says, “I’m mad, too,” “This sucks,” “I hear you,” and it respects a shitty moment with appropriately angry humor. Sympathizers are sorry, and you’ll feel that; but empathizers are already pouring you three fingers of scotch or queuing up Breaking Bad episodes.

People will try to come up with solutions when there aren’t any. This is human and forgivable– it comes from a feeling of helplessness. But there’s a better way to help: don’t make any suggestions at all. A cancer patient (or someone who’s depressed or stressed or addicted or mourning or any number of afflictions) is already losing sleep over possible solutions. What helps is having someone just to be there and share those uncomfortable feelings.

“Why the fuck is this happening to me?”

“I have no idea. Sucks, though. And I hate that it is.”


Breast-feeding request brings out the worst in people… by Steve Safran

All Kara Sassone wants is a place for women to breastfeed or pump at Gillette Stadium. As any lactating mom will tell you, even if you don’t bring your tiny child to the game, you’ll probably need to pump by halftime. So, Kara started a petition online. WBZ (the CBS affiliate in Boston) picked up the story and ran it on the news, which I expected would garner lots of support. Maybe some knuckle-dragging men would balk, but surely the women would support this, right? Even a “portable pod” accommodation without need for any substatial stadium real estate could be an easy, affordable solution. Providing a safe, clean spot for a breast-feeding mom hardly distracts from the entertainment at hand. Other stadiums have made this accommodation, after all. It’s not a major request, right? RIGHT?

Except that it is.

At this point, I should disclose that Kara is my friend, and I’m surprised and saddened that her pro-family, pro-Patriots, pro-breast-feeding request would inspire hate mail and nastygram posts. Kara is a kind person. She is also a mother of twins, a great mom, and a huge sports fan. She is fun, funny, and not the sort of person who demands stuff just because she’s the only mom who ever existed. There’s my bias. But if you met her, it would be yours as well.

The obvious, less vitriolic counterpoint to Kara’s request is that football games at Gillette are no place for babes at the breast. There’s some truth to that– I won’t even bring my young teens. It’s become a nasty place with some chance of witnessing drunken brawls, vomiting, and filthy language. But first of all, our sporting venues aren’t really in the business of policing parenting styles. Second, even moms who left babies at home with a sitter might need to pump during the game. Third, there are plenty of “family friendly” events at Gillette besides football games. Fourth, there are likely Gillette employees who might benefit from a private place to feed or pump. Fifth, OH MY GOD, THERE ARE TOO MANY REASONS WHY IT’S A GREAT IDEA THAT HARMS NO ONE.

Many of the responses to Kara’s request are, at worst, so awful they will make you hate mankind. Womankind, too. And there is the surprising part for me, a guy. I might expect the sports radio call-in types to be jackasses. But women are being pretty vicious, too. To what end?

Take a look at the Facebook post.

Here’s a sampling of comments from both genders:

Marybeth Michaelson: Stay home selfish mother and care for your infant, the infant deserves a calm, peaceful, comfortable home environment. Bringing an infant to Gillette for any reason, DCF should be investigating (you)…

Steve Link: What’s next tranny bathrooms?

Cindy Burns: I nursed both of my kids and never pumped, never had any of these issues, didn’t try to bring them places they didn’t belong.

Patrick Moore: Maybe if you decide to have kids you should be able to deal with the fact that you won’t be able to do all of the things you used to do and just stay home

Sally Donaldson Taylor: The world does not need to bow to you as if you were the first and only woman to give birth…. Suck it up Buttercup

And so on. Yes, there are messages of support…

Wendi Ankney: Such misogynistic hate in this comment section. We were all born from a woman… The baby doesn’t have to be AT THE GAME. Women who breastfeed have to pump on a schedule. It’s illegal to force the use of a restroom to do so.

Stephen Tuck Jr.: YES!!! Every stadium in the country should have one.

Matthew Baughn: Why wouldn’t you cater to the ones who use your facilities? If you (host) events that encourage mothers with young children to attend, you’d better make their experience safe and healthy.

However, you really need to cherry pick the comments to find the supportive mentions. The comments I selected from naysayers were the least offensive, to be honest. And, mind you, these are people posting under their real names.

I have to believe this nonsense falls under the greater category of “breasts make people crazy.”  Note how bananas people get about breastfeeding in public. Note how social media will censor pictures of breastfeeding women. Note how even a quick flash of a breast (or, gasp, a baby feeding there) will bump up a movie’s rating.

Kara Sassone wants a place to feed and pump while she’s at the stadium. Football has been vicious to women this year. Robert Kraft, on the other hand, is a generous and thoughtful person. Get this done.

Even teeny Pats fans get hungry at the game...

Even teeny Pats fans get hungry at the game…


At the beginning of the summer, new research revealed what all of us in the Shitty Sorority already knew: Cancer makes you fat. It was a relief to read it in peer-reviewed writing instead of hearing my oncologist tell me that I’m just “menopausal” or “can never, ever eat bread again” or I should “exercise more.” Doctors and CrossFitters and SoulCyclers will also go on and on and on about this “exercise” fad, but I’ve found most everything that elevates my resting heart rate is unpleasant and sweaty. And I’m a lady. Sadly, my go-to weight management plan that included an evening bottle of Prosecco and magical thinking wasn’t working. But I maintained great faith that persistent fatness could certainly be fixed by doing something from the couch.

All of us have at least one Facebook friend posting before-and-after midriff miracle work, and attributing it to the probiotics they are peddling. These earnest salespeople promise the shedding of pounds as their power pills button up leaky intestines and soothe fat-inspiring inflammation. During graduate school, I spent four years dissecting Peyer’s Patches from mouse guts and have a fundamental understanding of microbiology. So, I stopped mocking the pseudo-medical speak long enough to wonder if maybe all of those poisons and steroids I took during treatment repopulated my innards with an eviler blend of bacteria that never want me to wear skinny jeans. I went to the Organic Market to ask Chad which probiotic would allow me to squeeze back into my size 2s the quickest.

Chad was very helpful and steered me to the packets of pills that don’t require refrigeration or put a significant dent in my fancy shoe budget. There are as many probiotic formulations as there are vague symptoms to thwart. I decided on a daily dose to promote “digestive balance,” but it was nice of Chad to steer me away from the geriatric blends and to inquire about my vaginal health. Right there. Next to the frozen edamame and organic EVOO. I washed my first capsule down with a cold-pressed kale juice and Chinese character tattoos appeared at all of my pulse points. I’m your life coach now. Namaste.

With a profound sense of self worth and calm gratitude, I twirled out of the Organic Market and embarked on an entire month of poo improvement. I was sure I already felt amazing, and immediately began shopping for a toe ring. With a swig of cold water each morning, I came closer and closer to complete insufferability and the real chance of posting an ab selfie.

But it must be cold water, friends.

Attempting to swallow the vegan capsule with hot coffee leaves you with a mouth full of sticky pus and a sudden awareness of how sad and deluded one is to voluntarily purchase and ingest shit’s main ingredient in the pursuit of Chloe’s Revenge Body. And after my 30-day trial, I can tell you this: I’ve gained 5 pounds. I’ve also endured some rather alarming moments that a lady would never put in writing. Respectable cancer research reports an extra 11 pounds is my reward for three months of chemotherapy, but no suggestions about how to get rid of them. An extra 50 billion bacteria a day doesn’t seem to work for this girl, so it’s time for a different approach that can be initiated from the couch.

Sober September. Results to follow.

Prosecco with berries might be the source of my 11 pounds, and also might be worth it.

Prosecco with berries might be the source of my 11 pounds… and also might be worth it.

Making Memories

My iPod is kaput. It’s (supposed to be) waterproof. I need it while swimming laps, so instead of being BORED OUT OF MY MIND, I can just tell myself I am freestyling for seven songs. I could endure any number of unpleasant activities for seven songs. Probably. If three of them were Rhianna. Oh na na… what’s my name. Or if even one was Justin Timberlake. Mirror starin’ back at me… whoa. But today I pushed off from the wall in the lap lane without a single top 40 accompaniment to lessen the obvious torture of exercise. And 30 minutes of nothing but your own thoughts and breathing is an eternity, so I stop a bit short of that. And dammit if Barb and Arnie, my elderly swim noodle bobbing exercise pals don’t notice.

“Cut it a little short today!”

Yeah yeah yeah. I know, cancer-surviving Barb and Arnie, with your plastic visors, million grandchildren, lovely personalities, and sweet inquiries about my boys. BUT I CANNOT SWIM WITHOUT BEYONCE! So it’s only twenty minutes of back and forth and back and forth until I quit the pool to sit on the decking and swap Chinese restaurant recommendations with Barb and Arnie. Octagenarian Jews who snowbird in Florida know every dumpling dive like there is some Old Testament footnote that thou wilst be cashew chicken connoisseurs.

And this is how mornings go here in the summer… and the occasional evening, too. I find myself chatting up the oldest person in the pool, bar, or grocery aisle. The cancer-ed part of me is charmed by longevity and experiences, because I occasionally and morbidly wonder if I might not get to see that later version in the mirror starin’ back at me… whoa. But mostly it’s because we can trade gardening tips and cluck disapprovingly at the maxi dress espadrille moms ignoring their bratty kids who encroach on the lap lane. Cluck cluck.

I do have some lovely summer mommy friends, though. I might have written that I like children about as much as exercise, so it’s rare for me to share a Chardonnay with someone whose spawn I can stomach. Also, I might be a terrible person. But my boys play tennis with a gaggle of tweens that off the courts are like a pile of ever-hungry puppies that remember to say please and thank you. Our house looks like this. Every day.

Ours is the house with the yummy snacks.

Ours is the house with the yummy snacks.

We are in the sweet spot of parenting here and know it. In a few years, these boys will never choose to spend an entire night playing board games and video games and those made up games with the complicated scoring and occasional broken window… certainly not with moms upstairs. They’ll want to troll for cuties at the movie theater. In five years time, they’ll all be driving and dating and sneaky and smelly. The very idea that these kiddos once let us Twist and Shout with them during an impromptu dance party will be a remotely fond memory. We’ll miss them begging for brownies, sleepovers, and just five more minutes after spending untold hours together. But if we have Barb and Arnie luck, we’ll share these memories over our swim noodle bobbing routines in the lap lane.

Happy summer, friends. May all the bikes stop at your door.

5%… by Steve Safran

I still have cancer.

I expected to have a different lede to this story. This was going to be the “I’m cured” post. 95% of all men who undergo the treatment I’ve had for testicular cancer are cured at this point. I’m in the five percent– just not the five percent everyone yells about at Wall Street.

Things are going in the right direction. I started with three tumors, and they were The Three Bears of cancerous lumps. Baby Bear and Mama Bear are just about gone, and Papa Bear is half the bear he used to be. I will be cured. Just not today.

This was going to be The Month. I had my mindfulness-filled mind set on a cancer-cured week on Cape Cod, grilling grillables and drinking drinkables. My meditation space had me on the beach, looking back on the one-two punch of cancer and a pulmonary embolism that tried to make me into a mawkish-if-easy Facebook entry for all of you. (“If you remember Steve, please repost.”)

Instead, the best news I got this week is that the mall I live above is getting a Wegman’s. Now, they have a cheese selection that, while I don’t want to say is “to die for” given the topic at hand, is damn good. I’m not complaining. It’s just that, during chemo and my Special Vomit Time, I wasn’t focused on what would replace JC Penny.

What’s next? A four-week wait. The doc wants to give the Papa Bear lump a whole month before they run another test. I am the most impatient person I know. I hate waiting. Did you travel this summer? Did you get stuck on a plane? This is just like that only, instead of not being sure when your flight will leave, you don’t know if they’ll give you surgery when you land.

I still made it to Cape Cod, but Dad worked the grill. My drink of choice wasn’t a G&T, it was Gatorade. I’m not cured but, to quote Sondheim, my dears– I’m still here. Even if I am a five percenter.

Convalescing on the Cape with a 5 percenter view

Convalescing on the Cape with a 5 percenter view

The Goddess

She stretched her long legs on the towel and coated them with Johnson’s Baby Oil. Her sun-streaked hair went past her freckled shoulders and when she wasn’t wearing her glasses, Patty was the sexiest girl at the Elk’s Club pool. She let my big sister and me tag along. Paige was thirteen, but I hardly remember a time when her figure and demeanor weren’t an all access pass to the older kids. But at age 11, I was little. I hung on every word Patty spoke—to Paige, and to Patty’s friends who were also exotically adult with their bikinis and bits to fill them. I wanted desperately to understand what they thought was so funny, learn the words to their favorite songs, and smoke those menthol cigarettes that filled them with a cool worldliness. I wanted to be both giggly and blasé about Boys. But I was still so little.

I was 11. Patty was… a Goddess.

I was twenty–home from college with one of the boys I encouraged for probably too long– when Patty and John drove up to show Mom and Dad the new baby. Chelsea was still at the put-her-on-a mat-and-stare-at-her stage. And over a few bottles of celebratory wine, I got a glimpse into newly married life. Patty and John made it look ambitiously easy and fun somehow, with their combined smarts and steadfast love. The baby seemed like a drag, but even that they did well: Chelsea was plump and adorable and mostly happy on her little mat. Sitting on my parent’s breezy screened porch behind their plenty big house, Patty said she and John wanted all the same things. I stared at my older, wiser cousin and her handsome husband and perfect child and I knew Patty would have it—all of the good stuff.

It was close to seven years later when Paige called. John was gone. John– Patty’s forever boyfriend who became her forever husband– gone. One hundred thousand no’s. THEY HAVE THREE SMALL DAUGHTERS. Because everything felt sad and helpless and impossible, we got on planes. And when we got there, Patty made all of us feel better. To date I’ve never witnessed a eulogy so full of love and promise and hope and forgiveness. Patty who had every right to be a keening, catatonic widow instead hosted us in the plenty big home we always knew they’d have. John died happy, exploring every passion, achieving every goal; this is a life to celebrate, she taught us. Patty lost her best friend, partner, and husband and she instructed us to honor a life well lived over mourning a life too short. It was Chelsea who broke our hearts, toddling around saying how this uncle or that cousin was “just like her dad” and then growing up to be an aerospace engineer… very much like her dad.

Always the overachiever, Patty found true love twice. Over the years, I have used My Cousin Patty as an example of how Love surrounds us, how Love is always possible, how there are Second Chances for Love. But that isn’t fair. Were any of us very surprised that Patty would find true love twice? No. Not really.

Patty is a Goddess.

I’m 44 now. Once so young I could never dent her rarefied sphere, now we’re essentially the same age. Seventeen or seventy Patty will always be that gorgeous girl with the oiled legs who graduated early and married young and had it all and lost it all and then found and curated something beautiful all over again. Along the way she has brought two loving, awesome men into our family fold and created five incredible goddess spawn who mirror her intelligence, determination, stubbornness, luckiness, and beauty. Today, on Patty’s 50th birthday, I offer this outsider view of her charmed and cursed and blessed and difficult and gorgeous life. Patty has inspired, impressed, and encouraged me in ways she cannot know. Happy Birthday to the sexiest girl at the Elk’s Club… our Goddess… our Patty.

Patty, on her second wedding day.

Patty, on her second wedding day.

Goddess Spawn

The Goddess Spawn… all five of them.

The Chemo Nausea Pizza Scale, by Steve Safran

How much pain are you in right now? On a scale from 1-10? Probably none, right? Now– and this is for the sake of science and also my amusement– put yourself in some pain. Any pain. Pinch yourself. Bend your finger back a little too much. Stub a toe. Now how would you rate your pain? A one or a two? What if someone stepped on your foot really hard? Bet that’s a four or five. Step on broken glass? A six.

What if you had a tumor in your back?

I don’t want to get all heavy here. I’m just trying to illustrate how relative pain is. Suddenly getting your foot stepped on is, at most, a two. That’s the problem with that smiley-to-full-agony face pain scale that’s ubiquitous in hospitals. They ask you to rate your pain on a scale from 1-10 without any words that describe what a four, six or ten feel like. During my first admission to the hospital for what turned out to be testicular cancer, I was in the worst pain in my life. It was a full 10 on the Steve Scale of Experience. But… I didn’t have a compound fracture or gunshot wound. I imagine those are worse. They sure look worse. Are they two agony faces worse? I bet they’re four agony faces worse. But my pain was more than a four, right?

The numbers needed descriptors like:

  1. Isn’t this a lovely day? Sorry to bother you, but I need a Band-Aid.
  2. Eh… not so bad, but I thought this should be seen

and maybe

  1. This is worse than the time in preschool Kim threw a rock at my head, but not as bad as when she threw the second one because the first one didn’t bounce to her liking


  1. That’s not enough morphine and I question your training that you’re only giving me that dosage

I need a scale that is more relatable. During chemo, you have to keep eating. You need to eat so that your stomach stays full and you don’t get sicker. It’s pretty cruel. I’ve shed tears at the thought of having another meal. So with cancer treatment, pain isn’t really the problem. Cancer is a nausea experience. And so every day at the chemo lab, this question: “From 1-10, how nauseous are you today?”

I have designed a system I feel is more precise than the smile-to-agony face sliding scale of misery. It’s the Chemo Nausea Pizza Chart. In essence, “Given the way you feel right now, how opposed would you be to eating some pizza?”

Why pizza? It’s pretty universally loved. And there’s precedent. You eat pizza when you’re drunk, so we’ve established you’ll have it when you don’t feel great. Also, it’s mostly bread, which is pretty easy to digest. You can make it through a slice if you really have to. Here’s the scale:


From 1-10 How Opposed to Eating Pizza Are You Right Now?

  1. Pizza? Fantastic. I love this hospital. Another Yelp star for you!
  2. Sure, why not?
  3. Seems like an odd question, but I’ll have a couple of slices.
  4. Yes, but it better be really good.
  5. Well, I know I’m supposed to keep eating. Make it the thin crust stuff with a side of IV anti-nausea drugs going.
  6. Sure, if by “Pizza” you mean “Saltines.”
  7. You have some nerve asking that. Have you ever been nauseated? Force it on me if you must.
  8. Is your degree honorary?
  9. Awesome idea! Why don’t we get a make your own sundae bar and a moon bounce in here, too?
  10. No, and I will never eat again.


From the always awesome Hyperbole and a Half

Cartoon credit to the always awesome Hyperbole and a Half 

Oh, the indignity! (An update from Steve Safran)

I smell awful. There’s a sickly, syrupy-sweet smell I give off during these intense weeks of chemo that, perhaps, might be nice coming from a pancake kitchen. But coming off my skin, and combined with its other scents, the smell is terrible. My bodily emanations are mini-violations of the Geneva Convention. Three sets of sheets aren’t enough changes a week to keep up with my ability to insult the very loom that created them.

Or maybe I don’t smell awful at all, and it’s just that my nose has been so wrecked by chemo that I can’t tell the difference anymore. Who brought that wonderful, fresh spring bouquet in here? Get it out!

Smell, taste, sensitivity to sound and light– it’s all different now. I’m two cycles deep in the course of treatment for testicular cancer, diagnosed in May. The hope is that three cycles will cure me, but four cycles is a real possibility. A cycle is three weeks: Week One is chemo Monday through Friday. Weeks Two and Three are chemo just on Monday. So if you can follow that, please call me and tell me which days I have chemo. I’m a writer, not an air-traffic controller.

Last week was the worst. I was scheduled for just two hours. Instead, I got the deluxe package stay at the Newton Wellesley Hospital, spending four of the five weekdays there. The room was spacious and parking was ample, but the pancakes brought my Yelp review down by a full star.

Staying in the hospital means visitors. The downside to having hospital visitors is that you are poorly dressed for the occasion. You aren’t “business casual” so much as “hospital humiliated.” Much has been made of the indignity of the “Johnny” that cruelly ties in the back, except that it doesn’t. People, come on— Velcro! However, you don’t have to worry about doing your hair as it has abandoned you, and since your only method of cleaning your body now comes in the form of a giant baby wipe, you don’t need any time in the shower.

Everything about chemo turns your intestines into the Keystone pipeline project. It’s part of Big Pharma’s plan to sell laxatives, stool softeners, and other meds to let loose the dogs of war. And you will smell like said dogs once these things let everything loose. So there you are, visitors in the room, dressed like an extra from “The Walking Dead,” and suddenly the Senekot, well, works. I won’t go on, except to say I cranked the TV on my way to the bathroom.

About the smell, little could be done.

Just me and my hospital pals, heading to the nurse’s station…

I get it.

Most of my social media feeds are full of kindness. Really, y’all are a sweet bunch of voting, do-gooding, funny, and freethinking protectors of the planet and champions of the less privileged. Some get gussied up for countless events requiring large donations to noble causes; others give your time to help an elderly neighbor, staff the local food pantry, create art, and redesign all of our public spaces to be accessible and fun for everyone. A disturbing number of you have a near pathological savior complex for condemned animals and strays. And my how progressive we’ve all become! Two years ago I attended my first gay wedding with a boatload of Republicans shedding happy tears of love and support. Locally, my affluent town has voted to pay higher taxes to fund programs to bolster our vulnerable citizens. And 97% of you didn’t balk–even cheered– when our most iconic Olympic athlete transformed from the man we grew up with into the woman she was all along.

Most of you.

Some of you “will still call him Bruce,” or feel squeamish, or will compare him to a delusional white girl whose tangled web of lies included an impressive, unearned portrayal of a black woman. Indeed, there are few medical, scientific experts who study and treat these exceptional people who are at odds with the gender of their bodies. And unless you are a member of a thriving gay community, or live in New York or LA, or are Anne, you probably don’t have a single transgendered friend in your social media feeds. But armed with only un-peer-reviewed studies, a Wikipedia base of knowledge, and with no first hand experience, I think the only dissenting opinion anyone should launch onto social media regarding Caitlyn is this:

“I don’t get it.”

Of course, mainstream media wants you on board. The liberal masses don’t want your bystander nonchalance; they want full-throttle endorsement! And I suppose those who “will still call him Bruce” cannot stomach the cheers and accolades and awards for this flagrant display against God’s creation or nature or decency. The world has gone loony tunes! It’s OK. Take a beat. Remember our own parents’ opinions about homosexuals in a pre Will and Grace world? Well, regarding the transgendered, we’re still a few must-see-TV moments away. And no one will fault you for not understanding this brave new future of women-becoming-men and vice versa. But fabricating arguments in denial of something scary and true for thousands is unkind. Tying those opinions to religion makes Jesus facepalm.

Because I spent a regrettable amount of time murdering rats with a guillotine in order to study their still fresh brains, I have a small and gruesome credibility to dissuade you from comparing Caitlyn Jenner to Rachel Dolezal. Though it pains my heart to read these articles, my arguments derive quite literally from the noggin. Some of you might be able to dredge up this long forgotten fact about human development: we’re all designed to be girls. The human default setting is Lady. If people had a browser that popped up automatically, it would be called Chyx. Without the effects of boy hormones (androgens) on our brains and bodies at key moments, we’re all going to need training bras and develop a complicated relationship with our bangs.

Testicular feminization syndrome is a remarkable example of the strength of our ontologic destiny– where chromosomally male fetuses whose receptors cannot respond to dude hormones can develop into completely physical girls. Luckily for some of them, their teeny growing brains are bathing in the same girly milieu, and so develop into women, too. They are able to lead less complicated lives as their brains and bodies respond to hormones in harmony. But for others, this:

Another case is instructive. An [XY] individual who is now living as a woman had been assigned as a girl at birth but was switched by a physician to live as a boy at the age of 3 months when testes were discovered. At the age of 13, her physician recommended that “he” have a mastectomy for his breast development. The surgery was performed and this individual continued to live as a boy although she had felt from early childhood that she would be more comfortable living as a girl. At the age of 22, she felt that she could not continue to live as a man and switched to living as a woman when she learned that she could obtain breast implants to regain what had been removed.1

For the transgendered, this sort of mismatch happens. Somehow the endocrine soup around the brain doesn’t gel with how the body is shaping up. It’s not a choice or a delusion; it’s biology. It’s also devastating, confusing, scary, and rare. For those who want more scientific proof than my watered-down biology lecture, I can point you to any number of rat labs with guillotines. There are also peer-reviewed research studies revealing structural differences in the transgendered human brain.

But despite more credible, kinder arguments, some of you will “still call him Bruce.” Otherwise thoughtful, smart people will keep citing the one doctor who doesn’t approve of gender reassignment surgery, or will make false comparisons to body dysmorphic syndrome, or worse, liken Caitlyn to a white girl using an enviable twist-out to be something she can never be. Caitlyn is a woman because her brain was always female. Rachel was never black because, well… she was never black.

I have another, more personal reaction to those who champion a fierce attachment to The Body the Lord Gave Us. Mine is no longer whole, but I am no less womanly for having amputated my breasts. Also, I’m alive. Like Caitlyn, I removed the parts that were endangering me, forcing me to be something I didn’t choose at all: a person with cancer. When your queasy disapproval of corrective surgery fetishizes a holy beauty of our native bodies, elevating the importance of our God-given bits and pieces over everything, how do you suppose your breast-cancered sisters feel? Well, this one stands with Caitlyn.

I get it.

Hello, Caitlyn

Hello, Caitlyn

1. Gottlieb B, Pinsky L, Beitel LK, Trifiro M. Androgen insensitivity. Am J Med Genet 1999; 89(4):210-7