I was never a hypochondriac until I got a brain tumor.
Publish date:
November 7, 2014

I’m sitting on the toilet in my bathroom. It’s not as clean as I’d like it to be. The small box with its drywall and lack of soundproofing smells ever so faintly of pee. I shift where I sit and expect to feel my feet meet the resistance of the gummy stuff, like I was in a movie theatre or a rest-stop bathroom.

It might not be as bad as I think. My perception could be skewed by circumstance. I’ve got the toilet seat up and my naked lower half resting in a plastic medical tub full of a hot to lukewarm salt solution. I’m leaning forward and trying not to let my back touch the raised lid. I flipped it up (this a day or three after my big Halloween party) and it was splashed with pee and other fluids of a more ominous hue.

I wiped it down before sitting. That’s something I might have been too lazy or depressed to do another time. But I’m pretty sure I’m dying of cancer so I got ambitious and broke out the 409. It’s funny how my anxiety looks for new and exciting ways to make its presence known. I host a party, my house full of strangers, I smile and laugh and don’t think and have a good time, something unthinkable to the me of a year ago. The trade-off is I can’t stop Googling symptoms for various cancers today. I’ve narrowed it down to rectal cancer or ovarian cancer -- the silent killer.

I was never a hypochondriac until I got a brain tumor. Back in grad school I started getting these peculiar and painful bubbles -- like swallowing too much air and it bruising your throat -- that ran from my eyes back to the base of my skull. “Something isn’t right.” I knew it. Right down to my bones. Which, you know, isn’t to say that my world didn’t go pop when the doctor showed me the black spot where my pituitary gland used to be.

I’m fine now. I’ve just got this hungry black pocket in my head that secretes hormones it shouldn’t and when I think something is wrong with my body I could be right because I have been right before.

So my body is prone to benign invaders. I’m like an aged black lab covered in fat balls. I get cysts. I get them in my brain, and I get them outside my vagina sometimes. They are called Bartholin cysts and they are the only drawback of being naturally very well-lubricated (oh my god, Becca). But, as drawbacks go, it’s a bitch of one. Especially when they become infected abscesses and are so painful that stabbing at them with the back of an earring or a pin until they rupture seems like a good idea.

But I’m 31 now. I clean toilets before I sit on them. I measure my words in coffee spoons. I have outgrown the teenage temptation to pick and prod at myself until I get results. So I go to Amazon and I buy a sitz bath. Because it’s sitting in that, or going to have the thing hacked out and the idea of making small talk when someone makes my genitals bleed is just not a thing I want to contend with right now.

I pick up my iced coffee from the floor as I marinate my loins. I swirl the coffee like it’s bourbon before I take a sip. I brought the coffee in with me because I can’t stay awake lately. It could be the time change or the bad dreams I’ve been having. When I am awake, I’m nauseated constantly. So naturally, it could also be, you know, cancer.

The drug I take at least alerts me to the dark humor and unlikeliness that this is really the case. But the frantic hamster in my head keeps trying to insist that it can’t be anything else. It won’t stop running on its squeaky wheel of doom (also a great name for a band). I understand why. It’s because there’s a part of me that wants to learn I’ve been hobbled by an illness and be forced to buckle down and make something incendiary and perfect. When I believed 100% in god, it was easy to put off work, real work, because I could always vaguely be sure that I would never end.

Now that I’m not so sure, I worry my way to a ticking clock because I can’t shake the worry that when I end, I end and all that will be left behind are indulgent almost-worthy efforts.

I am 31 and healthy. That keeps me from barring my door and writing, writing, writing until I make the thing of which I am the most proud without distraction or fear. I am all fear and soft slopes that reveal my weakness. I look for any excuse to run away from myself (still, still) because the inescapable truth of why I’m here on this planet (to write, duh) is so heavy and not-humorous.

I put the coffee down and my cyst throbs. It will suck when it explodes. It will happen almost without warning, faster now that I’ve let it sit. An unexpected movement will cause it and I’ll jump and my thighs will shudder and it will be hot pain right through me. But then the infection will leech away from me and I’ll feel all at once relieved and hollow and disgusted and amused and human and grounded again.

I tell you exactly who I am. I am myself here with you, ass in the air, exposed and silly. In life it’s infinitely harder. I host parties, my breath held, anticipating pain as I explore the tender foreign pouch. I get in my own way. It would be this way if I had been born male or a fish. I don’t want to be a lonesome sphinx locked in the shithouse, hiding her pain and shameful ailments. I want to be known. I want you to know me. I want that not to sound chirpy or pathetic or desperate. I want to show you where it hurts and for us to laugh at the weeping sore.