Not long after my mom came down with the big C, I trotted into our local bookstore to look for some C related material. Of course the first book I picked up was something called “Motherless Daughters.” I had myself a decent weep over that one, surrounded by soccer moms and their kids buying Choose Your Own Adventure books. I find that when I am sad and vulnerable, I often look for things to make the sadness and vulnerability worse, and by worse I mean tissue-soaking and red eyed. I should have never lifted that book from its shelf! Why the hell I didn’t go roll around in a stack of Calvin & Hobbes books is anyone’s guess.
Anyway, I didn’t linger too long with the motherless book as at the time I was still motherful and intent on staying that way. I moved onto to the juicey stuff, the reason I was there – the C books. I found one book entitled Surviving Cancer, in which a woman who survived the most shiteous of lung cancers (you know, the kind you might describe to someone else as “the kind NO ONE survives. NO ONE!”) lines up her tricks to beating even the worst forms of C. Now she had energy healers and made empowering meditation tapes and drank vegetable juices and did all that shit you think you are going to do but then must be pretty unappealing the second tumors pop up all over some vital organ.
But I also found a book of comics by Miriam Engelberg, Cancer Made me a Shallower Person. I bought it, brought it home and read the whole thing cover to cover. And yes, hurrah, it was about cancer, but even more so it was the first thing I had read/seen/experienced sinced I crossed over into C territory that made me laugh. Miriam wrote about her experiences living with breast cancer, and not only was she astute, sharp, and funny, her stories were relatable. She was like my mom. She was a humorist! My two favorite things. It was amazing.
I still like to read through this book, though I’m in that weepy place right now so I tend to steer clear of everything except the NY Times Crosswoard (Monday – Weds only) and my Oprah and Martha mag rags. I don’t think you need to be in the C Zone to enjoy this book; but if you are there this book helps, it reassures and it is comforting and just so damn funny. And maybe a little sad too. Because cancer is all these things.
Miriam passed away in October, at 43. I used to love to throw out that “I believe everything happens for a reason” line, when a friend got dumped or I left a job or spent too much money on jeans. That line seems so dumb to me now. There’s nothing that can justfying a vibrant and talented woman – a wife, mother and artist – like Miriam dying so young. There’s nothing that can really make sense of my heathly mom getting cancer all over her pancreas and liver and dying nine months later. There’s really no good reason for any of that. There’s also no good reason for clogging a toilet. That only happens to humiliate you and teach you how to plung real hard and fast.
So Oprah, stop using that line! I know it’s handy to justify your 40394034923049304930493409309 billion dollars, but not cancer.
Here are some of Miriam’s comics. Listed on her website are ways you can donate in her honor, including to a college fund for her young son.