Author: Micki Myers
Information: Simon & Schuster, 2013 | $19.99 US
There’s nothing funny about cancer.
As a breast cancer survivor 15 years out from diagnosis, even typing the words “funny” and “cancer” in the same sentence feels altogether wrong to me.
But now, having said that, how can I possibly defend my three star review of a cancer memoir consisting of 98 humorous poems – mostly short free verse, with a haiku and one prose poem thrown in for good measure?
To quote author and breast cancer survivor, Micki Myers: that’s easy-peasy.
Let me begin with my take on “funny” and “cancer,” also known around CancerLand as “tumor humor.” As time passes, a cancer patient may be able to gain some perspective and actually spectate a bit on the cancer experience. And maybe, just maybe, even crack an occasional smile. Even though life, day by day, from cancer diagnosis through recovery translates into legitimate crazy time: filled with stress and anxiety, physical discomfort and lots of over-the-top drama.
So where’s the funny? There are many moments in the cancer experience that make you stop, check your reality and say, “huh?” Bizarre encounters during cancer treatment (you won’t believe what just happened to me…) are the raw materials for anecdotes that we quickly jot down in our journals so we won’t forget the details; these become the stories we share with fellow survivors at cancer support group meetings or during those endlessly long infusions in the Chemo Lounge. Yes, there really is humor in CancerLand, even if that notion seems completely counterintuitive.
In fact, you might even say that cancer survivors are the most qualified to find the funny in cancer, which brings us back to It’s Probably Nothing…
Micki Myers’ poetic cancer memoir describes her CancerLand experiences – visiting doctors, surviving hospital stays, recovering from surgery and chemotherapy, shopping for post-mastectomy bras – none of which are “funny ha-ha,” in a classically humorous way. Other adjectives immediately come to mind that might be far more descriptive. Words like surreal, bawdy, and ironic, followed by sarcastic, dark and discrepant. But, hey, there’s nothing like a little Black Humor to cure what ails you.
If, like me, you have first-hand knowledge of strange encounters in the healthcare delivery system, (and what cancer survivor doesn’t?), you just might agree with me that It’s Probably Nothing… deserves the ultimate compliment a CancerLand Bookshelf title can earn. Namely that Micki Myers writes authentically about the cancer experience in a way that is rarely seen in the literature of cancer memoir.
One caveat: don’t be put off by the cover art (the coconut bra graphic is uncomfortably reminiscent of a post-mastectomy chest after expansion). Secondly, consider reading the last section of the book first. In Coda, Myers shares her motivation for writing the book:
This book is a reflection of the attitude I brought to the healing process, and which I believe helped me make the transition from one kind of body – and one kind of worldview – to another, of the kind that surviving cancer makes a necessity. I decided early on to see the humor in my situation, to laugh in the face of fear…To find joy in life when life seems so precarious a proposition is to win, no matter what. I don’t think having cancer is funny. But I do find the absurdities it throws your way something to smile at.
As I write this review, the calendar reads October which is of course the “truly, madly, deeply pink” month for Breast Cancer Awareness. That may be one reason why Myers’ poem Dream a Little Dream of Me resonates today. During October, women are constantly reminded to examine their breasts for unusual lumps and bumps that are always compared in terms of shape and size to different foods:
It begins with a dream.
You were holding your breast, he says,
and so I do
and there it is,
far to the right,
a lump the size of a small grape.
Or a large peanut. Or a cranberry.
Or a cherry pit, or a bean.
Despite all the food analogies,
I’ve suddenly lost my appetite.
In another piece titled Bedside Manners, the author describes her initial encounter with a breast surgeon. Flat on her back during the exam, her mind wanders until she hears Dr. K say the words no woman ever wants to hear, ‘”I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to save it.”‘ The poem ends with the unexpected: I can hear every Momma everywhere/saying the same old thing:/If you let a boy feel you up on a first date,/mark my words-it’ll only end in tears.
For Make Mine a Double, Myers pays tribute to her chemo nurse and also comes up with the best suggestion ever for improving the chemotherapy experience:
Carol, my chemo nurse,
Is exactly what
a chemo nurse should be:
careful, cheerful, funny,
kind, and competent.
She makes sure to get
the IV in properly,
gets me a warm blanket,
my wristband to make sure
that the stuff in the drip bags
is actually for me.
She never hooks me up
with a straight vodka, though,
even when I remind her
it all looks the same,
and no one would know.
Much has been written about the healing power of humor. No one can argue that it feels good to smile; it feels even better to laugh out loud, especially in CancerLand where so much is totally out of your control. Micki Myers’ story, told through poems that are both accessible and enjoyable to read, is guaranteed to make cancer survivors revisit their own experiences with a new, more lighthearted perspective. Enjoy!