Chronicles of #TheGirlWithTheCancer: Stages of Grief

Stav Meishar, 28 years old, was born and raised in Israel. She is based in New York City where she founded the award-winning organization for creative Jewish education, Dreamcoat Experience. When she’s not shaping the futures of young Jewish minds, she is a stage artist specializing in Circus Arts.

Stav’s biggest project at the moment is a solo performance based on the true story of a Jewish acrobat who survived WWII by hiding and working at a German circus. She was due to spend a year in Australia developing her circus skills and bringing this project to fruition. Four days before her flight, Stav got diagnosed with colon cancer and was forced to stay in NYC and focus on her health. She has decided to chronicle her battle with cancer, one day at a time. This series of articles is a sampling of her cancer journal.

If you wish to support her art, check out her kickstarter.

Chronicles of #TheGirlWithTheCancer

Tuesday 2/7/17:

This cancer is hitting me like a big bout of depression. Yes, I have my humor, yes, I’m going to all the doctor’s appointments, but that’s about it. I can’t get myself to do much else.

My fridge is empty and I can’t bring myself to go shopping. I need to start claims with my travel insurance to try to get some money back for the canceled Australia adventure but I can’t. My phone beeps with emails, messages, texts, I know they’re all supportive but I can’t bring myself to read, much less reply to, any of them. I screen phone calls.

I’ve been forgetting to shower and brush my teeth. I’m so tired all the time, I sleep 9-10 hours a night and still need naps. I skip meals and even forget about chocolate. I cry, all the time, but only when I’m alone.

I’m stuck in a swamp of self-pity and I hate myself for it. Yeah, I know it’s natural, it’s part of the process, I’m mourning — those are the things I would’ve said to a friend in my position. Funny how you can never take your own advice.

I know it’s just a bump in the road, a temporary fence to jump over. I know. But I sit in my apartment and look at everything around me, a time-capsule that had frozen mid-packing. Shoes scattered across the living room, circus equipment besides my open suitcase, clothes already sealed in an airtight bag. My closet is empty, everything has been packed and boxed away. I can’t bring myself to touch any of it. It’s summer in Australia right now. My bathing suit still lies, discarded, on my bedroom floor. My intended host family in Australia has an outdoor pool.

Do you know how happy I was the last few months, knowing that I’m getting out of this freezer we call NYC? Do you know how ecstatic, how delirious? For the first time in nearly 15 years I was gonna be unemployed, for the first time in FOREVER I was allowing myself to JUST FOCUS ON THE ART. I was allowing myself to chase my dreams, to make circus, and I was so happy at the prospect.

I hate everything about this situation. And I hate that I feel guilty about these feelings because the world is burning up around me and there are way bigger issues than my stupid cancer, but all I can do is think about the circus and the beaches I’m missing out on. If that’s not privilege, I don’t know what is.

Funny, isn’t it. I can have cancer and still be privileged.

2.5 weeks before my flight I wrote a Facebook status — “It can’t be legal to be this happy, I feel like I’m tempting the Gods…” Well, here we are, Gods. Guess I spoke too soon. Do your best and do it right now because once this girl has reached the end of her wallowing she’s gonna give you a run for your money.

Saturday 2/11/17:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the terminology we have around cancer.

So much of it comes from a vernacular of violence: “keep fighting!,” “you can kick cancer’s ass!,” “you’re a warrior!”… Even the terminology for the aftermath brings to mind visions of crimes — you become a “survivor”.

I’m already a survivor of many things; I know exactly what fighting feels like. I know the feeling of using every ounce of strength and courage you have to rise up above the circumstances, to get out of shitty situations, to emerge stronger, stabler, more broken yet more whole.

Cancer doesn’t feel like that, to me. Not at all. Maybe if I were in physical pain I would’ve identified with “kicking its ass,” but that’s not the case. Instead, I find myself getting lost for long periods of time staring at my lower abdomen, speaking to it:

“Hey there, Cancer. Are you still there? They said you might actually be out already. But they need to cut me up anyway, just to make sure you left. Have you left yet? I can’t really tell.”

I also speak to the rest of my body:

“Hey there, body. So. You’ve been nurturing an enemy inside of me, all quietly, unknown to me? For how long, why didn’t you tell me sooner? I thought we were friends.”

How strange it is. I can’t quite wrap my brain around it. My own body, my own flesh and bones, has been doing this to me - behind my back - the whole time?

How very, very strange.

I don’t feel like a warrior, which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with that but it’s just not how I am experiencing my cancer. Instead, it feels like every other demon I’ve had to face — depression, PTSD, insecurity, body dysmorphia…

I look it in the eye.

I say “Hello. I didn’t invite you, but nonetheless, here you are.

Are you here for long? You won’t tell me?

Well, OK then.

You weren’t invited, but you’re here for now. I’ll be hospitable. I’ll offer you cookies and tea.

We’ll do this dance, you and I.

We’ll do it as long as we need to.

I’ll accept you, as a part of me, for as long as it takes.

I’ll hold you and you’ll shrink.

You’ll shrink because we did this dance until you’ve had enough.

Soon you’ll have enough, and you’ll go away.

You weren’t invited, but here you are. So I’ll do my best with that.”

You can still wish me to “kick cancer’s ass” if you so choose, I’m not offended by that choice of words. I’ve just been thinking a lot about my own feelings about this, and my own complex relationships with language and cancer, and I personally prefer — “Let’s dance.”

This story "Chronicles of #TheGirlWithTheCancer: Stages of Grief" was written by Stav Meishar.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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