He’d cared for me before diagnosis, pulling me out of snow banks when I fell. Later, he rode the prednisone rollercoaster with me, as my spirits sunk then soared and I dealt with a swollen face and ripped skin, immunosuppression and insomnia.
During the three years we’d worked in different cities, we saw each other every few months and vacationed together. He’d take my woeful phone calls, reminding me, “You can do it.”
When he was posted to Toronto, we decided to move in together, without much thought.
In marriages involving chronic illness, divorce rates are said to be more than 75 per cent. A study I found in the Journal of Oncology reported that spouses are actually lonelier than their ill partners and have lower levels of well-being and marital satisfaction. When illness takes over, partners become patient and caregiver. Continue reading →
While dying of prostate cancer, New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard wrote about “the therapeutic value of style.”
In Intoxicated By My Illness, he observed: “It seems to me that every seriously ill person needs to develop a style for his illness. I think that only by insisting on your style can you keep from falling out of love with yourself as the illness attempts to diminish or disfigure you.”
I’ve long envied literary men who write boldly about their various afflictions, fatal and otherwise, knowing that their ability to do their job is never in doubt and they relish the protection that their reputations afford them.
This is not the case for shift workers, dishwashers, desk jockeys that fill boxes with numbers for a modest salary, or almost anyone else. And not for girl reporters trying to figure out how to work sick.
I am currently reading Working Bodies: Chronic Illness in the Canadian Workplace (McGill-Queens University Press, 2014). It is dedicated to “all Canadians living with chronic illness who want to have meaningful employment and engagement in the workplace.”
Before I knew I was the proud owner of an immune system that couldn’t tell self from invader, doctors pushed sedatives on me.
They hypothesized that my buffet of bodily dysfunctions — stabbing pain around my lungs, clawed hands, ruddy and hot joints — were provoked by overwork and exams, stress or anxiety. Something of my doing, or my response to something of my doing.
Then I found out I had an autoimmune disease. And if we’re going to get all psychological about it, it’s like having the mutant spawn of Hannibal Lecter, the self-cannibal of all illnesses. We sufferers allegedly have an acute case of self-loathing with a side order of death wish.
That’s a metaphoric sledgehammer with which to clobber the ever-increasing number of sufferers.
After jumping out of the Poison Dwarf’s car to escape his lust-dressed-up-as-apology — which I paraphrase here as “I behaved badly, it’s your fault, and I will make you pay” — I realized I better apply for jobs at other newspapers. Continue reading →
Does it matter more who we were then or what we went on to do?
Graduates from my summer reporting program at the Toronto Star became Editor-in-Chief of the Globe and Mail; a best-selling author of crime fiction; a prominent columnist; foreign correspondents; a journalism professor; a rock critic; and a Pulitzer Prize winner.
But almost three decades ago, we sized each other up around a long table in the Print Room, the bar on the ground floor of the Toronto Star building at One Yonge Street. Continue reading →