My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

If You Need Anything… (The C Word)

I'm going to do at least one more of these health and status updates instead of the regular Tuesday report. I haven't done a lot of writing beyond what I've posted here. (No fiction or Patreon stuff behind the scenes.) I've spent about 30 hours since last Tuesday in various doctors' offices for either consults or procedures, and the writing just didn't get done. But I can tell you what IS going on.

I have cancer.

The news hit Friday (after waiting for a promised call that never came on Thursday). The gastroenterologist found a mass during a colonoscopy on Wednesday (which I was undergoing to try and find the answer to why I'd suddenly become anemic). They found something during the colonoscopy. They took a biopsy and sent it to pathology. The rest is what it is.

Colon cancer. Very treatable. They're going to resect part of my colon. Bigity bam! We won't know for sure until after surgery (when the pathology comes back from the lymph nodes) what stage it is, but there are a lot of signs that we caught it early and a really good chance I won't even need chemo. The news was jarring—even frightening—at first, but like most bad news, once it settled in and put its feet up, I realized that even Everything In My Power™ was not that much, so I take those steps, and otherwise live my life around it. 

The outpouring of support from my friends, community, and extended reader base community has been absolutely breathtaking (sometimes in a gasping, literal way). I love how many people have reached out to tell me they believe in me or that they've been through something similar.

I suspect (because I've been the same way for the last forty-seven twenty-nine years of my life) that when most people say, "If you need anything—anything at all—just ask," they are probably imagining me tearfully unspooling my emotions over the phone at four in the morning about how vulnerable I feel facing my mortality.  (And don't get me wrong. There is probably going to be some of that, but I do already have people that I would lean on that hard.) But what they probably don't expect is for me to say something like, "Yeah, do you have any inside information on where I could get a PS5*?"

*Okay, I somehow got one of these due to the intervention of a dear peep who just happened to end up with an extra.

So if you're honestly wishing you could help, and you just don't know how, here's a no nonsense list of what I'm really really actually going to need.

1- Money

I hate to be crass, and like many Gen Xers raised in a largely WASP culture, I've got a lot of baggage around making this request (even as an already crowdfunded artist/entertainer), but the most useful thing to me is going to be money. The medical bills started a month ago, are already stacking up, and the surgery and hospital stay haven't even happened. Just getting an answer about what is going on has cost me nearly four figures out of pocket.

I never got sick (beyond "bed rest and fluids") before this and until this year, I kind of thought even my silver plan was sort of unnecessary. But now I'm facing out of network costs, some drugs that don't have generics (Suprep is over $100 even WITH insurance—you have to pay to have some of the worst two hours of your life), a non-trivial deductible, coinsurance; even just the damn copayments are adding up SO fast. I'm going to be in the hospital for at least two nights after going under the knife of a surgeon who probably makes my annual salary in a month. I'm switching to a gold plan next year so I have some extra help with all the follow-ups and stuff, but that won't kick in until Jan 1st, and it doesn't help me now.

This is all to say nothing of non-medical expenses that run the gamut from the cost of running all around town every day to appointments to grabbing takeout after a procedure because I don't feel like cooking. Not to mention the losses from Patreon folks who aren't as chill as most of my readers about how I'm not writing as much these days and my partner's lost wages from days taken off to be with me.

I don't want to sound like a mercenary here. Money is FAR from the only thing I need to get me through this situation, but money IS the Swiss Army Knife of problem solving in our society. If everyone here threw me a few bucks, I'd be able to get through this without stressing about how I'm going to pay all the medical bills without blowing through my retirement money, but also without stressing if the folks helping me while I convalesce are going to keep the house clean or if I can afford Panera some night I am in too much pain to cook.

If you're looking to help long term (or perhaps a bit each month until I'm through this), the best way is to become a Patron through Patreon. I wouldn't mind knowing if the patreon is going to be temporary, just so I can know what to expect from my budget when I'm fully recovered. (If that's the case, feel free to include a note or drop me an email: chris.brecheen@gmail.com, but I won't be upset or anything if you aren't able to).

If one-time financial support is more your speed, you can drop a set amount at Writing About Writing's paypal, at my Venmo (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) or even message me for Zelle information or a mailing address if you'd like to send a check.

2- Think DISTRACTION, not lachrymose

I'll admit that I felt seen the first few people who sent me a message that they were so sorry. And yet…as kind and sincere and genuine as the place is from which those sorts of sentiments come, after a while they kind of keep me quagmired in those sad and sorry feelings where I'm getting dragged back to this perspective of my diagnosis as a big tragedy that defines my life and who I am, and isn't just something I'm going through (and will probably be fully recovered in a couple of months). 

It's not that I'm not going to have moments where it all hits me and I lose it. (I've already had more than a few.) It's just that what I really want is to laugh and love and be a shitposting memelord and watch good movies and bang cute people and…. I don't want this diagnosis to be everything I am, everything people see about me, and I sure don't want it to be every conversation I have.

If you want to reach out—and I think that's great— throw me a meme. Tell me a joke. Tell me about your family member who beat the odds and that you're rooting for me, but then don't just leave it in awkward silence where I am like, "Okay….well, thank you. I ALSO hope I don't die."  Maybe add in a terrible pun. Maybe flirt shamelessly. Maybe tell me about your D&D game last Thursday. Maybe…I don't even know. Let's just talk about something—anything—else. Maybe I'm not going to call you at 3 in the morning and tell you about how vulnerable confronting my mortality makes me feel, buuuuuuut if we have the rapport from a relationship that is built on something more than just you feeling bad for me, I might feel like I can trust you when I say, "Hey, can I share something about this whole thing that is kind of hard…?"

3- Meal Train

This might be more for folks at least on my public Facebook profile* (and less everyone following the Writing About Writing page) but surgery is going to lay me up for a couple of weeks. I don't do all the cooking, but I do a lot of it, and the person who does the rest is going to be taking care of me, so a break from having to worry about what's for dinner would be wonderful. I don't know who lives around me and might be able to cook the kind of low-dairy vegetarian fare that we usually eat, and who might want to just make sure we have a Grubhub drop-off of some falafels or something, but taking on a meal would be really super helpful.

You can find the Meal Train HERE

4- Get Creative

I'm getting a lot of folks asking me if there's anything they can do.

There's lots you can do, but that question is really open-ended, and it kind of leaves it on me to not only figure out what you might be good at, but also STILL feels like I'm imposing to ask (even though the offer is there). I don't want to…like…MANAGE you. Folks who say something like, "Would you like a 'Fuck Cancer' cross stitch in your favorite color?" are MUCH easier to reply to. 

It would be rude of me to answer the question "What can I do?" with "I don't know. What CAN you do?" Or "What are you WILLING to do?" So it might be more useful to put a couple of things on the table that you are up for, and I'll let you know if they might help. Do you know medical insurance loopholes for Blue Shield? Are you a licenced massage therapist? Would you be up for a couple of volunteered house-cleaning hours? Are you willing to help someone navigate medical bureaucracy? Can you do patient advocacy? Do you have some form of art you like to share with people (that would be a lovely distraction)? Obviously some of these require you to live pretty close, but you get the idea. 

I'm sure there is something you can do, but if you want anything more than me to acknowledge that you are sweet for offering, and then we both move on, I might need some options.

5- Be patient with me

I'm getting a LOT of correspondence and, frankly, it's kind of a lot to spend an hour or two a day answering all the texts and messages and returning calls and answering questions and telling people that I'm okay. I sort have begun to feel like I'm comforting everyone else. If I take a while to return a call or get back to an email, please don't think less of me. And if I REALLY forget, it's not that I don't want to talk to you. I just lost track. Give me another nudge in a few days (please) because I want to keep up with all this—I'm just not doing a very good job right now.

6- GIF Party in the comments!

I'm going to post this one more time for my Facebook page, and I'll just mention that if you have no cash but still want to help, you can totally throw a GIF into the comment section. That'll cause the FB algorithm show it to more people than simply reacting with the like button.

I'm sorry if I've violated the social contract here by legitimately answering the question of "Is there anything I can do?/If you need anything…" If you're in the old school where I should just appreciate the offer and we both move on, consider it done, and I know your heart is in a wonderful place. But some of you seem so authentic and sincere and if you want to help, there really ARE ways…


  1. I'm a recent cancer survivor myself and I've been following your updates closely, hoping for whatever the best case scenario might be. This total stranger is delighted to hear it sounds like you caught it early. I'm an east bay local and will absolutely jump on the meal train...train, whenever it's up. We found that to be the most helpful thing during my treatment. Here's hoping your next batch of appointments and procedures are as smooth and easy as they can be!

  2. https://www.instagram.com/thecancerpatient/ was a godsend during my treatment. Even if you get lucky and get to miss chemo (which I sincerely hope), I think you'll enjoy the wit on this instagram.

    Also, stock up (or have your Meal Train stock you up) on bone broth. I lived off it and ensure during chemo, but it's also a good thing post-op.

    Don't worry about the writing (unless you're using it as a distraction), and definitely find some support groups (American Cancer Society or your oncology team may have some good, free-to-join suggestions.) Even if all you need is surgery and you're on your merry way, being able to not just talk but commiserate was a valuable tool in processing my experiences and will hopefully be of value to you, too.

  3. Hi - I received a scary cancer diagnosis in 1998, with a poor prognosis that freaked out my family and (silver lining) blasted a bunch of us out of a long estrangement. Amusingly, the pathologist and the surgeon had quite a dust up about the stage of cancer I faced, which was described to me in wry tones by the oncologist. It was my first exposure to inside doctor drama (funnily enough I went on to work at a health system where doctor drama is as common as weather). I kid you not. As you can see, I am still here, which is proof that some prognoses are not on point. My unique brand of humor lives on and I have enjoyed every day of the last 23 years - even the big sucky ones. Be prepared for people to send you books - lots of books - about healthy diets, living with cancer, life after cancer, and books with titles such as “Men Who Love Women With (insert type here) Cancer.” And vice versa on the gender or these days perhaps “LBGTQ Who Love Other LBGTQs With Cancer.” Etc. I received a huge book about living through cancer treatment that was so heavy I couldn’t lift it while I was on chemo. The irony was not lost on my befuddled brain. I could go on and on but I am sure you have a plethora of deeply compassionate and very bad advice to digest. 😊

  4. I faced an ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2008. I had the 7.5 hour cancer staging surgery and my Oncologist said it was caught early and I could go on with my life as always. But here is the thing Chis. If you have cancer, then you also have a compromised immune system. So gong back to life as usual is not a great idea. A year later I was diagnosed with metastasized OC. The choice of treatment is a very personal thing and I won't bog you down with all of that. As a medical herbalist I did a great deal of research and chose two alternative treatments to use and I followed them for 2.5 years. I am still here, still cancer free. I received a great deal of judgement from well meaning friends and loved ones about not having chemo. I realized that my fear would kill me before cancer probably could. I wrote the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Death (from Frank Herbert's Dune)on my mirror with a dry erase marker and I said it every time I walked in the bathroom. That took care of my fear. I am a writer and this freed up my imaginative mind to focus on other more healthful and positive things. May you have a good community of people around you to help with those essential daily tasks and the money. May your surgery be successful. Humor is a good medicine and a great healer.

  5. Dude. I've only been awake for around 20 minutes and my foggy MS brain takes longer to really start working so no memes yet. I will head over to patreon and see what I can do, even if its only for a few months. Selfishly, I wish I could make you tea and melt your mind over this writing project that started as an exercise and might end up a full on Thing...

  6. A friend had a stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis at 19, resections, the whole hideous deal. He's only survived for 40 years so far so we're hoping for the best :D Looking forward to (well, maybe not FORTY - you're gonna need a break at SOME point!) more years of WAW. <3

  7. I was in hospital for several weeks after an emergency bowel resection (thank goodness for free Australian healthcare). There was a whiteboard in my room with my basic details and a place where I or my family could write questions for the medical staff to answer on their rounds. Of course, this is meant for medical questions, but I used it to run polls with the nurses like "what is cuter, a baby donkey or a baby llama?” and "is the lever an invention or a discovery?"...
    This larrikinism may not translate to the US health system, but it could be worth a try?