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The Survivor Monologues


Sax, a lawyer, was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in fall 2002. For five months, she prepared herself for death, as family and friends rallied around her. The initial diagnosis turned out to be wrong, and a year after her first hospital visit, Sax found herself cancer-free. Lately, she’s been suffering from fatigue and joint pain; her doctors have yet to pinpoint the cause.

I moved from Los Angeles to New York in late August 2001, I sold my house, uprooted everything to come here, just for a change of scenery. On September 11, I saw the buildings crumbling to the streets. I walked around in a daze for months, and I started to not feel well. At first, I attributed it to my overall state of shock, then I got progressively more tired, to the point where I couldn’t get down the block without being completely exhausted. Then I started having acute abdominal pains. I went to a gastroenterologist. She did my blood work, and she immediately checked me into a hospital. By that time, I was pretty sick. They thought that I had stage 4 cancer, which is terminal.

My mother flew in. My brother, who lives in Portland, Oregon, came and got an apartment in my building and took care of me. My whole family would come with me to the doctors. I hadn’t spoken to my father in three years. He has a habit of disappearing, then showing up when it’s convenient. When I was sick, he showed up, and was like, “Oh, I’ll take care of you.” In that sense, it’s weird—it was actually a really happy time. I was getting so much attention. I didn’t have to work, I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do, I was being showered with presents. There’s a sociological term for it—I think it’s called the secondary benefits. And I was on all these drugs, so I was high as a kite all the time.

I had the tumor removed—and after that, it became a different experience. During chemo, I felt so crappy I just wanted to lie in bed and not talk to anybody. I wasn’t throwing up constantly, but I was in the most severe pain I’ve ever had. Eventually, when the pain went away, that was sort of an out for my father. He was like, “Okay, you’re done.” I had to go back to work really quickly, but I didn’t have any clients because I’d been out of the loop for a year. I never really liked being a lawyer, so going back was depressing. I was really angry with my father. The good thing is, I started a nonprofit to help young adults to figure out what to do when the doctor says, “Okay, see ya.” It’s a very low-paying job. But it’s gratifying.


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