Been diagnosed with cancer and facing chemo? Look at it this way—you’ve been given a chance to take 6 months to a year off without any of the hassle of having to deal with foreign travel. You can catch up on all the books you’ve wanted to read and all the movies that you’ve missed at the movie theater. You might even lose weight, without the expense of going to a health spa or fat farm.
Of course being sick can be quite a time-consuming business, and you may find that you have less free time than you had expected, but who knows, maybe being busy with all that will make the process feel like it’s going by faster. You also have the perfect excuse to drop any tasks you don’t like doing—provided that you can offload them to someone else.
When I finished my earlier book, Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether You Stay or Not, a friend of mine who worked in marketing told me that I needed something to follow it. “How about a CD-set of advice for wives of philanderers?” he asked, eliciting my groans of disapproval. “Or another book?” he suggested. But I didn’t feel that I had anything else to write about. Then I got my second diagnosis of breast cancer, and the writing poured out of me like Delhi diarrhea. I kept notebooks in my car, in my handbag and by my bed to put down all the absurd aspects of cancer treatment I encountered and various things I wanted to write about. Sometimes I’d be swimming in the local pool and all sorts of ideas would come to me. Middle-aged and obviously approaching dementia (or maybe it was chemo fog), sometimes these ideas would have gone clean out of my head by the time I got out of the pool, so I wished that I could have swum with a notebook and pencil as well. Who knows what supreme pearls of wisdom I have failed to impart in this book because I lost them in the pool? I discussed my cancer with all kinds of people—friends, relatives and complete strangers. They would frequently share stories with me, some of their own illness, some of people they knew. Many of these stories are included in this book, but the names and specific details have been changed in order to preserve anonymity.
Initially, the main title I had for this book was Life Interrupted at the Chemo Hilton, but then I realized that I might need permission from the Hilton Hotel group to use the Hilton name. The company’s marketing people might not want their brand attached to a kvetching chemo lady complaining about cheating husbands and giving rough and raw descriptions of going through chemo, radiation and life-threatening illness. Would they want to endorse me criticizing adultery when cheating spouses provide hotels with a significant amount of repeat business? Thus I settled with the title, Hotel Chemo. Going through endlessly long treatment in California, it did feel a bit like that Eagles song, Hotel California, where you can check out whenever you like, but you’re unable to leave, especially with that nasty little double meaning of the phrase “check out” in American slang.
Many cancer memoirs are dedicated to staunchly supportive spouses. Not this one. If you have breast cancer and your husband is unfaithful, he can be more of a millstone than a rock. I was fortunate to find a few gems elsewhere. Cancer on top of a cheating husband was a kick in the pants to make changes to ensure that whatever lifespan I had left would be more fulfilling. I wouldn’t deal with cancer as a quietly suffering saint. That wasn’t my style. I would make sure my own needs came first. I was going to be a sarcastic cow and milk the hell out of my ludicrous situation.
So off I went on a wild adventure, being chemoed, nuked, plucked bald, bewigged and planning what I would do if the cancer turned terminal. I had two main weapons to fight off the assaults on my body, mind and emotions. First of all, an eye for absurdity, based on a British upbringing filled with the razor-sharp wit of Monty Python. Secondly, I had an investigative journalist’s anal attention to details, researching everything to the nth degree, taking nothing for granted and asking plenty of questions. I refused to be a victim. I wouldn’t give up sex. I wouldn’t give up swimming. I wouldn’t give up chocolate. Having a potential death sentence made me examine my life and decide what was important to me. I was going to take charge of my illness and use it as an opportunity to live the life I wanted, despite any brutal difficulties. I would keep assessing and evaluating the best ways to get healthy, both conventional and alternative. Nothing would be off the table.