Red Devil: To Hell With Cancer-and Backby Katherine Russell Rich
When Katherine Russell Rich was 32, a newly divorced magazine editor living in New York City, her 10-year ordeal with cancer began. Soon she was bald, scrambled, and living in two worlds simultaneously: the world of the ill, of treatments, exhaustion, and doctors focused on avoiding malpractice suits; and the "normal" world, where dating, career, vacations, and 401(k) plans still mattered. Dazzling in its writing, The Red Devil is alternately wise and wisecracking -- it is the story of a woman who has been brought to her knees several times, only to get up and learn to dance.
- Crown Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 ED
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.98(d)
Read an Excerpt
When we stand
on the low rungs
of the ladder of sorrow,
When we come
to the middle
But when we climb
to the top
of the ladder
we convert sadness into song.
ancient Hebrew poem
I found the lump twenty minutes before breakfast, three weeks after my marriage broke up. I was taking a shower, soaping myself down, when my fingers slid into it and stopped. They pushed on a little, flew off, returned to confirm that, yes, there was something hard and alien in my left breast. After a pause, they resumed their investigation. But now my brain had seized up, and so the information my fingers were attempting to relay remained stalled, unprocessed, in touch. Perhaps that's why I retain such a strong sense memory of what they found: a mass the size of a pigeon's egg, a blob that felt like oatmeal packed in casing. I was puzzledthe thing hadn't, I swear, been there the day beforebut not perplexed. I knew instantly what it was.
At work I phoned a friend. "Michelle," I whispered. "On top of everything, I found a lump in my breast. I can't do it: I can't go on!" Those were the days when I still liked hyperbole, before an excess of real drama killed my taste for the manufactured kind.
My friend soothed and reassured me; she presented the facts: All women find lumps; I was only thirty-two; the odds were this was absolutely nothing. The case she constructed was sure and ordered. "Yeah, you're right," I agreed, allowing myself to beseduced into calm, willing, temporarily, to forget my certainty, illogical as it was.
My evidence, had I spoken it, was this: My life was spinning to hell; my marriage had busted up at the end of August; I'd promptly moved eleven cartons of possessions into a sublet where I wasn't supposed to smoke but I did; and now, in September, I was about to take a new job. Of course that lump was cancer. What else was it going to be?
And those were my surefire arguments. If I wasn't going to bring them up, I certainly wasn't going to mention that, six months before, in a journal, I'd written, "I can't stay in this marriage any longer. If I do, I'll get cancer." Or how, not long after, I'd experienced some weird psychic breast cancer flash. "Diego, I'm not kidding, I'm getting the strongest feeling that somebody in one of our families has it," I'd told my husband. "To be safe, why don't you call your mother down in Buenos Aires and tell her to get a mammogram." Spooked, she rushed to get the test, which came back normal.
Nor did I mention another recent occurrence, but only, I would have told you then, because it had slipped my mind. Fear, I realize now, was blocking the memory of how, a few months earlier, in bed, my husband had frozen while caressing me. "I don't want to scare you," he said softly, "but I think I found a lump here." When he tried to locate it again, it wasn't there. I chalked the incident up to projectile hypochondria.
Diego and I were absolute opposites about a lot things, and illness was one of them. "Ah! I think I have a cancer!" he would announce, lying prostrate on the bed. "What a baby," I'd say, not at all amused or compassionate. My father was a Christian Scientist, and while my mother insisted on raising my brother, sister, and me Episcopalian, his beliefs suffused the house. We weren't expected to deny disease as he was, but we were strongly encouraged to rise above it. "It's just mortal error," my father would counsel me when I was laid low by some ailment. I didn't have a clue what he was talking about, but I did know that mortal error was the reason why, in tenth grade, for instance, shimmery with a fever from bronchitis, I was still expected to haul myself to school. Coming into the adult world, I assumed everyone was like this. Diego, for one, was not.
"I have a headache! I cannot move," he declared from the floor of the Denver airport on Christmas Eve, where he'd flung himself just as the extended family was about to transfer to a flight to Breckenridge for a ski vacation. Pedestrians stepped over him. My parents stared down, flabbergasted. They'd never seen behavior like this. I had, a couple of times.
"Just ignore him," I advised my mother.
"But Kathy," she said. "He really looks sick."
"He is," I sneered. "Sick in his head."
I'd met Diego when he was thirty-one and I was twenty-five, at a party he threw at his apartment on East Fourteenth Street. When I'd rung the bell, he'd opened the door and done a double take. I was pleased by his show of interest, but I had to look away, for if he was thunderstruck, I was more so. He was blond and all-boy, sexy like a rugby player, and though I'd heard from our mutual friend that he was Argentine, I noticed he spoke with a slight twang, like someone out of Texas.
The inflection puzzled me for a long time, till I realized he'd picked up his American listening to Bob Dylan. As for his English, he'd learned that while attending a private Irish school in Buenos Aires, after which he'd gone on to study architecture for a few years before being sidetracked by marriage, two sons, and a job at a radical newspaper. Journalism in the States can be a high-risk profession, but in Argentina in the seventies, it was flat-out dangerous, particularly when practiced at a left-wing publication. The far-right government was waging a Dirty War against anyone who disagreed with its positions, and journalists as a group were high on the hit list. Students and intellectuals were being dragged from their homes in the middle of the night and brought to detention centers, where they were tortured and frequently killed. After a number of Diego's friends had been disappeared, his name turned up in some wrong address books and the police detained him twice. In the year before he fled the country, he got used to sleeping with a pistol under his pillow.
Meet the Author
Katherine Russell Rich lives in New York City.
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