cancer for hipsters

i often joke about #hipstercancer; partly because it’s funny, and partly because it’s true. it’s a broader thing thought – most of the dialogue and discussion about cancer seems to settle in a few areas:
1. people over 50
2. parents with cancer
3. ‘inspirational cancer heroes’ – people who do things like raise awareness, money for charities, do inspirational things like marathons
4. children/teenagers with cancer

in terms of the image of cancer, that’s what we tend to see. this is more broad than just the photos, like i’ve discussed before – it’s the whole notion of the Cancer Hero.

if i were to categorise myself, hipster will do. i say it mostly in jest, because it’s a damn silly, lazy label that’s applied so broadly as to be near meaningless. but a lot of the stereotypes describe me, and i’m not ashamed of that. i was a teenage goth – i think another long entry entirely could be written about #gothcancer — which would be AWESOME — but i’ve not really been particularly goth in years. i like to call my grey asymmetrical look #futuregoth – which was inspired by my friend Nick who is much better with words than i am. but when people talk about hipsters – with their almond milk and quinoa, ostentatious bookshelves, craft habit, craft beer/coffee, spending too much on food, looking like a scruffy artist despite probably having a cosy middle-class income, and heavily tattooed — well, i fit that. not a ‘real’ cancer hero.

i only go to training because i want to keep some sort of base fitness level up, and my personal trainer is the best. i don’t raise money for charity, or achieve great feats (unless you classify my current breed study of different fleece, or writing a lot ‘great’), and i’m not a parent, nor mourning for my infertility. there’s probably less pathos to my illness and eventual death than for a child or a teen, or a parent, or a grandparent. i float in the middle of all that. this is also a bit about my age – mid 20’s to mid 30’s – which isn’t really talked about much in terms of cancer treatment. we’re a weird group, an atypical demographic.

so, hipster cancer has its unique qualities. here are some of them.

1. tattooing is a great training course for Cancer Related Violations. my 6 hours of my sleeve outline were way more brutal than any pain i’ve endured in 7 months of treatment. i will be eating those words post resection, i know, but so far, so good. that tattoo hurt. a LOT.

2. tattoos also make you memorable to your multi disciplinary team, nurses, care co-ordinators, etc. it’s an easy conversation starter, and you will likely find yourself giving tattoo advice.

3. the patients may all be older than you are, but the nurses & radiation technicians are more likely to at least have some of them around your age. my chemo team were likely a bit younger than me, and my radiation team are ALL younger than me. this is amazingly refreshing and i love it. i talk less to my co-patients than i do to the nurses and radiation people. they also remember you more too; you are Young Person With Tattoos Their Age With Cancer.

4. skinny jeans and an stoma: can it be done? according to google, YES! there’s heaps of stuff about stomas online – written by people who are also my age/wearers of skinny jeans.

5. the time off work for treatment means that your best friends become the people in your coffeeshops. seriously. they are now like family; explain the tasting notes for the different beans; sit down and have catch-up chats, and express concern when i don’t show up. laugh if you will about bearded hipsters in coffeeshops, but those guys have been a pillar of support to me at the place that does multiple cold presses, the vegan cafe across the road, the place that serves my favourite bircher. they all know me by name, high five me when i get good results, and tell me that they’re there for me if i want to chat anytime.

6. your whimsical hipster hobbies? it’s time to indulge! you can spend all day reading, or knitting that scarf, or doing freelance writing for literary journals. realistically? you’ll probably spend it on twitter, starting fights with people who hate almond milk. (i am really sorry, but i actually did that the other day. but seriously! get angry at people for gross acts of cultural appropriation, racism, or homophobia. no one cares if you think people who drink almond milk are wankers. it’s delicious).

7. they don’t look for veins when you have a blood test – they feel for them! so, don’t worry if you have tattoos covering that area.


that’s an arm that’s had probably 20 needles jabbed into int in the last 6 months. you can see the scars if you look close.

7. i’m probably not quite cool enough to comment on hair styles, as relevant to hipsters, so i’m showing my own ignorance here. i have no idea what’s hip anymore. but shaved heads can look pretty great. if you do have a shaved head and tattoos, and aren’t gaunt, people WILL look at you like you might want to bash them in the streets. i get that look a lot. seriously? my tattoos are birds and flowers, people.  i’m a lover, not a fighter.

this is pretty much a bit of a piss-take, but in all seriousness, there’s not a great deal of support for not-quite-young-adults-anymore with cancer.  and there’s not a lot of visibility for childless queers with cancer either. not that maybe i need that, but i think there’s something in the invincibility. there’s enough stories of Young Mums With Cancer, or The Really Healthy Person Who Got Cancer Anyway that it can be hard to realise that you, that person who listens to too much Xiu Xiu and was up against the barriers for multiple Sigur Ros concerts, and knows who Merzbow is, and who likes single origin coffee, and who is covered in tattoos — you also can get cancer.  the chemo ward reminds me, probably more than radiation because you see the same crew at the same time – but i saw a broad range of young people – a dude who looks about 20 with tribal tattoos, a kid with a mohawk in about five different colours, with an exhausted looking girlfriend, the tiny young woman who would curl up in her chair and read a book with the cords coming out of her, the tall thin man who always wore black shirts and slept under a blanket every week, looking more and more tired as the weeks went on.

and even in reading this, i am guessing most of you are still thinking, on some level, that you are immune. or if not immune, that you definitely don’t. or if you do think you might, it’s in an abstract way. even as the biggest paranoid ‘i so have cancer after googling this random symptom’ person, it was abstract. as much as i was terrified i did have cancer, i never really thought about what it would mean if i actually, really, honest to god, did have cancer.  because the big things are not always the thing that stands out. it’s the small things, like needing to organise lifts, or making sure you eat at the right time around your chemo pills, or worrying about sleeping too much and wondering if it’s depression, or how much your legs hurt when you walk up the stairs, or all the hours you spend in waiting rooms, knowing you can now see that clock ticking with the echo of ‘incurable cancer’ and ‘advanced cancer’ and ‘what to do when your cancer won’t go away’ booklets.

it is storming here right now. i have great news on a few freelance-y writing things i’ve done. i am happy today, despite the radiation exhaustion and the possible cold. i drank expensive cold pressed juice and have artisan pasta and rye sourdough bread, and i got a copy of Anne Carson’s Nox (about grief) in the mail today. i will spend the night with my spinning wheel, watching Gourmet Farmer, and string me up with the hipster label, and see if i care, because i don’t think my artisan bread or fancy juice or the fact that i really like The National and lit fic makes me a terrible person.  it’s just stuff i like.  and hipsters have stage IV cancer in their bums as well.


About elizabeth

various things.
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4 Responses to cancer for hipsters

  1. mani says:

    you’re a treasure. so glad you’re here.

  2. katiedavis says:

    I hate quinoa, my *lack* of bookshelves is ostentatious, and I don’t think I’d qualify as scruffy, all of which probably disqualifies me as a hipster librarian. But you are rocking the hipster cancer thang and I love your hipster blog posts. x

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